A weekend is something to celebrate. For most, the end of the working week is a small freedom to be cherished. But today marks the one-year anniversary of a weekend that was desecrated not so far from here. On Friday 13 November 2015, terrorists armed with guns and suicide vests attacked bars and restaurants in Paris, as well as the Stade de France football stadium and the Bataclan concert venue. In all, 130 people were killed that night. The Bataclan endured the worst of the carnage. Concert-goers were trapped in the building with four gunmen for hours, and 89 were killed.
As a former Paris resident, news of the attack came as a nasty shock to me. I had been to almost all of the places; friends of mine lived near them. Someone I knew was at the Bataclan that night and survived by crawling out of a skylight. For young Parisians, if you were lucky enough not to have lost a friend on 13 November, you would know someone who was not so lucky.
I visited Paris one month after that murderous rampage, and the change in atmosphere was palpable. Memorials of dying flowers, posters and candles were everywhere, and everything felt subdued. This was a quieter, more nervous Paris. But who could blame Parisians for losing some of their spirit? The reality of France’s problem with fanatical Islamists had already been brought into sharp relief in January 2015, when multiple terrorist attacks, most notably at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket, took the lives of 17, and struck a blow against France’s proud value of freedom of speech. Last November was another strike against the way of life that Parisians hold so dear.
One year on, the knock-on effects of the attacks are clear. Recent reports show tourism numbers in France have dipped dramatically, costing the Paris-region tourism sector around £644million. The tourism sector makes up seven per cent of France’s GDP, and counts for 500,000 jobs in the Paris region alone. In the first half of 2016, nightly hotel stays in Paris were down 8.5 per cent. British holidaymakers have been avoiding terrorist-hit destinations such as Tunisia, Turkey and France, opting instead for Spain and Greece. This prompted Frederic Valletoux, the head of the Paris-region tourist board, to call for ‘a relief plan’. For a country that is proud of its appeal to holidaymakers, being considered an ‘unsafe’ destination must be a bitter pill to swallow.
But a drop in visitor numbers is a minor detail considering the crisis of identity that France now faces. Sadly, this has not been a year of renewal and recovery. In July, tragedy hit the seaside city of Nice when a terrorist drove a truck into the Bastille Day crowds, killing 86 people.