Is France a student activist’s hell?

I just had the most amazing discussion with a French law student on the IRC channel (#freeculture on  From what he’s telling me, I’m really glad I’m not trying to be an activist in France, because it seems that this is impossible there!  Is what he’s saying true?  Is he overstating the case at all?  It’s really scary!

(07:52:47) soufron [~soufron@] entered the room.
(07:52:48) jibot: Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome soufron, im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret
(07:55:25) skyfaller: how’s it going soufron?
(07:55:47) skyfaller: folks, I know you’re all asleep, but this is our new friend from France, Jean-Baptiste
(07:56:20) skyfaller: Jean-Baptiste, do you have a nickname or something shorter we can call you?
(07:58:33) soufron: yeah
(07:58:39) soufron: you can call me mister soufron
(07:58:42) soufron: Mister Soufron
(07:59:10) soufron: freeculture is not for commoners
(07:59:11) skyfaller: lol!   that’s not shorter…
(07:59:14) soufron:
(07:59:18) soufron: soufron is perfect
(07:59:42) soufron: have a look at my website if you want to know me
(07:59:43) skyfaller: excellent … as that is Jean-Baptiste’s last name, for the record
(07:59:46) soufron:
(08:00:25) skyfaller: so are you interested in helping organize free culture student groups in Europe?
(08:00:29) soufron: I am on jabber also
(08:00:36) soufron: yes I am
(08:01:05) soufron: is it only for Europe???
(08:01:31) skyfaller: Excellent!  You’re the first person to respond positively to that, all the other Europeans have been too busy so far… NO! of course not… It’s for America and Asia and Europe and Antarctica and the Moon….
(08:01:44) skyfaller: it’s an international movement
(08:02:15) skyfaller: so do you have any sort of club going at your school yet?  What year of school are you?
(08:02:22) soufron: …
(08:02:32) soufron: I am afraid I am not at school anymore
(08:02:43) soufron: I am a law PhD student and a lawyer
(08:02:48) soufron: I translate creative commons for France
(08:02:58) skyfaller: you’re not in law school anymore?
(08:03:08) soufron: … oh
(08:03:16) soufron: yeah, but it’s not a school in France
(08:03:18) soufron: it’s university
(08:03:23) skyfaller: lol!  OK
(08:03:25) soufron: faculty or whatever
(08:03:30) soufron: school is for children
(08:04:12) skyfaller: so do you think you can get a club going at your university?  Really the number one thing we want to encourage our supporters to do is start local campus groups
(08:04:31) soufron: …
(08:04:35) soufron: no way in France
(08:04:45) soufron: it doesn’t work that way
(08:04:47) skyfaller: what do you mean?
(08:04:53) soufron: we don’t have “campus” in France
(08:05:00) soufron: nobody went to university in france?
(08:05:14) soufron: it’s quite different
(08:05:20) skyfaller: oh… yeah, we’re mostly USians here so far
(08:05:24) soufron: of course it’s better, it’s french!
(08:05:50) skyfaller: hm… so can you start a youth-oriented club in your city or town?
(08:05:57) soufron: well, there is no campus and students don’t get organised
(08:06:19) skyfaller: but certainly there are youth groups in the town, no?
(08:06:36) soufron: … not in the way you would think
(08:06:43) soufron: plus, I can’t make a group on my own
(08:06:44) skyfaller: how the hell did you have all those revolutions with students if students don’t organize?
(08:06:50) soufron: we did not
(08:06:53) soufron: that’s the thing
(08:06:58) soufron: just buzz
(08:07:23) skyfaller: you mean the students weren’t organized in 1968 or whatever when y’all almost overthrew the government?
(08:07:29) soufron: yes
(08:07:38) soufron: arf
(08:07:49) soufron: if you wanna talk about french history, cool
(08:07:58) soufron: they were not organized at all
(08:07:58) skyfaller: well, heck, if they can do that when they’re not organized, I’d hate to see them organized!  You could like take over the world…
(08:08:07) soufron: exactly
(08:08:16) soufron: that’s what all french people think
(08:08:20) skyfaller: the point is, didn’t they belong to any clubs when they did that?
(08:08:27) soufron: we are the best, but as we know we are the best, let’s relax
(08:08:34) soufron: no
(08:08:37) soufron: they were some leaders
(08:09:02) soufron: but no real organisation
(08:09:18) skyfaller: well, hey, you can be a leader too
(08:09:23) soufron: everything started very stupidly
(08:09:37) soufron: the nanterre university decided to separate men and women…
(08:09:50) soufron: then the students decided to attend a strike
(08:10:02) soufron: they went followed by students from other universities
(08:10:10) soufron: and so on
(08:10:15) soufron: very stupid
(08:10:35) soufron: but everybody got manipulated by leftist organizations (adult ones)
(08:10:47) skyfaller: oh…. yeah, see that’s what happens when you don’t have student groups
(08:10:52) soufron:
(08:11:30) soufron: but to my mind, there is nothing to do in France except writing about free culture
(08:11:37) soufron: coz there are organizations
(08:11:37) skyfaller: see, in America, most of the activism is student-driven, so if there isn’t a student movement, not a hell of a lot happens
(08:11:43) soufron: I know
(08:11:54) soufron: in France, most of the activism is jobless-driven
(08:12:01) skyfaller: LOL!
(08:12:07) soufron: no joke
(08:12:12) skyfaller: wow, it really is a different world over there…
(08:12:34) soufron: it is
(08:12:35) soufron:
(08:12:57) soufron: but the jobless organizations are leftist radicals
(08:13:05) soufron: who won’t be very helpful to the freeculture movement
(08:13:24) skyfaller: so can’t do anything to get students in France excited and active in the free culture movement?
(08:13:36) soufron: the best thing would be to communicate to the freesoftware and free artists organizations
(08:13:47) soufron: not really
(08:14:02) soufron: french students… euh… they are kind of lazy you know
(08:14:07) soufron: university is free around here
(08:14:19) soufron: everybody between 18 and 24 is student
(08:14:38) soufron: being a student does not mean that you have convictions and will… it just mean you have nothing else to do
(08:14:42) soufron: as it’s free…
(08:14:47) skyfaller: So there are literally no student groups?  There’s no Amnesty International?  No environmentalists?
(08:14:48) soufron: plus you get scholarships
(08:15:02) soufron: they exist but they are not students
(08:15:14) soufron: everything is state-driven
(08:15:27) soufron: the good thing would be to integrate something at state-level
(08:15:34) soufron: which is complicated
(08:15:36) skyfaller: I completely fail to understand… you’ve just blown my mind
(08:15:47) soufron: it’s a different world
(08:15:51) soufron: so, well…
(08:16:02) soufron: just forget France for a while
(08:16:07) soufron: I will try to spread the word
(08:16:13) soufron: and I have good connections
(08:16:14) soufron:
(08:16:35) skyfaller: Excellent   I’ll leave the job in your capable hands…
(08:16:42) soufron: We’ll see who will grab the hook!
(08:17:57) skyfaller: well, I have to go to class now, but thanks for signing on!

