Dispatch from Paris: APARTHEID IN FRANCE

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Sarkozy gives the victory sign

Many Americans are disgusted with the situation in the US under Bush, and I entirely sympathize with those who think the solution is simply to leave the US, something I did about fifty years ago, but that solution doesn’t work any more.

Here in France, “Sarko” (Nicholas Sarkozy, the recently elected neocon president and admirer of the “American economic model”) is imitating Bush right down to the smallest details… his first move in office was a bill giving tax breaks to the rich. Sound familiar?

His second move was getting rid of the French Secret Service and replacing them with handchosen cops. Paranoia in high places is ubiquitous.

Third move: he announced that the the 500-room Elysees Palace (French White House) was too small for his family, and took over the guest palace across the street that was built to hold visiting

Notice any similarity of egos here?

Chemtrails abound over Paris… pollution levels measured in the RER underground trains are now three times legal limits.

A demonstration in the Latin Quarter by a few dozen rightist hoodlums right after the elections was countered by over two thousand armed and armored cops being sent into the neighborhood.

They clogged every street in the Quarter with buses full of heavily-armed goons… I counted over two hundred weapons on hips of cops outside the buses alone… all to handle 20 demonstrators? Nope, to scare the shit out of all the voters. And guess what. It works.

Sound familiar?

It’s global, my friends. Stay where you are and fight it there. It’s not going to go away until we all do.

Apartheid a la française?
Paris suburb of Clichy one of the epicenters of disturbances

Is the election of an unrepentant conservative a harbinger of worse things to come? Five days ago, four hundred Parisians were stranded overnight on an outdoor train platform just five miles beyond the city limit. Newpapers headlined it, ‘A Night in Hell’, and no doubt it was, for it was a cold, windy, rainy night.

In a previous post I largely blamed this stranding on France’s 35 hour work week law, which makes it almost impossible for people to work overtime, and thus probably kept the transport system from bringing in some emergency buses to get people back to town.

However, since writing that, I’ve discovered another aspect of French life which contributed to this hell on earth: apartheid.

There’s a system of night buses which runs in Paris, from the center of the city out to many of the suburbs surrounding the city and back. These only run once an hour, and there’s no way you could jam even one hundred people onto one of the night buses, but at least some of the abandoned passengers at Stade de France might have escaped their night in hell this way. The problem is, there are no night buses to or from St. Denis, the town where the stadium stands and where those train passengers got stranded.

Burntout car in Clichy suburb disturbances

Why not? Simple. The suburb of St. Denis is what the French police call a ‘hot zone’. It’s a place with a lot of what outsiders, and many French people, would call without hesitation “delinquents,” in fact with thousands of them. The youth of the town are the national champions in that French sport of the underprivileged, setting fires to parked cars. (On an average night, about 110 cars are torched in France, mostly in the ‘hot zones’ around Paris and Lyon.)

Sarkozy, new president of France, earlier this year referred to young people of that type as ‘racaille’, loosely translated as ‘scum’, a comment which earned him some criticism but which didn’t stop him from getting elected. Apparently the transport system agrees with him, and thereby has closed down all night buses into the ‘scum zone.’ They don’t want those young hoodlums coming into Paris and staying too late in the evening. The bus drivers are afraid of them, and with good reason. French train conductors and bus drivers more than occasionally get knifed or beaten up by such ‘racaille’, and sometimes murdered.

In South Africa, during Apartheid, the blacks in big cities were required by law to leave town by 7 or 8 PM, and go fifty miles or so out into the countryside to their ‘settlements’ to sleep. Those days are over now, down in Africa, but France today has a slightly more subtle approach to the same problem… just discontinue late night buses to the hot towns, and that way at least you get the ‘scum’ out of the city on the last subway train.

Of course, the hundreds of thousands of well-behaved, law-abiding “non-scum” people living in the ‘zone’ are just out of luck, at least as far as night transport is concerned.

Shayne Nelson, expatriate artist and writer, is Cyrano’s Paris correspondent.


4 comments on “Dispatch from Paris: APARTHEID IN FRANCE
  1. This report which confirms what I read some time ago on the BBC site paints a sad picture of where France, the rest of Europe and, certainly the US, are at now in terms of problems long ago spawned by unjust and exploitative policies. We might call them the payback for our sins. French and British colonialism opened the door to the “blowback” immigration we see today overrunning Europe from Africa and Asia. And the “terror” psychosis that envelops the US, cynically stimulated by the government (and probably set in motion by it, too) is part of the same blowback. We created the jihadists back in the 1970s and 80s, especially under Reagan, with ample help from Pakistani’s intelligence and military assets, and even China. The purpose was to defeat the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, a nation which we had helped to destabilize when in the process of a badly needed modernizing revolution.

    Now they have turned their guns on the US, although it’s clear that 90% of the American people neither understand nor benefit from the crimes of our foreign policy. Same can be said for Europe, where rightwing parties are capitalizing on the immediate (and very human) chauvinist reaction to masses of foreigners, and to seeing their societies changing complexion and mores so rapidly, often in such a contentious way.

    In the end, justice for all is the only way to peace. As Napoleon himself put it, you can do almost anything with bayonets, except sit on them. There are limits to imperial power.

  2. The fall of the Soviet Union—flawed as she was—removed the only “standing” reasons for the reasonableness of management all over Western Europe and their big bully protector, the US, against the “communist threat.” Now the upper classes are preparing to roll back even social democracy. It was to be expected, for anyone who understand how class interests play their hand. Only a clear, left consciousness can stop this insidious development which Sarkozy is only the latest expression of. As usual, the masses must beware phony populist slogans. The critical problem humanity faces is the fact that at least in the “developed world” the left is miniscule or totally compromised.

  3. With the takeover of Le Monde, the previously left-of-center “paper of record” for French readers by a rightwing cabal (which also dissolved the egalitarian collegial structure of the paper) the stage was set for a consistent rightwing propaganda attack on the “leftist” disaster. Sarko’s election is also a product of that. People should understand that in a world more sdaturated with media than ever before, corporate media wield an enormous power to shape and distort consciousness. A common tactic of the right is to appeal to short-term “solutions” that in the long term damage the interest of the masses. Many racist policies are based on such a maneuver.

  4. If the left is defeated in Europe, then the prospects for the Anglo-American left and the renewal of American society become less bright. We all have a stake in advancing (and defending) progressive politics in Europe.

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