Kerry Flint | Contributing Writer | Monday, 16 November 2015

How The Young People Of Paris Are Being Redefined As Génération Bataclan

Here's What Génération Bataclan Means For The Young People Of Paris

The Debrief: 'The areas attacked were not large official institutions or tourist areas but places where young people gather with friends to simply enjoy the night'

I’ve lived in Paris for almost a year, with my boyfriend who is originally from the Paris suburbs. But it's a country I've visited my whole life, this weekend I've seen how life for 20-somethings in the city has changed almost overnight. Before Friday evening we were Generation Y. Now we’re Génération Bataclan.

Our Friday night probably started the same way as yours did. We left work to go to restaurants, bars and gigs with our friends. But as you’ll have certainly read by now, the evening quickly transformed into scenes of unspeakable terror and tragedy.

It started with explosions heard in the vicinity of the Stade de France at around 9.15pm, in the northern suburbs of Paris. 80,000 people were watching the friendly match between France and Germany inside when the blasts occurred and the confusion and chaos began. As news broke and social media sites filled up with messages, it became apparent that this was just the beginning as shots were fired into the restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge, and the bar, Le Carillon, across the street.

More shots were fired at people sitting on the nearby terrace of Casa Nostra, a popular pizzeria, and shortly after at a brasserie called La Belle Equipe on Rue de Charonne. At the same time, an attacker detonated a bomb in another cafe, the Comptoir Voltaire, and in Le Bataclan, a popular music venue where The Eagles Of Death Metal were about an hour into their gig when black-clad gunmen wielding AK-47s and wearing suicide vests stormed into the hall and randomly opened fire. This is a short summary of some of the chain of horrific events coordinated by a team of 7 militants that have, so far, left 129 people dead.

A group of us waited together in the bar until 2am, afraid to leave and watching the television open mouthed in horror

In the end, I spent Friday night watching the events unfold on a television in a bar just south of the areas targeted. I had stayed out in the 12eme having been record shopping and was originally planning a quiet night at home. It quickly became clear that wasn’t going to happen. My friend, Jeanne, a media research analyst who also lives in Paris, was trying to make her way to join us, after finding herself inadvertently skirting right by the scene of the attacks. ‘It was hard to understand the scale of what was happening, but it soon became apparent that something very serious was going on. Two people warned me that I should go home as soon as possible, and although I wondered if they were just trying to scare me, I ran to the nearest Metro station as quickly as I could.’

In the end a group of us waited together in the bar until 2am, afraid to leave and watching the television open mouthed in horror as we answered messages from concerned friends and family to assure them that we were safe. After a while people cautiously started to make their way home, and plenty of taxis turned off their metres and bars (such as the one we were in) had lock-ins to keep people safe.

The next morning the city woke up on lockdown – it was eerily quiet as we pondered our last-minute decisions to cancel or change our Friday night plans – aware that our fate could have been very different if we’d chosen to go out rather than stay in, or meet in a different bar a couple of roads away.

And for most of us, the enormity of what happened came from the source you’d most expect – social media. As Jeanne explains; ‘I think I fully realised what had happened when I spent the day on Saturday watching news channels, reading Twitter "#RechercheParis" and Facebook. I just couldn't do anything else but read and think about it. In the afternoon, I found out three friends of friends had been killed or hurt in the events. When I listed them to my mum on the phone I started crying, realising how close my life is to the people who died. The bars they went to are bars I go to, music they listened to is music I listen to, the Parisian life they lived is the Parisian life I live.’

That’s what terrified us all – here in Paris and beyond, the victims of these horrific attacks could so easily have been us. Many of the places that were targeted reflected the most bohemian, creative, liberal and youthful parts of Paris, with real social and ethnic heterogeneity and a recently-elected female socialist mayor, even as the rest of the country vote for the more conservative and anti-immigration parties on the Right.

So many of the missing and the dead are young students or professionals, from France and across the world

These were not large official institutions or tourist areas but rather places where young people gather with friends to simply enjoy the night. 

The most striking thing about the #RechercheParis hashtag (which was used this weekend by people looking for loved ones who they feared may have been caught up in the attacks) was how youthful the faces on the feed were. So many of the missing and the dead are young students or professionals, from France and across the world, who were enjoying their night. The youngest listed was a girl of just 17.

This was a terrorist attack defined by youth – Facebook’s ‘safety checks’ feature, trending hashtags and Instagram memes in solidarity with the people of Paris. If the war and violence in the world seemed like an ‘other’ problem to us before Friday night, we were under no illusions by Saturday morning that this is no longer the case.   

So what’s next? My friend Ana reflects on moving forward in a city that’s in mourning. ‘Everybody is still quite numb and slowly trying to return to normality; it was one of my best friends' birthday on Saturday, so a couple of us still went to a restaurant for dinner and tried to deal with stuff as if it was a regular day. The streets were empty though. Paris is too quiet, it really feels like a war zone.’

This was a terrorist attack defined by youth – Facebook’s ‘safety checks’ feature, trending hashtags and Instagram memes

A few bars have opened their doors to welcome regulars, offering a chance to regain some level of normality and to support each other, yet many others remained closed – with the owners explaining on social media that they could not face doing so yet and were still scared about people's safety. As time goes on things will hopefully start to resemble the vibrant nightlife we all know and love but for now that isn't the priority.

The terrorists targeted areas where communities are more likely to be tolerant, progressive and young and these communities will rebuild themselves in what is now an unclear global future. The victims of the attacks here in Paris, and in other cities across the world, and their families are in our hearts. Let's all raise a glass to them tonight.

Follow Kerry on Twitter @KerryFlint

Picture: Getty