With the generous help of Sud Ouest journalist Marjorie Michel, who enabled me to view the newspaper’s coverage of that momentous night, I sought to reconstruct events as they unfolded and returned to the city’s hotspots and riot scenes… only to find them much quieter these days!
|Student movement figurehead,|
now a renowned politician.
In Bordeaux, Sud Ouest dedicated whole pages to “l’évolution de la crise”, providing updates on the strikes across all sectors: banking, transport, retail, clothing, education, social security services, taxi drivers, aerospace engineers at Dassault… everyone had demands that had to be met and, while negotiations were in progress Sud Ouest reminded its readers that “on trouvera encore aujourd’hui les grands magasins fermés, des postes d’essence non approvisionnés, des bureau de tabac ne distribuant qu’un seul paquet de cigarettes, des rues encombrées de poubelles”. (Today once again, department stores will be closed, petrol pumps will be empty, tobacconists will only sell single packs of cigarettes and the streets will be strewn with rubbish.)
Such was the backdrop to a demonstration organised by the national student union UNEF on Saturday May 25th. There was already tension in the air in the city: two nights earlier there had been disturbances at the Grand-Théâtre where sit-in demonstrators had come face-to-face with concert-goers, and the night before there had been outbreaks of violence on Cours de l’Intendance.
The Saturday gathering saw between 4,000 and 5,000 people – students and workers – converging towards Place Saint-Michel around 5pm. The mood was laid-back, the sun was shining, banners were paraded good-humouredly and there were even a fair number of children along for the ride. The crowd winded its way up to Place de la Comédie and then across to Place Gambetta before moving down to Place Pey-Berland where they symbolically congregated outside the city hall, Palais Rohan. It was now early evening: 7:15pm.
|Trouble first broke out at Palais Rohan, riot police surging down Rue des Remparts towards the city hall. The picture top right (source: sudouest.fr) was taken by Vincent Olivar, who was injured in the incidents. Bottom right is the same view today.|
|Then the Faculty of Literature, now Musée d'Aquitaine. On the right, people are pictured transporting cobblestones (source: ina.fr). In the background is the distinctive shopfront of a fancy dress store, as can also be seen bottom right.|
|Cours Victor-Hugo: Café des Arts, where the injured were tended to, and the multi-storey car park which was the scene of more violence.|
Back on Cours Pasteur, two-way traffic was in full flow: paving stones were being taken into the building while desks and chairs were being taken out to be added to the escalating number of barricades. The Faculté building had itself become a war zone with paving stones scattered everywhere, while the air had become unbreathable on the main ground floor concourse given the amount of tear gas present, the impact of which was only slightly attenuated by the bucket-loads of water that had been poured on the floor. Bizarrely, in one of the lecture theatres, a girl sat at a piano and launched into an impromptu performance of Chopin waltzes for a small audience. Still the stones showered down on the police forces.
|The evening's events and hotspots, adapted from a map which featured in the May 27th 1968 issue of Sud Ouest.|
Final sporadic outbursts of violence then broke out on Place de la Victoire as a final, compact group of demonstrators sparred with the authorities, but it would be little more than a footnote. Eight hours on from the initial incidents on Place Pey-Berland, the nuit des barricades had come to an end. In all, 109 people had been injured (40 demonstrators and 69 police), though none seriously. Ninety demonstrators were arrested over the course of the night.
|Mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas surveys the aftermath the following day on Rue Paul-Bert (source: sudouest.fr), and the same scene today.|
That Monday, mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas issued a statement which was printed on the front page of Sud Ouest, acknowledging that Bordeaux had become a regrettable focus of public attention. He also noted that the peaceful demonstration had been undermined by the involvement of trouble-makers who had little or nothing to do with the city or the university: “Once again, irresponsible ringleaders have abused the fervour and enthusiasm of most young people.” Student representatives also condemned the demonstrations which “had been hijacked by ringleaders from a minority of irresponsible anarchists”.
|Catherine Grenier's residence on Cours d'Albret.|
- The account of the Bordeaux nuit des barricades is based on a lengthy Sud Ouest report (published on May 27th 1968) that compiles the eye-witness testimonies of journalists François Latappy, J-C Maingot, Gérard Fiquemont, Maurice Fauré, Christian Morron, Claude Jouanny, Jacques Sylvain, Pierre Petit and Bernard Abbadie.
- Big, big thanks to Sud Ouest’s Marjorie Michel for her support on this subject.
- Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
- The INA website features this grainy footage of the Bordeaux nuit des barricades. The pictures mid-way up the page and at the top are stills from this report (click here if video does not display properly on your device):