'Far from over': French students evicted from Tolbiac vow to fight Macron's reforms
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The banners hang torn, the ground is scattered with broken chairs and wood, and the students who occupied Paris’s Tolbiac university campus until this morning have all been evacuated. “I’m sad, but it’s far from over,” one of them tells FRANCE 24.
Since March 26, dozens – and at times, hundreds – of French students have occupied the Paris 1 Tolbiac University as part of a nationwide protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s higher education reforms. At dawn on Friday, however, around a hundred police officers equipped with riot gear stormed the premises and removed the near 100 occupying students by force.
“I was sleeping when they came. It happened so fast I only had time to throw on my trousers and my jumper. All of my stuff is still in there, including my two bags and computer. My computer is really important to me,” says 19-year-old Juliette, who studies for a dual diploma in history and law and who has taken part in the Tolbiac blockade since it started.
“It was as if all of a sudden rained batons over us. Although we knew we would probably be evacuated at some point, we weren’t at all prepared for it. They surrounded us and tried to have us leave one by one, but then we formed a human chain to try to protect each other, and so they started pulling at us, and kicking us. I was kicked right here,” she says and points to her leg. “It was really violent. Three people are in hospital.”
Tears and anger
Across the road from the Tolbiac campus, situated in the 13th arrondissement (district) on Paris’s left bank not far from the city’s Latin Quarter, some 150 students gathered Friday to show their support for those who were evacuated. The atmosphere can best be described as a mix of anger and sadness. While some students feel agitated by the media presence, angrily telling journalists to pack up and leave, others have spent the morning crying and sitting on the pavement while being comforted by friends. A male student had a big blood stain on the front leg of his trousers.
“I’m sad about what’s happened of course, but I feel even more determined now. It’s far from over,” Juliette says.
Later Friday, around 200 students, joined also by some far-left members including Eric Coquerel, a local leader of the France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) movement, had gathered outside the sealed-off campus to protest the early morning evacuation.
Monitored by scores of police officers, no incidents were reported during the protest.
The director of the Tolbiac Centre, Florian Michel, said on Thursday he regretted that hundreds of thousands of euros would need to be spent to renovate the premises damaged by the occupying students. Money that could have been better spent at French universities.
Dimitri, a 22-year-old history student in his third year, has so far missed three out of four exams due to the ongoing protests. “It’s because of security reasons. Right now, we don’t really know neither when nor where we will be able to take them. And yes, that’s a bit worrying, of course.”
Although Dimitri hasn’t taken part in the protests, describing himself as an observer, he says the protests haven’t bothered him as much as the police presence now blocking the premises.
“We could still get to our classes before, but now it’s closed down all together. I think it’s too much.”
Monitored by police
The area was swamped with police officers who were idly standing by, watching the students. Everyone who came too close to the evacuated area was turned back. At least 20 police vans were parked around the campus and the side street to the left of the premises was sealed off altogether.
Aside from the Tolbiac occupation, which has been the flashpoint for the French student protests, similar actions have been held at Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po and Sorbonne universities as well as in other parts of the country, including in Montpellier in the south.
The main reason for the protests is Macron’s proposed reform to introduce a more selective admissions process for students applying for basic university degree courses. At present, all French students who have passed their baccalauréat (high school diploma) can enroll in any three-year degree course they like and are selected at random. This has led to overcrowded classrooms when it comes to some especially sought-after degrees, like law and psychology, and also a high failure rate. The government argues that reforming the selection process will help resolve these issues.
Léo, 26, who studies philosophy, says the battle against the government reform will continue. “It’s a temporary loss, but that’s it. This is actually fuelling us, and on Monday and Tuesday we’re joining the cheminots (France’s striking rail workers) to show our discontent in force.”