France Eases Access, a Little, to Its SecretsBreaking News
tags: France, colonialism, Algeria
President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday announced that the declassification of secret archives more than 50 years old would be accelerated, a move that will facilitate access to documents related to the Algerian War — a controversial chapter of France’s history that authorities have long been reluctant to face.
A statement from the Élysée Palace said that starting Wednesday a new rule would “significantly shorten the time required for the declassification procedure” in order to “encourage respect for historical truth.”
Mr. Macron has recently taken a series of steps to lift the veil on France’s colonial history in Algeria, a lasting trauma that continues to shape modern France. The change announced Tuesday was intended to respond to growing complaints from historians and archivists about strict government instructions for declassifying archives.
Under the new rules, authorities will be allowed to declassify archive boxes all at once, speeding up a declassification process for secret documents that had been carried out page by page.
Some historians, however, said that the new rules barely addressed their complaints.
“It’s just going to accelerate the pace of a procedure that shouldn’t exist,” said Raphaëlle Branche, a historian of the Algerian War.
Central to the complaints by historians is a 2011 government requirement that every document classified “secret” or “top secret” be formally declassified before being made public. That contradicts a 2008 law that calls for the immediate release of secret documents 50 years after they were produced.
The 2011 instruction had been loosely enforced, or even ignored, by archivists in recent years. But the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security, a powerful unit inside the prime minister’s office, started enforcing the rules last year.
Tens of thousands of once-public documents were subsequently resealed, impeding historical research and reimposing secrecy on information that had been previously revealed.