C’est la Révolution!

By Clémence Waller

Monique Lafay (71), can’t remember what she was doing when policemen barged into her neighbor’s apartment. She remembers the shouts, muffled sounds of struggles and facing angry policemen, as she discovered they were arresting her student neighbors for assembling Molotov cocktails in their bedroom. What she did not realise was that she was suspected of doing the same.

She recalls her 21-year-old self, a law student at the Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, being petrified. As the two policemen glared, barked at and questioned her, she quickly assured them she had nothing to do with the student riots, and insisted the police talk to her neighbors and the family of the little boy she babysat that lived downstairs. Satisfied with her alibi, they left with the two students and shoved them in the back of the police van, while Monique was left alone.

Violence, suspicion and even deaths. «C’est la chienlit!» It is chaos/shit in the bed!  Never have there been more fitting words to describe the turmoil of the French student population of 1968. This nationwide student protest was inspired by student revolts throughout Europe and the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement to protest the Vietnam war.  These protests were sparked by a sense of “asphyxiation” and the classic French ‘ras-le-bol’ with the bourgeoisie, strangling social constrictions and the ruling elite.

The protests started peacefully; streets deafened by the roars of thousands during marches, colorful signs hoisted up high, displaying slogans against gender segregation in schools, job insecurity and finally the blockading of Parisian Universities, Nanterre and La Sorbonne.

But egged on by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, “Danny the Red”, a young student revolutionary, the student protests took on a more violent and political turn.

Chaos in the streets

On May 2nd 1968, the police were dispatched to violently bring an end to this blockade, injuring hundreds of Parisian students. Outrage bled throughout the nation as various other universities were held hostage by students, including Lyon, where Monique was studying. By May 24th, the workers and the unions had joined the fray.

However, the spark for reform roared into the uncontrollable wildfire that would ensue a paralyzed country, riots, paranoia, looting and even deaths.

Students rioting, police brutality, charred bins smoking, makeshift barricades, sirens blaring: this is what Lyon looked like from May to June 1968. Monique had a front row seat to the unfolding events as she was part of the minority of students who did not protest.

After seven years in convent school, she recalls the shock she felt when seeing her generation stand-up against the ruling class. “I did not have the revolutionary mentality,” she laughs sarcastically. These memories bring up a strange sensation within her, one of bemusement but also criticism. “The protests started out fine, then quickly degenerated into a mess,” she recalls as other groups tagged onto the student movement and started vandalizing public buildings and institutions.

“What shocked me the most was finding out that people had been killed on Lafayette Bridge,” she exclaims. She refers to the bloody night of the 24th of May 1968, where René Lacroix, police commissioner, was killed by a runaway truck on the infamous Lyon Bridge amidst another violent altercation between youth and police. This incident resulted in the first death of the May 1968 protests, as well as 42 injuries and over 200 arrests.

A nation held hostage

“I loathed masses and protests then and I still do today. I also didn’t feel especially oppressed nor did my family have the money to waste on me having to redo a year because I was protesting.”

Monique recalls her annoyance when she was unable to work during the summer due to having to study for her exams, which had been postponed to September. For the rest of France, the events in Paris on May 10th-11th 1968 led to a nationwide strike in solidarity with the students. Shopkeepers no longer had any food to sell, nor was there any petrol being dispensed at the gas stations. Trains, factories and post offices also went on strike. “The country was completely paralyzed.”  

She quickly added that despite not taking part in the protests, it brought about some positive changes. “In my view, women won the most out of those protests. There was a liberation of speech, a de-stigmatization of women taking the pill for example. There was less bitterness, more freedom and fraternization. More women went into the workplace and asked for divorces.”

The youth sent out the message that they would not just be seen, they would be heard and that message was received loud and clear. “Even today, the government still fears students,” Monique smiles cheekily.


