May Day 2002

photo: 1 may, rue du faubourg st antoine

Paraders in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine coming
from Bastille on Wednesday.

Parisians Vote for It, Massively

Paris:- Wednesday, 1. May 2002:- This is my 8th consecutive May Day on the streets of Paris. The first one was in 1995, the year when Jacques Chirac was elected Président of France and the long - 14 years - Mitterrand era came to an end.

It is a presidential election year again. The first round of voting was ten days ago. Ultra-right Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen made a late surge and got more votes than the Socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, outpolling him by slightly less than one percent.

There were 16 candidates in all, and neither of the two 'winning' - two surviving - candidates got more than 20 percent of the ballots. Lionel Jospin was so disgusted with the estimation by the French of his government that he quit politics.

Meanwhile, the French - other than the ones who didn't bother voting - voted more than 80 percent against Le Pen. Sayingphoto: campaign poster, jacques chirac that many of the French were not amused to have the choice of candidates reduced to Mr. Chirac and Mr. Le Pen, doesn't quite sum up the past ten days of non-stop anti-Le Pen demonstrations that have been taking place all over France.

The campaign poster for Jacques Chirac.

The climax for this is today, and it isn't just in Paris but all over France. May Day is historically 'labor day' in Europe. Many people will take the day off to do whatever suits them best. It is the closest thing Europe has as a common holiday.

But in France the left - smarting from its 'defeat' ten days ago - and now faced with voting 'right' in order to stop Le Pen, is especially anxious to make a public display of its collective determination to halt the advance of the extreme right. So there is more interest in being 'on the streets' today than in past years.

The first event of the day is a memorial to Brahim Bouaram. This young Moroccan was visiting Paris and minding his own business beside the Seine near the Pont du Carrousel on the sunny day of Monday, 1. May 1995, when he was attacked by skinheads associated with the traditional parade of Front National supporters, tossed into the Seine and drowned.

Several thousand people who remembered this tragic event gather near the Pont du Carrousel where the incident took place, erect a plaque and toss wreaths into the river. Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë is quoted as saying, "There are words and ideas that kill."

This group finishes its ceremony and crosses the bridge to the Quartier Latin - in the direction opposite to the Front National's parade route along the Rue de Rivoli.

The Front National launches its May Day parade slightly before the time this memorial is takingphoto: statue place de la nation place, at Châtalet. The FN's security people discourage a small group of uniformed Italian fascists who want to take part. The facade of the art squat on the Rue de Rivoli they pass is decorated with 'Non!'

In the Place de la Nation, hours before any May Day parade arrives.

The FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen appears at 10:00 at the Place des Pyramides, where a statue of Jeanne d'Arc is located, and places a wreath at its base. He walk a few metres, then gets in a car for the ride to the Opéra, while his supporters and followers walk. Police estimate the number of them as 10,000.

At the Opéra, at noon, Le Pen begins a 90-minute speech with, "Merci à vous tous!" Then he continues with the usual 'potpourri' in its literal sense, concluding that 'with' Jeanne d'Arc 'they' are not alone - 'walking with the saints, the martyrs, the heros of 'their' long history' and so on.

After the official Front National proceedings are over - with only an isolated attack on blacks, who decline to prosecute - a few hundred hard core fascists from around Europe also gather at the statue of Jeanne d'Arc. Slogan, 'Today Jean-Marie - tomorrow, the new order,' with traditional salutes, fists in the air.

Meanwhile at the Place de la République, the security units of the unions have been arriving since 10:00. The police have mobilized 3000 officers, 300 video cameras and two helicopters. At 11:00 the Préfet de Police is relaxed with, 'no incidents so far.'

By 13:00 radio France-Info is saying the Place de la République is full. Police estimate the crowd between this place and the Bastille as a quarter-million, and at 16:00 decide to attempt to funnel it in two directions so it can reach the Place de Nation.

The parade was supposed to start at 15:00, but so many people are joining it by walking towards it on its planned route - that it is stuck at République. Police begin diverting as many as possible into the Boulevard Voltaire route to Nation, and later choose a second route from Bastille to Nation.

Some people, trapped and immobile for hours, collapse and are rescued with difficulty by ambulance services.

Metropole's server-lady, Linda Thalman, arrives in the Place de la République at 14:45. Shephoto: boules players, nation later writes, "We waited until 17:00 to even move one meter towards the Bastille and as there were so many people, our route went down Boulevard Voltaire straight but really slowly to Nation, where we arrived at 21:00!"

