France: four months of Yellow Vest protests and rioting. The government seems to make every mistake in the book and is now ready to use extreme police force which could be its fatal mistake.
It started out as a medieval peasant revolt with Facebook and Twitter. It has grown into chaos which threatens the very stability of the Republic. In any functioning modern democracy the government would have dissolved parliament and held new elections or abandoned much of its program. But in pure medieval noble tradition, this government has decided they will hit harder. There will be blood. And nothing will ever be like it was before.
Losing the Propaganda War
The government and media in France were in full attack mode after the March 16th violence on the Paris Champs Elysées, one of the richest avenues in the world. First, there is the fire at the famous and insanely expensive Fouquets restaurant. One Yellow Vest woman said: “Why should I care about where rich people eat getting burned down. I can’t make it to the end of the month. Do they care?” This seemed to be the general attitude among protesters who blame the government for the violence.
Then there was the bank set alight with video shown in loop of police rescuing a mother and children from the second floor above the flames. Or high-end shops like Swarovsky and Hugo Boss being looted but, oops, the looters brought the clothes out and threw them to the Yellow Vests saying: “Help yourselves!” That Robinhood effect was not what they wanted.
The Yellow Vests don’t seem to care much about France’s most expensive luxury shops and banks getting looted, burned and damaged in zones of Paris, Bordeaux or Toulouse where these low-paid working people never went before and where they couldn’t afford a coffee on the terrace.
Yes, the violence is orchestrated by organized bands of anarchist ‘Black Block’ or far-right ‘Identitarians’ but it is mostly the Yellow Vests who get arrested and hurt; people who are demonstrating for the first time in their lives, who don’t know when to run and get over-enthusiastic around the ‘trouble makers.’
The Arrogance of Amateurs
The Interior Minister told a Senate Commission March 19 that by burning Fouquets restaurant they were putting waiters who earn the minimum wage out of work. Christophe Castaner obviously didn’t realize he was suggesting one of the most expensive restaurants in France pays its employees starvation wages.
The media, desperately trying to find poor people on the Champs Elysées, suffering because of the violence, landed on a newspaper Kiosk burned to the ground. They interviewed the three employees of the nationwide chain of kiosks to show how the Yellow Vest were hurting the working poor.
Yes, the numbers have gone down since Christmas but still tens of thousands turn out every weekend (150,000 according to Yellow Vests protesters). Many have been dissuaded by the police repression, others can’t afford to go to the cities every weekend from the periphery where they have been pushed to by urban gentrification, or to escape the immigrant banlieues, or because their real lives (kids, work, shopping) need their attention.
“We must all integrate and not just explain, but hear and understand, what it means to live on 950 euros a month when the bill at a Parisian restaurant is around 200 euros, if you invite someone and you don’t even order wine.”
An arrogant Budget Minister Gérald Darmanin, Nov. 22, trying to express his “understanding” for the Yellow Vests. Darmanin spends on lunch a quarter of what they make in a month!
The Movement that Refuses to Die
After four months of protests and extreme violence, 55% of those polled still support the Saturday demonstrations. It is true a majority want the violence to stop and would like to move onto something else. Despite government concessions (click here) , the anger has not subsided, nor has Macron’s popularity increased: only 22% of the electorate plan on voting for his party in upcoming European elections which is the figure he got in the 2017 first round (22% of the vote, 70% of the seats in parliament). This government’s support is the urban professional elite benefiting from an electoral system which favors stability over democratic representation.
The government and the media point to decreasing numbers to say the movement is petering out. A well-known tactic to demoralize the opposition. It ain’t working. The lives of the rich and beautiful are being turned upside-down by those who have decided they no longer want to be those who are not seen and not heard. They now dare to tread in the ‘forbidden city’.