 

The St. Phelim Tragedy

By Rebekah Daunt

On Sunday the 24th of March 1968, Betty Allshire decided to take a break from her household chores and stepped out into her beautiful garden to enjoy the morning sunshine.

The air was crisp and clean, everything was still, and the only sounds to be heard were those made by a few scattered birds singing in the trees overhead.

Betty’s eldest son William and daughter Judy had left for church with their father half an hour earlier. Betty, a regular churchgoer, had decided to stay at home this particular morning and care for her youngest daughter Anne who was feeling ill because she demolished far too much birthday cake at a friend’s birthday party the day before. The little girl was now paying the price for her sins and was curled up in bed, nursing a tummy ache.

After carefully selecting some daffodils to fill a vase on the kitchen table, Betty gradually became aware of the sound of propellers and the earth started to vibrate beneath her feet.

Her eyes were drawn skyward as an aircraft came into view; the roar of the engine filled the air. “It was the 10:30 Aer Lingus Flight to London,” she exclaimed, “Cork Airport was very quiet back then, it was easy to identify the planes flying in and out, they ran like clockwork!”.

Betty confesses that she remembers feeling a pang of jealousy at the time and would have loved to be jetting off on that plane.

Later that afternoon, Betty sat down to a late lunch with her loving husband and three children in the kitchen of their family home.

The sound of a news bulletin hummed on the radio in the background. Conversation at the table was soon brought to a standstill as the headlines began to unfold. The family, almost choking on their steaming bowls of tomato soup, listened in horror as the top news story unravelled.

An Aer Lingus plane, named St. Phelim, had gone down off the coast of Wexford. The aircraft en-route from Cork to London plummeted 17,000 feet into the Irish Sea, killing all 61 people on-board.

Funeral of some of Tuskar Rock air crash victims at St. Finbarr’s Cemetery on March 30, 1968 (courtesy of the Irish Examiner)

Betty, a former administrator, could hardly believe what she was hearing.

Mrs. Allshire, who will be celebrating her 80th  birthday this October, recalls feeling lost for words at the lunch table. “I could not understand why this had happened; it was such a calm and beautiful day. I had seen the plane shortly after takeoff. A plane crash seemed so unlikely.”

As covered by the Irish Examiner, experts proposed that the plane might have been stuck by migrating birds. Others suggested that the crash was due to a mechanical failure or a collision with a target drone or missile.

Bonnie Gangelhoff, daughter to American passengers Mary and Joseph Gangelhoff, reflected on the crash that killed her parents to the Irish Times in 2009. An investigation into the crash was published in 1970 and a second in 2002.

50 years on, the cause of the crash has yet to be determined.

“This tragedy is like being hit by a double whammy,” said Bonnie, “no definite answers about why the plane went down and no bodies to bury.”

Investigators believe that the Captain of St. Phelim, Barney O’Beirne (35), fought to keep the plane in the air for 30 minutes after take-off before spiralling out of control and crashing into the sea  near Tuskar Rock.

London Air Traffic Control received a broken message from the captain that was later interpreted as “12,000 feet, descending, spinning rapidly”. London ATC never heard from the aircraft again. According to RTÉ news, a full alert was sounded once London ATC lost contact, but it was too late.

Today the pilots on board are remembered as the first recipients of the Wright Brothers Award which honours exceptional service to aviation.

Only 14 bodies were recovered from the jet which had Irish, British, Swiss and Belgian passengers and crew on-board. According to the Irish Times, this was worst crash involving an aircraft in Irish history.

“It was a very sad time for the family and friends of the victims and we were simply devastated for them,” reflects Betty.

Betty will never forget how helpless she felt for all those involved. A woman of great faith, she firmly believes that life is precious, a gift from God. “Live every day to the full, none of us know when our days will come to an end.”

