Paris’ ‘Nuit Debout’ and #StandWithJNU Deja Vu
On the evening of 9 April, the city of Paris saw the 10th day of the unusual gathering at the spacious and noisy Place de la République, which had been occupied by protesters since 31 March. People came rushing in from Place de la Nation, where some of them were protesting vehemently earlier, against the highly controversial and contested labour law.
The scenes of the protests are highly unique to France – exhibiting a sort of urban guerrilla action. I have seen students and workers – mostly members of the Antifa movement – wearing gas masks to protect themselves from tear gas. Some of them were wearing homemade body armour to shield themselves from the wrath of the riot police standing across the street in a wall formation, waiting to pounce at the first order.
Those leading the protests had their own methods to intimidate the police. They were packing fireworks of all sorts, spray paints, and glass bottles among other ‘weapons of intimidation’ which they did not hesitate to use to disengage the police every time they advanced to catch protesters. Such aggressive and sometimes violent protests are not new among the French youth.
The Nuit Debout Movement
French history, society and culture have never failed to create new generations of rebellious youths. The newest generation has experienced a growing sense of betrayal from the currently collapsing Socialist Government, which has recently introduced policies that are far from socialist. Protestors have taken their disappointment to the streets, with students and workers leading this movement to instill the ‘fear of the people’ in the government. However, protests themselves are not the new element in this movement.
This one has gained notoriety due to its Occupy movement which started on 31 March at the Place de République, and has now spread to other French cities. Called the nuit debout or ‘stand up in the night’, protestors non-violently hold a sit-down in the large square and discuss their respective grievances against the administration. The microphone is passed among the crowd and the process goes on till dawn.
Every morning, the police clears the area which is again filled up by the evening by protesters with their tents and camps. There is no specific organiser, and definitely no leader to this movement. Those who are a regular part of it consider themselves to be part of a collective, that of the ‘people of France’ and the ‘children of true democracy’. Having their voices heard loud and clear, according to them, is the biggest way of instilling fear in the government.
Deja Vu Moment
As I paid a visit to the Place de la Répubique on the morning of 10nApril, I could see familiar signs of protests from the previous night – broken glass and smashed screens of ATM machines. As a consumer, I could feel the anger rising from the streets through these violent actions that reflect the actions of the administration and its appeasement of big enterprises and banks.
As a student and worker in Paris, I have already experienced, and continue to experience, the presence of the State of Emergency which has been put into effect since the 13 November terrorist attacks.
This exposes a few globally trending phenomena – rise of right-wing policies and the revolt of left-wing supporters. Sometimes it is termed as a clash of ideologies – but at its core, it is a fight for the rights of workers and minorities against systems that give way to exploitation. Having attended a few nuits debouts myself, I could feel the StandWithJNU movement – something that I have only read about in the news and social media – reverberate with French words and French issues in the heart of Paris. Finally, it comforts me to realise how little this has to do with opposition parties, as it lacks political representation but is filled, rather, with reformist ideologies.
(The writer is a student at The Paris Institute of Political Studies)