Sing along if you can remember: Oh! Oh! Les Champs-Elysées…

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‘What’s gone so wrong with France suddenly? What’s the story with the Yellow Vests?’ Outside of La Hexagone I’m pelted with such questions, as if coming from Paris confers some sort of special insight. It doesn’t. After five months of increasingly violent protest, no one, including the actors themselves, really knows where the roots of the phenomenon lie, and where it’s leading – especially not the actors.

That said, a few things are incontrovertible.

To begin: what was once an amorphous tent of a movement with ample room for discontent from left to right but mostly from the middle – the self-termed ‘forgotten little white folks’ – has shrunk to a hard, dark core, a mass made up of extremists, opportunists, racists, thieves and psychopaths. On November 24, 2018 close to 300,000 demonstrators flooded into the cold streets, 9000 in Paris (Le Monde). By contrast, last Saturday’s extraordinarily violent and destructive ‘civil action’ mobilized only an estimated 32,000 country-wide, 1.500 in Paris (Le Figaro). But they really went to work.

 

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Faced with the mounting destruction and desecration of private and public property, as well as racist and anti-Semitic remarks by ‘gilet jaune’ leaders, public support for the ‘gilets jaunes’ has been eroding at a similar rate. The public figures, writers, entertainers etc., who eagerly jumped on the Gilet jaune bandwagon, have been peddling backwards fast. Ingrid Levavasseur, a straight-talking young mother elevated by the press to major spokesperson for the movement, turned in her vest this weekend, deploring the violence, under a rain of cyber-harassment and threats from her former comrades.

The protests – now generally termed ‘riots’ – have cost the country a small fortune: not only through direct damage to people and property, massive police overtime etc., but as work lost in smashed shops, livelihoods ruined, a deep drop in tourism (nothing like seeing your favorite bistrot go up in flames on YouTube) and the bruised reputation of France’s leaders.

Speaking of police, after Saturday’s debacle the beleaguered Paris chief was fired, while the Minister of Interior Castener, who had given him hand-tying orders, holds on to his job. Perhaps not for long. It doesn’t help that on the previous demo-Saturday Castener was filmed dancing and smooching a stranger in a chic downtown club.

That is a few things. But now I could on… about the infiltration by both extreme-right wing interests from abroad and an international cadre of ultra leftists. About crowd euphoria. About the sheer sadness of seeing a city sacked and pillaged by its own people. About the pathetic ‘catch’ of the police, who have collared hundreds of unlucky often jobless young men who, caught up in the frenzy, stole clothing or had stones in their pockets, while the arsonists and big fish with steel bats got away. About the government’s belated resolve to ‘get tough.’ But I’ll give the last word to the commentator-philosopher Luc Ferry (also a keen early supporter of the GJ), who noted yesterday that France’s history is specifically charaterized by radical social protests which all began with justified grievances and rational demands, and slid over time into ruthless repression, paranoia and violence.

– That’s Luc talking, though. Not me.

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14 comments

  1. whynobodybelievesthenumbers · · Reply

    Crimes against Paris are crimes against humanity.

  2. margot livesey · · Reply

    As always so vivid and illuminating. Many thanks, as always, for broadening my horizons.

  3. Your account is weirdly reassuring, in that it seems to confirm my own impression, that the trend is devolving into more a crazy display than a political movement. Haven’t seen the protest spread, with increasing pressure against wooden-headed officials who continue to resist valid objections to the status quo, nor violently repressive measures. Not 1968, in other words.

    But even more troubling than ’68, in many ways, as it must be seen against the backdrop of the “Brexit” lunacy and the US’s ongoing toleration of an illegitimate president who is both a charlatan and of demonstrable medical unfitness.

    But of course this is not “reassuring” at all, but terrifying. We are on the brink…

    1. It is probably the nihilist – and ignorant – rejection of all ‘government’ per se, here and elsewhere, that unnerves me most.

      1. Agreed. Now, if we look around (see my other comment) current governments, worldwide, with few exceptions have proven their incompetence, over and over again…
        I was wondering the other day what would have happened if “we” had had Theresa May as Premier of England in June 1940…

  4. Thank you Kai for a great eyewitness account. I agree with you, no-one seems to know where this is going to.
    Young Macron has been a disappointment. He had all the cards in hand, and seems to have lost vision. And vision is what France needs now. (Not going skiing to “ressource” himself)
    Might I add my own personal interpretation? This is just the result of 40 years of living on credit, feeding BS to the electors, all too happy to believe it. (A world trend BTB)
    And as for the result? Just one figure: France’s GDP per capita (PPP) has been flat for the past 10 years. The country is losing market share, not competitive any more, and possibly half the population can’t really make ends meet.
    Looking abroad, the sorry state of Britain, unable to make a decent exit, or the appalling Salvini in Italy… well, is not exactly good news.
    I am “désespéré” to say the least.
    Will reblog your post if I may.
    A bientôt.
    (Watch your back on Saturday)

    1. Yes, yes and yes. But one must find reasons to hope for a turning point. I am actively on the hunt.

      1. Yes, you are right. I have been thinking of a “methodology”. I just need to write it down. But time is ticking. I will let you know.

  5. Reblogged this on Equinoxio and commented:
    A firsthand account of what is going on right now in France with the “yellow jackets”. A great read.

  6. BGCT2VA · · Reply

    We’ve had more than our share of “demonstrations”. It seems the so-called leaders care not a twit for anything but their own agendas.

  7. So sorry it has escalated like this. To me, it was a red flag of warning that the ‘forgotten little white folks ‘ felt the need to include their racial identity in the term. It is the type of thinking that now sees my own country in such a mess.

    1. Hi, Libre. Well said. Britain seems hypnotized, the majority paralyzed. I don’t see why a second referendum would be worse than the impending disaster, especially since the first was possibly influenced by, er, sinister interests.

  8. Nightmares are happening everywhere. This is just horrible.

  9. Linda Corwin · · Reply

    Thanks, Kai, for telling it like it is. Revolution and protest seem to have become sacred cows in the French political culture to the point of blindness about its rationale or its effects. There’s a flavor in all this that now it’s just for venting one’s spleen or manipulating the political process. Hard to find anything genuine going on any more. No need to say this is not limited to the French, but there is a peculiar sense of entitlement about the right (righteousness) of being disruptive, destructive and full of hate. Policy goals not required. And they still think they can have it all, pretty adolescent. Yes, Macron has his faults but I’m sad for him….

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