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Is Paris burning?

*YÜKSEL DURGUT

Nearly 80 years have passed since the end of World War II, which resulted in Germany’s defeat. The change in the course of the war had disturbed the dictator in Berlin. Adolf Hitler, who did not want the capital city of Paris, which was under Nazi occupation, to fall into the hands of the Allies, ordered its destruction.

After giving the order to General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, Hitler asked, “Is Paris burning?” This order later became the subject of movies and books.

Paris was not completely burned, destroyed, or obliterated in 1944. Sparks that started with the end of World War II in France caused the country to occasionally succumb to flames. Within the mass uprisings that occurred in France, there are also chance similarities to events that have taken place in its history.

Following France’s defeat by Germany, Charles de Gaulle, who went to London and initiated the Free France forces to resist the German occupation, began the student uprisings in 1968, which shook the foundations of the Fifth Republic just ten years after his leadership.

Charles de Gaulle fled to West Germany with the fear that the uprisings could be successful with the addition of the working class to the ranks of the students. French President Emmanuel Macron had to cancel his visit to Germany last week after the protests, which started last week, spread throughout France and even reached the Caribbean and other French colonies.

Macron made many statements to appease the protesters, but these statements have not been successful yet. His statement expressing that the killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk by a Paris traffic police officer is “unforgivable” did not extinguish the fire.

Although Macron may be right in his statement, on the other hand, the law approved by him in 2017 gave the police officers the authority to use force and firearms. Just last year, 13 people lost their lives as a result of the implementation of this law. The fact that the majority of the victims were of North African origin raised questions of “racism.”

The killing of the young boy is undoubtedly unacceptable. Now the police officer who pulled the trigger is facing charges of “intentional homicide.” On the other hand, an online fundraising campaign was launched in support of the police officer who caused Nahel’s death, and nearly 1 million euros have been raised so far. The statements made by the far-right Jean Messiha for the campaign, “We will show how much we love our police,” further angered the protesters on the streets.

Macron and government officials are trying to explain to the public that the killing of Nahel was an unfortunate incident and that systemic racism within the police force is caused by a few bad apples among them.

These statements resemble the reactions of officials in countries like the UK and the US, where racist incidents frequently occur. The incidents that erupted in France last week can be interpreted as the equivalent of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the US, which was reinvigorated by the “George Floyd” events and caused great controversy in the West.

It would not be wrong to say that there are similarities between these events. Both the sudden outbursts of anger in the US and France did not happen all of a sudden. Perhaps the only difference between them lies in the fact that France does not officially recognize race, ethnic origin, or religious differences. If this system had worked so far, the flames would not engulf the whole country as they do now.

On October 17, 1961, a massacre took place in Paris during the Algerian War of Independence. The incident was referred to as the “1961 Paris massacre.” With the instruction of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, the French police attacked around 30,000 Algerian protesters supporting the National Liberation Front. The French government denied the massacre for 37 years. Until 1998, the French state even denied the death of 40 people.

On October 17, 2001, a plaque was placed on the Saint-Michel Bridge in memory of the massacre. However, historians say that the number of deaths was over 200. It seems that no one counted the bodies thrown into the Seine River.

Although it may seem that not much has changed since the time of the 1961 Paris massacres, the fact remains that a lot has happened since then.

The unlimited powers given to the police in France actually stem from the events of 2015. On January 7, 2015, three masked and armed individuals attacked the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris with automatic rifles. Twelve people lost their lives in the attack. Towards the end of 2015, another bloody incident occurred on November 13.

The unlimited powers given to the police in France actually stem from the events of 2015. On January 7, 2015, three masked and armed individuals attacked the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris with automatic rifles. Twelve people lost their lives in the attack. Towards the end of 2015, another bloody incident occurred on November 13.

Along with three districts of Paris, armed and bomb attacks were carried out in the Stade de France. In addition to a hostage-taking incident in a theater, there were incidents in the vicinity of the capital. At least 132 people had died in the attacks.

The Islamist terrorist attacks, which should be condemned, are being cited as one reason for the subsequent strengthening of racism. This is actually an excuse that the perpetrators are desperately looking for.

18 years before Nahel’s killing, two young men who were being chased by the police in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb lost their lives due to electrocution, and the public took to the streets. The constant occurrence of such incidents in France does not appease the hatred and animosity of the people. Nahel’s killing is not just an isolated incident, but rather an outburst of long-standing anger.

The rising fuel prices and the protests against the cost of living, initiated by the Yellow Vests movement in 2018, and the subsequent reactions to the Macron government’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, have been recent events that have given both France and Macron a headache.

Dating back to the French Revolution in 1789, these events clearly draw the public’s reaction as they are perceived to exclude the working class and further enrich the bourgeois class. At the same time, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity exclude French citizens in the 21st century. Ignoring people based on their ethnic origin, religion, and skin color emerges as the triggering factors behind these outbursts.

A century after Adolf Hitler’s death, the resurgence of the far right is spreading fear throughout Europe. Even the thought of radical leaders like Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour coming to power in the next French election indicates that these conflicts will last longer.

In the streets of Nanterre, France, you come across signs depicting anti-discrimination activists, the first black president of the Republic of South Africa Nelson Mandela, and famous resistors like Pablo Picasso, who depicted the massacres committed by German and Italian soldiers during the Spanish Civil War, and Pablo Neruda, who resisted fascism in his own country and Spain with his strong political stance throughout his life.

The charm of the resistance in the city’s streets reflects the recent history of the country’s other suburbs, as well as the struggles of figures who emerged from the shattered dreams of the world.

*YUKSEL DURGUT is a journalist and a columnist at TR724.com

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