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A European Maghrebi Nation: The “Imagined Community” of the Pieds Noirs
In the late stages of the Algerian conflict of 1954-1963 and in its immediate aftermath, the French settler community known as the pieds noirs entered a period of intense ideological and frequently physical conflict with the French state over what it perceived as its abandonment by Charles de Gaulle. Even prior to this, the pieds noirs had come to see themselves as a largely separate entity from the French metropole. In large part due to the influence of their Arab and Berber neighbors and an influx of migrants from Spain and Italy, pied noir culture had developed differently than even Mediterranean France, becoming more like the Maghrebi cultures in terms of lifestyle, the building arts, and cuisine. Additionally, political strife with the French government had spawned nascent ideas concerning autonomy if not outright independence since the 1860s. While the existing literature emphasizes community, memory, and a sense of shared loss among the pieds noirs, there has been little consideration of them as a nation. Undoubtedly the pieds noirs fulfill most of Benedict Anderson’s criteria of a nation as an imagined community with a limited scope, print capitalism, and a desired homeland; however, Anderson’s final requirement is that it be imagined as sovereign. This paper employs articles from the French Algerian newspapers L’Écho d’Algers, L’Écho d’Oran, and the Depêche Quotidienne d’Oran, along with memoirs of their editors Alain de Serigny and Pierre Laffont and writings by Albert Camus, to demonstrate that a movement toward autonomy had been quietly building in the decades before the Algerian conflict, and that the abrupt and shocking revelation of the Evian Accords that ceded Algeria to the indigenous peoples completed the drive toward a break with France and an imagined independence and sovereignty. This gave a final form to the novel construct of a Maghrebi European nation, which has uneasily coexisted with the French metropole since its flight from Algeria in 1963. More recent newspaper articles demonstrate that this conceptual nation has held a tenuous and fragile existence to the present day, from the establishment of the Gouvernement provisoire Pied-Noir en exil in 2016 to the assassination of Jacques Roseau of the pied noir organization Le Recours by former Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) operatives in 1993 on suspicion of betraying the pied noir community. Finally, a comparison is drawn to Québécois nationalism to validate this argument.
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