‘Goodbye Gagarin’: Paris suburb razes Communist housing estate

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A man walks past a building of the Youri Gagarine quarter in Ivry-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of the French capital Paris on August 19, 2019.(AFP / Philippe Lopez)
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A man walks past a street mural adorning a building of the Youri Gagarine quarter in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on August 19, 2019. Some see it as "the end of a world", others "a page that turns": the destruction of the emblematic workers' quarter Gagarine, at the gates of Paris, emblem of the red suburbs, arouses the nostalgia and apprehension of residents who attend the entrance of their city in the era of Greater Paris. Inaugurated in 1963 by the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to have travelled in space, this quarter is closely linked to the history of the city of Ivry, stronghold of the Communist Party since the 1920s. On August 31, inhabitants and representatives will meet at the foot of this imposing 13-storey red brick district in the shape of a T to say goodbye during a solemn ceremony in Ivry-sur-Seine. / AFP / Philippe LOPEZ
Updated 30 August 2019

‘Goodbye Gagarin’: Paris suburb razes Communist housing estate

IVRY-SUR-SEINE, France: For decades a hulking housing estate on the edge of Paris was a red-brick symbol of Communist Russia’s promise to workers of the world, but on Saturday residents and local officials will gather to say goodbye to a building that has been left behind in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
Inaugurated in 1963 in the presence of Russian space pioneer Yuri Gagarin — just two years after he became the first person in space — the “Cite Gagarine” underscored the Communist Party’s appeal in much of postwar France.
“The bathroom, the spacious kitchen, the elevator — it was all new for us. We’d never known such comforts!” said Jacqueline Spiro, who with her parents was among the first generation of residents.
The T-shaped, 13-story building in the suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine may indeed have looked like something from outer space amid the rows of cramped working-class houses in the so-called “red belt” of suburbs surrounding Paris since the 1920s.
It became a model for the social urbanism projects pursued by the French Communist party, which enjoyed huge support for decades after World War II for its role in the Resistance.
“The Cite Gagarine was the international showcase for the French Communist Party,” said Emmanuel Bellanger, a historian with France’s CNRS research institute.
“With it, the party showed the world what is could do at the local level, so that it could eventually do it on the national level,” Bellanger said.
Russian authorities seized on the project, sending the national hero Gagarin himself to reward “Ivry the Red” for putting Soviet ideals into practice.
“This was not an easy decision to make, but it was done in concert with its residents,” Romain Marchand, the deputy mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine and French Communist Party member, told AFP.
“Everyone knew each other, and would spend time at one another’s homes. It was like a big family,” said Francoise, who gave only her first name and who had lived on the estate some 10 years.
“It’s the end of an era,” she said.
Today, however, graffiti and broken or boarded-up windows are what catch the eye as workers start tearing down the building — there won’t be any spectacular demolition explosions.
The estate’s fortunes began fading in the 1970s as factories shut down in what would prove a deep industrial decline in the Paris region.
As poverty rates increased so did cases of juvenile delinquency and crime, and the Cite Gagarine area became of France’s infamous “sensitive urban zones” requiring more targeted state help to combat joblessness.
“There was a real problem in terms of attractiveness, people didn’t want to come live here, and turnover rates were high,” Marchand acknowledged, saying he wanted to “turn the page.”
After the 16-month demolition is finished, workers will break ground on a so-called “green district” of energy-efficient buildings and parks.
But locals worry the middle class families being sought as part of a “Greater Paris” plan to merge the capital with its suburbs will be the final blow to the social cohesion embodied by the Cite Gagarine.
“With this Greater Paris, we’re wondering if we’ll have the means to live here,” said Elizabeth, a local resident who also gave only her first name.
Critics note that the new project won’t be wholly owned by Ivry’s public housing authority, “but that won’t stop us from keeping 30 percent of the new ‘green district’ as social housing,” Marchand said.
He said he was well aware of the “real estate forces” bearing down on Ivry, which are likely to be a top issue in municipal elections next year.
“Gentrification has long been considered an electoral threat for the French Communist party,” said David Gouard, a political scientist at the University of Toulouse, in southern France, who focuses on the French suburbs.
Communists garnered 55 percent in Ivry’s last municipals in 2014, and “for the time being, the political currents are still in the party’s favor,” he said.


IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

Updated 21 November 2019

IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

  • IAEA said in a report last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Iran to explain the presence of uranium particles at an undeclared site, as a landmark deal aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic activities threatens to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report made public last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency".
The agency's acting head Cornel Feruta said IAEA and Iranian officials would meet in Tehran next week to discuss the matter, adding that the UN body had not received any additional information.
"The matter remains unresolved... It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly," he told IAEA member states at a meeting of the agency's board of governors.
A diplomatic source told AFP that the IAEA would send a high-ranking technical delegation to Iran next week.
The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.
While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.
Sources say the IAEA took samples from the site in the spring and that Iran has been slow in providing answers to explain the test results.
The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers has been faltering since last year when the United States pulled out and started to reinstate punishing sanctions on Tehran, leaving the other signatories struggling to salvage the agreement.
Over the past few months, Iran has breached several parts of the deal it signed with the US as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, in which it committed to scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
But Britain, France and Germany have said they are extremely concerned by Iran's actions in stepping up its uranium enrichment and other breaches.
Enrichment is the process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
On Monday, the IAEA confirmed Iran's stock of heavy water for reactors has surpassed the 130-tonne limit set under the agreement.
Heavy water is not itself radioactive but is used in nuclear reactors to absorb neutrons from nuclear fission.
Heavy water reactors can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as an alternative to enriched uranium.
The IAEA has also said one of its inspectors was briefly prevented from leaving Iran, calling her treatment "not acceptable".
Iran has cancelled the inspector's accreditation, saying she triggered a security check at the entrance gate to the Natanz enrichment plant last month.
The IAEA has disputed the Iranian account of the incident, without going into details.