France’s Nuit debout has been compared with Spain’s Podemos party and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US. On 10 July, the anti-capitalist protest movement is 100 years old. But how are things now, and what do France’s writers and intellectuals say?
Several thousand protesters met for their nocturnal gatherings at Place de la République in Paris and in about 100 other French cities. These protests are now over. Isolated groups stand about on the square that now seems far too spacious. Persistent rain, strikes, a state of national emergency since the attacks and a general mood of depression in France has also deprived this movement of any impetus – although it still has not disappeared.
France’s labour market reform, which the government wants to introduce to soften the 35-hour week and job protection, and its unanimous rejection by various participants of the Nuit debout movement, is not resolved yet by a long way. In mid-June a Nuit debout activist, disguised as a football fan, hit the headlines when she showed reform the red card after the EURO 2016 match between France and Switzerland (…). Was it just a successful isolated action? No, the Nuit debout supporters stress and campaign on their website for further protests – not without a certain longing for the early euphoria.
The movement sprang to life on 31 March when demonstrators failed to go home after a day of nationwide anti-labour market protests organized by trade unions, school and student associations. They lingered on the Place de la République with their slogans and banners – and returned every evening. Each protestor had two minutes to present his or her vision of a more just society. It was not July 1789, not even May 1968, but a hint of revolution floated in the air. Like many tourists and passers-by, Alain Finkielkraut became curious and mingled with protestors. On this 16 April, however, Greece’s ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was more than welcome with his “Manifesto for Democratizing Europe 2025”, Finkielkraut – a member of France’s new reactionaries – was verbally abused and chased. “Get lost, you fascist asshole!” “Stupid asshole yourself”, bawled the otherwise polite and well-spoken philosopher and French Académie Française Member, which brought plenty of jeers. Henri Lévy, who – in his words – joined this “slightly simple popular movement” – demanded the “unmistakeable comdemnation of the Nuit debout organizers” – the indignation was great but the protest continued.
In May, after François Hollande had pushed through his labour market reform in parliament without a majority, and social dialogue practically no longer existed, writers also presented their ideas to the movement. As part of the Étonnants Voyageurs (Amazing Travellers) literature festival in Saint-Malo, they participated in the city’s Nuit debout movement. They were joined by France’s best-known criminal detective writer, Didier Daeninckx, whose novels regularly give rise to social debates on subjects such as the Algerian war and problems of refugees and Gérard Mordillat, author of the novel Vive la Sociale. “People are talking to each other here and sharing their ideas, while the government again refuses to listen to citizens’ opinions. They are trying to impose laws on us without any discussion or critical questioning about their foundation and fairness. (…) What I’m seeing here is magnificent; we personify the republic and democracy.”
Even if the protest goes on in much less visible forms on the country’s squares, it continues in another form. Many Nuit debout activists are joining in the current anti-reform protests, keeping in touch on social media and planning to continue the fight together against capitalism and globalization. “What has happened here in recent months has enriched and fundamentally changed the social movement. It has become more democratic”, according to journalist and trade unionist Eric Beynel.
By Katja Petrovic