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We'll Keep Demonstrating

Etienne Balibar20 June 2016

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This statement against the French government’s threatened ban on demonstrations in Paris, signed by nearly 30 intellectuals, appeared in Libération on 16 June. Translated by David Broder.  

French prime minister Manuel Valls and François Hollande’s statements with a view to banning all demonstrations in the capital are a revolting manoeuvre and an attack on citizens’ essential rights.

The unions who have organised these rallies have clearly repudiated any premeditated attacks on the police and the damage to public and private buildings.

Today there are doubtless multiple reasons to revolt. But aggressive and destructive behaviour must not end up turning public opinion against the social movement. Such behaviour is a gift to the authorities, who encourage it by giving it constant publicity, out of all proportion. This is aimed at throwing a veil over all the social movement’s own forms of expression, hiding them from view.

We forcefully condemn these amalgams and the manipulation of public opinion. And we call for a defence of the right to demonstrate.

Police violence

The government is deliberately playing the card of whipping up tension. Further still, it has chosen the path of irresponsible provocations against the demonstrators, encircling and brutally breaking up peaceful marches, without regard for the journalists, young high-school students, elderly workers and pensioners there present. Have we ever seen this before, in this country? It is unbearable, intolerable, unworthy. No one would have imagined that such police violence would have become the norm under this presidency.

There is a consistent strategy, here, which has been implemented ever since Mr. Valls first arrived in the Interior Ministry, and which is being pursued still today.

You are in Sivens. You’re a young guy studying in the biology department. You have your hands up in the air. There’s no consequence and no excuse for Mr. Valls. You die for saying no. Peacefully. You are called Rémi Fraisse. The grenade tears off your face. That was a year ago.

The right to say no.

You’re an environmentalist, and it’s the COP 21 [climate conference]. You live in Rouen, Rennes, Bordeaux, Paris, Nantes. Of course, together with your fifteen mates you must really represent a serious threat to the Republic. You just want to say to the powerful at the COP: "this time, stick to your promises, not like after Kyoto!" Are you mad or something? At 6am the police break down the door. Suddenly you’re laid out on the ground, they smash up everything in your flat, they tear open the mattresses. You’re a threat because you want to demonstrate? You’re put under to house arrest and they come back from time to time.

You’re a worker. At Goodyear. Or somewhere else — well, it’s really an embarrassment of choices. You are sacked. And soon you have it right in front of you: you can’t pay the credit card bill any more, or the rent either. Before you barely got by. Now it’s a long prison spell. Why? Because you are a worker? Because your "place" makes profits but always wants more. More for who? You resist. You take an HR director hostage. Address: the courts. You are a criminal because you are a trade unionist who resisted. But what should a trade unionist do?

Do we have to believe that this government authorising such violence is on the Left? How far will it go? Another Malik Oussekine [student killed on a demo in 1986]?

Who does the government think it’s impressing? Anyone but itself? For a moment it might imagine itself a matador: virile, martial. But it’s just afraid. And in any case we won’t let our rights to say no slip away. They come from the struggles of the past, waged by the whole Left. We’ll keep demonstrating.


Etienne Balibar (philosopher), Jacques Bidet (philosopher), Jérôme Bourdieu (economist), Christophe Charle (historian), Benjamin Coriat (economist), Christine Delphy (sociologist), Eric Fassin (sociologist), Olivier Fillieule (sociologist), Bastien François(political scientist), Jean-Marie Harribey (economist), Sabina Issehnane(economist), Esther Jeffers (economist), Pierre Khalfa(joint president of the Fondation Copernic), Rose-Marie Lagrave(sociologist), Frédéric Lebaron (sociologist), Philippe Légé (economist), Dany Lang (economist), Willy Pelletier (sociologist), Jonathan Marie (economist), Gérard Mauger (sociologist),Christian de Montlibert (sociologist), Léonard Moulin(économiste), Gérard Mordillat (novelist), Gisele Sapiro (sociologist), Johanna Siméant (political scientist), Violaine Roussel(political scientist), Christian Topalov (sociologist)


Filed under: france, nuit-debout