Eyewitness report - Paris, April 21, 2002

This is a short eye-witness report of the spontaneous demonstration that took place in Paris on Sunday night.

Within minutes of the end of the official TV electoral programmes, announcing the stunning news that the racist National Front (FN) party had come second in the first round of France’s presidential elections, tens of thousands of Parisian youth were on the streets demonstrating their anger.

This was one the largest, spontaneous demonstrations I had ever seen - reminiscent of the poll tax demonstrations up and down the UK, back in 1990. When I got to Place de La Republique around 11 o’clock, there only a few hundred demonstrators huddled in the middle of the square shouting slogans. A bare 30 minutes later thousands of youth, few over the age of 25, had already converged, waving red flags, holding makeshift placards and shouting anti-FN slogans. Without any official organisation, the demonstrators stewarded themselves and proceeded to invade the streets and the main boulevard leading straight down to Place de la Bastille, the traditional rendezvous for workers’ demonstrations in the French capital. By the time the march was heading down the main boulevard de Beaumarchais towards the Bastille, the whole street was full of protestors as far as the eye could see - five thousand at least! As the march slowly snaked its way downwards, more and more people joined - this time the demonstrators had a little more grey hair on their heads! Many youth were carrying placards saying that said they were "ashamed of being French" but the overwhelming atmosphere of the demo was combative and anti-racist. Slogans such as " ‘F’ like fascist, ‘N’ like nazi - Down with the National Front (FN)" or "We are all the children of immigrants" mingled with renditions of the Internationale. By the time the demo reached the Bastille - around the same size as Trafalgar square in London - it numbered at least 10,000 and filled up the whole square thanks to the addition of other smaller demos from other parts of the city.

Interestingly, there were few police about and the only signs of any "official" presence at all was a fire brigade truck which cut its way through the crowd on its way to an emergency elsewhere in the city. The crowd parted quickly to let it through and as the engine left the square, a couple of fire-fighters could quite clearly be seen through the window clenching their fists in solidarity. Owing to the late hour (1 o’clock in the morning) and the fact that there were no speakers, many drifted away, with a smaller contingent heading off towards the Elysées presidential palace!

This was just a taste of what can be expected in the next few days. Already today, Monday 22, reports are coming in of spontaneous demonstrations around the country, particularly secondary school students in Lyons who marched out of their classes to protest at the FN in the central square. This sets the scene for a massive demonstration next Wednesday, May 1, in Paris to challenge the provocation of the National Front, who dare to march the same day in Paris to celebrate their heroine "Joan of Arc". The trade union leaders and leaders of the Left parties must call a united demonstration for this day so that the racists are massively outnumbered and to signal the start of the fight-back against the FN and the right-wing parties in general, particularly in view of the coming general elections in June.

Socialist Party, Paris