One year after more than a million people took on the streets of France (and even abroad) to protest against the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the crowd was so thin it was outnumbered by the journalists who came to report. How did we get there?
On Sunday 10 January 2016 the French Government organised a ceremony in Paris on ‘Place de la République‘ to commemorate the victims of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on the ‘Hyper Cacher’ supermarket (on 7 and January 2015, 17 killed because they were journalists, Jewish or police), and across Paris and the Saint-Denis football stadium on 13 November 2015 (130 dead because they were at a bar, at a rock concert or just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time). A memorial plaque was laid, a memorial oak was planted, texts were read to the sound of an occasional song.
Look at all the lonely people
The crowd was thin, with journalists almost outnumbering the demonstrators. (Little explanation about the picture below: “Johnny” stands for Johnny Hallyday: the curious case of a singer who became famous in France during the 1960s rock’n roll explosion, who built his persona to become a sort of French Elvis, who claims to be immersed in American culture but has remained totally unknown outside of the French speaking world… and who has now become an antiquated mainstream variety singer mosty popular among the elderly. Probably the French equivalent of a Rod Stewart or Jimmy Barnes, and whose main act of fame in recent years has been to escape French taxes by becoming a tax resident in Switzerland and then in the US)
Nowhere near the spontaneous gathering of 9 January 2015 either.
Nothing compared to the endless processions in the aftermaths of the deadly attacks of 13 November 2015.
All equal before Death
The 11 January 2015 march had already raised many criticisms as an operation of “political white-washing” orchestrated by François Hollande. The presence of foreign politicians who don’t exactly impersonate the values of the Republic, to say the least, had questioned some (just remember that the PM of Turkey and the Emir of Qatar were there… the same guys playing puppeteers with Daech in Syria and putting political opponents in jail). The exhortation to unanimously be “Je Suis Charlie” had put-off others. But many had walked anyway. The sincere emotion, widely shared among the French was too strong to be choosy then.
The attacks of January 2015 were selective, people were clearly targeted and executed for being journalists or Jewish. The November attacks stroke without such ‘discrimination’. Hence, the expectation of a broader attendance to the ceremony putting aside the divisions of January. Non-Charlie, Muslims, all have been shocked by the last attacks of Saint-Denis and Paris, targeting all in extreme EQUALITY. However the expected large attendance just did not happen. Security checks might have deterred some, but the reality is that the anticipated queues did not materialise. Attendance looked limited to officials, neighbours and outnumbering reporters. Why?
So what happened within a year ? The State of Emergency has been pronounced, and extended once so far. A citizen demonstration has been dispersed pretty violently by the Police on 29 November. It could have scared more than one determined activist. The intense policing and its share of deprivation of LIBERTY, of questionable custodies during the COP21 in particular, might have rebuked a lot of people.
Yet, the recent refurbishment of the Place de la République made it the right place for demonstrations, even more than before. Cars are largely excluded from the square, its design welcomes large crowds and, with success, smaller intimate gatherings too. It surely helped to make the square a place to remember not to the triumphant Republic it was build for, but the bruised citizens.
Grieving is over
Two months have gone, two months with an uninterrupted anonymous pilgrimage to the scenes of the killings, making a collective communion less urgent. The call for national unity appears to have failed this time. Or rather, taking part to an official ceremony seems to have become a compromise. Yet the need for remembrance is still vivid, but it has to be spontaneous and individual. Standing beside the Government seems to be uncomfortable to many.
In addition, picking a singer like Johnny Hallyday, now popular mostly in geriatric homes (no offense), for a ceremony in a young and hipster city was a joke to many dubious Parisians. Above all, offering to this tax evader the opportunity to give his voice to the Nation is an ethical mistake from the Government as FRATERNITY should be in mourning surely, but also and mostly in living together. And this includes paying one’s fair share of taxes.
The immediate emotion that followed the attacks gave way to a much welcomed critical distance. What are the government’s answers to the security crisis? The extension of the state of emergency with dubious effectiveness? Bombings in Syria, in the way it happened oh-so-successfully in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya a few years ago? The deprivation of nationality to deter suicidal terrorists? Come on!
Dealing with the effect, not the cause
What can we expect from politics when the Prime Minister warns that “to explain Jihadism, it’s already to look for excuses and to apologise” (Yes he really said that. Bizarrely it has not been relayed in the English media, but a quick google translate of Radio France or slate.fr gives it to you unequivocally). One quick question then: is thinking still allowed? Can the mindless politicking competition be the only goal of politics when the rise of the National Front seems to be the way forward to many? All of this indicates that the protest vote the FN collects is not the only hint of the growing divide between the political class and the People. Our rulers also seem definitively Lost in Commemoration…
Raymondo – 13 January 2016 – Paris
Where is Charlie?