Five years after Paris’ deadly terror attacks, the scars remain

It”s not the five-year anniversary of the November 13th attacks in Paris that survivor Christophe Naudin had imagined, and he worries that could make it all the more difficult.

Naudin was at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan that night and hid in a small storage space for hours.

His close friend was one of the 130 people terrorists killed at the music venue and other sites across the French capital.

Five years on, he says he feels okay but not as well as he had hoped, especially with the limits on commemoration events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We won’t be able to come together [to mark] this symbolic moment. At a minimum, it’s frustrating and I’m a little worried that on the morning of November 14th and on the following day, I won’t be in very good shape,” Naudin told Euronews.

“In addition to that, it’s coming on top of the recent assassination of Samuel Paty which was very shocking. So I had really imagined a different fifth anniversary,” Naudin said.

But for some survivors, although the current pandemic makes for a difficult situation, the commemoration is still just a date.

Grégory Reibenberg, the owner of La Belle Equipe restaurant that was one of the places targeted, lost his wife and several close friends that night.

Reibenberg says he doesn’t focus on the specific date and since the attacks, he has renovated his entire restaurant.

“It’s a place for living,” Reibenberg told Euronews, explaining that now the COVID-19 crisis has made things difficult, especially following the Gilet Jaunes protests and strikes in Paris.

“I’m optimistic and keeping the spirits up. But it’s not always easy,” he added about the current situation.

Indeed, the fifth anniversary of the November 13 attacks also comes at a time of increased tension in France after a string of recent terror attacks that have created a more tense climate than in previous years.

For Naudin, who is a teacher of history and geography, the recent beheading of Samuel Paty after he gave a class on the freedom of speech is a particularly pressing reminder of the threat of terrorism.

Naudin says he was “aware” of a “latent threat” to teachers “who teach about secularism, the Republic and equality” but said that Paty’s killing “made it a little more concrete.”

Naudin recently wrote a book about his experience at the Bataclan called Journal d’un rescapé du Bataclan (Diary of a Bataclan survivor), which he said allowed him to let go of his anger and to put into perspective what he was feeling.

“It’s like taking a step backwards each time [there is an attack],” Naudin said, adding that it is due in part to how he identifies with the victims. He still thinks about the Bataclan every day, and about his close friend who was killed there.

Following the recent attacks including a stabbing outside the former Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and an attack at the Basilica in Nice, the French government said they would reinforce security at certain religious sites and at schools.

Reibenberg says that outside his restaurant, there hasn’t been any additional security and that he doesn’t think it helps to be afraid. He has never felt unsafe in his own restaurant, he says. He also wrote a book about his experiences, Une belle équipe, calling it a “reflex”.

Naudin adds that many survivors are still moving on: “We move on. We don’t fully heal but we do learn to live with it, which is what I’m doing,” Naudin said.

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