[FOUNTAIN]A checkered historyIn 1572 at the Sorbonne University, a terrible event occurred. Professor Pierre de la Ramee denied Aristotle, then the basis of academics. The Royal Association banned him from lecturing and burned his books. A Catholic squad of assassins raided the school, murdered Mr. Ramee and threw his body into the Seine River. Ironically, the freedom of academics started to bloom on top of his tragic death. “There is no knowledge without freedom.” This saying by Mr. Ramee still guides the Sorbonne.
In 1968, the Sorbonne University was the headquarters of the ’68 Revolution. Students started to overturn the existing system hand in hand with the labor unions. They shouted for the liberation of society and individuals. It was a cultural revolution that even rejected the establishment of a new government as a regression to the old system. Taboos broke down. The ruling power narrowly calmed down the situation by joining hands with the communist party.
The start of the riot was quite simple. Because of the baby-boom generation, the number of university students had tripled. However, with high unemployment, the anxiety of stepping into society accelerated. From May 3, the students occupied the Sorbonne University and started a bloody demonstration. They set up barricades on the street with the labor unions and confronted the police. The ’68 Revolution was a failed revolution but it still shook society greatly.
Today in France, you are treated as stupid if you brag about being a Sorbonne student. After the ’68 Revolution, the Sorbonne rapidly collapsed. In 1971, the government equalized all universities and made them public. Even the names were changed to the number each university president drew in a lottery. The Sorbonne became Paris IV and the Nanterre, Paris X. Now, the Sorbonne has become an ordinary school which anyone living within 150 kilometers can enter for free if they pass the Baccalaureate, France’s high-school graduation exam.
Since last Tuesday, a riot has been growing, with the Sorbonne in the center, opposing a new labor law introduced by the French government. More than 50,000 people marched on the streets to protest firing new employees who have worked for less than 2 years. There are signs of students and the labor unions uniting. At a glance, the demonstration seems an anachronistic act of the young trying to secure their vested rights. As was shown by the ’68 Revolution, a fight over rice bowls can be explosive. The weight of the 800-year-long history of the Sorbonne is not a slight matter. Will the Sorbonne become the center of opposition again in the 21st century?
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.