May Day is a perfect day for boules all day at Nation.

Metropole reader and Café Metropole Club member Eva Lee said she counted taking 90 minutes to move one block in the Boulevard Beaumarchais, on the route to the Bastille. At 17:00 people are still arriving at République to join the parade. At the same time the police estimate of the number demonstrators is 400,000.

Being an experienced 'May Dayer' and occasional reporter of big events, I have decided to 'cover' the parade at its destination, in the Place de la Nation - where I arrive at 16:00 via métro from Denfert. The weather is partly cloudy, mostly perfect, because it is not too warm.

If it is not May Day, and you are allowed to walk down the centres of the streets, it shouldn't take much more than an hour to walk from the centre of the Place de la République to the centre of Nation, by way of Bastille.

So today, at 16:00, at Nation nobody has showed up. There is one sound truck putting out techno-rock and a few kids are climbing on the Triumph of the Republic statue with red, white and blue balloons. The usual boules players are passing the time with their favorite game on the northeast side.

The place was originally named 'Throne Square,' for the state entry made by Louis XIV and Maria-Theresa on 26. August 1660. The Convention re-named it the square of the 'Overturned Throne' in 1793 and installed a guillotine. It was given its present name on the centenary of the Revolution.

Like so many others today, I decide to find the parade by walking towards it, down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine in the direction of Bastille. The street is closed to traffic and many people are walking towards Nation.

A fleet of police buses passes, headed to Nation. It is a good sign. In the distance helicopters circle overhead. It seems like there is a mass of people coming from Bastille.

By the métro station at Ledru-Rollin, where I can see the top of Bastille's July Column, this mass of walkers is getting thick. Some carry hand-made signs, with home-made slogans. There are some flags, some little kids inphoto: f3 tv mass parade, 1 may strollers. It really seems as if it is the neighborhood out for a stroll.

This is where I note that the camera's batteries are indicating empty. Add this to the notion that the parade is not 'happening here' yet - where is it? Or, when is it?

TV coverage was as confused as the parade route. Image©France-3

I decide that TV-news will tell me more and turn around and get back to my TV set. It tells me this May Day has been too big for one-man coverage.

At some time during the day, Jacques Chirac has received the customary delegation of the merchants at Rungis, who have given him a bouquet of Lilies-of-the-Valley, the traditional May Day flower.

Social Party leaders marched in the parade, ignoring a 'recommendation' by Lionel Jospin to not do so. While he has 'retired' from politics, his party is very definitely on the scene to get out the vote for Chirac next Sunday, and gearing up for the coming legislative elections - when they intend to 'get' Chirac and form the next government.

The absence of rightist politicians is noted. They will be reminded of this during the coming legislative campaign.

Around France, anti-Le Pen May Day parades break nearly all previous popular demonstration records today. The Ministry of the Interior estimates that nearly a million have taken part in them - from 2000 in undemonstrative Bastia to 40,000 in Bordeaux, 50,000 in Lyon, and 15,000 in Strasbourg where Le Pen has some popularity.

In Marseille, there are 30,000 reported in the streets today. On Thursday here, for his last bigphoto: campaign poster, j-m le pen pre-election meeting Le Pen will draw only 5000 to the Palais des Sports, which holds 7000. The anti-Le Pen street demo in the afternoon is credited by the police with assembling 5000 too.

Another 1500 turn up Thursday evening in Marseille to see and hear François Bayrou, ex-presidential candidate of the UDF party, along with polit-philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, journalist Jean-François Kahn and Patrick Gaubert, president of the 'Licra.'

The campaign poster for Jean-Marie Le Pen.

On the same evening - Thursday - 20,000 turn up at Villepinte, just north of Paris, to show support for Jacques Chirac. Does this mean the score will be Chirac, 75% - Le Pen, 25%?

On Friday evening the Presidential campaign for 2002 is officially over and TV returns to its regular program - but only until 20:00 on Sunday, when the polls close.

For those who missed this year's May Day parade in Paris, rest assured that it is an annual affair. When times are calm, it can be quite pleasant to walk down the centres of streets set aside for the day for workers - or anybody who wants to participate, for any reason at all.

Despite all the boggles with today's big parade, it has been like the 'Woodstock' of May Days.

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