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Decolonizing Europe

By Houria Bouteldja, spokesperson of the PIR. Versión en español aquí.

For several years now, conscious of the immensely high stakes within the European political space, our organization has been invested in building activist ties across Europe. Thanks to the efforts of those activists from various European countries, we were able to organize this first conference of the European decolonial network, on May 11th and 12th 2012 at the Complutense University of Madrid. Below we publish the speech given by Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman of the PIR, at the closing of the first day of debates, which was dedicated to defining the decolonial perspectives.

I must start with a confession: I don’t know what “Decolonizing Europe” means. Or rather, I’m afraid I know. I’m afraid it means changing our civilization model. It is a project that we have yet to invent. It is a titanic undertaking.


It is above all a political project. And yet:

  • There are only a few decolonial movements in Europe. The populations descending from the colonial empire, currently discriminated in Europe and consequently the most qualified to lead this project, are not strongly and autonomously organized.
  • The European political field is structured around the class divide. That means that our allies don’t really exist yet. Some political minorities are sensitive to our discourse but they are marginal.


First question: What is being decolonial?

A. Above all, the decolonial person is the one that has defeated his or her fascination for the White Man, and for the Western civilization. Let me give a few examples:

  • Muhammad Ali. Recall his comments when American journalists asked him why he refuses to join the army for the war in Vietnam. He answers: “No Viet-Cong has ever called me a nigger”. Try to remember also when during a television show, he was asked if, considering his great popularity, he would accept to be the President of the United States. He gave this remarkable answer (I quote from memory): “The day the American system gives the presidency to a Black person, that could only mean one thing: that the ship is sinking. It would be like becoming the captain of the Titanic.” Forty years later, that is exactly what is happening with Obama. The great Muhammad Ali is decolonial.
  • President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s roaring laugh, on July 26 1956, when he nationalized the Suez Canal. A laugh of retribution, a laugh of triumph, a laugh of defiance. All the contrary of the arrogant sarcastic laugh of the tormenter. A burst of life. The jubilation of the oppressed. The intoxication of audacity. Nasser’s unforgettable laugh is decolonial.
  • Zhou Enlai, the Chinese prime minister in the early seventies. When a French journalist asked him “What do you think of the French Revolution?” His admirable response was: “It is too soon to tell.” This retort, incisive and tough, is decolonial.
  • My mother. The other day, I was reading some articles on the Internet, and she was looking at me. I told her: “It’s too bad that you can’t read French, you could have read like me.” She sadly answered: “No, what I regret is that I can’t read Arabic. I could have read the Qur’an.” My mother (and I’m more than a bit proud) is decolonial.

Being decolonial is above all an emancipated state of mind. It’s breaking off, changing, and breaking free at the same time. It is the potential that we carry, buried somewhere within, hidden deep inside our being and it is only up to us to free it.

B. We must reject the integration system:

  • On the ideological level. We must resist the ideology of White universalism, human rights and the Enlightenment, progress, and the linear vision of history.
  • On the political level. We shouldn’t accept the class divide as central, meaning that we should have the courage to position ourselves on the race divide and to pursue the class struggle in parallel or in articulation with the struggle of social races. In other words, it is the process of developing a critical reflection on Marxism. From now on, the domination relationships should be analyzed at a global scale, based on the work of thinkers from the South, based on other forms of knowledge and political experiences under imperial domination.
  • On the level of the ambivalent state of post-colonial populations living in Europe. One must take into account the fact that the “South” people living in the North are also accomplices of the exploitation system of the South by the North and that they benefit from it. Of course, much less than the bourgeois, admittedly, and much less than the white poor classes, but they do take advantage of it nevertheless. We must question ourselves and our implication and our own responsibilities. Careful however! Being conscious of this privilege shouldn’t turn us into abstract humanists like “Singers without borders”, “USA for Africa” or the “Restos du cœur”. Those represent what I call White humanism. It is one of the most deceitful creations of imperialism in terms of good conscience. The struggle must be political and radical: justice and full control of resources, yes, full control of our destinies, yes, but for the colonized people first.

Second question: How to be decolonial, how to decolonize Europe?

There is only one way, and it is the political way.

  • Understanding that transforming the domination relationships must be done through political struggle.
  • Keeping in mind that the distant goal is to bring about a decolonial majority to break White supremacy.
  • Convincing the populations of the “South within the North” that they must come together around a decolonial project. That won’t be easy. Angela Davis said (I quote from memory): “If I could convince my people that they are still slaves, Black people would have been free for a long time already.”
  • Convincing whites who are decolonial, or those who are the closest to us, to organize themselves so they can carry the decolonial struggle in their circles: unions, organizations, political parties… Persuading them that it is the condition for an alliance: respecting the autonomous indigenous spaces, and giving up the exclusivity of the fight against the far right. In other words, convince them to tackle the decolonisation of the left first. Again the same problem here: convincing them will not be an easy task. Because Whites’ have considerable interests in staying White and to fight for maintaining their privileges. It’s in their interest, just as it is in the interest of the bourgeois to keep their class privileges, and it is in the interest of men to keep their gender privileges.

The question that we need to ask ourselves, and that falls upon us as decolonial people is: what would the White get in exchange for White supremacy? What could compensate the loss of the White privilege? It is an open question that I put up for debate because I have no answer. It is a question that falls upon us indigenous people mainly because in this time of serious economic crisis, which is a structural crisis of the system, the struggle to preserve White supremacy is expressed through the alarming rise of nationalist and populist right-wing movements. What do we do?



Translated from French by Samr Tabri.

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