Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

May 68

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2018

May 68Fifty years ago this week, the Left Bank in Paris was rocked by student protests, later followed by workers’ strikes. Revolution was in the air. I can’t claim to have been there then, though I watched as much as was available on British TV news. I was studying French ‘A’ level at the time, my mind totally caught up in the works of Albert Camus and André Gide, and I had been to France the year before on an exchange visit (as recounted in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes). So the cobblestones that the student activists were tearing up from the streets of Paris to hurl at police were still vividly in my mind. I had already become very political — with the Young Liberals, some of whom were branded Red Guards by the then party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, in mocking reference to what was happening in China’s Cultural Revolution. But neither we nor many of the students in Paris were Marxists, being more libertarian with a touch of anarchist, though I was totally opposed to violence. I longed to go over to join people at the Sorbonne, but with exams looming that was hardly feasible. And after a few weeks the whole thing fizzled out. General de Gaulle — who had fled to an army base in Germany at one stage in the protests — called a general election and the Gaullists were returned with an overall majority in the National Assembly. The bourgeoisie had won. Yet May 68 did leave an indelible mark on that generation of French youth, as well as impacting on cinema and other aspects of French culture. And it convinced me that I would live in Paris at some stage in my life, though it was to be another 12 years before that happened. Looking back now it seems impossible that les événements were half a century ago, as they are still so fresh in my mind. It’s even weirder to realise that half a century before that, young men were dying on the battlefields of the First World War — which as an 18-year-old I had thought of as ancient history.

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One Response to “May 68”

  1. There was an interesting and fairly dispassionate eye-witness account on Radio Wales’ “Sunday Supplement” yesterday (about 15 minutes in, after the obligatory Brexit discussion): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b1p46n.

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