The shattered skull Laurent Thines saw on his operating table that day reminded the surgeon of an accident in a car accident. The doctor from Besançon in eastern France has been treating protesters, yellow vests and just passers-by who have been affected by police violence for weeks. Among them are people whose eyes have been destroyed by a rubber bullet, says Thines. The extent of the violence can be seen in statistics by journalist David Dufresne: 25 people lost eyes, five hands, and hundreds were seriously injured. Most of the victims are demonstrators, but Dufresne also lists more than a hundred journalists, 46 minors and 70 passers-by who have been hit by a truncheon, grenade or rubber bullet.
"This state violence against people who demonstrate for their social security must stop," says surgeon Thines. After the conversation, he sends X-rays of victims that his colleagues sent him: pictures of skulls with holes and shattered, for example, of bloody and scarred faces.
These days, thousands are taking to the streets again to demonstrate against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform. Thines fears that many people will lose hands and eyes again. That the French police will be heavily armed again, that they will again use rubber bullets and stun grenades. At the end of November, the Ministry of the Interior officially announced a major order for the "LBD" rubber balls. They are shot down at more than 300 kilometers an hour - according to Thines, the impact on the body is as hard as if a 20-kilogram block of concrete was dropped on the head from a height of one meter. The police use the stun grenades to disperse or disperse a demonstration.
In short: France is in a state of emergency. Train traffic has been largely paralyzed by the striking train drivers and conductors since the beginning of December, on some days there is no long-distance train, on others one out of three. Next Tuesday teachers, conductors, garbage collectors and firefighters will strike across the country. They want to prevent the pension reform, which provides for a uniform points system for everyone and an entry age of 64 years two years later.
Police violence has long been ignored
Surgeon Thines, like many others, is now afraid to demonstrate. And journalists are also threatened with their work. Last week it hit a Turkish photographer: his protective helmet was smashed by a flash grenade, his eye was injured. This week, two prospective reporters from a renowned school of journalism in Lille, northern France, were arrested while filming a police operation. "It's the right of journalists to take pictures," the university tweeted. It is unacceptable to limit these fundamental rights. Freedom of the press has suffered in France since the yellow vest protests: The country is only 32nd in the ranking of reporters without borders.
The French are proud of the French Declaration of Human Rights of 1789. They often emphasize how liberal the country is. Perhaps because of the large gap between this claim and the state violence documented thousands of times on YouTube and Facebook, it has long been suppressed. The new doctrine of the police was ignored or downplayed in newspapers, talk shows and during the daily conversation at the bakery or at the school festival. Although people see the images of violent clashes in the media, many do not want to admit that they are actually based on a new policy of violent confrontation. It is then often argued that the demonstrators are also violent, the victims have provoked the police and are ultimately to blame.
The federal government, which together with France has denounced violence against protesters in Russia or Hong Kong, has not yet said a word about the French police. So far, little has been read about it in the German media. "They don't want to admit that France has made an authoritarian turn," says surgeon Thines. For three decades, he has treated victims of violence in his operating room and always injured demonstrators. "But I've never seen so many people drawn for their lives as in previous months."