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international | crime and justice | feature Sunday November 06, 2005 18:21 by Joe C - UNite Workers Union, Workers Charter Movement
Some Personal Thoughts On The French Autumn Intifada
This text was originally posted on Aotearoa IMC
I was one of the co ordinators of the Irish mobilisation to the Second European Social Forum which was held in Paris two years ago, to the day. We had over a hundred people come from Ireland, and it was my job to head over early and co-ordinate accomodation with the ESF organisers there, as well as get the lie of the land and find out where everything was happening...
Imagine the shock when most people coming to the ESF discovered that a lot of the sessions were happening thirty or forty kilometres out from what most of us consider Paris, that beautiful walled medieval city of the Commune, May 68 and the Revolution. I spent the first day going from Bobigny (end of the line) to St Denis, and the hidden Paris of the ghetto-suburbs blew me away. Looking back on it now, the French ESF organisers probably opened Europe's eyes to the hidden reality of 21st century Paris. At the time we thought it was stupid to spend half the day travelling, but now I think it might have been a stroke of genius...
Mile after mile of desolate estate- high rise ghettoes reaching out to the horizon. The train stations were all covered with New York style hip hop grafitti, and when I got off at the second last stop (St Denis-Porte de Paris) I got a real shock. It was Bastille Day, when France celebrates its revolution, and in the middle of this concrete urban bunker that doubled as the town's main square, a bunch of old (white) army veterans were holding up French Tricolour banners gilded in gold with the names of their legions and the battles they had fought inscribed on it. This did not look to me like a progressive bunch of Communards or Sans Culottes. Maybe some of these guys had seen action in Algeria with Le Pen's torturing paratroopers.
Around them were clusters of African and Arab kids, shouting out the names of towns and cities these old men had probably killed people in. Bwtween the two groups were a cohort of fully tooled up CRS riot police, with body armour, alsatian dogs, tear gas weapons that looked like sawn off shotguns, and huge paddy wagons with armour plating on them. To me it looked like some version of the Orange Order insisting on their right to march provocatively in Derry, aided by their RUC racist police cousins... I remembered the Bob Marley song at the beginning of the cinema verite intro to the film La Haine, with his words "they were dressed in uniforms of brutality" echoing over a montage of riots in Paris.