The West has always claimed the role of being the champion of democracy, especially in times of social and political turmoil. Today, France is seen as the beacon of freedom and liberty and occupies a lofty perch with its national motto of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” or “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. These claims of French democracy are false propaganda which is refuted by history.
This propaganda is successful because of our collective amnesia of French imperial atrocities and denial of basic human rights to its colonies. We have allowed France to become the standard bearer of human rights loudly dictating to the world how it should behave while France itself refuses to express remorse for its history. Let’s journey together into the past and expose French claims of being a bastion of democracy and answer the question as to when France truly became a democracy.
The minimum test of a country being a democracy is that everyone above a certain age has the right to vote. We can all agree that if some citizens of a country cannot vote then that country’s democracy is a farce. The right to vote for all citizens, or Universal Suffrage, is the basic test of democracy.
The success in 1776 of the American Revolution of the White European settlers against British rule inspired the French to start their revolution against the decadent and decaying French Monarchy. This blood-soaked revolution resulted in the establishment of the First French Republic in 1791, with the ideals of “liberté, égalité and fraternité”.
A Republic Without Suffrage
Despite the establishment of the first republic, voting rights for all, or “universal suffrage” were far far away. Only in 1848 were all men permitted the right to vote. This was considered revolutionarily liberal and the French constitution was considered the most democratic at that time. It was only about a century later that the golden child of democracy decided to extend suffrage to women in 1944.
However, dear reader if you were fooled into thinking this means that the French Republic of 1944 was Democratic, you let yourself be fooled by Western propaganda yet again.
Democracy for me, Colonialism for thee
The Fourth French republic established after 1944 brushed the issue of voting rights for French colonies under the rug. The French elite declared their precious state to be an “indivisible, secular, democratic, and social” Republic following the ‘democratization’ of mainland France in 1944. However, French duplicity would continue with its charade of liberty, equality, and fraternity while continuing to massacre the population of its colonies and sucking them dry.
Take the colony of Haiti for example, once a flourishing country with prosperous plantations and trading strongholds. The Haitian revolution demanded France apply the principles of its revolution to its colonial subjects. They were not only left ruined economically by the French colonists but the French colonial policy of dividing Haitian society along skin colour and class left political and social chaos. France even went as far as to force Haiti, currently one of the world’s poorest countries due to the aftermath of colonialism, to pay it the equivalent of $21 billion in “reparations” after Haiti freed itself from the claws of French colonialism and slavery in 1804, with the payments continuing well into the 20th century.
Dear Readers, please do not recoil with horror over the next few paragraphs of French history even though they mirror a B-grade Bollywood horror movie. The Northern Coast of Africa, where modern Algeria is today, was known as the Barbary coast to Romans. The word barbarian is said to have derived from the Roman designation of residents of Barbary as ‘uncivilized and primitive savages’. Western cultural propaganda aside, let’s examine the conduct of the French in Algeria in the 1950s to see who the real barbarians were.
France invaded Algeria and ruled it as a colony since 1832 with scant regard for the rights of its inhabitants despite the alleged ‘enlightenment’ of mainland France. Algerians were fed up with French colonialism and started agitating for more rights. France granted limited rights to the majority of Algerians in 1945 and protests led to the French massacring 6,000 Algerians. This infamous Setif massacre officially began the Algerian war of independence or as it is known for the longest time the ‘war without a name’.
The War began when the newly formed Front de libération Nationale (FLM) movement declared its aim to restore a sovereign Algerian state. The enlightened French state did not hold back – it used guerrilla warfare massacring Algerian rebels every chance it got, be it at peaceful protests or in the form of a full-blown war. This golden child of Democracy wiped out 1.5 million Algerians, or roughly 10% of their population at the time, to keep Algerians from experiencing liberty, equality and fraternity. This charade finally ended with Algerian independence in 1962 when the weakened French state realized it could no longer hang on to Algeria and gave up the ghost.
You might expect that the audacity of the French to claim colonies to exploit and native populations to massacre would end with 1.5 million Algerians dead, but wait, there is more! French colonies like Comoros and Djibouti were only rid of their French overlords in 1975 and 1977.
France’s blood-soaked history of colonial horrors proves that it has time and again denied people their fundamental rights and exploited them for as long as it could. It may have been a true democracy since 1977 but the colonial mindset of its population continues as if living in a pre-democratic time warp before 1977.
President Emmanuel Macron, the darling of the global left, in 2017 dared to describe France’s colonization of Algeria as a “crime against humanity”. His support in polls immediately dropped and Macron learnt his lesson. Macron stated in 2021 that there would be “no repentance nor apologies” for the French colonization of Algeria, colonial abuses or French involvement during the Algerian independence war.
No country could have exploited their colonies till as late as 1977 and then continued into the present day 40 years later with the same colonial mindset refusing to apologize for murdering millions and sucking whole countries dry. The French have long gaslighted the world with their false narrative of liberty, equality and fraternity and status as being the golden child of democracy. To which we say, Merde!