Posted by: Hackney Tours | March 23, 2009

It’s protest Jim, but not as we know it

The ever-present CRS monitor an unidentified striking structure

The Paris landmark Hotel de Ville is the scene of the well known Robert D’Oisneau picture Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville. But there wasn’t much love on display today as students and lecturers of the 8th arrondissement started their non-stop walking protest.

La Ronde Infinie des Obstines (literally the “unceasing circling of the stubborn”) takes its inspiration from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, who protested the disappearance of their children under the Junta. The protesters intend to walk – night and day – in circles before this piece of establishment real estate. Until when, we asked? “Until we get what we want,” said a bearded middle-aged man holding a sign.

The Liberte and Egalite Fraternity.

What they want is an end to the reforms of the education system initiated by unpopular President Sarkozy. French universities already suffer from large class sizes, and Sarkozy’s attempt to increase teaching hours whilst allegedly cutting back on research is the last straw for some.

Striking and protesting are intrinsic parts of the French psyche, ever since the events of 1789, and Hotel de Ville is emblazoned with the revolution’s enduring motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Napoleon made his name putting down a Parisian revolt and the barricade-loving Communards were one of the reasons why Baron von Haussman (under Napoleon III’s patronage, nephew of the original Bonaparte) built such wide boulevards in the 1850s.

A few days earlier a national strike had been called, though in these times of job insecurity, some did not answer the call. The Palace of Versailles closed, RER double-decker suburban trains were down to 1 in 3 on some lines, but the Metro ran almost normally.

Sign of the times

But the nation is unhappy, and in two successive visits Bookpacking has come across demonstrations in the education sector. The passing of the spirit of ’68 is sometimes lamented, but if the recession continues to worsen, those cobbles – which make such excellent ammunition – could be dug up once again. The day before the strike, the street outside the Sorbonne was lined with CRS (paramilitary riot squad) vehicles and the entrance guarded by police in body armour.

For now, the university staff and pupils of Saint-Denis are happy to make their point peacefully. Like planes stacked over Heathrow they circle, waiting for the right conditions to descend. Will it be a happy landing, or will they run out of fuel first?

(see their website for a video: La Ronde Infinie des Obstines)


  1. Strikes are the French National sport, and we are even the world champs at it. Cobbles have been removed from all streets where demonstrations occur for mysterious reasons. 😉

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