As the Eiffel Tower, their landmark monument, struggles to resume normal operations amid lingering security concerns, Parisians gather around Place de la Republique to pay respect to victims of Friday’s attacks, and for a bit of national soul-searching
Normally, it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Paris, attracting up to 20,000 daily visitors. But four days after the worst attack France has suffered since World War II, few people were milling around the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower Operating Company had announced its reopening Monday, complete with a defiant blue-white-red national flag illumination and Paris’ Latin-language motto Fluctuat nec Mergitur (Tossed but not sunk).
But a day later, the company said it was not ready yet to welcome back visitors amid the tougher security environment. Electronic boards simply announced that opening had been “delayed,” with no more details.
Staff members were said to have refused to work because of insufficient police coverage at the site.
“We let people in yesterday, but no one today. We’re deciding what to do now,” one employee on a cigarette break, who said he could not give his name, told dpa.
The Eiffel Tower’s struggle to resume normal operations reflected the wider difficulty of the city to come to terms with the Friday attacks at the hand of the Islamic State extremist group, which left 129 dead and more than 352 injured.
“I am scared, you are scared, we are all scared, of course we are scared,” Dominique Colombani, one of the thousands of people who came to pay his respects to the victims in Place de la Republique, said to a small crowd.
They had gathered round to listen to Colombani, a grey-haired man who looked in his late 40s, verbally spar about a variety of topics – national security, the threat posed by Islam and republican values – with Rachida Kabbouri, a veiled Frenchwoman of Moroccan origin.
“You have to admit it, it’s in the [Koran] texts,” Colombani said, referring to jihad.
“No, those who kill in the name of Allah are not real Muslims, you need to have some brains and not take religious texts at face value,” she replied.
Around them, other people lit candles, prayed or simply stared in quiet reflection by the bronze statue dedicated to “the glory of the French Republic,” its steps strewn with flowers, candles and solidarity messages.
In a special address to both houses of parliament on Monday, President Francois Hollande encouraged his citizens to stay strong, as he pledged to smash the Islamic State and preserve the French way of life.
“The French are a fierce, valiant, courageous people who do not give up and pick themselves up every time one of their children is down,” he said. Such description seemed to chime with the mood at Republique.
“We need to tell these people: if you want to be kamikazes [suicide attackers], we are going to be kamikazes too and we’ll die together,” said Virginie, meaning that she had no intention of staying home out of fear.
Another woman who also refused to give her surname, Dimitra, was unimpressed by talk of patriotism, and lashed out at politicians for failing to prevent the tragedy, which came 10 months after another Islamist attack that left 20 dead.
“I’m here because I put myself in the shoes of a mother or father who is crying for a lost child,” she said. “But politicians cannot simply tell us ‘this thing happened, now we must be united.’ Why did they not stop it? Where did they fail? They must take responsibility.”
“We don’t just feel bereaved, we feel angry,” she added.