Yellow Vest Protests

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

When Macron became the President of France, he vowed to keep the pride of its democratic traditions, intact, by bringing a new revolution. 

In fact, he wanted to make French democracy, a role model, for the modern world. 

His supporters loved his Eurocentrism, his balance of political charisma, and intellect, amidst difficult times in Europe. Some called him a younger version of de Gaulle, if not Napoleon. British columnists likened this ex-banker, Hollande's protégé, as ‘next Blair’, and wanted their own version of Macron, in their country.

Although Macron started on a positive note, very few predicted protest-stricken streets of Paris, nineteen months after. As France’s new President, who won an election as an independent candidate, mostly because the other political opponents destroyed each other, he gave promises of a renewed and stronger welfare system, but ordinary people in France have expressed unhappiness. With the result, some of his admirers, praising his international co-operation, and instituting good labour laws in the past, have already gone quiet.

Wearing yellow fluorescent vests, as their revolutionary symbol, these protestors, mostly old, unemployed, and living outside the suburbs of Paris, are called as gilets jaunes. They are leaderless, anti-political, and reflect a form of angry anarchism. 

By calling him deaf and dumb to their grievances, they taint Macron as an arrogant president, who was mainly pleasing the rich with his ineffective neoliberal agenda. Gilets jaunes compare him to a cruel despot, of similar times when Sansculottes, a militant republican class of leaders, that represented common people, during the French Revolution, besieged Bastille in 1789, due to a popular uprising against the government.

French people have been culturally sensitive, whenever democratic institutions isolate them. Similar kind of protests have happened in the country, during 2005 riots, and in May 1968, that toppled Charles de Gaulle. These weekly protests have targeted both the businesses and the state. At roundabouts in several places, protesters were wanting the attention of driving cars.

It was in 2008 when a law suggested that all French drivers should carry a yellow French vest in their cars. It is from this law from where this new rebellion in France derives its name.

The yellow vest movement, aiming to overthrow Macron, has been mainly caused by increasing fuel taxes including a carbon tax, austerity measures, the digitisation of administration, repeal of 2017 wealth tax and removal of traffic enforcement cameras. These protests are directly targeting the strong France-Germany partnership, who have vowed to keep the far right, anti-EU opponents, away in 2022 elections. For centrists and rational minded social democrats, if Macron fails, Europe will fail too.

As tax waivers seem central to this revolt, in other words, it means that even a small tax increase, that was deemed insignificant in the past, sanctions a rebellion now in France. The protests also gained momentum and popularity, when people, protesting on rising diesel and gasoline prices started a petition on Facebook, that had gathered around 986,000 signatures.

Never since the early 19th century, when revolutions were common in France, has a movement tried to overthrow a legitimate, democratically elected government. There are bands of violent youth called casseurs and Black Bloc militants, who have camouflaged themselves in protest crowds, and smashed whatever they found on the streets.

In the 17th century France, working class people organised similar protests against the monarchy, who felt that they were betrayed by the upper-class ideologues, and also fought over issues of representation.

As the protests have spread, it has concerned democrats, who value its tradition, all around the world, and not only in Europe. Its ripple effects are already showing up in countries such as Canada, a former French colony.

According to the French construction group Vinci, the damage caused by the yellow vest protests has resulted in the loss of several tens of millions of euros. Nearly 250 sites were affected daily by the actions of protesters, and there had been considerable damage to equipment and infrastructure as well. About 33 emergency vehicles were destroyed. The consumer industry, on the other hand, had a loss of around 2 billion Euros. The city of Paris has estimated damage of around 3-4 million Euros.

For quite some time, the standard of living in France has been declining. There are many households in French cities, who do survival jobs that fetch them salaries that barely fill their car tanks, and refrigeration stock, after the end of every month. Although, they don’t mostly file cases of government assistance.

According to an article by Sarah Maza on Washington Post: “the rebels’ pain is sharp and all too real, but the available evidence suggests that long-dismal economic conditions for those at the bottom have not gotten significantly worse under Macron. France’s young president has not made the poor noticeably poorer, but his aloofness has made them a whole lot angrier.”

Many commentators in the country believe that far-right supporters of Marine Le Pen, have fueled this rebellion, as the movement is slowly picking up the rancour of anti-semitism, racism, and anti-immigration rhetoric. During the protest days, banners appeared, where Macron was accused of being ‘a puppet of Jewish moneyed interests’.

Whether Le Pen, an antagonist to ideals of French Revolution, appeasing blood and soil voters like her father, who often evoked memory of Vendee, a region which opposed the French Revolution, has fueled these protests or not, the fact still remains that she will enjoy a political leverage out of this rebellion, that erupted in mid-November 2018.

After yellow vest protests, a police union, called les gilet bleus, are also demanding higher wages and better conditions, by starting their own protests against the government, as budgets sanctioned for them lately, have become lesser over the course of time.

To curb the yellow vest protests, Macron had already finalised new minimum wage guidelines, with an increase of 100 Euros, tax waivers for overtime workers and pensioners.


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