Out and about in Paris .. La Manifestation (the demonstration)

As mentioned in my previous blog we have been very interested in the ‘manifestations’ across France. Last weekend on Saturday 6th November I followed the big organised event starting at the Bastille next to our marina.

The Bastille has been at the heart of demonstrations since the days the prison was here when in 1789  it was destroyed in protests leading to the French Revolution. The  monument at the centre of the roundabout commemorates the July Revolution in 1830 (overthrow of King Charles X of France), and is a focus point of today’s Bastille Day… nothing much has changed. If you’re interested there’s a great article at this website all about the Bastille.

These photos taken on my walkabout on a day of demonstration, Saturday 6th November, tell some of the story.. more notes below to explain our experience here. Stewart is preparing a Radio Endellion special – we’ll include a link when ready.

Back in June 2010, protestors on the steps of the Opera Bastille.

When here in June this year to check on a place for our winter mooring I stayed at a hotel nearby, just down from the Bastille Opera. At that time the steps of the opera house had been taken over by demonstrators and it was quite frightening to walk around the Bastille with unhappy people and riot police hovering all around.  Early on the morning of departure when I looked through the bedroom window of the hotel the riot squad was trying to disperse the protesters who were smashing windows and knocking over parked motorbikes. I read later online: Undocumented immigrants of Paris (also referred to as illegal immigrants), who had been ousted earlier in the morning, returned later to protest in front of the Opera Bastille.

You have probably read and seen images of the current ‘manifestation’ or demonstrations in Paris and around France along with the many strikes. We wrote about our tiny exposure to one of these events taking place around us at Compiegne as we moved to the fuel barge. These demonstrations relate to raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Here around us on the 6th November I heard a massive rallying chant and whistles above us, as we were relaxing on Endellion, and couldn’t resist going to see what was really going on.

One of the major pieces of anti-riot equipment on standby.

In fact these crowds are very peaceful in their behaviour and they have every right to their approved march and do so with police and security support on hand to close certain roads and ‘watch for sparks’.

It was a bit daunting when I saw, outside the Police Depot in the road on one side of our marina, some of the biggest riot vehicles I’ve ever seen standing by.

Flares light up the July monument (Colonne de Juillet) at Place de la Bastille.

When I followed the demonstrators there was only one incident .. a few cars determined to cross the main road which had been cordoned off with red and white tape – they wanted to force their way through the crowd and were thwarted by the more official-looking marchers.  They didn’t get their way and weren’t happy about it. Meanwhile many restaurants lining the streets were also full of the usual crowd, quite oblivious it seemed to the marching outside in the dark and the rain.

At times

Flares are set off as the final marchers end the day.

Marching with the beat of drums.

Women at the controls of this vehicle and loud hailers follow.

One of the big union groups throw shredded paper streamers, Opera Bastille in the background.

From Versailles in anger and with a great deal of flourish.

The Brasserie is full of contented customers, while outside the demonstrators march on.. although many are leaving via the Metro.

Comfy and warm inside the Brasserie, outside the marchers are in the cold, wet and dark.

there was a huge amount of smoke, from flares, and noise from loud hailers and serious sound equipment carried within vans which created quite a party atmosphere as they passed by .. reggae or rap or African-sounding drum beats .. all to chants and songs of national pride and political statement. I also heard some vans go by blasting out very classy rock but as I couldn’t understand the words I wasn’t sure if it was protest or whether I could buy it to play on the Sony.

Some facts about these demonstrations:

  • The pension reform law has been voted by Parliament (both Assemblée Nationale and Sénat) and is now awaiting final approval by the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council, a bi-partisan board that evaluates the constitutionality of proposed laws) before becoming official law. So it seems it will happen.
  • The event on this day (November 6th) apparently attracted 28,000 people in Paris, against 31,000 on October 28 – so the demonstrators are perhaps tiring.
  • Mostly what I saw seemed to be union organised. Yet, to quote one paper: It is extraordinary how millions of people are regularly inconvenienced by trade union strikes in a country with one of the lowest (8-9%) union membership rates in Europe. Article. Compare this with around 30% union membership in Britain and 23% in Australia it is curious.
  • Another fact is that even after the reforms have been implemented France will apparently still have the lowest retirement age and length of contributions as well as the lowest working week in the world – 35 hours. They will also enjoy more years of retirement than people anywhere else too, because of France’s average life expectancy, which is higher than elsewhere (well, with so much less work stress why not). The French enjoyed an average of 24.5 years of retirement in 2007 – the last year for available figures – compared to 19.8 in Europe as a whole and an extreme low of 14 in Japan. From another interesting article.
  • Stewart and I have been ‘incovenienced’ by having a few bus and train excursions upset and by not being able to get diesel delivered to our boat due to the blockading of refineries. But we have enough fuel for now and it’s a very small inconvenience.
  • Our very valuable engineer/mechanic Clive and his wife have marched at these official days – Clive is a gentle person and was there to show support. He lives locally and is not a member of any union – he’s self-employed. He will continue to ‘manifest’ until it finally, perhaps, dies out.

    Riot police ready for action - not required for the current manifestations, in Paris anyway.

I think all of the people I saw in the crowd on the 6th November were genuine about protesting and doing their best to support their generation and others rights.

I remember at Compiegne when we were trying to understand what all the noise, banners, smoke and red light of flares were all about (as we passed under the bridge) and the English-speaking young man helping us fuel up said it is a “‘manifestation”. I didn’t understand this word and so asked, “is it a demonstration?”. “No, it’s manifestation.” I still didn’t understand this word and asked again, “is it a protest?” NO, he said in a slightly irritated tone. Well, “is it a festivity?”, trying to understand the word manifestation. NO he told me again, it’s “manifestation” ..  and by now I had to give up. In a way I think he was trying to say it’s different to what we Brit/Aussie people would call a demonstration or protest .. it has all of what we would be doing but with a huge amount of something else, something French!

As well as following these demonstrators around for more than an hour with camera and Sony sound recorder (for Radio Endellion, Stewart’s been working hard on a special edition) .. I’m sure you can tell, and may have read, we’ve been having a fabulous time here in Paris.

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About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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3 Responses to Out and about in Paris .. La Manifestation (the demonstration)

  1. Margaret Moxon says:

    From our Australian perspective, with our retirement age already set at 65 for men, and building up to that for women, it’s hard to feel much empathy – depends what one is used to I suppose.
    Love the way you are going behind the gloss of most travel blogs – I’m really interested to hear about how politics plays out in other countries – great to be almost part of it.

    • Lesley says:

      I do agree Margaret .. in finding a huge amount of sympathy. But given the fact (assuming it’s right) that their life expectancy is so much longer than ‘ours’ perhaps they’re absolutely right to campaign against increasing working life. Less work stress may be postive .. or of course just good living (sensible food, happy days, quality wine). However, not sure what will give as the balance between those paying tax and those claiming benefits will get tighter.

  2. John Moxon says:

    Interesting stuff. If you look at this page in Wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifestation and then translate it into English, it seems Manifestation means “Event”. Otherwise I do not see any difference between manifestation and a demonstration. Maybe I’m a bit thick.

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