Mar 26, 2019 @ 23:06 – Last Saturday France experienced the 19th protest action by the yellow vests. After the riots in the Champs Elysees last weekend, the chief of the Paris police forbade carrying out actions in the central areas of the capital. As an emergency security measure, President Macron brought troops into Paris. However, the measures didn’t stop protests. The destitute middle class in France seems to have realized it was simply deceived at the last stage of globalization. The rich became even richer at their expense.
Macron’s military reaction to the gilets jaunes is a sign his government has lost control.
Rather than appease protesters with social change, the French government has demonised them as criminals to justify repressive tactics.
Macron has made an incendiary move in an explosive situation. While he attempted to quell unrest with a “Great National Debate”, his approach has failed to pacify social and economic tensions – most of the protestors and many of the French population think the great national debate will bring little change.
The debate came to a close on 15 March, one day before the 18th weekly gilets jaunes protest, where clashes between protesters and police in Paris were of similar magnitude to December riots on the Champs-Elysées; luxury shops were looted, a press kiosk destroyed, and the fancy Fouquet’s brasserie was burned in a borderline revolutionary symbol. The French government is justified in seeking solutions to such extreme incidents of violence. Yet sending in the army will do little to help.
Can the authorities prevent the situation from escalating? The movement still retains support from 53 per cent of the French population – a figure remarkably high considering the violence of recent protests.
While Macron attempted to save face with new urgency measures in December, he has failed to enact substantive change.
As Sébastien Roché, research director at the French national research lab CNRS told pro-Macron newspaper L’Opinion, the French government has opted for a “dramatisation” of the situation. The government, Roché said, speaks of “factions wanting to overthrow the Republic”, of “criminal acts”, and of a “will to kill”.
“The protesters want to target the places and symbols of power, but to mistake this with an armed insurrection is at the very least an error of estimation”, he said. “This is not civil war.” The lawyer Patrice Spinosi agreed: “There is a will to show that the State is strong,” he told L’Expressmagazine, “but most of the time, repression is only a sign of weakness from a government facing a situation out of its control.”
Quashing the protestors with repression and military might will likely aggravate violence. The majority of the gilets jaunes movement aren’t violent – but even its less radical fringes may consider the Paris riots as “the only efficient way to be heard”, historian Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, who specialises in history of social movements, told France Info.
Indeed, since last November, the government’s response has been reactive, only responding once protests are already out of hand. Violence, for many people, is a means of seeking recognition from a government that remains stubbornly deaf to their concerns. “Rioting is not always emancipating, but regime changes often occur after violent episodes,” Zancarini-Fournel added, quoting Marx’s theory of revolution: “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”