Concluding with a quote by Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Allshire confirms the importance of making the most of the present day. “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”


 

1968, The Year of Raging Reforms

By Valerie Scholz

1968, a turbulent year of worldwide student protests. In German metropolises, demonstrations are almost on the daily agenda. Pharmaceutics student Klaus Scholz is on his way from Karlsruhe to Berlin, making use of his short Easter holiday for an obligatory family visit. But this is not the sole purpose of his trip. He has come to raise his voice.

The trees lining the West-Berliner Ku’damm sway in the evening breeze. However, the wind does not carry the familiar fresh scent of spring, instead, a burnt stench is in the air. Thousands of tromping footsteps and monotonously aggressive chanting “Gestern Dutschke, morgen wir!” drowns out all other noise and rings in Klaus’ ears.

West-Berlin 1968: loud, bold and rebellious. The age of subordination and courteousness lies in the past. The gap between youth and the elderly is widening. Daringly short skirts, extravagant outfits, and deafening rock music on one side, incomprehension and conservative ideologies on the other. Young West-Berliners don’t want to fit in. They want to provoke.

Provocation for Change

German students sparked an anti-authoritarian movement all over the country, condemning any type of control, whether of familial, educational or political nature. Protests began as a response to war, grievances and injustices around the world. Students fought for a free society and a reform of the archaic system.

“The protests were meant for provocation”. New forms of demonstrating were established, “Go-ins” or “Sit-ins” included the siege of public spaces. Hand-drawn banners often declared entertaining statements instead of political slogans.

“Part of the Movement”

Klaus’ first contact with the movement occurred in the sleepy town of Karlsruhe. One day, students gathered in front of his institute. They argued and chanted phrases: “Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren”, referring to the still deeply enrooted fascism in institutions and the previous generation’s way of life.  

“We were demanding a self-purification”, Klaus says with a sparkle in his eyes. “Things that had been kept secret for years finally came up”. The students believed that the country ought to be cleansed of former national socialist partisans and mentality. “We were there to tidy up!”

“It felt so good to be part of something, to be part of the movement”, Klaus remembers. At each side of the city’s main road Kaiserstraße, the virtuous citizens of Karlsruhe gasped at the procession of hundreds of marching students. Some linking arms, others holding painted banners, where crooked letters formed phrases like “THE OLD NAZIS HAVE TO GO!”.

The “Revolution’s” Crash-Landing

However, protests were not peaceful everywhere. “It escalated more and more”, Klaus’ voice darkens. What started off with enthusiasm and optimism, ended in a civil-war-like situation.

Only a few days before Klaus’ trip to Berlin, the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke by a Hitler-sympathizer appalled Germany’s student population. Dutschke was a leading figure of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS) and stood for the student movement.

Following the assassination of peacefully protesting student Benno Ohnesorg in 1967 by a West-Berliner policeman, the attack on yet another student fueled an uncontrollable rage and desire for revenge amongst the protestors. Instead of de-escalation, police forces fought rage with violence.

Klaus gasped at the scene in front of him. The West-Berliner Ku’damm resembled a battlefield. On one side troops of policemen wearing ankle-length dark coats, their grimacing faces half covered by helmets, fists clenched around their truncheons, desperately attempting to stop the raging students. Opposing them, burning torches, raised fists and blind hatred.

The water cannons behind the police defence line spurt water that hits the front lines of protesters with the force of bricks.

Klaus had set out to Berlin with faith and pride but left with disappointment and bewilderment. “You always ran after the mass as a student”. However, witnessing the violence on both sides of the conflict in the streets of Berlin, Klaus distanced himself: “It had gone too far, I never wanted this.”

The Wake-Up Call

Despite condemning the violence, Klaus is confident that the 1968 student movement has positively affected Germany politically, socially and culturally.  

Although the riots did not bring a grand revolution, they were a “wake-up call”. They caused a break with the authoritarian past and allowed the society to move forward with increasingly more personal and sexual freedom.

“When I was young, I always focused on the easygoing sides of life: sports and nice girls”, Klaus smirked. The events of 1968 woke him up too and perhaps marked his first step from the “blindly naive young man” to the reflecting adult of today.

