The Drama of The Yellow Vests: Act Four

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Those talking heads who say they saw the insurrection coming? – in this amplitude, in this form? are lying. Or, at best, kidding themselves.

A few facts, as the rain and the sanitation trucks collaborate to try to clean the trashed streets of Paris:

Yesterday didn’t quite add up to the apocalypse that some, including members of the government, had feared. No one died. Perhaps thanks to a change of strategy: the 89,000 police and gendarmes mobilized in all France, roughly twice as many as the week before, were more widely dispersed and quicker to search and seize (flashbombs, hammers, ‘boules’, masks etc) than on December 1. They made almost two thousand arrests, again more than double the week before.

The government’s agreement to major yellow vest demands (tax repeals, raising the minimum wage etc.) seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Irrelevant? The number of demonstrators nation-wide: 36,000, same as on December 1. That said, there is an increasing split between the ‘peacefuls’ and the violent activists, who are an unlikely brotherhood of radical left, radical right, and young, male ‘Christmas shoppers’ from the outlying ghettos.

The radical group counts for about 20% of the movement and its demands, supported on via social media, grow more grandiose daily: yesterday’s declared goal was to occupy the Elysée. There are multiple calls to assassinate Macron and other government figures.

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Public opinion, initially overwhelmingly sympathetic to the yellow vest demands, may be starting to swing: 69% condemn the violence, without reservation.

Cars were burned to skeletons, stores and banks bashed. A boy’s face was burned. However, many came for the party; I heard people on their phones, telling friends how ‘cool’ it was. My own neighborhood dodged the worst. Are we indebted to the brass band that kept circulating here, Pied-Piper-like? The marchers were singing, dancing, laughing. Letting off steam. Demonstrators offered flowers to the police. I smelled more pot than tear gas at the Bastille.

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Department of Only in France: yesterday Paris also hosted a – peaceful – Climate March. Apparently numerous yellow vests, put off by the violence of their group, moved over to march with the green vests – and this despite the fact that the eco-tax on gas was the match that lit the whole yellow movement!

So where do we stand, on December 9th? Paris Mayor Anne Hildago declared the material damage even greater than on the previous Saturday. No numbers yet. Economy Minister LeMaire describes a ‘national crisis’: ‘This is a catastrophe for our economy.’ President Macron will speak to the nation early this week. High hopes for a return to national dialogue. Low expectations.

Besides the economic cost, and even beyond the talk of the government stepping or being voted down, there is the historical-political blow to the very model of representative democracy. To the rule of law. To liberty and fraternity, when citizens are prevented by a minority from going to work or venturing out on the streets.

And the damage to psyche of a nation and a city? Paris this morning is a sad, shaken, and apprehensive place to be. We smile at each other – uncertainly. With the national shrug that expresses it all.

 

18 comments

  1. Rachel Brown · · Reply

    Thanks for your account, Kai. Stay safe.
    Rachel

  2. Dazzling piece of reporting. The facts and stats, the sensible analysis, but most of all the touches of human interaction. I have been wondering what it’s been like in Marais and am relieved to find the thermostat is not set as high as it is in some of the lower numbered arrondissements.

  3. Jim Klosty · · Reply

    Thank you for the VERY MOVING ACCOUNT. I know exactly where you were standing when you took the brass band photo. Stay in one piece, please.

  4. Thank you Kai for this account. At a distance, with only partial coverage from Le Point (writing getting worse everyday in language terms…) one cannot really believe one’s eyes. So, it’s good to have another perspective. (And the mounted police photo! With protection over the horses’ eyes and noses!).
    What’s the American expression? “Going to Hell in a handbasket or something like that?
    On verra ce que dit Macron demain…
    Bonne semaine.
    Brian

    1. Yes, that is the expression, Brian. True, too, that like the body politic, French print media are fractured and factional. Hell, it’s GREAT to have at least five major newspapers, but you have to keep an eye on them all to come up with a median perspective. Le Monde does best on the whole but I prefer the writing in in fusty-feisty Le Figaro.

  5. Oh, and yes, the brass band. I know that very spot… 🙂

  6. Fractured and factional? That is a great nutshell, possibly applying in many parts of the world?
    In Mexico, ever since the Florence Cassez affair, French press has… disappeared. Wonder why that is?
    I can only rely on electronic versions. And frankly beyond the fact that I can’t read 5 major “sources” a day, some I dislike (Le Figaro), some are no better than a defunct Pariscope with add-on editorials (L’Obs, though I still appreciate Jean Daniel). L’Express? Below average. So I’m stuck with le Point /AFP, the latter combining clichés with gross spelling and grammar errors… 😦
    So I do appreciate your insight on my lovely city. 🙂
    Stay safe Kai. Let’s see what Macron says tonight.
    And “Joyeux Noël” regardless.
    Brian

  7. Reblogged this on Equinoxio and commented:
    A first-hand talented account by Kai Maristed on the Paris events.
    (Pay particular attention to the horses’ eyes…)

    1. Thank you, Brian!

  8. Oh. I took the liberty of reblogging your post. Sans demander la permission…
    I hope that’s all right with you?
    🙂

    1. It’s a compliment.

      1. Well deserved. 🙂

  9. I’m so happy the horses, who have nothing at all to do with what’s going on, are protected. amazed that they got them to wear them. Must have taken a bit of time, but maybe not. Anyway, hope things calm down and get back to normal. People don’t like government. Not there, not here. Well, here is another story altogether, but it’s true. People are angry about a lot of things. Great post and you made things clear, from an honest pov. Thank you so much.

    1. Thank you for visiting and for your kind words!

  10. What an excellent account you have written … it helps to clarify for those of us on the other side of the pond who have only a vague idea of what is actually happening. Thank you!

  11. I don’t know whether to be relieved or appalled that this sort of lunacy doesn’t only happen in South Africa.

  12. All best hopes and wishes in these unsettling times.

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