Paris (AFP) – Anti-capitalist graffiti on the walls, broken furniture and piles of litter: protests by students in French universities have blocked teaching and led to hundreds of thousands of euros’ worth of damage in recent weeks.
AFP photographers have spent days and sometimes nights among the students during their protests against higher education reforms introduced by President Emmanuel Macron.
Their images lay bare the anger against plans to introduce more selective admission criteria in a country where any student with a high school diploma can enrol in any public university of their choosing.
“University is a right, not a luxury boutique,” one sign on a barricade said.
Other messages painted on walls have warned Macron that “the people will have your ass” while banners screamed “Selection is repression” — a deliberate echo of the watershed May 1968 uprisings by students and workers.
Anarchist messages also abound, reflecting the aggressively anti-capitalist tone of some youths urging “Armed struggle” against the government.
“Tonight I saw the sparks of insurgency, the thrill of revolution”, read one message scrawled on a lecture-hall table.
Chairs and tables have been overturned to create makeshift barricades at entrances, while students inside held general assemblies on Macron’s reforms and voted on whether or not to pursue their strike.
Students have also joined marches by rail workers, civil servants and others protesting the president’s multi-front reform drive.
But the protests have also heavily damaged the occupied auditoriums and common rooms, many of which have been strewn with bottles and other rubbish.
Riot police have been called in to evict the protesters at some sites but others remain occupied, including at the campus at Nanterre outside Paris, a cradle of the May ’68 uprising.
Three out of France’s 70 universities are completely blocked.
The government believes the student movements have been infiltrated by anarchist groups and accuses the hard-left political party France Unbowed of stirring up the resistance.
Ministers have also stressed that the protests are supported by only a minority of students, with consultations in some blocked faculties showing a clear preference for teaching to resume.