“You have to go out there and do something” in order for change to occur. Today as a pensioner and author, Klaus has found literature to be his voice of revolution. In his novels he holds a mirror up to society, seeking to facilitate progress. Just like 50 years ago.


Feature image shows Klaus Scholz (left) and fellow students in midst of an animated discussion

The Red Guard in China’s Cultural Revolution – Join or be ‘Destroyed’

By Yujia Yang

Green military cap and uniform, Sam Browne belts, red armbands (always on the left arm), Little Red Book held tightly – the typical dress of the Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. “They were the biggest nightmare when I was 16 years old”, says Xianping Wang, 66, a retired Chinese teacher from Guiyang Shengfu Road Primary School.

Wang took a deep breath and recalled her story, “One Sunday afternoon in March 1968, a small group of Red Guard broke into my house when I was having a nap with my sister and my parents were at work. A woman, a member of the Guard,spoke to my sister. She said, ‘Xianling, we are now 20 years old. Do not go to university to listen to those rubbish things. It is time to join us, like me, to devote ourselves to Chairman Mao’s revolutionary cause!’ Her tone became cold; she threatened my sister that they would confiscate our property and take me away if sherefused to join them and be one of the adherents of Mao. In fact, she was a childhood friend of my sister, even I regarded her as my second sister, but…” Wang stops and looks miserable.

The Red Guard group was first formed by China’s youth in response to Mao Zedong’s call to propagandise his ‘true’ communist ideology. It rapidly grew around the country and became a mass organisation, including farmers, literary and artistic workers and neighbourhood committees. As a political propaganda tool, the Red Guard was under protection and enjoyed the personal support of Mao; this meant they could do anything they wanted like taking away anyone they suspected of being a counterrevolutionary.

(Source: Baidu)

“The woman gave my sister no chance to answer. After she had finished, she immediately left. But the rest of members loudly read out their slogan ‘战无不胜的毛泽东思想万岁!’ (Long live the invincible Mao Zedong thought!), and started to search my house; everything was dumped on the floor, everything.” Wang continues in a trembling voice: “There was nothing we could do; my sister and I just stood there and watched. We had no idea what had happened and why they were doing this to us.” Wang still looks confused, even now. She continues: “Previously, other groupsof Red Guard just came to propagandise and tried to find out whether we had any ‘forbidden books’ like foreign literature. Normally, they just burned any books they found, and left.”

“I felt every organ of my body cease to operate as soon as I heard it, because I was indescribably scared. Since that day, I have continually had nightmares about someone taking me away.” Wang pauses for a few seconds to calm herself down. Then, she begins again, “My sister embraced me, and kept comforting me that she would not let it happen. After telling our parents what had happened, Xianling insisted that she would join the Red Guard in order to keep me safe, because she believed that the Red Guard could do anything if people disobeyed them. Of course, my parents disagreed and my father suggested that our whole family might pretend to move, while in fact only my parents would return to their old home on weekdays while my sister and I stayed at home.”

During the decade of China’s Cultural Revolution, there were also many organisations that lined up on mass against the Red Guard groups. Wang’s sister, Xianling, had entered Guizhou University in 1966, just after the Cultural Revolution had begun; she founded a student newspaper with her friends, aiming to help the public to keep hope by publishing positive articles about China’s real history, society, politics and economy. Wang says: “My sister always tells me not to give up hope for the future.”

“I read all of articles from their newspaper when I holed up in my room. I can feel the power of words that cheered me up and made me determine to do as the same as my sister did.” Wang continues with a slight smile, “After one month, we were finally able to go out because the local government suppressed the Red Guard, as some Red Guard groups were out of control. In the next few years, my sister and I wrote articles together and contributed to many newspapers not just local until Cultural Revolution truly ended in 1977. Then we became teachers because we believed that our next and future generation will have material effects on our society, so correct education is vital.”

