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Page history last edited by Esther Gyan-Debrah 1 year, 9 months ago

Public's reaction to student revolts 

 

The beginning of 1968 did not indicate any serious issues that would result in a national emergency in such a short amount of time. Nonetheless, after continuous protests and the closing of the Nanterre faculty, a wave of protests and the occupation of administrative buildings (Sorbonne) was sparked. Due to these building occupations the French national police CRS (Campagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) intervened by violently storming the university thereby breaching the law as they were prohibited from entering university grounds. This provoked public outrage since the population could not comprehend the use of violence against students. From this moment on the crisis ceased to be a student crisis and evolved into a larger crisis comprising all members of society. All in all, the population was stunned by the way the police handled the situation. The task of the CRS is primarily to minimize danger during mass events like demonstrations; nonetheless, they are heavily criticized for the use of violence; it has even gone so far that they have been compared to the SS (Schutzstaffel) - the Nazi organisation that used surveillance and terror to ensure national security as they claimed. Concluding, one noticed that violence was very present in response to the student revolts which shocked not only students but the rest of the population. 

 

Government's reaction to student revolts

 

The head of state during the student revolts was General Charles de Gaulle and his prime minister Georges Pompidou. However, de Gaulle failed to understand the movement and was completely disconnected to the youth. In de Gaulle the youth saw a traditional old man who represented authoritarianism who they could not identify with as the wanted something new. The most pressing issue was de Gaulle’s passivity since he utterly underestimated the situation, or rather the power of the students. On the other hand, there is prime minister Pompidou who did his utmost to cope with the situation by closely cooperating with the chief of police and initially making concessions to student demands. In comparing both leaders “it was undoubtedly Pompidou who emerged the stronger” (Reynolds, 2011, p.43). Concluding, one notices that the government was helpless and to some extent relied on the police’s help. They completely misjudged the situation which is indicated in their passivity and hesitation to make decisions. 

 

 

 

Media's reaction to student revolts 

3 May 1968 - L'Humanité 

 

The media also attempted to depict the social and political unrest that had overcome France. One example is the French daily paper L'Humanité who published PCF's general secretary Georges Marchais' opinion about the student riots by putting the heading "des faux révolutionnaires a démasquer" ("expose the false revolutionaries") on their front page. Marchais was outraged that the students were increasingly occupying buildings and using propaganda to draw people's attention to their cause which he strongly opposed. During this period of student riots the Communist Party PCF did its utmost to separate themselves from the movement and encouraged the working class to not participate in the student movement. It is also argued that PCF's attitude towards the students can be traced back to the origin of communism which is Russia. The PCF had a close relationship to Kremlin, which supported de Gaulle's foreign policy and his opposition to American influence (Russia also opposed the US' dominance which becomes clear through the Cold War at that time), thus Kremlin encouraged the PCF to not get involved in the student movement which could overturn de Gaulle's government. 

 

The initial reaction to the student riots which gained momentum with le mouvement du 22 mars and the 3 May was shock. The extent and the influence of the movement was not predictable, however, it took the world by storm and shook society to the core. It even challenged the government indicating its weakness namely a generational divide and incomprehension of the elite like de Gaulle. The events of May 1968 are mainly reduced to the student riots which demonstrates the power the students possessed.  

 

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