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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Sorbonne sous le choc

by By Christelle Chabaud

The Sorbonne in a State of Shock Following Police Assault

translated by Patrick Bolland

Translated Wednesday 15 March 2006, by Patrick Bolland

Last Saturday, the government forcibly evacuated students protesting the “First Job Contracts” (CPE) legislation (1) at the Sorbonne, Paris’s most prestigious university. The students met to analyze why and how the situation got out of control.

Fed up by so much violence, disgusted by the heavy-handed reaction by the government, but far from resigned to accepting defeat ... Like half-time in a rugby game, the weekend gave students protesting at the Sorbonne a chance to lick their wounds and to analyze the reason for things getting out of control last Friday. “The coincidence is perhaps too striking to be believable”, Fleur, a 20 year-old sociology student, reflected. “At the very time that [prime minister] Villepin was realizing that the protests against the CPEs - First Job Contracts - were not going to go away just like that, various incidents occurred and, in all the media, people saw that, behind these gentle little dissatisfied students, there were in fact dangerous criminal elements smashing the place up.”

On Saturday afternoon, an ad-hoc committee of some 30 Sorbonne students held an emergency meeting, collecting eye-witness reports from the previous day. Going back over everything that happened, hour by hour, during this heavily-charged day when, in the space of just 12 hours, the students “took” the Sorbonne before “losing” it again. While about 60 students had been occupying the university building since midday Wednesday, without any food or water being allowed in, nearly 400 students succeeded in joining them in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, despite the presence of a substantial police presence in the Quartier latin neighborhood surround the university.

“We got in through a window on the ground floor that everyone, including the riot police, knew had been broken for quite a few years”, Paolo explains. A general assembly was very quickly organized in the Descartes amphitheatre, improvising on two inter-related demands: “The re-opening of the Sorbonne to everyone so the repeal of the Law on equal opportunities [within which the new youth labour contracts formed a clause - translator] can be openly debated”. The motion of an “actively non-violent defense, condemning any acts causing material damage to the university” was adopted with very little dissension. As the adrenalin rose, a team of stewards was formed to stop any property damage, particularly in the library where ancient books are stocked. Parallel to this, a delegation tried negotiating with the university rector, but, after a few minutes, “he fled on the pretext that there was a bomb alert”, one of the students explains.

“It all got out of hand when other people, not students at the Sorbonne and who we’d never seen in the student movement before, managed to get in through the roof”, Elsa testifies. Whether intentional or not, towards 10 pm on Friday, the police encircling the Sorbonne, failed to stop several dozen people from climbing the scaffolding along one side of the building. Towards midnight, several dozen occupiers, refusing to say which university they came from, started throwing ladders, tables and chairs through the windows. According to Bastien, a geography student, “These acts of violence had nothing to do with our protest against the CPEs, most of the Sorbonne students quit the building at 1 am, precisely to dissociate themselves from this violence which was counter-productive to the protest”.

Bastien says there were only a minority of students still in the university when, at 4 am, the riot police evacuated the Sorbonne.
Outside, tension mounted between the demonstrators, who had blocked Boulevard Saint-Michel since the end of the afternoon, and the riot-police. Ambroise, who works in a printers came “to express my solidarity with the students who are protesting the CPEs”. He says: “The riot police were throwing glass bottles into the crowd to disperse the people”. The result? Two of his friends are in hospital, one of them with “a nose and teeth broken”: he was operated on yesterday.

If the students were unable to maintain control of their symbolic take-over of the Sorbonne, the police’s attitude this Friday evening also leaves a lot of gray areas, which, unfortunately, the government - whether prime-minister Villepin, interior minister Sarkozy or education minister Robien - are making no effort to clarify. A simple omission on their part? Hardly! Danielle, a member of the coordinating committee of the students protesting at the Sorbonne points her finger at the intriguing omissions: “Already on Thusday night, the riot police poisoned the situation by gratuitously attacking a peaceful demonstration. In this way they attracted people coming from outside, whose only purpose was to ‘smash the police’. The first responsibility lies with the university rector and the State, who, because they simply have no political answer to give to the anti-CPE youths, try to envenom the situation by encouraging a violent response”.

[Translator’s note]

(1) See another article on this site - “France: One Million Demonstrate Against ‘First Job Contracts’ for Youths” - for an explanation of this law, that is supposed to create jobs for youths, but offers not a shred of job-security or any reference to how long such jobs would last.

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