PARIS – Traditionally, the French people celebrate May Day, the day of the
workers, by holding huge demonstrations in the streets of Paris, led by the
different Labor Unions and left-wing political parties.
This year, the
importance of the day was increased by the political situation, five days before
Sunday’s second and final round of the presidential elections, pitting President
Nicolas Sarkozy of the right-wing UMP party, who has been unable thus far to
garner the support of the extreme right and the center, against François
Hollande, the representative of the Socialist Party who has massive support from
the extreme-left and the Green Party.
This year, the two main parties
each had their own demonstration, which started exactly at the same time, 3
p.m., after Sarkozy decided to hold a last-minute, especially big meeting before
the election on Sunday in a desperate attempt to rally his supporters. But his
decision to choose to hold his rally at Trocadero Square in front of the Champ
de Mars and the Eiffel Tower as the location and to call it “the Feast of Real
Work,” irritated the Left, who went out in their hundreds of thousands to defend
“their May Day.”
The third demonstration, that of the right-wing Marine
Le Pen’s National Front party, was held earlier in the morning in front of the
Place of the Opera, after tens of thousands of her supporters had walked from
the Pyrenees Plaza where stands the statue of Joan of Arc, the heroine of French
history for the last 600 years and the symbol of the French nation in the eyes
of the National Front.
Since its foundation, the National Front movement
has celebrated its “feast of patriotism” on May 1, in opposition to the Left,
who glorify international and socialist values on that day.
supporters, who came from all over France, mainly wanted to hear who her choice
would be for the second round of the presidential election, either Sarkozy or
No one was surprised when she declared, “I’ll cast a blank vote
on Sunday and for the Blue-Marine [the new name of her movement] at the
legislative elections on June 10 and 17.”
Her comments followed a speech
made by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen on the history of France – in which he even
reminded his audience the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders – that he
concluded by saying, “Vive Joan [of Arc], Vive Marine, Vive la France!”
Sarkozy’s gathering, billed as “the Great Rally of May Day,” was held in
“We are 200,000!” declared Sarkozy to his audience,
composed mainly of families enjoying the sunny springtime weather. “With
General De Gaulle, the French people were writing history.
We also want
to write history, in spite of those who want to deny for us the right to talk to
the French citizens on May 1, as if they were the sole owners of that
He called for the unions “to put aside the red flag and serve
According to Sarkozy, the country can resolve its economic and
social problems only through the value of work, “the real work.”
same time, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators started to fill the
Denfert-Rochereau Plaza in order to march from there to the historical Bastille
The slogan “Neither for Sarkozy nor for Marine. May Day is the
feast of the workers” was scrawled on walls in the very crowded metro stations
leading to the meeting. The famous Lion of Denfert was covered by a huge red
flag and a young man held a banner reading “Virez Sarko” (Sarko out!).
old lady who had come from Normandy said that her first May Day demonstration
was in 1963, where she met her husband.
“I haven’t decided yet whether to
vote for Hollande or to abstain,” she said.