Demonstrations that make the car burnings of New Year's Eve look like a school picnic have been taking place all over France.
According to Le Parisien, 21,000 persons demonstrated in Paris against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. A few hundred attempted to get into the Israeli Embassy but were stopped by police barricades around Place Saint-Augustin and Boulevard Haussmann. Many were wearing a kaffyeh and chanted slogans such as "We are all Palestinians, Israel: Assassin". "Gaza, Gaza, we are with you".
Some vandals threw chairs taken from cafés at the riot police, who, in turn, used tear gas. Some climbed on top of cars; public property was destroyed; two Israeli flags were burned; on Boulevard Haussmann three cars burned, about 15 others were turned upside down, then pillaged; storefronts were broken.
A Swiss source, 20 Minutes, says that 20 persons were arrested. With the demonstrators from the start were Olivier Besancenot, leader of the LCR (Communist Revolutionary League), and Marie-George Buffet, leader of the French Communist Party.
There were demonstrations in other French cities as well. Between 8,000 and 15,000 demonstrators in Lyons. About 15,000 in Marseilles, but the police say 4000. Between 2000 and 3000 in Bordeaux, 3000 in Lille, between 600 and 800 in Toulouse, 1000 in Annecy and Perpignan, 3000-5500 in Nice, 3800-5000 in Mulhouse, 1700-4000 in Nantes. You can check out the blog of François Desouche for lots of videos from the cities mentioned above.
When President Sarkozy returned to France on December 29, he delivered his traditional New Year's Eve speech, available on video at numerous sites, including YouTube.
The speech was remarkable for what it left out – just about everything of cultural and civilizational importance for France, focusing instead on economic issues. Sarkozy said that he told his people the truth from the beginning of the crisis, that he took his responsibilities and that he was demanding that all countries act in common agreement to make the necessary changes. He reiterated his belief in a strong activist Europe and his conviction that out of the current crisis a new world will emerge. He urged his people to remain in solidarity with each other, so that the most deprived could be helped. He spoke of his plans to reform the hospitals (recently a baby died when a nurse made a medical error), and the high-schools, to reduce the failure rate. He would make his reforms based on what he called the values that define France's specificity: work, effort, merit, laïcité, solidarity. "You can count on me," he told his people, adding that he would continue to work in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where he would be traveling on Monday in an effort to promote the peace process, in accordance with France's mission to always seek peace.
Interestingly, he did not mention immigration, Islam, métissage, affirmative action, ethical issues such as gay marriage, terrorism, the crime rate, or the problem of a national identity being submerged in the massive immigration. These are the problems that beset concerned Frenchmen, i.e., those who confront, on a daily basis, the consequences of a bad social and immigration policy.
The values he listed as defining France's specificity are so vague they could be applied to hundreds of countries. What are, instead, the values that define the nation we think of as traditional France? Does anyone want to offer suggestions?
As France is being torn apart by her immigrant population (with some help from the Communists), here's a refreshing change of pace from violence and from Sarkozy's global, one-size-fits-all value system. The poster announces a torchlight gathering, Sunday January 4, at 6:00 p.m., in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral, to honor the patron saint of Paris, Saint Geneviève. The website Paris Fierté (Paris Pride) explains:
Paris is not only a world-class capital. It is not only the French administrative and Jacobin center of power. It is not only the most popular city in the world for tourists.
Paris is a people. A people rooted in a history like so many other peoples of France and Europe. People are born in Paris, and live there, sometimes their entire life. For them, Paris is the place of their own personal history, connected to that of a collective destiny. At every street corner, every square, every fountain, every bridge, they have a memory. They live their history. They do not want to relegate it to museums and frescoes in municipal buildings. Between those of today and those of yesterday, the ties of memory are still alive. Like the children of Brittany, Savoy, Alsace, Castile, Piedmont, Bavaria, or the County of Nice, they remember.
Every day, from the broad avenues to the narrowest streets, they criss-cross the city. Their city. Where they work and live. Where they cry and laugh. Where they love and fight. Paris, for them, will never be a prefecture or an administration. Paris will always be their home.
Click here for scenes from last year's torchlight ceremony.