19.7 C
Friday, September 29, 2023
    HomeNewsAfricaSwiss in Algeria: decolonisation in a country without colonies

    Swiss in Algeria: decolonisation in a country without colonies

    - Advertisement -
    lines of people with guns
     Shooting practice at the Swiss Benefit Society of Algiers, 1940s. Archivio federale svizzero

    Sixty years ago Algeria gained independence from France. For Swiss residents of the North African country it was the end of an era. Their story is part of Switzerland’s ambiguous relationship with colonialism.This content was published on July 16, 2022 – 10:15July 16, 2022 – 10:15

    Andrea TogninaOther languages: 6

    “Looking out over the fertile plain of the Sahel, I was dumbfounded to see suddenly, in the vast vineyards which cover hectares and hectares of land, a sign that said: Zurich, 10km,” a reporter wrote in early 1942 for the daily newspaper Gazette de Lausanne.

    At the time, there were about 2,000 Swiss living in Algeria. It was one of the biggest colonies of Swiss overseas, although not as large as the one in Morocco. Its sentimental links with Switzerland were still strong, despite it being well established in the French territory.

    The first wave of Swiss emigration to Algeria goes back to the mid-19th century, not long after the French takeover. France encouraged immigration from Switzerland and Germany, to counterbalance the spontaneous influx of people from Italy, Spain and Malta.

    “One could say there were two types of Swiss emigration to Algeria,” says historian Marisa Fois, author of a studyExternal link on the Swiss population in the country. One group were people who left their homeland to escape poverty. That was the case with many of the emigrants from cantons Valais and Ticino. On the other hand, there were Swiss entrepreneurs who invested private capital in Algeria. The most noted case of this was the colony at Sétif. Here 20,000 hectares of land had been granted by Napoleon III to a Geneva company. One of the founders of this company was none other than Henry Dunant, the father of the Red Cross.

    Colonists without an empire

    The Swiss government had no colonial ambitions. Yet the case of Algeria shows the extent to which Switzerland was able to fit in with colonial regimes set up by other countries (in this case France) either through business initiatives or through the actual presence of Swiss emigrants. Fois calls this a “para-colonial approach”.


    Switzerland and its colonistsSwitzerland had no colonies – yet some Swiss worked with colonial powers and profited from their seizure of resources on other continents.

    Part of this approach was the growing emphasis in the early 20th century on Swiss communities abroad – their role as ambassadors for Swiss values and springboards for Swiss commercial expansion.

    These communities were able to maintain their internal cohesion with the sense of belonging to an international network of Swiss living abroad, known as the “Fifth Switzerland”. This term entered use in 1938, following the recognition of Romansh as the fourth national language. The sense of identity helped the Swiss Abroad get through the difficult period of the Second World War.

    “Closely connected to the Swiss consulate in Algiers, the Swiss who live in the three large French departments of North Africa show their patriotic spirit,” reports the article from the Gazette de Lausanne.

    woman serving soup to children
     Soup’s up at a holiday camp organised by the Swiss community at La Bouzareah, Algiers, 1941. Archivio federale svizzero

    From colonists to ‘good offices’

    The end of the Second World War was followed by a resurgence of the Algerian national independence movement. The Swiss community initially stayed on the sidelines. “Initially this was thought to be a passing phase which would not seriously affect the life of the colony,” Fois says.

    However, as the conflict gathered momentum, tension and fear grew. There was an increase in applications to reclaim Swiss citizenship, and the authorities in Switzerland were faced with the issue of repatriating people.

    In the meantime, Bern had got involved with the conflict in Algeria in other ways. Swiss diplomacy took a leading role in the negotiations for a cessation of hostilities which led to the signing of the Evian accords between France and the Algerian provisional government in March 1962. This was a step on the road to Algerian independence, which was proclaimed a few months later on July 3.

    Switzerland also became a safe haven for Algerian refugees. What’s more, it seems the decision to take up arms against the French colonial power was made by leaders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1954 in Bern while the Swiss capital was hosting the football World Cup. While the negotiations for a ceasefire were being held, the Algerian delegation lived in Switzerland.


    MoreDiplomatic back channels: Switzerland helps end the Algerian WarThis content was published on Jul 29, 2021Switzerland offered its good offices to arrange negotiations between Algerian and French delegations, which led to the end of the Algerian War.

    Hopes disappointed

    The asylum provided to Algerian refugees and the efforts of the Swiss government to establish good relations with the Algerian provisional government were intended to protect the interests of Swiss in Algeria.

    However, the Swiss in Algeria were sceptical of Bern’s neutral position in the conflict. They found that the role of Swiss diplomats in negotiations exposed the Swiss community to threats from the Organisation armée secrète (OAS), the clandestine paramilitary force that opposed independence.

    The Swiss community was in fact hard hit by the war of independence. In 1961 alone it suffered 14 deaths and ten kidnappings.

