It was one of the worst experiences of my life. The room in my Moscow student dorm was infested with bedbugs. After two painful and sleepless nights, I was taken to a Soviet hospital to face a doctor with a needle as big as her hat, and made for horses, full of something they said was supposed to calm my suffering.
“You are testing new weapons against us Americans!” I told them. They just shrugged their shoulders. For some societies, bedbugs are a given.
But not in France where Cimex Lectularius was driven out in the 1950s by chemicals that are now forbidden. “Invasion!” “The Plague!” “End of the world.” The French press compete in hyperbole to describe their return: “Bedbugs!”
The Yellow Vest Movement, at times an insurrection, will be a marker in the history of France. There are only three ways a leaderless, spontaneous, grassroots revolt could have ended up:
Violent confrontation, blood and chaos, with its share of tears and gritting of teeth, for in a battle between the rabble and the organized state, the state’s machine of repression always wins.
A charismatic leader steps forward, galvanizes the movement and manages to impose its political will on the system, stopping its normal functioning, forcing elections, creating political and economic instability for a prolonged period.
The movement fizzles out, leaving in its wake massive demoralization and a total lack of confidence in the system and its actors; Like a volcano leaves its trail of destruction, hot ambers remain with the occasional after-shocks. Nothing gets done.
It seems the French Yellow Vest movement is now in the third option, but that does not mean President Emmanuel Macron can go on with business as usual.