The Berber Spring (in Berber: Tafsut Imazi?en or simply Tafsut for "Spring") was a period of political protest and civil activism in 1980 claiming recognition of the Berber identity and language in Algeria with events mainly taking place in Kabylie and Algiers.
Since its independence in 1962, Algeria has had a single-party system, ruled by the FLN. After 132 years of French colonization, one of the goals of the Arab nationalist party FLN was to implement Arabization measures with the goal of making Arabic the national language in administration, schools and public services in general. Like most ex-colonies, the independence of Algeria stressed the need for a linguistic and cultural "recovery", as a symbol of the nation's "recovery". Under French colonization, Arab language was disregarded; in 1938, the French government even issued a law that declared Arab a foreign language in Algeria. By reaction to the French policies, the nation-building project envisioned by the Algerian nationalist and pro-independence party, the FLN, made it so that Algeria would be a monolingual Arab and Muslim country, with little consideration for the pluralism of cultures, identities and languages in Algeria. For example, the 1976 National Charter did not take into account any Berber claims for recognition.
This rejection of the Berber identity, language and culture is to be put in a context where approximately 10 to 12 million Algerians are Berbers.Kabylia is the region that concentrates the most Berbers, It is located in the North of Algeria. It has approximately 7 million inhabitants.
During the 1960s and the 1970s, several Berber cultural organizations emerged in Paris, for they could not be set in Algeria. At that time, there were lots of exchanges between Algeria and France and despite being based in Paris, those organizations also targeted Kabylia's inhabitants. The Berber, and more specifically the Kabyle, identity was already a political cause. For example, Mouloud Mammeri had created the Académie Berbère d'Echanges et de Recherches Culturelles (ABERC) with other intellectuals, that emphasized the similarities between the minorities in Algeria.
The Berber Spring is traditionally dated as beginning on March 10, 1980, with the banning of a conference due to be held by the Kabyle intellectual Mouloud Mammeri at Hasnaoua University in Tizi-Ouzou. This event sparked demonstrations and strikes at schools, universities and businesses that would rock the Kabyle region for more than two months: this period is known as the "Berber spring" or Tafsut Imazi?en. This event was the first great popular movement to challenge the authorities, the FLN and the single-party system since Algeria's independence. A critical point was the coordinated arrest of hundreds of Berber activists, students and doctors on April 20, sparking a general strike.
According to Jane Goodman, the Berber Spring could not have happened if not for the conjunction of 4 dynamics: the Arabisation program that "criminalized" the Berber identity; a small network of Berber scholars in Paris in the 1970s; the student governance in Algerian universities that allowed for the organization of the demonstrations; and the "human rights discourse" in the media, fuelled by the violent repression.
While the Berber Spring was in the end violently suppressed by the Algerian authorities, it created a lasting legacy for Kabylie and the Berbers across North Africa. Many of today's prominent Kabyle politicians and activists made their name during the Berber Spring events, and organizations such as the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Berber Cultural Movement (Mouvement Culturel Berbère – MCB) were later created by activists of the Spring. The Spring was also an important event for Algeria's nascent human rights community, including outside Berber circles.
Since the dismantling of the one-party FLN system in 1989--followed by abortive democratization and civil war--a few of the demands of the Berber Spring have been met by the state, and the Berber language is now a national language of Algeria. However, this is still distinct from Arabic, which remains the official language, and many other points of contention remain.
Since January 2011 massive Berber activism re-emerged in North Africa in the wake of the Tunisian revolution and the overthrow of the Tunisian president Ben Ali, in what Berbers sometimes call the Berber-Arab Spring. This time, Berber activists were much more active and vocal on the streets of Morocco and Libya compared to Algeria. In Libya, Berber rebels helped topple Gaddafi, as the offensive that captured Tripoli and greatly helped end the civil war there originated from the Berber Nafusa Mountains.