Northern Ireland, France and the European Collective Memory of 1968
Chapter 1: From the Sorbonne to Queen’s
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France’s paradigmatic ‘mai 68’
Traditional accounts of the French events of 1968 correctly cite 21 March 1968 as a pivotal date in triggering the revolt.1 However, in order to make sense of how the arrest of a handful of extreme left-wing militant students would prove so significant, one has to briefly consider the context. Late 1960s France appeared to be characterised by some long-awaited stability. Since the end of the Algerian conflict in 1962, the country seemed to be basking in the benefits of rapid economic expansion under the steady hand of President Charles de Gaulle. However, despite such successes it is clear that a sense of unease was building up behind this façade of stability.2 One of the most potent sources of this was the fallout from the Algerian crisis and the years of internal tension it had created. Testimonies from a broad range of activists consistently flagged up the Algerian debacle as a significant trigger in their militancy in 1968. For example, Prisca Bachelet, prominent activist and student leader during France’s May 1968 described how ‘[J]usqu’en ’62, c’est la guerre d’Algérie […] c’est le quotidien.’3 Anne Querrien, member of le Mouvement du 22 mars, recounted how the infamous Charonne episode of 1962 triggered her own entry into political activism:
Le tournant militant pour moi est situé en ’62. Il y a eu donc Charonne […] je trouvais qu’on étouffait pas des gens avec qui on était d’accord, et que donc...
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