This weekend is the St-Jean, which i would guess probably resembles other nationalist holidays in nations-without-a-state: massive crowds, lots of partying, confused politics, often fights with cops or just between people. For that section of the left here that considers Quebec independence a worthy goal, the St-Jean has all the allure of a progressive celebration. Other people feel differently. But almost everyone who is Quebecois (and a lot of others too) celebrates the St-Jean.
This year is special, though, as today is the 22nd, which for the past months has meant it is the day of a monster demonstration in Montreal (the previous ones on March, April and May 22nd have been in the hundreds of thousands) in the context of the student strike and now Law 78. This month, however, there is a call for a major demonstration in Montreal and one in Quebec City, and in Quebec City it is supposed to be an 81-hour demo/occupation of the grounds of the national assembly…
In a context where the police in Quebec City are already far more aggressive that the Montreal police in terms of arresting people at “illegal” demonstrations, earlier this week the Quebec City municipal government held a special session to rush through a bylaw banning all demonstrations which police are not informed of beforehand, as well as setting an 11pm curfew for all demos. (The bylaw in question was apparently in the works since last year, a reaction to Occupy, however the timing of it being rushed through is due to this weekend’s events.)
As detailed below, there is another element at play. The possibility of non-state actors using the weekend as an opportunity to “settle scores” with those on the left, in the student movement, or simply people in working-class neighbourhoods who are more sympathetic to the strike. The Quebec City suburbs tend to be right-wing, with a populist twist. Recently, talk radio hosts have been going on about the strike, about Quebec Solidaire, about “Montreal”, going so far in one case as to call on people to do violence to the most well known student representative of the CLASSE.
The following is by Nicolas Phebus, a comrade who lives in Quebec City, about his personal relationship to the St-Jean, and about this specific St-Jean in particular:
When I was little, I liked the St-Jean, even if I was afraid of the drunks singing in the metro (my childhood memories always have a bunch of people singing Plume in the metro…)
I remember that I was also a bit embarrassed by my godmother who did crazy things like going to see Paul Piché back stage or convincing the security guards to let her dance between the stage and the security barriers (all of this is pretty vague, but the memory of being embarrassed, and the associated feeling of being jealous of my sister, who was not embarrassed and who would follow her, is definitely there.)
I became uncomfortable with the St-Jean during adolescence. When I realized that the St-Jean was not for everyone. That they didn’t let a man march because he was wearing African-style clothing. When I realized that not everyone was a nationalist (or francophone)…
I began to hate the St-Jean when I realized, also during adolescence, that not all adults were on the left or activists. That the adults I knew were the exception, that most people were more like my fascist school principal. The drunken nationalism which came out of nowhere seemed like hypocrisy, the cocky bravado of one night in a daily life of doing without and submitting. For a few years I hated crowds, at the St-Jean and at all the festivals. Not dependable. Rats.
I got into it again briefly at that point between adolescence and adulthood, when the St-Jean started going along with riots in my adopted city. But it didn’t last. In any case, it was fake. I shared the anger but not the nationalist basis, so the discomfort was palpable.
Ever since, I have run away, going to the St-Jean parties that were alternative, reggae, punk, etc.
Since then I have moved to uptown. Today, the St-Jean is a vigil. A long night to watch the neighbourhood we call home. To try to calm things down and to get people who have come from the suburbs to party to go elsewhere.
This year I have something else to worry about. Quebec City is a funny place. The heart of the city, the neighbnourhood where the celebrations are taking place, is red. But the suburbs are green. And for months they have been fired up by the trash media til they’ve become white hot. [The term “red” refers to the color of the student strike; the “greens” are those who oppose the strike.]
I admit that this year I am a bit freaked out. I try to reason with myself, but the thing is that I know that our territory, our neighbourhood, will be invaded. The power ratio could be about three to one against us. With the help of alcohol, it really could blow up. And the city could become a battlefield once again.
The only unknown factor is the police. Depending on what they do (or don’t do), they could succeed in bringing the reds and greens together. We will see.
So far, so good.