On Bastille Day, We Should Confront Oppression

July 14 is Bastille Day — or "La Fête Nationale" if you're French — marking the 226th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Bastille Day commemorates the liberation of France — the storming of the Bastille was an attempt by Parisians to free political prisoners who had been held in the prison during Louis XVI's reign for no clear reason and with no chance of appeal. The Bastille was seen as a symbol of the oppressive monarchic institution, which was why it was targeted. But on Tuesday, as celebrations of this independence day take place around the world and French flags representing "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" are raised, inequality persists in France, ranging from a failure to apologize for the impacts of colonialism in Algeria to discriminatory treatment of marginalized populations in the country.

Algerian Independence Day falls just nine days before Bastille Day, on July 5, but even 53 years after Algeria obtained its independence from France, the French government has yet to offer an apology for the horrific consequences of its colonialist practices, which resulted in the deaths of up to 1.5 million Algerians, both within France and Algeria. French President François Hollande broke with his predecessors in December 2012 when he denounced the suffering that French colonialism inflicted upon Algeria and recognized the massacres that led up to Algerian independence. But he stopped short of an apology, something that many Algerians have been seeking for a long time.


Even though Hollande acknowledged colonialist brutality, France has not parted ways with its interventionist politics, nor — as Guardian freelancer Nabila Ramdani writes — does it acknowledge the concentration camps and lynchings in Paris' history. On top of all of this, many Algerians in France are still treated as second-class citizens, facing xenophobia, racism, and discrimination in housing and jobs. So while Hollande's statements abroad were intended to remedy the relationship between France and Algeria, they did little to end Algerian suppression domestically.

This treatment of Algerian populations in France goes hand in hand with religious discrimination. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are becoming increasingly visible throughout Europe. The attack on the Parisian publication Charlie Hebdo in January resulted in heightened anti-Muslim sentiment, while an attack on a Jewish supermarket that same day demonstrated that efforts to combat anti-Semitism still had a long way to go. Meanwhile, the president of the right-wing Front National party, Marine Le Pen, has broken with her father's Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism to instead blame all of France's problems on Muslim immigrants.


But it is possible that no other group is treated and discussed in such a degrading way in France as the Roma community. The Roma people in France have, for the most part, fled there from either Romania or Bulgaria to escape discrimination, but they continue to face constant harassment. Their camps are burned down, they are frequently evicted from their makeshift shantytowns, and they face many barriers to free movement within the European Union. They are frequently blamed for the situation they are in, despite fear being "part of their world," as Ivry-sur-Seine charity worker Bernard Prieur told The Independent last year.


None of this is meant to imply that racial and religious discrimination is worse in France than in the United States or other countries. Rather, it is necessary to take a critical look at any region that describes itself as "free" and "democratic" and assess how marginalized groups are treated. Independence and liberty should not be taken for granted, because many people still don't have them. This applies on Bastille Day, just as it does on America's Independence Day, and acknowledging these narratives — which often fall off public radar — is the first step to instituting reparations for injustice.

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