Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Communal unrest breaks out in France

Vladislav Davidson explains the most bizarre communal violence in recent memory

Last Saturday, the day before French President Marcon was scheduled to deliver the  speech that would conclude the (first?) epoch of the Coronavirus 19 quarantine, a Black Lives Matter protest took over the Place de la République.  Around 15,000 protestors took part in a demonstration organized to call for justice for Adama Traoré, a black Frenchman who had died while under French custody in the summer of 2016. The New York Times used the bizarre and oxymoronic formulation that “the rally remained largely peaceful, although police officers threw tear gas and clashed with protesters in the late afternoon”. This was a curious way to describe a protest which had dissolved into a ferocious scrimmage before the riot police could clear the square – which resembled a war zone. Some of the hand to hand combat that I observed as the clouds of tear gas enveloped the square and Léopold Morice‘s allegory of the République was a fairly pitiless example of squad level warfare. The cordon that the police had erected around large swathes of the city center ensured that I would wind up missing the Russian celebrity clown Slava Polunin’s 70th birthday party at his fairy tale refurbished mill outside of Paris. The protestors streaming away from the arena of violence gawked at the  period costume that I had donned for the 18th century theme party.

It seems that a group of the drug dealers had forcibly struck a pistol into the teenager’s mouth, informing him that this was what they intended to do to the rest of his compatriots

On Sunday night, as President Macron began unwinding the quarantine, he was also forced to promised to balance the restoration of order in France with increased delicacy regarding racial issues. There would however be no reckoning with Republican history or compromising with the international campaign against offensive monuments. “La République n’effacera aucune trace ni aucun nom de son histoire. Elle n’oubliera aucune de ses œuvres. Elle ne déboulonnera pas de statues. (“The Republic will not erase any trace or name from its history. It will not forget any of its works. It will unbolt no statues.”) Though in previous occasions of memory wars, a statue of Marshall Philippe Pétain had been taken down, the French state announced its firm intention to not engage in such historical revisionism in this instance. At the same exact moment, Eastern France was cast as a stage set for the most bizarre communal violence in recent memory as fighting broke out between representatives of the Chechen diaspora and a French Arab drug gang. Macron’s promises did not look grand in light of what was happening.

France 24 Television had reported that:

Police sources said the unrest was sparked by an attack on a 16-year-old member of the Chechen community on June 10. Members of the Chechen diaspora then set out on so-called punishment raids seeking to avenge the assault, they said. After three successive nights of violence, early Monday evening some 150 people, some hooded and armed, again assembled in Dijon, setting rubbish bins and a car on fire. Some also shot into the air, according to police sources.”

France is home to one of the larger populations of the Chechen European diaspora, the vast majority of whom received refugee status from Russia, in the midst of the two brutal wars that Moscow had waged against them. Many of these combat veterans and their families had spread out across the port cities of the Mediterranean coast. My Chechen friends and sources in the tightly knit Chechen diaspora (I had hired some of them several years ago when I ran the French division of an Ukrainian television station, the most delicate part of the matter had been in weeding out the Kadyrov sympathizers by tactfully inquiring of the job applicants what they had done during the war; hilarity or unpleasantness ensured all too often) confirmed that relations between the two groups had been strained for a long time. One of my livid contacts confirmed the veracity of the narrative reported by French police. It seems that a group of the drug dealers had forcibly struck a pistol into the teenager’s mouth, informing him that this was what they intended to do to the rest of his compatriots (Le Monde and Le Parisien reported that the kid had himself engaged in the narcotics trade, but this is not something that my contacts confirmed to me). I was also informed of an alleged previous incident involving an elderly Chechen gentleman being roughed up by some of the drug dealers upon having exchanged words at a narcotic pick up point in Nice.

Their communal honor insulted, young Chechen men (estimates have varied between a hundred fifty to three hundred over several days) descended on Dijon from cities within a five hundred kilometer radius in order to settle accounts. One of my Chechen pals emotionally confided to me that this was a classic case of having to take matters into ones own hands when recourse to the police had proved powerless. “They put a gun into the boy’s mouth!” The Chechens framed this “punitive expedition” as a long overdue crusade against drug dealers. It seemed a parlay  had also been called after the second day of retaliatory violence, with a car full of Chechens being shot up (all four were injured).

In the context of the February killing of the popular blogger Imran Aliev in a Lille hotel – the latest assassination of a Chechen opponent of the Kadyrov regime – it very much looked as if France was not entirely in control of its own territory. Understandably, the French internet exploded with horror and recriminations at the authorities as cinematographic scenes of violence paralyzed a major French city with fear. The videos posted on social media of marauding paramilitary bands of men dressed in black firing their machine guns at apartment buildings and ramming each with cars were deeply shocking The French interior ministry called in reinforcements of RAID and elite anti-terrorism unfits to reestablish its monopoly on state violence in both Dijon and Nice. French newspapers published stories questioning wether the guns being brandished in the videos were real and if how much access there was to them in France. On Thursday night, French police carried out coordinated arrests of several of the Chechens who were involved in the paramilitary fighting across several cities in France.

Discreetly many Frenchmen quietly cheered the Chechens on for “doing what the French state should have done”.

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