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Illegal or Secret? On France’s Classification of Declassified Archives
On January 1st, 2020, the French Secretary General of Defense and National Security activated an existing law that ordered the formal declassification of every classified archival document—including already declassified records—from 1940 to the present. These involved the Second World War and two colonial wars: The First Indochina War (1946-54) and the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62). The law requires every document that was stamped “top secret,” “secret,” or “confidential” at the moment of its creation to be officially declassified by the agency that created it before it can be communicated to the public. Most of the archives affected by this sudden change were already declassified and open to the public. This imposed paradox and abrupt classification of declassified documents denies the right to history and impede any attempts at writing or rewriting France’s colonial and military histories, which were often extremely violent.
In her talk, Illegal or Secret? On France’s Classification of Declassified Archives, Samia Henni examines the premises and intentions of this law and explores ways to expose this institutionalized controversy. In addition to presenting the ambiguous status of archival records that were used for the writing of Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria (EN, gta Verlag, 2017; FR, Editions B42, 2019), she will discuss two exhibitions projects: Archives: Secret Défense? (2021, ifa-Gallery Berlin/SAVVY Contemporary) and It Wasn’t a Secret (2021, CIVA Brussels) in which she questioned both the legality/illegality and secrecy of the French law and the formerly public archival records.