Thanks to Barthélémy Gaillard
The Kabylian football team: « We will win independence with our feet »
While a march of Kabyles de France is held this Sunday, April 15 in Paris, focus on the national team of Kabylia. Or when football and politics are played on the same ground.
Usually, the wars of independence are engaged on the barricades and are regulated with Molotov cocktails. Since the withdrawal of France from the country in 1962, the Kabyles of Algeria have not escaped the rule. Sentiment of declassification, discrimination, the Berber minority (17% of the population) has gradually poured into the insurgency, to the point of descending by the thousands in the streets of Tizi-Ouzou, the regional capital, but also Algiers. Still with the same sad result: a violent repression of the regime and a bloody record for the demonstrators, as in the « Berber Spring » of 1980 (32 dead) or the « Black Spring » of 2001 (126 dead). This story, which has marked generations of Kabyles in Algeria, is commemorated Sunday, April 15 in the streets of Paris, during a march where are expected thousands of members of this diaspora very large in France.
But in parallel, the story of Kabyle claims is written on another field: that of football, with the creation a year ago of a « national team Kabyle ». Who will participate, next May, in the World Cup of stateless people of CONIFA . CONIFA is a kind of underground alter ego of the FIFA, an association that brings together the football federations of minorities not recognized by its big sister. Among the other 15 candidates for the title of champion, Kabylie will face the Korean United of Japan, Padania or the Kiribati Islands. A surprising cast made of teams of unknown pedigree, who all share the same desire: to promote their cultural particularity and their identity through the football time of a competition.
Kabyle side, the ambition is even greater, since Aksel Bellabaci, the man behind the project, speaks of « struggle for independence by football. » Aksel Ballabaci is Secretary of State for Sport of the Kabyle Provisional Government in Exile in Paris, an organization supported by pro-independence activists on the one hand – and of course, unpopular in the eyes of Algiers. Look Humphrey Bogart style and impeccable jacket, he receives on the terrace of one of the many Kabyle bars of the capital he attends with other activists of the cause: « For me who am a big fan of football, everything is part of the 2014 World Cup where Algeria had shone . While the team was made up of 70% Kabyle, the speech of the players and coaches was constantly: « We represent the Arabs ». We Berbers have been orphaned. This sentence hurt enough for me to tell myself that I was going to do everything to put together a team that would play on our behalf. »
2014, it is also the moment when Ferhat Mehenni, emblematic Kabyle singer became president of the temporary government in exile, discovers the existence of the CONIFA. He then proposes to Aksel Bellabaci to go to Kabylie to form a team to play the qualifying campaign in 2017. « At first, nobody believed it, rewinds Aksel. Everyone was saying to me, « What is this bullshit? » But thanks to my contacts in the local clubs, I was able to set up a team quickly « . The matches, organized against small groups of the region, are played in a spy film atmosphere, for fear of arousing the suspicions of the Algerian police: « We had to be very discreet. I had brought back the jerseys I had made in France. The players gave them back to me at the end of the match. Nobody took a photo except me, and I kept them preciously until the official announcement of our qual ‘and our participation. Detail that does not lack of salt: the Kabylia team learned that they were selected for the CONIFA World Cup the same day they learned the elimination of Algeria at the official World Cup, in Russia.
From a far-fetched project, the participation of the Kabyle team in the CONIFA World Cup has become a reality. And this is surely what has awakened the concerns of the Algerian power because, a few days later, Aksel Bellabaci has seen several black SUVs with smoked windows. « It was in my parents’ village 10 kilometers from Tizi-Ouzou . I had hardly recovered from the party we had organized to celebrate the qualification when I realized that they were encircling my house and that some were even entering the garden! » says Aksel, half-amused and saddened by the turn of events. Difficult to imagine the formidable Algerian police deploy so much effort to apprehend a man in the aftermath of the evening. However, that’s what happened that morning, in an atmosphere « assault GIGN ». « It says a lot about the importance of our project, » continues Aksel Bellabaci, who then underwent 9 hours of close interrogation by some 20 police officers. « Everyone had his technique, one tried to corrupt me by offering me a job, the other threatened my family … But I did not give in, and they finally released me under the pressure from the inhabitants of my home village demonstrating in front of the police station ». Since then, each of his returns has been punctuated by clashes with the police, as in March, when police prevented a conference on the future CONIFA World Cup.
Despite the difficulties, Aksel Bellabaci is now in the process of forming the Kabyle team for the competition. Nearly 160 players have applied to take part in the adventure. Among them « an 18-year-old player in a Ligue 1 club, » he announces proudly without saying more. The staff of the future team keeps secret the names of the players to avoid any potential pressure from the Algerian government. One of them nevertheless agreed to speak openly. Kouceila Saidouni, 22, presents himself as a « young oppressed in Algeria ». Installed in France for two years, this young man who is good at expressing himself, plays for CS Berbères Villetaneuse, where he continues to play football despite the disappointments experienced in the past; Because Kouceila posted brilliant stats in his club in Kabylie – 40 goals in 22 games for his last season – without anyone ever offered him a contract. « This is the problem in Algeria, it works more by relationship than skills. That’s what made me want to play with the Kabyle national team, because I’m convinced that football is a powerful weapon, and that we can win our independence with our feet. But whether I’m selected or not, the mere fact that this team exists, is a victory. »
Kabylia has a long tradition of winning football matches. For beyond the « Kabyle national team » which is preparing to write its history, the JSK (Youth Sports Kabyle), the club of Tizi-Ouzou, has always been a « sounding box of sports aspirations Kabyle », pose Youcef Zirem, author of a History of Kabylie. For supporters of the most titled club in Algeria have always challenged the central power from the stands: brandishing Kabyle flags in full Berber Spring in 1980 or whistling the national anthem for the final of the Cup of Algeria in 1990. The independence singer Lounès Matoub, a great Kabyle figure, even wrote a song about the club before being murdered in 1998 by terrorists – according to the Algerian state, by the Algerian state – according to Kabyle independence and by Algerian generals – according to a documentary Canal +). For Kabylia, participation in the World Cup of the stateless people will be another important forum of expression. Even if nothing has been done yet, as Askel Bellabaïci points out, « I’m sure they’re going to try something to prefent us to participate. It’s crazy all they can do to prevent us from playing football. For Kabylie more than for any other team, the slogan of Baron de Coubertin has never been so topical: the important thing is really to participate.