Festivities today to mark the 57th anniversary of Tunisian independence will include a ceremony at the presidential palace with speeches, military drills, and security forces displaying the Tunisian flag.
Yet aside from that, little official fanfare is planned for March 20. According to Kmar Bendana, a historian and expert at the Institute for the History of the National Movement, public festivities marking independence day have declined since the 2011 revolution.
Many Tunisians feel divided about the legacy of independence from France, which ushered in a secular government that insisted on the separation of religion from public life.
But even if Tunisia’s current government chooses to downplay the holiday, “the 20th of March is a sacred day for Tunisians and the Tunisian people are more important than politicians,” Bendana said.
She said it was an affront to Tunisian people and their dignity that political leaders “are giving the day less importance than it deserves. The history of the country is a profound matter.”
Bendana added that Tunisia will not be able to develop and move forward without acknowledgement of the past.
Nonetheless, as part of the activities that are planned, the presidential celebration will include the awarding of medals to the families of martyrs that fought against colonization. In the lead up to independence day, President Moncef Marzouki also announced that he will pardon 366 prisoners who do not have criminal records, according to Express FM.
Celebrations will be held outside of Tunisia in countries with significant Tunisian communities, including France, Italy, Germany, and Canada. Many of these will include cultural events aimed at young people, such as contests for the best traditional Tunisian costumes.
Tunisia’s first independence movement dates back to 1907 and over the following decades garnered broad support among the populace and even the ruling Bey. Independence leader and Tunisia’s first President Habib Bourguiba championed the independence cause from the platform of the Neo Destour political party.
Bourguiba was imprisoned in France for his nationalist efforts and only after World War II did he return to Tunisia at which juncture he called for a scheme of gradual independence from the French. Attacks against the French presence in the country occurred between 1952 and 1954 during which time Bourguiba was incarcerated again.
When incoming French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès France took over in 1954, he sought to phase out French presence in Tunisia to reduce the threat of attacks French were then receiving in colonial Tunisia.
By November 1955, France granted Morocco independence, and only a year later – March 20, 1956 – did Tunisia achieve its own independence.
Bourguiba subsequently became the first president of the new nation after negotiations with France.