On December 17th 2010, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor of fruits and vegetables, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire out of despair. He was publicly humiliated, his merchandise was confiscated and he did not have the money nor the contacts to bribe the officials in order to get his goods back. On January 4th, 2011 he died of his burns. His action evoked the Tunisian Jasmine Uprising and was in fact the beginning of what later would be known as the Arab Spring.
Many people who have close ties with Tunisia and other Arab countries live in Paris. The city fights for freedom and democracy, as well as communication between cultures. Considering these points of views it is not that unusual that on February 8th, 2011 the Paris council unanimously backed the idea to name a place in Paris after Mohamed Bouazizi. The decision is made final when a square in the 14th quarter, not far from Parc Montsouris, is chosen. In the presence of Bouazizi’s mother and other relatives, the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, unveiled the square sign on June 30th, 2011.
When I visited the square in late 2011, it became obvious the neighbourhood didn’t know the square that well. Asking several employees in front of one of the buildings from the nearby ‘cité universitaire de Paris’ only triggered surprised glances ‘Does such a square exist?’ Also an employee of a RER station, the lady working behind the bar and the regulars of a café at the border of Parc Montsouris didn’t know. Until a young black woman stopped me in the middle of the street and asked if she could help me … and she points out the location without any problems. It is a small square, almost like a little park, with a few trees, two ping-pong tables and several benches. A humble but meaningful tribute to the first hero and martyr of the Arab Spring.