French student dies after attack by skinheads in Paris
Clément Méric a symbol of conflict between extreme left and right in France
Left-wing militants pay tribute to Clement Meric, who was attacked by skinheads on Thursday in Paris, France. Meric was reportedly left brain dead after a fight with skinheads thought to be associated with a small far-right group. Photograph: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images
rIn just three days, Clément Méric’s baby face has become the ubiquitous symbol of the low-grade civil war between extreme left and right in France. Méric was knocked unconscious in a fight with skinheads and died on Thursday.
The 18-year-old student at France’s leading political science institute had joined a left-wing trade union at age 15 in his native Brittany. Described by the principal of his lycée as “particularly eloquent . . . a young man capable of taking on responsibilities,” Méric earned his baccalaureat in science with honours while undergoing treatment for leukemia.
In Paris, he joined a group called Action Antifasciste Paris-Banlieue. The AAPB’s credo is “to prevent the extreme right from spreading its ideas with total impunity”. They take after the redskins – young leftists who regularly confronted skinheads in the 1980s.
A beefy, 20-year-old Spanish immigrant and member of the ultra-right Jeunesses Nationalistes Révolutionnaires (JNR), identified by police as Esteban M, admits he levelled the blow that killed Méric.
Witnesses said Esteban wore brass knuckles, which he denies. The JNR borrow their slogan, “Believe, fight, obey”, from Mussolini’s Italy. Their founder, Serge Ayoub, is known as “Batskin”, because he favours baseball bats as weapons.
Right-wing skinheads and left-wing “anti-fas” share similar fashion sense: black T- or polo-neck shirts, short hair and tattoos. Both are particularly fond of the British brands Fred Perry and Ben Sherman.
On June 5th, three anti-fas encountered three skinheads in a private sale by The Lifestyle Company in an apartment near the Gare St Lazare. According to witnesses, the slightly built Méric took the lead in mocking the skinheads’ tattoos, including a swastika, and their T-shirts emblazoned with “white power” and “blood and honour”. The youths went into the street to fight. The skinheads had called in reinforcements. The first blow felled Méric, whose head hit a metal post. An autopsy yesterday indicated Méric was killed by Esteban’s fist.
As the student lay on the pavement, blood gushing from his nose and ears, the skinheads took flight. “When they realised they weren’t being followed, they stopped running,” a female student told police. “They shook hands they way you shake the hand of a friend who’s just got his diploma . . . they were smiling.”
Méric’s death has revived memories of old French demons, of street battles between left and right in the 1930s, of “gauchos contre fachos” in more recent decades.
François Hollande’s presidency has been a tense time, marred by sometimes violent protests against the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Right-wing demonstrators spoke of “resistance,” as if they were fighting a dictatorship. Some predicted bloodshed, and warned they would hold Hollande responsible.
The extreme right-wing journal La Revue de l’Arsenal this week advocated a military putsch against Hollande.
The emotion and indigation sparked by Méric’s death were evident Thursday night, in gatherings in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse. The socialist and conservative candidates for mayor of Paris were booed when they showed up at demonstrations.
There is much debate over whether Marine Le Pen’s rehabilitation of the Front National has encouraged the ultra-right groups, and whether they should be outlawed. The leader of the conservative UMP, Jean-Francois Copé, provoked outrage when he seemed to equate extreme left and right.
Authorities banned a rally by the far right-wing Jeunesses Nationalistes in Toulouse tonight. It was to have commemorated an 8th century battle against Arabs.