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Here's What French Presidential Candidates Think About The Country's Colonial Past

"France is not guilty for having wanted to share her culture with the peoples of Africa, Asia, and North America."

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As France gears up for its presidential election this April, here's a look at what the candidates have said about the country's colonial past.

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The once-expansive French empire included colonies around the world, many of which proclaimed their independence in the 1950s and 60s. France has since styled itself as a post-racial, colorblind republic, but struggles to address its colonial past.

Emmanuel Macron, a former member of President François Hollande's cabinet now running as an independent: "There have been elements of civilization as well as of barbarism."

"Colonization is part of French history," Macron said on a visit to the former French colony of Algeria this week. "It is part of the past that we must face, and apologize to those to whom we have committed these gestures."

"Yes, in Algeria, there has been torture, but also the emergence of a state, of wealth, and of middle classes," he told Point in November 2016. "It is the reality of colonization. There have been elements of civilization as well as of barbarism."

"As for me, I place by the side of [the citizen-soldiers of the French revolution], the Senegalese infantrymen, the foreign resistance fighters, all those who made France without being born French, or even without being French at all."

Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate: teaching about France's colonial past "must be rebalanced so that children can perceive the complexity, the negative aspects, probably, but also the positive aspects."

"Colonization is systematically addressed, for example, in our country in a firmly negative aspect, and this learning must be rebalanced so that children can perceive the complexity, the negative aspects, probably, but also the positive aspects," she said in a 2013 speech.

When a scandal erupted after a French member of the European Parliament called France "a country of white people," Le Pen commented on the politician's choice of words, which the MEP said were quoted from famed French general Charles de Gaulle.

"These are the words of General de Gaulle, with whom I disagree given that he uttered them precisely to justify his refusal of French Algeria. We were for French Algeria," Le Pen said, explaining that her party believed Algerians could become French if they give up their culture and lifestyle to assimilate.

After French president François Hollande announced his participation last March in a commemoration of the 1962 Évian Accords, which ended the bloody war for Algeria's independence, Le Pen said in a statement that Hollande's decision "violates the memory of the ex-servicemen, Harkis [Algerians who fought for the French] and repatriates who died for France during the Algerian conflict."

François Fillon, the right-wing Les Républicains party candidate: "France is not guilty for having wanted to share her culture with the peoples of Africa, Asia, and North America."

"No, France is not guilty for having wanted to share her culture with the peoples of Africa, Asia, and North America," Fillon said at an August 2016 meeting. "No, France has not invented slavery."

"Slavery, colonization, [and the] trafficking of human beings were abominations," he said in a recent interview with Quotidien de la Réunion.

"But it is not right that today's France should be held liable for crimes committed more than a century and a half ago. The legitimate aspiration to see this painful past known and acknowledged must not lead to opposing, but to bringing the French together."

"[Repentance], I think it would be a great waste of time," he said during a February 2013 visit to Algiers. "France is also me, and I have not martyred anyone, not even my ancestors."

"I think it is a total waste of time and a subterfuge not to talk about anything else, about the problems we are facing."

"For once someone has talked about the positive aspect of colonies and not just the negative aspect... we must stop being ashamed of ourselves," he said in response to remarks by his party's vice president in November 2015.

In a 2010 interview with journalist Éric Zemmour, Yade highlighted the differences between French culture and French colonization.

"You are a child of colonization, without colonization you wouldn't know Baudelaire," Éric Zemmour said.

"Oh yes, and we wouldn't even have spoken to each other? And perhaps I would even be on all fours on the ground? In the bush? They brought me civilization, light?" Yade replied. "France produced Baudelaire. Colonization is another thing. France committed a great mistake. Colonization doesn't have any good side."

BuzzFeed News was unable to find any public statements on France's colonial past by Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon and Yannick Jadot, the green party candidate.

This post was translated from French.

Jules Darmanin est journaliste chez BuzzFeed News France et travaille depuis Paris.

Contact Jules Darmanin at Jules.Darmanin@buzzfeed.com.

Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.

Contact Susie Armitage at susie.armitage@buzzfeed.com.

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