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How de Gaulle prevailed against the student mob

6 May 2018

9:30 AM

6 May 2018

9:30 AM

Fifty years ago, ‘les événements’ kicked off in Paris. The students’ complaints were fascinatingly trivial. They were bored stiff at their hideous new university in Nanterre. In a move which would now get them trolled by Time’s Up, the left-wing male students organised a ‘sexual riot’ and marched on the girls’ hall of residence, demanding to be let in. The authorities panicked, and closed the campus, so the students occupied the Sorbonne. Within weeks, strikes and riots threatened to bring down the French government. The BBC rightly reminds us of those May days, but what of the sequel? Tell us, please, of President de Gaulle’s ambiguous, theatrical flight to the French army headquarters in Baden-Baden (‘The State will be where I am… I want to plunge the French people, including the government, into doubt and anxiety in order to regain control of the situation’); and of his extraordinary broadcast to the nation when he returned the next day: ‘Françaises, Français, as the possessor of national and republican legitimacy, I have considered over the past 24 hours all the eventualities… I shall not withdraw. I have a mandate from the people and I shall fulfil it.’ The next evening, a pro-de Gaulle crowd of more than half a million — far larger than the student or communist demonstrations of previous weeks — filled the streets of Paris. Republican legitimacy, and a 78-year-old genius, prevailed.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, which appears in this week’s magazine


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