Time to Use a Hammer
So, the French government says it will get tough on the Yellow Vest movement, at last. Only 2,200 protesters have been hurt in the four months the movement has been on, including 206 serious head injuries with 22 who lost an eye to the use of the LBD-40, a hard rubber projectile which is only used by the French police in all of the EU. And then there are those wounded by the GLI-F4 concussion grenades, including five who lost a hand. Apparently, the French police are the only ones in the EU to use this arm against protesters too.
Some 9,000 protesters have been arrested and detained and 2,000 sent to prison. Thousands have been stopped by the police, searched and detained long enough to prevent them from getting to a protest. The police have made very liberal use of tear gas and batons with little regard to age, gender or whether the person targeted was peaceful as countless videos have shown.
But now the police will no longer play ‘nice’. They have orders to go to ‘contact’ and use their ‘non-lethal’ arms more liberally. They will douse ‘looters’ and ‘violent people’ with an odorless, colorless spray that they can see with special glasses to arrest them later in the day wherever they find them, even miles away from where they were sprayed. What could possibly go wrong with that? The police have orders to hit and arrest as soon as people start to gather in small groups.
A new idea is to ban areas ‘reserved for’ the rich and beautiful like the Champs Elysées, central Bordeaux etc. and force the Yellow Vests to protest in less affluent areas. They also plan to arrest those who call on social media for unauthorized gatherings.
New Repressive Laws to Restrain Protest
The government voted a new law in March which, when it goes into effect, will allow political and administrative authorities to decide what demonstrations can be held and by whom and to decide who will be banned from attending protests without any judicial oversight; legislation one conservative law maker compared to Vichy France, the government which ran the country under Nazi occupation. (click here to see a Press TV report on the Yellow Vest Law in which I am interviewed)
The police will detain people at train stations, check papers and search bags for anything that can be considered “an arm by destination” which can be anything. Marchers are already leaving their yellow vests in their backpacks until they arrive at their destination for fear the police will hold them long enough to prevent them from marching.
So, yes, many have stayed away from the protests but polls show, this does not mean the government, nor the President, are reaping the rewards. Emmanuel Macron is still “the president of the rich” for the majority of voters.
A BFM TV (click here) poll released March 20 shows only 35% of the population voice hostility towards the Yellow Vests even though 80% condemn the violence, which includes The Yellow Vests themselves, of course. Nearly 55% still support the Saturday demos and 70% among France’s low wage earners say they understand them. The government and media onslaught, with hours of the President at town hall meetings, and dozens of government officials on the air waves every day has not turned public opinion in Macron’s favor.
On Saturday, March 23, there will be blood. The question is, will it kill the movement or open the gates to the Bastille?
Below: An example of how the government intervenes to control the message. Boxer Christophe Dettinger, 37, is a Yellow Vest hero. He was jailed for punching out Gendarmes on a bridge in Paris in January. Leetchi, a web site used for fund raising, closed down a fund for Dettinger 48 hours after it was opened under strong government pressure. The site never gave any of the 145,000 euros raised in just two days to Dettinger and he is suing them for the three million euros he says the fund would have made had it run its full 45 days
145.152 euros : 2 x 43 jours = 3.120.768 euros.
*Here’s a short list of government concessions since December:
- A freeze on the fuel tax increase (€5 billion lost revenue)
- Tax free overtime and tax free bonuses (lost revenue unknown)
- A hundred euros a month welfare payment to minimum wage earners (cost €10 billion)
- A freeze on a tax hike to retirees earning less than 2000 euros a month; (retirees earning more will lose 10% in their buying power over next 5 years)
- A freeze on new proposed green-taxes
On statistics concerning injuries and arrests: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/economie/transports/gilets-jaunes/infographies-manifestants-blesses-interpellations-enquetes-quatre-mois-de-mouvement-des-gilets-jaunes-resumes-en-chiffres_3232747.html
BFM TV Poll where they do their best to make it look good for the government and only give you the yellow Vest figures at the end: https://www.bfmtv.com/politique/sondage-bfmtv-gilets-jaunes-84percent-des-francais-condamnent-les-violences-de-samedi-dernier-1655668.html
The arrogance of Darmanin: