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Danger zone

7 min read

France has been an interesting place to live in, especially the last few weeks. A new law has been passed (well, technically, forced) that changes working conditions. As usual, the immediate reaction was nationwide strikes, something that seems to be a national sport.

On the national news (and even on international news), three cities have been mentioned. Paris, because, well, Paris. And also Nantes, and Rennes. Both of these cities have something in common; the Nantes airport is to be replaced, by creating a brand new airport, somewhere between Nantes and Rennes. Both cities should then be able to use this new platform. There is a debate as to whether the new airport actually has any use; there are people who say that Nantes Atlantique is saturated, others that say that it is far from it. I won’t go into that here.

The fact that the airport is in dispute, and has been for over two years now, means that we have our fair share of “zadistes”, people who have settled in the new airport site, and who are violent to anyone who attempts to enter, especially law enforcement agencies. They haven’t been in direct conflict with the police force for some time, so when a strike was announced in Nantes, it looks like quite a few came over to spice things up. Within a week, the damages in Nantes grew to over one million Euros; smashed glass, stones torn from roads to throw on the police force, degradation of buildings and tram lines. There have been numerous arrests, and even prison sentences for some, but it continues.

I work from home, and I like it. Petrol is in limited supply right now because of the strikes, so I normally get my daughter from school using public transportation (the bus system runs on natural gas, and the trams are electric). Today, I had a nasty surprise.

I took the bus line down to the tram line, as usual. I had headphones on, and I was reading an ebook. I didn’t look at the website to see when the bus would leave, they are frequent enough to not need that. Maybe I should have.

When I arrived at the tram station, there were trams waiting at the station. Far too many, and lines that shouldn’t have been there. I walked up to the driver, and asked what was going on. All transportation to and from the center was cancelled, violent strikes. That wasn’t good news, I wouldn’t be at the school in time. Earphones back in my ears, I started walking. There wasn’t any other option. I walked about two kilometers to get my daughter, but the more I got close to the school, the more I worried. When I arrived in front, it wasn’t something that I wanted my daughter to see. Smouldering dustbins, holes in the pavement where stones had been torn out, and thrown into the surrounding buildings. Plus, the unmistakable smell of tear gas. I grabbed my daughter from daycare, put her on my shoulders, and got out of there as fast as possible.

There were still a few pockets of “casseurs” as I made my way back to the bus stop. Here and there, a few police cars would go by, sirens wailing, and a few people would suddenly disappear.

This isn’t a warzone, this isn’t civil war, this is “just” a strike with people who are bent on destruction. While I don’t agree with unions blocking petrol refineries and transport, I know full well that what I’ve seen has nothing to do with them. Nantes has been the victim of a lot of violence recently, and the police force has been fairly gentle, not provoking them, and only intervening when absolutely necessary. This time, they didn’t ask questions, they acted immediately. I really hope that means that the violence will stop. The only thing separating the school playground and the street violence was a large iron door.

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