In France, a Bastille Day With Fewer Fireworks

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Many French cities canceled their traditional firework shows over a familiar issue in France, social unrest, and a more daunting one, climate change.

Bastille Day in France has long been synonymous with grand fireworks displays over towns and villages, as dancing crowds celebrate their nation’s revolutionary birth.

But firework shows have been canceled in parts of the country this year, for fear of a resurgence of the unrest that has just swept France and for the risk of fire in the face of the extreme heat that is a new fixture of French summers.

“It’s an unusual convergence of social and environmental issues,” Hervé Florczak, the mayor of Jouy-le-Moutier, a small town west of Paris, said, noting that France had yet to solve either problem. “It’s sad that it should fall on Bastille Day.”

Mr. Florczak explained that he had first looked for a site away from a wooded area to organize a fireworks display while avoiding drought-related fire hazards. Then, his city was struck by the riots after a police officer killed a teenager in a Paris suburb in late June.

“We canceled the show, pure and simple,” he said.

The concerns did not prevent President Emmanuel Macron from celebrating the national holiday, which marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 that ignited the French Revolution. Along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India as his special guest, Mr. Macron attended the traditional Paris military parade on the Place de la Concorde Friday morning and watched jets that left a trail of blue, white and red smoke streaming overhead.

Mr. Modi’s presence was a sign of France’s desire to deepen diplomatic ties with India, a country that Mr. Macron described on Thursday as “a giant in the history of the world, which will have a determining role in our future.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Emmanuel Macron of France watching the Bastille Day military parade in Paris on Friday.Aurelien Morissard/Associated Press

The two leaders were expected to discuss a range of topics, from climate change to security in the strategic Indo-Pacific region, as well as Russia’s war in Ukraine. Mr. Macron, who has contemplated playing the role of peacemaker in the war, has been actively trying to rally the support of nonaligned countries, including India, for Ukraine.

Still, Mr. Macron could hardly escape domestic realities at Friday’s parade. The area of the festivities had been cordoned off by police, and many metro stations had been shut down, a sign of heightened security threats as the country deals with the fallout from the violent protests.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that 45,000 police officers, as many as at the peak of the protests, would be deployed on the nights of July 13 and 14. (French cities usually hold Bastille Day festivities on either date.)

“What we’re trying to avoid is a resurgence of these violent episodes,” Mr. Darmanin told reporters on Wednesday.

Nearly 6,000 cars were set on fire, and more than 1,000 buildings damaged in the riots.

French authorities have been particularly concerned about the use of fireworks during the holiday. Fireworks were the weapons of choice during the recent unrest, with protesters directing them at phalanxes of police officers, who responded with volleys of tear gas. They only cost between 10 and 20 euros each, about $11 to $22, and are easy to buy in stores or online.

As a result, the authorities have banned the sale, possession and transport of fireworks during the July 14 weekend. More than 150,000 fireworks have been seized in recent days, Mr. Darmanin said.

Protesters used fireworks during demonstrations in the wake of a teenager who was killed by police officers in Nanterre, France, last month.Aurelien Morissard/Associated Press

Although the ban does not extend to professionals or municipalities organizing festivities, several cities have nevertheless decided to do without, over concerns that fireworks might be stolen by people eager to clash with the police or because local authorities preferred to focus on repairing the damage.

“It’s a simple choice,” Guillaume Delbar, the mayor of Roubaix, where the headquarters of a digital company was reduced to ashes during the riots, told the French media this week. “There’s already been enough fire and fireworks over the past few days — no need to have more.”

The decision by some towns to cancel festivities has infuriated some right-wing politicians, who said it amounted to abdicating in the face of the rioters.

“Can you believe that in the great democracy of France, we are giving up on our national day because of the fear generated by potential violence or potential riots by some people?” the far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Wednesday.

In many cities, it was the even more alarming issue of climate change that forced the cancellation of the festivities.

France, like other European countries, has been hit in recent days by a heat wave that has increased the risk of fires. The high temperatures have come on top of a long-running drought in parts of the country that has dried up fields.

Under these conditions, many cities called off the fireworks displays and tried to find alternatives. La Teste-de-Buch, a town near Bordeaux that was ravaged by wildfires last year, organized a light show involving 400 drones on Thursday night.

Mr. Florczak, the mayor of Jouy-le-Moutier, said the increasing frequency of heat waves would mean that Bastille Day fireworks would likely no longer be a fixture in his city. He said he was considering replacing them with a drone show or with “a ball to have something more mainstream and traditional.”

“In any case,” he added, “we need to rethink the model.”

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