At 1 am last night, on Place de la Bastille, in the middle of a French crowd,
two Japanese tourists were taking photographs. Maybe they had spent their evening watching
television in their tiny hotel room, maybe they had gone to bed early because they had been walking
in Paris all day long. Then thousands of demonstrators had arrived under their windows and had started
to chant slogans. The Japanese tourists had been intelligent enough to get out of bed, put their
clothes on, take their cameras and come to see what was happening down there, in the street.
At first sight the situation was clear. Le Pen, the 73-year old far right
leader, had just taken the second place in the Presidential
election. It was the most important and dreadful turmoil in national politics since the war against
Algeria had forced the country to change its Constitution in 1958. More people
had voted for a man who blamed the immigrants for everything than for a Prime Minister who had
reduced unemployment and given them more holidays. Now, thousands of people were
gathering there, on Place de la Bastille, to protest against Le Pen.
On the pedestal of the gigantic Bastille column, a large streamer said: "No pasarán !" Some people were wearing a sheet of paper on their chest, with quickly-written words:
"Tonight I am ashamed to be French". Or they had a copy of the left-wing newspaper
Libération: on the first page, there was only a big "Non" above an image of Le Pen.
People talked together spontaneously: "you are Englishe, goode, goode, it's nice to see you!" The
Japanese tourists were watching all this and taking photographs. They could probably grasp the
But there was something else, something they could not understand. The most active people in the
demonstration were the trotskyites, with their red flags. The same trotskyites, by voting against
Jospin earlier, were partly responsible for the success of Le Pen, just like Nader
in the United States was indirectly responsible for the failure of Gore. Some of the trotskyite
banderoles said: "Capitalism is the true fascism". What did these people really mean when
they said the word "democracy"?
Another thing that the tourists may have not noticed, because Japan is a one-race country, is
that the immigrants were missing tonight. Very few North-African faces in the crowd, and almost no
Black people. Where were the young suburban immigrants whom Le Pen blames for stealing French jobs?
They were not interested; they should have been. Most of them had not voted. White European Parisian
students were sharing their fraternity for other races and cultures, but without these races and
cultures. The favorite slogan, all night long, was: "We are all children of immigrants".
Which meant that they were not really children of immigrants. They were heading for the City Hall when a black woman
greeted them from the only window of her 1st-floor room in a cheap hotel. The contrast with the
crowd was such that dozens of people stopped and gave her an ovation. They were so happy: at last
they could show how much they loved someone who was probably an immigrant.
At 1:30 am, the crowd got to the City Hall and called the Mayor, a socialist, by his first
name. Bodyguards appeared at the window, but not dear Bertrand. I could not see the
Japanese tourists any more. Maybe they had returned to their hotel. In the morning, they would
probably feel tired and stay in bed later than usual. They knew that what they had seen tonight was
more important than one more museum or one more church.
I came back home: it was a 45-minute walk, and there was work to do in the morning. I had started
to wander in the streets two hours before, without knowing exactly what I was looking for: an
atmosphere, an explanation, a sign on the walls or on the faces. When something important happens, you can always
see it somewhere in Paris. People walk, talk, sing. They write slogans on the walls. Occasionally
they break windows. It makes you feel that you understand something. But you understand nothing, because tonight at 1 am, as any other night, most of the good French citizens were in bed. And their dreams or nightmares had nothing to do with politics.