Fifty years ago, there was severe civil unrest in the French capital, Paris. Mass strikes, demonstrations and the occupation of several universities interrupted the tranquility of springtime in the city.
Fundamental disagreements spiked between on the one side students, left wing parties and the unions, and on the other side the conservative government lead by the renowned Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou with military- and police forces backing them. Exactly fifty years ago today, on the 10thof May 1968, the conflict climaxed. Both sides went head to head in the streets of Paris while similar tensions started to build in several other major French cities. At one point the politicians feared it would escalate to civil war or a revolution. After all, the nation did have a tradition for this sort of thing, so they knew the threat was real. Sensibly, President de Gaulle took the consequences and hastily seeked shelter within a French military base in Germany when the conflict was at its worst.
It all began with a couple of student riots, where they occupied their faculties. They were unhappy with the increasing capitalism, the consumer society and American imperialism. At first it was merely viewed as student rebellions, but it spread with surprising velocity to factory floors, and before long 11 million workers had left their workplace and initiated a strike. More than 22% of the French population were involved with the conflict, which was viewed as a social revolution rather than a political one. The anarchy lasted two weeks during which time there were also huge disagreements within the both camps. It became the largest full-scale general strikes in France, which only came to an end through the announcement of a parliamentary election the 23rdof June, which was easily won by a new government which retained de Gaulle as president – arguably making him more powerful than ever.
May 1968 was a cultural turning point for France, which echoed throughout the rest of Europe. Throughout these events, the otherwise beautiful Latin Quarters of Paris were exposed to a couple of rather harsh nights. The police’s miserable attempt at stopping the riots ended in a catastrophe, and if anything only amplified the issues. It was later revealed that the police had used agents provocateurs in the streets. They threw a couple of Molotov cocktails, set fire to a few cars, and the scene was set…
Many of the classic cars which we value today, were of course just ordinary daily cars for the Parisians back then, and they ended up being the victims during these riots. They simply got in the way as the violence spread through the city. Viewed today, the pictures from those riots are really quite disturbing. They show very clearly the extent of the conflict. It’s hard not to feel sorry for those poor cars left bruised and burnt-out in the streets.