“Although, Cultural Revolution was an extreme dark period for China, we still need to remember and reflect on it. The most beautiful rainbows come after the worst storms.”


 

Pardon Her French

By Lucy Frowijn

She leaned against a concrete wall that reached about the height of her waist and glanced over the lake with the marble tombstone in the middle. The fall had given the water a green glare. Atlanta was usually quite rowdy, but that Saturday the weather was calm and the Martin Luther King jr. memorial exuded a certain peace. Joke Barth felt herself getting emotional the same way she did years ago. “I just stood there and thought to myself: anyone who tried to make a change in this fucked up country died trying. This never should have happened.”

Joke Barth lived on the other end of the world when MLK jr. got shot in 1968. She left her Dutch roots behind as soon as she reached adulthood and moved down under together with her husband. After having lived in Australia for four years, they moved to New Zealand together with their newborn son and bought a small wooden house in Dunedin, a university city on the South-Island.

Life in New Zealand was not easy. Joke‘s husband lived his own life, she had a three-year-old son to take care of and although she worked full time, she could barely get by financially. She could only afford about three sets of clothes that she washed immediately as she got home every night, hoping that they would be dry the next morning for her to wear them again.

New Zealand and Australia, at the time, were known for their strict immigration policy. Joke explains how, while they were willing to give you a chance, as an immigrant you had to prove yourself and work in order to survive. “If you didn’t work you didn’t have any money and if you didn’t have any money you could sleep under the bridge. They didn’t care” she says.

“I remember being at work one day and receiving a phone call from the crèche because my son had caught the measles. The doctor said it could take weeks for him to recover and I panicked because not being able to work meant not getting any salary”, she says.

Despite the difficulty, Joke felt more at home than ever. She found a job at an engineering firm where she became the only woman in an all-man’s company, and the men took her in as if she was family. She did everything from administration to accountancy and was particularly fond of “Mr. Bennets”, her boss, whom everyone mainly saw as a grumpy old man. “We would joke around together. He’d make a mistake and say ‘Oh, aren’t I stupid?’ and I’d reply: ‘Well, Mr. Bennets, there’s no substitute for brains.” she says, clearly warmed by the memory of the man.

Joke explains how, while Australia and New Zealand might have been strict when it came to immigrants, it was never a matter of discrimination.

Dunedin was known for people of Scottish descent and Maori people, the indigenous people of New Zealand, to live together in harmony. Every year during ANZAC day (New Zealand’s and Australia’s equivalent of liberation day) everyone would participate in the parade, no matter what their origin, or skin color was.

Joke explains that it was precisely this peace-loving attitude that existed in New Zealand that led to astonishment about what was happening in the United States at the time. “New Zealand may have been on the other side of the world but its people weren’t retarded. They were completely up to date on what was happening in America”, she says.

When Martin Luther King jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, media coverage in New Zealand exploded. Joke explains how television coverage would just go on and on. Normally it ended at about 11 PM but this time it went on all night. She explains how the next morning her colleagues couldn’t stop talking about it either: “People were flabbergasted.”

But the matter also got very personal for Joke. She herself had moved to a country where she was a foreigner and while life was tough, she was welcomed with open arms. “I felt the pain right in my soul and I remember thinking: who the bloody hell do these people think they are?”

Joke went to the memorial in Atlanta years later: “I had to. It touched me so much back in 1968.” And so she stood there leaning against that concrete wall and commemorated those who died trying to make a change.

“In my work as a life coach I meet many different people on a daily basis, invite them into my home and advise them on how to turn their lives around. But I don’t judge people on their background” she says.

And that open-minded attitude takes on a special shape when combined with Joke‘s typically down-under bluntness as she said: “Why would you give a shit where people are from or what skin color they have?”


