When three Vaudois activists hoisted the Vietcong flag on Notre-Dame de Paris
On January 19, 1969, the Vietcong flag – the emblem of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam – flew from the spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The authors of this act of activism, three Waldensians, have remained anonymous until today and the publication of a book.
Olivier Parriaux, Bernard Bachelard and Noé Graff reveal their secret 54 years after the events in aappeared this week and entitled “The Vietcong at the top of Notre-Dame”.
The day before their act, talks for peace in Vietnam had just opened in the French capital. Just the day before, Richard Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States.
This Vietcong flag of 3 by 5 meters was a message of support for the Vietnamese in struggle. The image had been around the world, published in particular in the New York Times and Life Magazine.
And as they had sawn off the rungs of the ladder after having installed it, it was by helicopter that they had to go and take down the flag at the top of the spire of Notre-Dame.
Green, white, but above all red Vaudois
Two of them, Olivier Parriaux and Bernard Bachelard, told on Saturday at the microphone of the RTS program Forum how they had the idea, at the age of 25, to hoist a flag sewn in Lausanne on the spire of the cathedral. of Paris, which culminates at 96 meters.
“We were militants, supporting the cause of the Vietcong, which is a derogatory term invented by the Americans to speak of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, says Olivier Parriaux. Three years before this operation, we were already on the side of the Front National Liberation of South Vietam. We were watching the balance of diplomatic and warrior power very carefully. And when Johnson announced that he was not going to run again, we thought that maybe something was going to happen. pass: the opening of negotiations.”
Conquering the spire of Viollet-le-Duc
If Noé Graff was waiting for his accomplices below, Olivier Parriaux and Bernard Bachelard undertook the ascent of the spire built by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, at the top of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.
“We were the two. But the one who went the highest was Bernard, my friend, because there is a formidable overhang on this arrow: a crown of roses more than a meter in diameter, which ‘you have to go artificial, without belaying, without anything at all,’ says Olivier Parriaux again.
A risky adventure, concedes Bernard Bachelard, even if he admits that he is not sure that at the time they were “completely aware”.
The desired media impact
Asked whether the three men were surprised by the media impact of the time, Olivier Parriaux replies that “no, because that was the objective. We put everything around our very modest forces of three young people living 500 kilometers away”.
“The work took two to three months to examine the progress on this building and the difficulties we were going to encounter on this spire. (…) We were very well prepared, we had the necessary tools, everything went smoothly. proceeded in accordance with expectations”, he explains again.
Predecessors of civil disobedience
If the three men kept the secret for so long, it is in particular because the main thing was not that they did it, but “the message carried in a political balance of power. We wanted to crown the one of the most venerated buildings not only in France but in the whole world”. “We were predecessors of civil disobedience,” he then says.
Regarding their political commitments to the left, Olivier Parriaux explains all the same that they were not “necessarily communists at the time”. “Bernard was in the Socialist Youth, Noé was already in the Labor Party and I was a third-world Christian.”
“So we were very diverse. We were listening to Marx, of course, but also to Trotsky, because he criticized the USSR”, concludes Olivier Parriaux.
Interview by Mehmet Gultas
Web adaptation: Julien Furrer