The Pieds-noirs: a (also) Spanish story

While 900,000 French left Algeria when the country gained independence in 1962, some of them preferred to continue their lives in Spain. A look at the little known history of these Pieds Noir in Spain.

“I left my country, I left my home, my sad life drags on for no reason”, Enrico Macias wrote about the boat that brought him back from Algeria to France. If the majority of the Pieds-noirs, who had to leave Algeria following the violence linked to the independence of Algeria, settled in the south of France, in Marseille, Perpignan and Nice, others less numerous have chosen Spain and in particular Alicante.

They were French, like their hometown, Algeria. However, the welcome given to them in France was more than icy. “Let them rehabilitate elsewhere. This sentence, pronounced in July 1962 by Gaston Defferre, the socialist municipality of Marseille. In Spain, the welcome was warmer. 35,000 pied-noir settled in the Alicante region (Valencia), specifically in the cities of Sant Juan and Benidorm, and another 28,000 in Madrid.

It seems that the choice of Alicante is linked in particular to the trip organized by the town hall of this city to participate in the Oran Fair a few months before independence. The main personalities of the city have made the trip and many Pieds-noir are taking advantage of the return trip and the complicity of the Spanish authorities to travel to Spain.

Geography, history and politics

Geographically, Alicante is very similar to Oran, in its climate, atmosphere and architecture. For some, Alicante and Oran are twin cities.

View of Alicante (town hall source)

Historically, the presence and long-standing influence of France in the Alicante region also played a role
important role in the choice of the French from Algeria to settle in the area. From the end of the 19th century with the rapid expansion of viticulture in the region, after the devastation of phylloxera in French vineyards, the French presence in Alicante intensified. From this moment on, the first French school in the city and a French consulate were opened there.

General Franco’s dictatorial regime was particularly open to these refugees. The pieds-noir could benefit from bank loans created specifically for the community. Many of them were traders and the Spanish government at the time saw a great opportunity to develop its then fragile economy. “I opened my shop without having to pay a single peseta for key money”, Raymond Selles, then owner of one of the most important appliance stores in Alicante, said in the press of the time.

As a result, the community was very supportive of the Franco regime and did not hesitate to show its support during the partisan demonstrations in the streets of the Valencia region.

OAS

The militants of the OAS (Organization of the Secret Army) mostly chose not to go to France but also to Alicante. The members of the underground movement that attempted to violently oppose Algeria’s independence between 1961 and 1963 were enemies of the then General de Gaulle in power. To escape French justice, which did not hesitate to prosecute them for terrorism, active militants found a land of refuge in Franco’s Spain. At least until the amnesty granted them in 1968.

Eventually, 50,000 Pieds-noir chose to acquire Spanish nationality. Even today the pied-noir community and its descendants are still very present in Alicante.

In 1968, French television dedicated a long report to the French Algerians arriving in Alicante.

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