Francis Jeanson

Interview with El Watan

Source: El Watan, Nov 1, 2004;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2008.

In what circumstances was the Jeanson Network born?

In 1948 I spent six months in Algeria, during which I met “men of the people.” I met nationalists who described the situation in Algeria, a situation characterized by an immense contempt for the Algerians on the part of the Europeans. But a legal contempt as well, a law made for the colonists, not for the population. I was 26 at the time. I was invited a few days later to give a series of talks and I was received by the “big colonization.” They spoke to me freely, thinking I couldn’t but be in agreement. What was said to me, when it comes to contempt, was far worse than anything the nationalists had told me of.

What were your actions?

When the insurrection broke out I first published “L’Algérie hors la loi,” with Colette Jeanson, a book that denounced the colonialist crushing of Algeria. That’s why the Algerians I knew over there came to see me in Paris. They had a political mission: to attempt to explain the situation to the French people. But they couldn’t get around in Paris, they were racially profiled. So they asked me to help them. At first I took them around Paris, and then little by little they expressed certain needs: meeting places, lodging possibilities, the passing of frontiers. This is how the embryo of the network was constituted. Then I was asked to enter the underground. Starting in October 1957 it became a true network. Several sections functioned full time. Our mission was to support the leaders of the Federation of the FLN and to gather the dues from Algerians in France, to bring them together to take it to Switzerland. There was also the constituting of networks for crossing borders and the fabrication of papers.

With the risk of being taken for traitor in the eyes of many Frenchmen?

I had a strong feeling that the French population wasn’t hostile to the Algerians. If there was treason it was that of the French state in relation to the republican values of equality, justice, liberty; as for fraternity, no point in even talking about it. We were way off. If I had to do it over again I would. I simply breathed a sigh of relief when Algeria gained its independence. Before we were afraid of creating difficulties for the Algerians we supported. If we were arrested it wasn’t too serious. But if they were they could be tortured, and for years this was my sole fear.