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FRENCH HISTORY

Memorial Day weekend tribute to OSS commandos in south west France

A US Second World War military operation in southwest France is to be remembered the weekend before Memorial Day to mark the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA.

Memorial Day weekend tribute to OSS commandos in south west France
One of the two steles honoring the two OSS commandos killed in action in the Tarn in August 1944. Photo courtesy of Meredith Wheeler

During its short span, the OSS ran 13 important secret missions in France around D-Day, including one in the Tarn département that played a key role in the liberation of the country by preventing Nazi forces based there from reinforcing troops in Provence, under attack from invading Allied forces on the south coast.

Between May 27th and May 29th, a series of events will take place in Albi, Brassac, Boissezon, Le Vintrou and Lautrec to honour the bravery of OSS officers, who parachuted into the département to co-ordinate and lead resistance efforts in the area.

A new commemorative flag honouring the OSS’s role in France’s Liberation will be unveiled at the commemoration events.

An exhibition parachute jump will take place on the morning of Friday May 27th, three days before Memorial Day proper, with both French and American special forces, at the drop zone where the 15-man OSS team dropped by moonlight in August 1944.

Among those participating in the commemorative 2022 parachute drop is Marine Corp Military Attaché from the US Embassy in Paris, Colonel Ed Norris, USMC.

On Saturday, May 28th, floral tributes will be laid at the steles at Le Rialet and Betges honouring US soldiers and the French Resistance fighters who died opposing the Nazi occupation.

Relatives of one of those men are travelling from San Diego to attend the special ceremony.

The following day, an exhibition of US and French World War Two military vehicles will go on display in Lautrec.

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FRENCH HISTORY

Malik Oussekine: Who is ‘France’s George Floyd’, portrayed in the new Disney+ series?

A new Disney+ mini-series tells the story of Malik Oussekine, the man often referred to as "France's Arab George Floyd". Here's what you need to know about him and his brutal death at the hands of French police.

Malik Oussekine: Who is 'France's George Floyd', portrayed in the new Disney+ series?

The latest French show to grab ahold of international audiences, “Oussekine” a Disney+ mini-series of four episodes, reinvestigates a dark part of France’s history. It became available for streaming worldwide on May 11th, and is available in English.

Long before Adama Traoré, whose death ignited Black Lives Matter protests across France, was the night of December 6th, 1986, when two police officers beat to death the 22-year-old French-Algerian on the sidelines of a student protest in Paris.

He had not been involved in the demonstration, and his killing became a turning point – triggering weeks of unrest and leading to the unprecedented conviction of the officers.

A march in memory of Malik Oussekine on December 4, 1987, a year after he was killed by the police (Photo by Jean-Loup GAUTREAU / AFP)

While Oussekine’s name has continued to reverberate among minorities, his story has never been adapted for the screen until now.

As if making up for lost time, two versions are being released this month: a film, “Our Brothers”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Disney+ mini-series, “Oussekine.”

“He was attacked because of the colour of his skin. He is France’s Arab George Floyd,” historian Pascal Blanchard told AFP, referring to the African-American whose death at the hands of police in 2020 sparked massive international protests.

He said much of French society had allowed Oussekine’s story to be brushed under the carpet as with so much of its troubled history with immigrant populations.

“It’s not a question of whether Malik Oussekine has been forgotten, but by who?” said Blanchard.

France is still wrestling with the trauma of its colonial period, particularly the bloody war of independence in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.

Among its darkest moments was the massacre of up to 200 Algerian protesters by police in Paris on October 17th, 1961 — many of them shot dead and their bodies thrown into the Seine.

The events of that day went officially unacknowledged for decades until President Emmanuel Macron finally described them as “inexcusable crimes” at the 60th anniversary last year – though without apologising.

Oussekine’s death was crucial in marking the end of total police impunity – the first time that officers were convicted for this type of crime, according to the family’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman.

As the grandchildren of the original wave of North African immigrants come of age, there is increasing interest and willingness to address the past.

“For our generation, it is important to say that these individual stories form part of the French national story. They are not separate. These are French stories,” said Faiza Guene, 36 and born to Algerian parents, who helped write the screenplay for “Oussekine”.

Its director, Antoine Chevrollier, was part of the team behind hit spy series “The Bureau”, and the lauded political saga “Baron Noir”.

“The important thing is to make this name and this story resonate so that we never forget,” he told AFP.

Chevrollier, who grew up in a small village in the Loire Valley, says he only became fully aware of the power of Oussekine’s name when he moved to Paris and began to hang out with people from different backgrounds.

“I hope the series will help ease the tensions that are unsettling the country. It is time that we in France begin to treat these historical cancers.”

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