I’m not a Hollywood Star

On December 27, 2012 by admin

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Henri Alleg

from: The Algerian Memoirs

And , since our house was one of the few with a working telephone—the other lines had been cut for lack of payment—people would drop by often to make a call. Children rang the doorbell to bring us plates of festival cakes from their parents. We noticed that some only came after nightfall, as if they wanted to make sure that no one thought they were becoming too close to us…

A minor incident ruffled this calm. Jean had returned from Ivanovo and was living with us after a stay with his grandmother in Avignon. Andre had stayed in the Soviet Union and was waiting to start university.  Jean was going on eleven and was used playing with the children in the neighbourhood until one day he came home disgusted: “Do you know what Mohamed said to me? He said he spits on Europeans, Jews and Communists! So what the hell am I doing here.”

We explained to him that Mohamed was only repeating things he had picked up here and there but that the majority of Algerians did not think like that and that all this would disappear in the new Algeria.

But I was surprised. Never in all the years of my militant activity or during my stay in prison among Algerians had I been witness to a racist insult or attack and even less had I been the target of it. The abusive language of the child was a reminder that the old prejudices, fed and aggravated by the colonial system, had not disappeared. Such an attitude would develop like weeds, favoured by strained circumstances, and it needed to be checked.

From Tunis, the GPRA had proclaimed that the ‘revolution’—this term was increasingly taking the place of the more apt ‘national liberation war’—was intended to be very deeply democratic and that all those who chose Algeria as their country would find a place in it, regardless of origin or beliefs. Once the country had been liberated, measures would be taken to fulfil these promises.

The new policy was confirmed in the resolutions adopted in Tripoli by the highest FLN authority and, after Independence, by the measures legalizing the appropriation of the land of wealthy landowners and of vacant property, the organization of self-managed farming and industrial concerns, the display of sympathy for all liberation movements throughout the world, along with the hospitality extended to militants from Africa, Europe or Latin America, forced to flee their countries and relations of friendship and cooperation established with Socialist states. Rallies of hundreds of thousands of people celebrating the anniversary of the insurrection of November 1954, on May Day, or on the occasion of visits by Fidel Castro, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Zhou Enlai, demonstrated popular support for a political agenda that elevated Algiers to the rank of the capital of the progressive, revolutionary Third Front.

I was continually bombarded by visitors from round the world—journalists asking for interviews and representatives of liberation movements and parties, curious to know our point of view on the current situation and the country’s future prospects. Many were from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria—countries that had cooperation agreements with Algeria. I noticed that, by and large, they focussed on the positive aspects that substantiated their confidence in the Socialist future of Algeria.

I received guests who, as I knew, were travelling with fake Algerian passports—it was an open secret—and came to ask help from independent Algeria for their own struggles for liberation. This was how I came to know, among others, Alvaro Cunhal, secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party, who escaped from Antonio de Oliviera Salazar’s prisons; Manolis Glezos, hero of the Greek resistance who, at the height of the Nazi terror, raised a Greek flag over Parthenon; Santiago Carillo, secretary of the Spanish Communist Party; Enrique Lister, former general of Spanish Republican Army who had to flee Franco’s Spain; and Michael Harmel and Dr. Yusuf M. Daddoo, members of the African National Congress and of the South African Communist Party.

I met Che Guevara who stayed in Algiers for several weeks. One evening, he came to see us at the paper and lingered very late into night, talking to the spellbound young editorial staff. They listened to him with emotion and extreme attention as if he embodied the Cuban Revolution itself and was going to divulge the secrets behind his victory. But he was neither a prophet nor a lesson giver. He answered our questions simply and mostly asked a lot of questions himself. From time to time, he would take a small inhaler out of his pocket and spray a dose into his mouth to relieve his asthma. When he was about to leave us, one of the staff asked him to sign his photograph. He pushed him aside curtly: “I’m not a Hollywood star. I don’t give autographs.”I often think of this reply when I see tens of millions of young people round the world avid for a different future displaying his image on posters and t-shirts. I wonder what he would have thought, knowing how adamantly opposed he was to personality cult.

We all wondered what he was doing in Algiers and what he expected from the FLN. But the question was taboo and we did not ask him, knowing he would not answer. We learnt, but only much later, that Algiers was but a stop on his way to the heart of Africa, in search of a region where the conditions were favourable for him to carry out his protest of creating a revolutionary guerrilla centre in the continent.

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Henri Alleg is a French-Algerian journalist and Director of Alger republicain newspaper. His work The Question (1958) turned public opinion in France against the war in Algeria.

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