1-13 May - the premises

It is the student movement which made the first days of May. After the demonstration of 1 May, which was the first to be authorised since 1954 and a relative success which saw 100,000 people march in Paris with clashes between the Order Service of the CGT and “the extreme left”, the agitation which began in Nanterre on 22 March reached Paris.

On Thursday 2 May, the dean Pierre Grappin decided for the second time in the year to close the literature faculty of Nanterre. The next day, 500 CRS and mobile police units occupied the campus, searched cars and stopped “carriers of weapons” (catapults, bolts etc.). Six people were given suspended sentences.

On Friday 3 May, the police, acting on the request of Rector Roche, cleared the courtyard of the Sorbonne occupied by the students, notably from Nanterre, who had come for a meeting. They took the students away. This stirred up protest by others, leading to six hours of violence and 600 being grabbed by the cops. In l’Humanité, Georges Marchais wrote an editorial in which he lambasted “the German anarchist Cohn- Bendit” and made fun of “revolutionaries [...] sons of the high bourgeoisie [... ] who will quickly turn down their revolutionary flame to go and run daddy’s business and exploit the workers”. The government announced the closure of the Sorbonne on Sunday 5 May.

At dawn on Monday 6 May, the police cordoned off the Latin Quarter. From the morning (during the disciplinary hearing for eight students from Nanterre, including Daniel Cohn-Bendit), there were gatherings and marches on the Boulevard Saint-Michel which lead to fights with the police. This transformed itself into a march of 6000 people to Halle-aux-Vins. The UNEF called for people to go to Denfert-Rochereau at 18.30. Then they left in a procession which went towards the Latin Quarter after passing along the right bank of the Seine. In the rue des Ecoles there was an unexpected and violent charge by the police. There was a violent reply from the students, with barricades. At the same moment, the demonstration of the UNEF formed up at Denfert-Rochereau. It encountered the police at rue du Four. There were violent conflicts and well-constructed barricades. In the evening there were very violent demonstrations in the Latin Quarter (500 wounded, 400 arrested). There were also demonstrations in the provinces, some violent like in Grenoble.

On Tuesday 7 May, a gathering took place at 18.30 at Denfert-Rochereau. A march crossed Paris (as police roadblocks allowed) for four hours: Invalides, Quai d’Orsay, Concorde, Arc de Triomphe (21.30). Then it returned towards the left bank. There was a police roadblock where rue de Rennes crossed rue d’Assas. 50,000 demonstrators were present and the confrontations were more dispersed than the previous day with a lot of violence from the police.

On Wednesday 8 May, a gathering occurred at Halle-aux-Vins. The demonstration went by Boulevard Saint-Germain towards the Senate and Place Edmond-Rostand. Some CP members of parliament wanted to take the head of the demo. They were pushed back in to the demonstration. The Sorbonne was inaccessible. The UNEF was in control and managed the dispersal without any conflicts.

On Thursday 9 May, there were no demonstrations but some political meetings.

On Friday 10 May, which would become celebrated as “the night of the barricades”, things began after the demonstration gathered at Denfert-Rochereau where, despite the opposition of the UNEF, part of the demonstrators began to set up barricades in the Latin Quarter from 21.00. In the course of the next few hours more than sixty would be set up. Towards 22.00 the rector declared himself ready to receive a student delegation. Then a double dialogue took place on the international radio broadcasts: Geismar responded to the vice-rector on Radio-Luxembourg, Sauvageot1 to the rector on Europe 1. The negotiations stalled on the issue of charges brought against students: the rector declared that he was not competent to deal with the matter. At 00.15, 3 lecturers and 3 students were allowed to enter the Sorbonne. Before leaving, Cohn-Bendit, who was part of the delegation despite being forbidden by the rector, gave the order: “Occupation of the Latin Quarter, but without attacking the forces of the police.” An hour and a half later, the negotiations reached an impasse. It was at 2.15 in the morning, after issuing the customary warnings, that the police attacked the demonstrators. The battle, which was extremely violent, lasted until 4.30, causing a total of a hundred injuries on both sides.

The events in the Latin Quarter, described minute by minute by the international radio stations (Europe 1 and RTL), acquired an important dimension and appeared (on the television) to the dumbfounded and appalled provincials as the beginning of a civil war.

Learning from the night of the barricades, Pompidou authorised the reopening of the Sorbonne on 11
May. The student movement seemed to run out of steam. The union leaders appealed for a national strike day (to protest against police violence and repression) on 13 May.

  • 1. A UNEF leader.