Paris: The unrest boils over

19Oct10

Less than a month after I accidentally joined a friendly protest in Paris, today the unrest finally boiled over and turned violent.

In a nutshell, President Nicolas Zarkozy’s government is proposing that the retirement age be raised from 60 to 62. The government’s argument is that France’s retirement system is untenable if left “as is.” The people’s response has been predictably—historically—French: Call a strike and march in protest.

I’ve witnessed several strikes and protests during my visits to Paris over the years. Most have been inconvenient but fairly benign. But I worry that this time may be different.

There seems to be a groundswell of dissatisfaction behind the most recent wave of protests. And even more concerning, the dissatisfaction seems diffuse: It’s not really just about the retirement age. It’s about immigration and the economy and job security and human rights and a host of other issues that are important to any democratic society.

I’m concerned about my friend Chris. His assignment with the Herald Tribune will keep him in Paris for a few more weeks.

But I’m also concerned about France’s social and political stability. I can’t help but wonder whether there was the same sense of general dissatisfaction and unrest before the 1789 and 1848 revolutions.

Conventional wisdom says that history tends to repeat itself. For once, I hope conventional wisdom is wrong.



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