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Paris Olympics protests: “A concrete mixer for tourists and speculation”

Paris Olympics protests: “A concrete mixer for tourists and speculation”

With the Games heralding urban exclusion and a hike in surveillance, disruption and protests mark the passage of the Olympic flame through France

The current political emergency in France comes only weeks ahead of the Olympic games, which are bound to be offered as a false symbol of inclusion and internationalism. Yet the graffito “Zbeul Olympiques” is widely seen decorating Paris subway advertising. Zbeul, which translates as “a bloody mess”, expresses opponents’ mistrust for the nationalistic and neoliberal Olympic carnival.

In Marseille, “100 days of Zbeul Olympiques” are being held in response to the Olympic flame arriving in the city. In a demonstration on 8 May, protesters denounced “the advent of a generalised surveillance society” and the increasing exploitation of “workers, particularly undocumented workers and volunteers” through the Olympic games, which turn cities into “a concrete mixer for tourists and speculation, for example by removing ‘pests’”.

According to the Libertarian Communist Organisation, the expulsion of homeless people’s squats in Paris continued “at an infernal pace until the winter break, and resumed as soon as it ended”, including a squat of nearly 300 people in Vitry and the Unibéton squat in Saint Denis. Some associations put forward the figure of 4,000 homeless people, many undocumented, rounded up since the Spring of 2023.

For decades, Olympic games have seen cities open the way for a corporate ransacking of urban space: raising poor neighborhoods to make way for an Olympic village, which later becomes an expensive an exclusive area. Instead of regeneration, the Olympics have brought gentrification. In Paris the athletes’ village, for which 3 schools, 19 businesses, 1 hotel and 2 homes were destroyed, will be converted into offices, shops, hotels and luxury housing, as will the new Olympic aquatic centre next to the Stade de France. Part of the Courneuve park has also been declassified to accommodate the media cluster, and will make way for luxury residences in an area where housing is already overcrowded. Since Paris was designated as a host city in 2017, real estate prices have increased by 22.3%.

Graffiti in Paris subway. Photo: Indymedia

The step-up in state surveillance is also cause for concern. During the Olympics and well beyond (until March 2025), the French state will for the first time impose “algorithmic video surveillance”, i.e. the sweeping collection and AI analysis of images from stationary and drone cameras. Human rights organizations and radical unions fear this to be another “exceptional measure” which will become permanent, and which can pave the way for legalising facial recognition — already used illegally by national police since 2015.

In St. Etienne, the “Event Sabotage Sports Association” called for disruptive actions during the passage of the Olympic flame in the form of “a major musical and sporting stroll” including “hiking-painting, street-contact dancing and dynamic naps”. Palestine solidarity activists have also been protesting the passage of the flame in multiple locations, including Sisteron, Angers and Rennes. Campaigners for boycott have called for Israel to be excluded from the Games, similarly to how Russian and Belarussian athletes are only allowed to compete as neutrals.

~ Daniel Adediran

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