France's Arab Army
Les Indigenes shows how North African soldiers were
French film aims to unite nation
By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris
French President Jacques Chirac has announced that the pensions of foreign soldiers who fought in the French army are to be brought into line with those of French ones. The bulk of the Free French Army was Moroccan and Algerian from 1942 on. The French have pretended this wasn't true since 1945. It was this experience which set the stage for revolt in the post-war period.
The pensions were frozen in 1959 - "crystallised", in the official language - meaning that 80,000 veterans in 23 countries receive less than one-third of the amount given to their French counterparts.
In spite of a long campaign from veterans' associations, successive governments refused to budge.
In 2002 a partial "de-crystallisation" adjusted foreign pensions to take account of the standard of living in the relevant countries, but they still lagged well behind.
In the end, what has pushed the president to act is a new film, called Les Indigenes, telling the story of North African soldiers who helped to liberate France in World War II.
According to some of the cast who attended a private screening at the Elysee Palace, President Chirac was visibly moved by the movie. So too was his wife, Bernadette.
"Jacques, we must do something," she reportedly said.
The announcement on pensions comes on the day Les Indigenes is released in France.
The word means "natives", the term commonly given to African soldiers at the time.
The film is about the campaign from Provence through to Alsace in 1944-45 as seen through the eyes of four soldiers, who leave their homelands in Algeria and Morocco to fight for France.
The Hollywood-esque nature of the film is reflected in its English title, Days of Glory. The fear and courage of the men is evident amid the powerful battle scenes.
There is discrimination but also a warm welcome from the French people. One soldier hopes to marry a French girl he meets in Provence but is forced to leave her behind.
The film also recounts the love-hate relationship between a young Moroccan recruit and his French superior.
The symbolism of some of the scenes is striking.
African soldiers with only a limited command of the French language sing the Marseillaise and hoist the French flag with pride.
Arab men sacrifice their lives to liberate a village in Alsace, but the survivors are ignored as official photographers snap the white French troops who arrive on the scene afterwards.
posted by Steve @ 3:26:00 AM