- Title: FRANCE: France remembers 1968 student protests
- Date: 9th May 2008
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (French) DANIEL WILEMET, PARISIAN, SAYING: "I don't think that politics should take place in the street, far from it. I think that a citizen's participation is necessary to political life and to the life of a country but the street should be the last place where opinions and above all political action should spring up."
- Embargoed: 24th May 2008 13:00
- Location: France
- Country: France
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA8CMU0OTOOXXTNTC07ITUJX2OO
- Story Text: France marks 40 years since its students demonstrated in the streets and clashed with police as they tried to change the society they lived in.
Forty years after May 1968, France is enjoying a wave of nostalgia for the student revolt that rocked the streets of Paris, fuelled by a never-ending debate about what it all achieved.
In 1968, sparked by a dispute over visiting rights to a female students' dormitory, protests over university reforms and wider personal liberties led to three weeks of riots and sit-ins in the streets around the main Paris university, the Sorbonne.
At the head of the movement, young student Daniel Cohn-Bendit, today an MEP for the green party, known then as "Danny The Red", wanted to revolutionise the world.
On May 11, 1968, stone-throwing students clashed with phalanxes of helmeted police in some of the worst scenes of chaos. Students demanded that the government free up a hidebound society.
The student movement was initiated on the Nanterre University campus on March 22 when a handful of students, including Cohn-Bendit, occupied a room there. Today, students on the same campus think that the events and spirit of May 1968 are a thing of the past.
"I would have liked to live through something like that because I saw many pictures of people talking with each other all the time, they were all overexcited," said Marion a law student at the university.
"If you look at the French Revolution, which lasted quite a long time, under the third Republic there were many, sometimes violent demonstrations, in 1968 and quite a few since then for the students. So it's a phenomenon that was created and I don't find this very spontaneous," said another law student, Louis.
The crisis, which blew up into a general strike that paralysed the country, was so serious that President Charles de Gaulle made checks to ensure the army would be ready to intervene if necessary.
May 1968 changed many things for workers in France. There was a sharp increase of salaries, more paid holidays and the right for the unions, which until then could only exist outside the workplace.
In recent years, French students have regularly taken to the streets to protest against their studying or social conditions. In 2006, massive protests which turned violent took place against the government's plan to introduce a new contract for first time workers. Arguing that the new contract would make their lives more precarious, the students spent weeks demonstrating in the streets across France. The government eventually withdrew the unpopular reform.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has been the most prominent recent critic of the '68 events, pledging during last year's election campaign to "liquidate the heritage of May 1968" and restore respect for traditional values.
Sarkozy's attack has been derided by many who point out that he himself -- thrice married, most recently to an Italian fashion model -- could never have become president in the conservative world before 1968, when a woman still needed her husband's permission to open a bank account.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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