It is Bastille day in France but few people are in the mood for festivities. The riots of a fortnight ago have left physical and psychological scars that won’t heal anytime soon.
It is Emmanuel Macron’s seventh Bastille day as president, and his special guest this year is Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, chosen to mark the 25th anniversary of the strategic partnership agreed by the two countries.
The day’s celebrations will end in the traditional way, with a grand display of fireworks, although the cynic might wonder if the French haven’t had enough of those in recent weeks.
Many areas have cancelled their July 14 festivities in light of the riots, including Nanterre – where the trouble began after police shot a teenager – and a host of other towns further afield. ‘We can’t celebrate our national day because of hooligans,’ said David Lisnard, the head of the French Mayors; Association and a member of the centre-right Republicans. The cancellations were, he added, ‘a sign of a very deep unease in French society… I believe things are much worse than people think.’
Marine Le Pen echoed that sentiment. ‘Can you believe that in the great democracy of France, we are giving up on our national day because of the fear generated by potential violence?’ remarked the leader of the National Rally.
With France still simmering, there will be a massive police presence on the streets today. Some 45,000 officers will be deployed across the country with 10,000 in the capital. Specialist rapid response units are on standby, and water cannons and armoured vehicles are present in the major cities. The sale of fireworks was banned last week for fear they might be used to attack police officers and their stations, as they were during the riots.