All entries for Tuesday 09 August 2011

August 09, 2011

Sur les émeutes: Part 3

Le Monde's startling front-page headline today reads 'L'Angleterre flambe'. The accompanying photograph–an image of firefighters in Croydon–could have been cut and pasted from a shot of the Blitz. The newspaper's coverage of the riots correctly refers to the rioters as 'des jeunes hooligans', and alludes to the central difference between London and Paris: the lack of security afforded by a Boulevard Périphérique separating the trouble in the Banlieue from affluent Parisians. Unlike the inhabitants of the Banlieues, the disaffected and, it would seem, largely bored, young people involved in the London riots are living on the doorstep of Parliament. Perhaps the Coalition could do with taking a leaf from the Parti Socialiste's book: there is an underclass in the UK, and one which needs tackling. Much like the main characters of La Haine: Vince, Hubert and Saïd, there are young people in London literally doing nothing. London might not have the same scale of Banlieues as Paris, but that does not mean that it does not have the same problems.


Nick Hewlett, The Sarkozy Phenomenon (London: Imprint Academic, 2011)

Parti Socialiste, Le Changement: Projet Socialiste 2012 (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2011)

La Haine (Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)

Le Monde, 9th August 2011

**All translations from the French are my own**

'L'Angletterre flambe' (Part 2)

Paris above ground in the summer is largely a city of tourists and a handful of professionals that don't up sticks and move to the coast before the Rentrée. The Métro and the RER, by contrast, are a different proposition. The carriages heading to the outskirts give a much better idea of the socio-economic makeup of the Banlieues than the streets of the capital. It seems that the London riots have been spurned on by the same ignored, unemployed section of society that populate the Eastern suburbs. Unlike Versailles, or Sarkozy's political fiefdom of Neuilly, few Parisians, tourists or politicians venture to places like Viliers-le-Bel or Sarcelles. Sarkozy famously threatened to have the rioters in Clichy-sous-Bois swept away with a Karcher power-washer, calling the young people involved 'la racaille'–loosely translated as 'scum'. Suffice to say this did not have a healing affect. It's hard to see how the Banlieues have changed since the 1995 film La Haine, in which three young men of mixed ethnic origin spend their time doing very little and getting into fights.

France still has a hidden 'underclass' in the suburbs, a fact which neither politicians nor the press can really ignore. The Parti Socialiste's programme for the 2012 Presidential Elections, entitled Le Changement ('Change') suggests that France is today facing its 'greatest challenge since the Second World War.' It states that the 'inequalities' which affect the inhabitants of the Banlieues have progressively 'got worse' ('se sont aggravés') over the past ten years. For a mainstream party to acknowledge that there are some seriously disaffected individuals literally and metaphorically on the fringe of society is an unprecedented move. Unlike Sarkozy, the PS is not suggesting flushing these banlieussards away, but trying to address the underpinning reasons for their marginalisation.

London Burning: the French reaction (Part 1)

On the train route north out of Paris–in the direction of the sleepy château town of Chantilly and just out of sight of the omnipresent Basilique du Sacré Coeur–lie two rarely-visited suburbs of the capital. The brand-new train noticeably doesn't stop at either Sarcelles or Viliers-le-Bel on its way to Chantilly. The stations themselves reveal nothing of the nature of the two banlieues: instead, you're left to work out from the countless closely-knit, high-rise buildings what lies beyond the empty platforms. While it's hard to imagine the affluent inhabitants of Chantilly rising up against very much–except perhaps moves to create a rival cream–riots broke out in both Sarcelles and Viliers-le-Bel in 2007 in response to a road accident in which two teenagers of North African origin died whilst being followed by police.

The international reaction to the riots of 2007, and those of 2005 in nearby Clichy-sous-Bois, was very similar to the reaction to the current London riots. Let's face it, suburban violence does not posess the capacity to shock intra muros Parisians in the same way non-participants are affected in London. The riots in both 2005 and 2007 was, not surprisingly, limited to the ghettos that are the banlieues. Baron Haussmann, whose architectural project so changed the face of central Paris, successfully ensured that the working-classes–in a time before the 'underclass' of today–could no longer afford to live within the capital's walls. Some working-class, ethnically-mixed areas do remain, with the likes of Belleville and Ménilmontant in the East end. Even the heartlands of the 1871 Commune, though, are being eroded by the influx of middle-class professionals on the hunt for cheaper accommodation.

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