There was a momentary whiff of « revolution » in the spring air – demonstration, dissent and even destruction. Was history about to repeat itself ?
Students occupied their universities in protest at forthcoming education reform. Workers went on strike, and as always happens in the politics of dissent in France, the streets of the nation’s towns and cities became legitimate « arenas » for malcontents.
As with all demonstrations in France, on the periphery of the peaceful protests, there were dark, shadowy, masked and hooded, figures armed with clubs, bats and molotovs – in 1968 they were called « casseurs » – those who go a peaceful demo with one thing in mind – to take on the police. Nowadays we call them « black blocks »
May 1st in Paris – workers hit the streets for traditional Mayday parades, and in full pubic view, over 1000, dark « ninja-like » figures ; the Black blocks. They trashed a Mc Donald’s outlet and then burned a few cars in a small 300-metre radius, yet the images were flashed across the worlds media – Paris was in flames, Paris is a war zone …
It was1968 all over again, but it wasn’t. The French prime minister went down to the scene and talked of his outrage at the explosion of violence. French President Emmanuel Macron, on an official visit to Australia at the time, Tweeted his indignation, promising that the full force of the law would be used against these extreme-left-anarcho-anti-capitalist black blockers.
A few arrests were made and then everyone went home.
A far cry from the events of May 1968, the last French « revolution », as some observers qualify those weeks of pitched battles on the streets of Paris between stone throwing students and legions of CRS riot police.
It’s 50 years since 1968. When it was the 40th anniversary back in 2008, it was all nostalgia, analysis and any opportunity to flog a few souvenir photo books. Anyone who had been someone back in 1968 was hauled on to TV to promote their new book on old events.
This time round though … it seems like no one wants to remember – a few TV documentaries with old B&W news footage of riots, but none of the nostalgic overkill of ten years ago. Makes me wonder if the events of 1968 still have any relevance today.
France was a very different place 50 years ago. A whole generation of baby boomers were reaching their sexual and political maturity – they felt stifled and fettered in the strait jacket of De Gaulle’s late 60’s France A country, that, morally, had changed little since the end of WW2. No voice for the kids, who were just waiting for the French sixties to start swinging. It was still « la France à Papa » – 1968 was all about jolting French society into the modern era.
Not too sure that today’s millenials have quite the same contentions and issues, as those babyboomers who are now effectively their grandparents. Modern millenials probably wouldn’t mind a return to « la France à papa »
Not so concerned with revolutions anymore, I’m sure what preoccupies the nation most at the current time, are the chances of the French team at the up and coming soccer world cup in Russia in July