There are a lot of nice things about France and French culture, I’m not prejudiced against French people, but good grief!  How do they live that way?  Maybe the cheese and wine makes up for it?

5 thoughts on “Is France a student activist’s hell?

  1. Keep in mind that you were only talking to one person in France. Maybe others would disagree with him. Or maybe he’s completely right. We can’t expect that Swat’s level of activism is the norm.

    good luck

  2. I think he sounds a little arrogant… but yea, keep in touch with him.

    University is very different in Europe. It is very industrialized, so to speak – as he says, basically state-run. (speaking from my experience in Germany) Consider that Swarthmore is a exception among the US, which is an exception among the larger world… there’s certainly room for freeculture movement in Europe, it just may take a different form than you were expecting.

    I don’t know if he was trying to be funny with those “France is better” comments or what.


  3. he’s right

    For the record, I’m french 🙂

    Soufron is definitively right.

    (For the “France is better” things, he’s just kidding of course… seems obvious to me, but may not be obvious for non-french-thinking people 🙂

    We don’t really have “activism” here in France. Mostly, students don’t do very much activities at university, other than attend courses. It’s not “everyone go home” of course, but universities aren’t really “meet places” for thinkers, or activists, whatever.

    It even surprised me when I saw “student movement” on : to me that just doesn’t make sense to call it “student” movement. the “student” thing is off-topic. It’s not being student that’ll change things (in France I mean, uh ?).

    The movements we have in france aren’t really student-driven. Of course, most of the “activists” are young, but that doesn’t really matter.

    The way to launch a movement here in France is to have a strong idea, to launch an organisation dedicated to that movement, to organize public events, and so on. You’ll find some support in universities, but you just can’t restrict your movement to students. It has to be really “public”. Do things in the streets. Do free culture concerts. free culture festivals.

    I don’t know how activism “works” in the US, but it seems to me to be “persons fist, ideas second”. We meet, then we think. In france, it’s more “ideas first, persons second”. Spread your idea, and then expect it to be supported by motivated people.

    I hope this’ll help !


    • Re: he’s right

      The reason that is a student movement is because students aren’t currently involved in free culture activism here in the states. This is a problem in the US, because a movement hasn’t really arrived here until students are excited about it. It may be possible to build a strong movement in France without an active student movement, but I don’t think it really is possible here. Students are responsible for a large proportion of activism in the US, and campus groups are vitally important. There are competent and strong adult free culture organizations, but the lack of student support seriously weakens the movement and lowers its media profile.

      Eventually I think that should expand beyond students, but I think that students should always be our focus and our area of expertise, we need to make sure that the movers and shakers of the future are aware and active in free culture issues.

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