libcom.org interviews 'vanou' a student from Rennes who has been photographing the protests against the CPE up close, including from her apartment balcony.
For a different view of the struggle in Rennes, see our report "Five Days in Rennes" from 1st April.
Over the past couple of weeks libcom.org/blog has been sourcing photos of the events from various French indymedias and directly from people on the ground in France to accompany our news coverage of the event.
In addition to this, we also started using flickr.com this week, where many photographers are uploading photos within hours of the protests, tagging them with "manif" or "cpe", and making them available to distribute for non-profit use via the creative commons license. There are a significant number of photographers across France doing this, which leads to an immediacy and personal view of these events that even independent media sources find difficult to convey.
Of particular interest to us were photos by 'vanou', a student living in Rennes who's apartment gives her a birds eye view of many of the spontaneous protests happening in that area. Rennes is one of the focal points of the student movement, with the longest running university strike and significant numbers of student and 'casseur' demonstrators. libcom.org contacted vanou, who turned out to be an international negotiation student from Montreal, to let her know we were using her photographs, which in turn led to this interview. Vanou's photos of the CPE protests can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanou/tags/cpe/
libcom: We discovered your photos on flickr, and were impressed by both the imagery and the narrative of what appeared to be a spontaneous road blockade, quickly dispersed by the CRS. It was only when we found your blog that we realised these photos were taken from your window - is this a regular occurrence on your street the past few weeks?
vanou: I live right beside Place de Bretagne where most of the manifestation occur. So I get to have a front row seat on every demonstration that happens. I usually go down as the 7th floor is a bit far up to get anything interesting. However, that time, I stayed away since the fire was right in front of my door. These demonstrations have been happening for the past couple of weeks.
libcom: We saw on your blog that you're an international negotiation student.
Has your university been affected by the blockades?
vanou: My university hasn't been affected by the blockade, just because I don't actually go to a University but a Grande Ecole. The French education system is a bit weird.
libcom: What's your view of the CPE and the protests against it?
vanou: My view on the CPE… well… lets say this… I understand both sides. I understand that young workers need to have job security, however I also understand the right of companies to let them go if they don't do the job. Having lived both in North America and Europe, I understand both mentalities… the more capitalist way of dealing with things, and the more socialist way of seeing how a job for life is important. So I guess I'm staying neutral on this one. And the protest against the CPE. Well I'm happy young people are mobilizing for a cause they believe in. However, I am disturbed by the
amount of damage this has involved. But again, this might be another problem all together.
libcom: How has it been affecting you personally?
vanou: These protests haven't really affected me personally, although I do go out to take pictures more often. I have met interesting people on my "walks" which make for interesting stories afterwards.
libcom: Also of interest to us on your blog was the summary of your conversation with the CRS. Have you run into any problems taking photographs of these events with either the CRS or undercover police?
vanou: I did run into some problems. One of the first times I went to out to take pictures, I got stuck between the protesters and the charging CRS… and I got hit while taking a picture. Nothing major, but I was a bit stunned that a Police officer would hit a by-stander. I have also been asked by a CRS for my Press Card, which I don't have
of course. But a little politeness goes a long way, and we ended up having a nice conversation.
libcom: Some photographers using flickr have captured quite graphic images of violence from both CRS and demonstrators, and there are obviously potential risks from both sides in photographing them. How have you dealt with these situations?
vanou: Like I said, I did get hit, but I guess that's part of the whole deal. I try to stay out of the center of the protests, where most of the violence happens. I'm also a pretty good judge of character and I know when to leave the camera in the bag. If I was in Paris, I would invested in a helmet for sure, but here in Rennes, it's not that bad.
The pictures make it look worse than it is, as always…
libcom: In one of your blog posts you mentioned that many casseurs come into Rennes looking specifically to fight the CRS, and that the CRS equally are spoiling for a fight: "I've heard CRS guys just dying to go after those guys... I've seen their superior have to calm them down they were so exited...".
vanou: Kids, as young as 13 come to Rennes to see what kind of damage they can do. They come from pretty far, as I've heard them talk about the ride back home in the train. The CRS are also looking for a fight… These guys are trained to do this…
I think it's pretty sad to see how a peaceful protest can turn violent in mere minutes, just because one guy decides to throw a beer bottle at a CRS.
libcom: We have heard several reports of CRS attacking the tail end of demonstrations in the evening before any violence has started on the part of protestors. Also of CRS in plain clothes/undercover amongst demonstrators then swiftly launching attacks from within. Have you experienced anything like this? Do you think the CRS contributes to the violence on occasion?
vanou: Frankly, both sides are responsible for the violence. The CRS have their rules of engagement, if the protesters block streets and start burning stuff, the CRS will give them 3 different notices before they make them move (by tear gas or charging). But when that happens, all goes to hell. The protesters start throwing bottles, rocks, paint,
etc… and the CRS hit everything that moves… it's not pretty on either side. Usually, the real protesters leave before the CRS start charging, because they're not there for the fight but for the cause.
libcom: The numbers reported for the demonstration on 4th April were slightly higher than those for the 28th. Does this fit in with your experience of them?
vanou: I haven't seen the exact numbers. But they're have been more and more CRS, so I guess that confirms your statement.
libcom: What sort of people are protesting - is it just students? Are the banlieue kids just there to fight or are they joining in the main protests as well? What about employed and older people?
vanou: Usually students are blocking the streets, chanting and with flowers… the casseurs stay back until the CRS arrive, and then they start throwing things at them. The banlieue kids are there for the fight, nothing else… I've seen older people joining the protests in support for the students, but they also deplore the violence.
libcom: What's your view of the violent element of the demonstrations, the fires and the property destruction?
vanou: There is no need for violence. I think a message is stronger without violence, and gets a lot more support.
libcom: To what extent do you think this is connected with the student movement and to what extent other groups from outside?
vanou: Most of the destruction is caused by outside groups, although garbage burning has been also done by some students.
libcom: Was Rennes affected by the rioting in Autumn last year?
vanou: Rennes was affected, but again, only in the outskirts of Rennes, not downtown. And it was nothing compared to Paris of course.
libcom: How do you think the movement is going?
vanou: Well, as of this morning... pretty well I guess. As I have seen articles in the news suggesting a withdrawal of the CPE law… so I guess we'll see.