France: Student Strikers Attacked; 'Fascist' Dean Jailed

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1581 ... April 5, 2018
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France: Student Strikers Attacked; ‘Fascist’ Dean Jailed

Richard Greeman

Eight days ago (on March 29), the ultra-conservative Dean of the Montpellier University Law School was summoned to police headquarters, interrogated, hauled into court, and held over in jail for arraignment by the Chief Prosecutor -- all on the complaint of nine student strikers, who claim to have been brutally assaulted with Dean Philippe Pétel’s active complicity while ‘occupying’ a school auditorium.

The students, backed by live videos, described Dean Pétel encouraging masked thugs with wooden staves to burst into a Law School auditorium and violently expel a few dozen students who were ‘occupying’ it as part of the University-wide student strike. The thugs were videoed brutally beating students, even on the ground, and several... were injured. The thugs then returned to the antechamber, where a counter-demonstration of conservative anti-strike law students including Pétel and several other faculty, was waiting. The Dean was videoed congratulating the bulked-out masked aggressors, whom no one was able to identify as students. The building was locked, but Pétel had the key to the antechamber from which the attackers issued. The complicity of other faculty members present is under police examination, and one has been arrested.

Within hours, the Law School attacks were all over the social networks, and student strikers, human rights groups, civil rights lawyers were busy organizing demonstrations and protests for the next day, framing it as a ‘fascist aggression’. This epithet is less of an exaggeration than it may seem, as the tradition of law students supplying the thuggish muscle for extreme-right groups here in France goes back for over a century (as I recall from my student days in Paris opposing the Algerian War). As we all know, student striker complaints of police brutality normally go unheeded, and protests against them may bring down even more police punishment. Deans who ‘stand firm’ against occupiers get promoted. How then to explain this ‘man bites dog’ reversal in Montpellier University (founded 1279)?

Today in France, twelve universities are already on strike, and the social and labour situation is heating up rapidly. Here in Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry, the Liberal Arts University, just voted an open-ended strike and blockade of classes at an outdoor General Assembly attended by over 2,000 students. So far, the mood has been temperate. Support for the strike is near unanimous, but there is deep division over the tactic of blocking classes, especially among first-year students who are worried about their exams (which will probably now be put off). Some professors are offering their courses online and a radical ‘free university’ called "Vincennes2.0" in memory of Paris in May 1968 has been set up. The local high schools are also full of agitation, with two or three ‘on strike’ and riot cops hanging around and making arrests. The situation is tense.

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