    “The policy of good offices helped establish relations with the new independent state, but it did not meet the expectations of the Swiss community in Algeria,” Fois says.

    Swiss exodus from Algeria

    Beginning in 1956, departures from Algeria exceeded arrivals, and the issue of repatriating  Swiss citizens became a priority. In 1958 a solidarity fund for the Swiss Abroad was created with the support of the federal government.

    The signing of the Evian accords, the widespread civil disorder following the proclamation of independence, and the nationalisation of property belonging to foreign citizens in 1963 all led to the final exodus of Europeans from the country.

    For its part, Switzerland offered assisted repatriation. Yet anyone leaving Algeria had to reckon with losing their property. Bern tried to arrange for repatriation of personal goods, but when it came to compensation for property that was being nationalised, Swiss diplomatic efforts had little success.

    Attempts to resolve this issue in the framework of a trade agreement with Algeria got nowhere. In fact, the issue seemed likely to poison relations between the two countries.

    Accordingly, Bern took a pragmatic approach. With Algeria, it was necessary “to be patient, tolerant and generous, as with a wayward child”, wrote ambassador Olivier Long, who had been the principal Swiss negotiator for the Evian accords, in a memorandumExternal link in 1968.

    Strangers in their own country

    For the Swiss returning from Algeria, the situation was anything but gratifying. Reintegration into Swiss society was more difficult than they expected, and many had the feeling of being strangers in their own country. The idealised picture of the Swiss Abroad returning home shattered on the rocks of reality.

    In 1967 a group of them started an “Association of Swiss dispossessed in Algeria and other overseas countries”, in an attempt to secure reparations for what they had lost. Aware that there was little chance of success in negotiating with Algeria, this lobby group requested the Swiss government take responsibility for indemnification. Bern refused, for it feared it might weaken its negotiating position and create a precedent that would encourage other groups.

    This controversy went on for decades. The plight of the Swiss from Algeria was recognised by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, and the issue was raised several times at their annual meetings. The lobby group allied itself with similar associations of people driven out of former European colonies. This made Bern’s position all the more awkward.

    Repeated attempts by Switzerland to get compensation from Algeria or France got nowhere. In 1989 the government finally renounced all demands on Algeria. In 2000 the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad turned the page on the Algerian issue.

    This story is typical of the troubles experienced by former colonial residents in dealing with the process of decolonisation. In this, the Swiss of Algeria were no different from other Europeans repatriated from their former colonies. The difference, according to Fois, is that Switzerland went through a “decolonisation without colonies”.

    Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee/gw

    source https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-in-algeria–decolonisation-in-a-country-without-colonies/47749412?utm_campaign=teaser-in-channel&utm_medium=display&utm_content=o&utm_source=swissinfoch


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Keep exploring...

    Complete Guide to Eid Prayer: Rituals, Cleanliness, Process, and More

    Eid Prayer is a significant festival in Islam, marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. One of the most important aspects...

    Eid Al-Fitr: A Comprehensive Guide to Recommended Acts on the Day of Celebration

    Eid Al-Fitr, often referred to as "Eid," is one of the most significant and joyous festivals in the Islamic calendar. It marks the end...

    Related Stories

    Uttar Pradesh Teacher Arrested for Alleged Communal Incident in Classroom

    In a recent development, the Uttar Pradesh Police apprehended a schoolteacher on Thursday for...

    Inspiring Journey: Guinean Student’s Epic Bike Ride to Secure a Spot at a Top Islamic University

    In a remarkable display of determination, Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a young Guinean student, embarked...

    12th Islamic World Ministers of Culture Conference Endorses Doha Declaration to Revitalize Cultural Endeavors

    Under the distinguished patronage of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani,...

    Agong Urges Muslims to Embrace Prophet Muhammad’s Virtues on Maulidur Rasul

    In a heartfelt address on Maulidur Rasul, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa...

    Assessing Nehru’s Impact on the Plight of Indian Muslims

    Pratinav Anil's latest literary endeavor, "Another India: The Making of the World's Largest Muslim...

    President Wickremesinghe Encourages Unity Among Muslims to Address National Challenges

    In a special address commemorating Milad-un-Nabi, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called upon the Muslim...

    Iran Expresses Outrage Over Holy Qur’an Desecration in Netherlands

    In an official statement released on Thursday, the spokesperson for Iran's Ministry of Foreign...

    India’s Treatment of Muslims: A Concerning Pattern of Alienation

    In his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul...

    Explore More Articles

    Welcome to the enlightening realm of our Islamic Articles Page – a digital sanctuary where knowledge, spirituality, and the rich tapestry of Islamic culture converge. In an era where information flows ceaselessly and the world seems to spin faster each day, our platform stands as a steadfast beacon of wisdom and reflection.