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3 May 2010

On this day in history: Student Revolt in Paris, 1968

In March 1968, a group of radical students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris demonstrated against what they saw as the oppressively paternalistic rules under which the university operated. These young adults had to contend with restrictions on their behaviour that workers of their age were not subject to, such as the dormitory rules that forbade students moving furniture in their rooms, forbade cooking in their rooms, banned political activities on campus, and placed severe restrictions on visits by male students to female student’s rooms.

Over a period of weeks this group of student radicals, which became known as the March 22nd Movement, held demonstrations and occupied various university buildings and when the police arrived to arrest them they were driven from the campus by other students who had just left their lectures. In response, the dean of the university closed the campus on May 2nd, and the student radicals moved their demonstrations to central Paris and the Sorbonne.

Around three-hundred students held a meeting on the 3rd May 1968 to protest the closure of Nanterre. This core of left-wing student activists were nervous, fearing an attack by a right-wing student group called Occident. To allay these fears some students guarded the entrances to the meeting armed with truncheons. For the university authorities this act of defiance was unacceptable and they decided to take action.

At around 5pm the police arrived. Representatives from the students negotiated a deal with the police for their dispersal. The students would lay down their weapons and leave the area. The women would depart first, and then the men, both in groups of twenty-five. In return there would be no arrests. Instead, after the women had left the police moved in, arrested the men and forced them into the back of waiting police vans.

The onlooking students, who had not attended the meeting, were enraged. They responded by shouting at the police. As the police attempted to leave, the swelling crowd blocked their path. The police responded with tear gas. More and more young people joined the crowd and eventually the a paving stone smashed through a window of one of the vans. This was to be the first of many. The fighting continued up and down the Boulevard St Michel until darkness fell.

Seventy-two policemen and innumerable students had received injuries. Around six hundred students were under arrest. The French student revolt of May 1968 had begun.

The events of May and June 1968 in France have long been the subject of debate. The Sens Public site has an essay by Chris Reynolds called May 68: A Contested History in which he analyses these debates.

Related posts
Night of the Barricades: 10th May 1968
French workers joined student protest: 13th May 1968
Sud-Aviation workers` strike and factory occupation: 14th May 1968
Conservative reaction in France: 30th May 1968
French Government banned student organisations: 12th June 1968
France goes to the polls: 23rd June 1968
Belgrade student revolt: 2nd June 1968

Also on this day in history
First national telecast of the Kentucky Derby, 1952


sandy said...

I remember seeing some of that on tv, was floored students didn't want the freedoms when things began. Was amazed how backward they were. Can't move furniture? Good grief even religious colleges allow visits.


Borkiman said...

The regime in the universities does seem medieval by our standards today. Thanks for the comment