(Person on feature image: Joke Barth, 28)

French protest witness Aden

The City Breaks in Aden and Paris, 1968

By Benjie Beer

After a brush with trouble in the Middle East, Andrew Cowan couldn’t resist a
journey to the troubled French capital.

In November 1967, twenty-three-year-old Andrew Cowan was on a Swedish oil
tanker fleeing the British withdrawal from Aden. The ‘Aden Emergency’, as it came to
be called, had turned violent just as his ship arrived: a glance over the deck walls
was to see explosive skirmishes between British troops and the Yemeni National
Liberation Front.

“It was chaos,” says Cowan, speaking from a care home in Ely, Cambridgeshire. “We
couldn’t step foot in the town for fear of our lives.” But, he adds with a wry chuckle, “it
was also very exhilarating.”

The sense of adventure Cowan gleaned from such experiences was the reason why,
at the age of just sixteen, he had run away from his home in Glasgow and joined the
navy. “I’ve lived my life with itchy feet,” he reflects, “and I was never that content at
home, really.”

But the flight from Aden led to some unexpected consequences. After many long,
unplanned months in Cape Town, the decision was made to try and flog oil in Iran.
It was now April 1968, and the long weeks onboard ship were weighing hard. On
arriving in Iran, the young man felt compelled to venture out alone – and was
immediately arrested, for no better reason than that he looked British. A fortunate
twist of fate led to a speedy release, but, with his ship now gone, he had no choice
but to fly back to London.

Now seventy-three, Cowan is nonetheless fluent as he finds the words to describe
what happened next.

“I felt relieved on getting back to British soil, but I didn’t want to settle down. It’s
boring settling down! It was almost as if, having seen the madness in Aden, I wanted
to see some more…”

And, as it happened, April 1968 was also the month in which anti-establishment riots
were beginning to fire up in Paris.

“So, first thing I did when I got off the plane at Heathrow was head into London and
meet some pals of mine. There were three of us, two blokes I’d known in the Middle
East, and we were sitting in this café in Piccadilly, looking at the papers, and we saw
this stuff about riots in Paris. All three of us had been on the road for at least two
years and we were pretty spontaneous. I can just remember that all three of us were
thinking the same thing — so we decided to head over and have a look.”

On the very same day he had arrived home after several turbulent years abroad,
Cowan, with two friends in tow, jumped straight on a plane for Paris.

The question is: why?

“It’s interesting, I’d seen some pretty unpleasant confrontations in the Middle East
and it seemed small in comparison. I had no political motives, I just thought I’d see
how serious they were.”

The riots had begun in March, when students in Nanterre occupied a university
building in protest at their living conditions. A vein of discontent that ran across the
country was instantly tapped into, and before long Paris was churning with students
protesting primarily against the basic principles of capitalism.

On arriving in Paris, it became evident that there was indeed trouble afoot. Riot
police patrolled the airport and taxi drivers were reluctant to drive into the city centre.
After finally finding a cab willing to take them, the three friends were confronted with
an odd scene.

“At first,” says Cowan, laughing intermittently at the memory, ‘it looked like a
significant-looking protest, and I thought, “Blimey, it’s going to be a good one!”. But
then it became clear that this wasn’t so much a protest as a disorganised rabble.”

The protesters, mostly aged from eighteen to twenty-five and the majority of them
male students, were being held in the streets by lines of policeman. Cowan insists
there was no sinister feeling in the air, but more the general, unconcentrated
discontentment of youth. On the few occasions they did manage to speak to a
protester, they could discern no consistent narrative from them.

Three days passed, and ultimately nothing came of it for the three friends beyond
watching a few students irritate policemen in the street.

But is there anything to take from the experience a full fifty years after it happened,
whether or not there were any immediate answers?
Cowan takes a moment to think.

“Yes,” he says slowly. “Yes, I think there is – but I say this as a very old man,
remember – it’s just about seeing things. At that point in life, I was just in it for the
entertainment. And entertained I suppose I was.”