The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Deportations of Khatchik and Leonarda:
French Students Protest

Oct 28, 2013

This series of three articles come from the October 25th, 2013 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Recent demonstrations by high school students in Paris and in the provinces rattled the government. Students denounced its policy of deportations [of two students of Roma origins].

This upsurge was centered on two cases in particular. First, there is that of Leonarda, a fifteen-year-old junior high school student from Doubs who was arrested by the police during a field trip on October 9th. She and her family were deported to Kosovo – where she does not even speak the language – even though her entire family has lived in France for almost five years. Second, there is the case of Khatchik, a nineteen-year-old working on getting a professional certification from the Camille-Jenatzy technical college in Paris. He was deported to Armenia, where he is supposed to complete his two-year military service. These two deportations follow many, many others, but they were the sparks that set off the blaze.

Students and teachers close to these two young people reacted first, along with other organizations, like the teacher unions, like CGT Education, and youth organizations like the FIDL, the UNL, the Young Socialists, and the Young Communists.

On the morning of Thursday, October 17th, the demonstrations quickly expanded. Hundreds of high school students denouncing the government’s policy of deportations and demanding the return of these two students shut down dozens of schools in east Paris and in certain provincial cities like Grenoble and Avignon. For three days, spontaneous demonstrations and central rallies called by student organizations mobilized thousands of high school students in Paris.

President Hollande’s reaction was to justify the deportations and to propose to Leonarda that she return to France alone, without her family. This did not stop the protests – just the opposite. Hollande had barely finished his speech when some thousand students came together to demonstrate on October 19th – a Saturday afternoon and the first day of vacation – to demand the return of Leonarda along with her family, the return of Khatchik, and more generally an end to all of the deportations of students.

In defending the right to an education for everyone, with or without papers, the high school students demand a basic measure of social justice. They are absolutely right. In the nauseating atmosphere of anti-Roma propaganda these past few weeks, their protest is a real breath of fresh air.

The logic of their protest has led a good number of these students to pose more general political questions. Many are shocked that it is a left-wing government doing these deportations. But there is nothing surprising here. From Michel Rocard declaring that “We cannot welcome all the misery of the world,” to Édith Cresson boasting about entire planes full of deportees – not to mention the Socialist Party’s attitude during the Algerian War – this party has proved for a long time that it can carry out reactionary policies. Today, young people are seeing this firsthand and are becoming aware of it, which can only be a good thing.