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Two days after the assassination in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine of history professor Samuel Paty, thousands of people gathered on Sunday at Place de la République in Paris to honor the memory of their colleague. Reportage.

Under an autumn sun, thousands of people gathered on Sunday, October 18, on Place de la République in Paris to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, coldly murdered professor, Friday, after showing his students caricatures of Muhammad. Still in shock, teachers and citizens of all stripes have responded to the Parisian appeal initiated by several associations including SOS Racisme and teacher unions (FSU, Sgen-CFDT, L’Unsa-Éducation, etc.). A call that was also relayed by the editorial staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Several political figures also participated in this tribute, notably the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer.

From 2 p.m., teachers, community activists or ordinary citizens flocked to Place de la République, as many had already done, on January 11, 2015, after the attacks that decimated the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo.

In the ranks, many remember the human tide that had swept through the streets five years ago, and the emotion of seeing Paris become for a day, “the capital of the world”, in the words of François Hollande. “I was already in this place in 2015, I would not have been able to look at myself in the mirror if I had not come this afternoon”, explains to France 24, Nathalie, 64-year-old teacher-researcher, eyes cloudy and face masked.

“This attack only redoubled my desire to teach!”

This teacher-researcher has been training future teachers for years. So when she heard of this attack, Nathalie couldn’t contain her tears. “It could have happened to one of my students. My first instinct was to write to them to tell them that I was thinking of them. Such a drama could discourage them from pursuing their careers,” she said, moved.

“On the contrary!”, Assures a little further, Élodie, sign and French flag in hand. “There will of course be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ for teachers. But this attack has only redoubled my desire to teach! I want to sharpen the critical thinking of my students, especially since ‘They are very young,’ says this 32-year-old teacher who teaches in Nanterre. “In kindergarten, students are already old enough to understand the concept of freedom, having their own opinion, their own work,” she notes.

“Blasphemy does not exist in our Republic”

A few meters further on, Nicole, a tall brunette of 67, holds up three Charlie Hebdo cartoons. “Take a picture of them, share them, broadcast them. Blasphemy does not exist in our Republic!” Exclaims the Parisian, her eyes red.

Nicole, 67, came to defend freedom of expression, Sunday, October 18, in Paris. © Marie Campistron

As the minutes pass, the procession widens. The slogans “I am a teacher”, and “I am Samuel” are displayed on the signs, decorate the coats. Some sing Hugues Aufray’s melancholy refrain, “Goodbye Professor,” before a wave of applause sweeps through the crowd. The pain can be guessed under the masks.

At the other end of the square, Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme begins his speech, greeting the teaching world, these “pillars of the Republic”. A minute of silence is observed, followed by a song of the Marseillaise. Then the conversations resume. And a lot of sadness is mixed with anger. Groups of teachers are grappling with the question of individual responsibility in the face of the tragedy: who should we condemn? What could have been avoided?

A protester, during the rally, Sunday, October 18 in Paris. © Marie Campistron

“Are we going to meet up in this same place every five years?”

For William, 63, the state cannot deny its share of responsibility: “Governments have been too cautious on the issue of Islamism. It is a problem they struggle to accept, but we must call a spade a cat. It is not a question of amalgamation “, is irritated behind his mask this retiree of 64 years.

A speech shared by Purita, a hospital nurse in the Paris region. “It’s all well and good to put flowers, to put candles on the ground, but what do we do next? Will we meet up in this same place every five years?”

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