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Habib Kazdaghli: Exhibition and Conference in Tunis

Hisdemab Senior member Prof. Dr. Habib Kazdaghli just published an article about the conference and exhibition on the Centenary of the Communist movement in Tunisia (1921-2021) that he organized at the Cinémathèque de Tunis.

More info: Centenaire du mouvement communiste en Tunisie, Leaders, 25.3.2021

Poster of the conference

From the article:

“Since Tuesday 23 March and throughout this week (23-26 March 2021), a great event is taking place at the beautiful Cité de la Culture in Tunis (Avenue Mohamad V) and more particularly at the Cinemathèque under the sign of the history, memory and heritage of a century of struggles for equality, freedom and dignity. A history of the Tunisian left-wing movements in the diversity of their contributions and the multitude of their sacrifices. This is a scientific initiative proposed by the Laboratoire du Patrimoine, a research unit founded 22 years ago at the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities of Manouba University in Tunis. The initiative is done in close cooperation with the Office of Academic Cooperation of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and has found support and encouragement from several associations of civil society: Association Perspectives-Amel Tounisi, Hassen Saadaoui Foundation for Democracy, Lam Cheml Association, Mountada Ettajdid, Ahmed Tlili Foundation etc…

In the space overlooking the main entrance hall, the exhibition retraces this century of workers’ and political struggles that began in an organised manner in March 1921 with the birth of the first communist organisation, just a few months after the birth of the Destourian party in 1920. Photos and archival documents from the early days are on display, some of them first-hand, shown for the first time to the general public. Alongside the first Manifesto of Communism in Tunisia, (La Brochure Rouge), the first popular poems praising anti-colonial communism and the social liberation of workers, poems by Abderrahmen el-Kéfi in their original edition.

The early figures of communism were plural, multiracial and international. But the first local militants are visible through the figure of Mokhtar Ayari, both a trade unionist and a journalist, who was the first ally of Mohamed Ali Hammi during his founding trade union experience of Tunisian trade unionism. Like him, he was exiled for a long time in Alexandria after the famous colonial trial against the leadership of the CGTT in 1925 and only returned to Tunisia after Independence, .

The history of the Tunisian Communist Party traces the epic moment of the anti-colonial struggle and the resistance of the Tunisian people and its workers against social and national oppression. What emerges from the exhibition: singular itineraries, forms of new sociability, barriers and walls that are breaking down between communities and ethnic and social groups: for the first time in this country, Muslim and Jewish Tunisians are organising and fraternising in the same political and trade union space with French, Italians and Maltese to build a single family with common ideals and the same motto: to liberate people wherever they are in the name of a common social and philosophical ideal. A true universal and romantic epic. At times, Tunisia became a place of exile, refuge and combat for Italian anti-fascists, Spanish Republicans and French Gaullists.

This history is also one of successive resistances and endurances. Alongside the Destourians, the communists were also seen filling prisons and places of exile, condemned and hunted down. Throughout its existence during the colonial period, the Tunisian communist party lived in hiding, banned and rarely tolerated during the Popular Front or the post-war period.

But this story continues after Independence under different conditions. Faced with the national state being built under the hegemonic leadership of a Destourian party that emerged victorious under the direction of a haloed and charismatic leader: Habib Bourguiba. The militants of the communist party, followed by the young people of the “new left”, wanted to make their contribution to the construction of the new Tunisia, both through criticism and critical support, and through radical opposition, which cost them years of imprisonment and banishment in their own country. Despite attempts to adapt to the new national context, it was a real crossing of the desert that began for the communists following the banning of their party in January 1963. It was also the birth, alongside and often in competition with the Tunisian communist party, of new movements from the new university elite: the “Perspectives” movement and the famous first political trials of the left in 1968. Then came the era of pluralism of the left and its successive mutations and evolutions. The communist ideal is reformulated by more than one group: El-Amel Attounsi, Watad, POCT, from trial to trial and from resistance to resistance tells the story of student protest in its own way.

The meeting which is currently taking place (23-26 March), is divided into panels led by talented journalists (Amel Chahed, Selma Jlassi, Adel Kadri, Hassen Ayadi, Mourad Zghidi, Leila Bourogaa, Soufiane ben Hmida etc.). It approaches with serenity and method under the sign of appeasement and historical distancing, the major themes of this past and its memory, from the birth to the present initiatve of historical assessment of one century of communism with historians of more than one generation and multiple actors.
The cinemathèque, partner of the event, has reserved for the public a series of emblematic Tunisian and international films, including “Terre tunisienne”, “L’homme qui escalada la montagne” (The man who climbed the mountain), “Les Sabots en or” (The golden clogs) by Nouri Bouzid, the famous “Sacco et Vanzetti” (Sacco and Vanzetti) and “Aouled Lenine” [The Children of Lenin] by Nadia El Fani, etc. ….

From an object of political struggle, marked by decades of passions, divergences and controversies on university campuses, the history of Tunisian communism (in the multiplicity of its contributions) is invited, by the Laboratoire du Patrimoine, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of the first communist nucleus, to become, also, a field of historical research, an object of reflexion, of comprehension of the meanderings of the past. A theme of high cultural and memorial value, which will continue to be discussed through meetings already planned in several regions until the end of 2021: Gabes, April 10, Siliana, May 21, Bizerte, July 19, Sousse, October 2021, will mark the anchoring of Tunisia in modernity and its attachment to universal thought”.


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