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Sous les pavés … The Troubles

Northern Ireland, France and the European Collective Memory of 1968

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Chris Reynolds

Recent studies on the impact of 1968 have focussed on transnational perspectives. The scope and nature of the rebellions go far beyond the stereotypical frameworks that have dominated traditional representations. As the diversity of this ‘year’ of revolt gains greater currency, the case of 1968 has emerged as a critical lens through which to examine the question of transnational collective memories. This book addresses the dominance of the French mai 68 in the way the events are remembered at a European level. Through a comparison with the French events, this study explores how the memory of Northern Ireland’s 1968 has been marginalised and argues a case for its inclusion on the list of countries that make up this Europe-wide period of revolt.
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Chapter 1: From the Sorbonne to Queen’s

Extract

France’s paradigmatic ‘mai 68’

Prelude

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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