As if in response to reports from ‘fake news’ mainstream media organisations that support from the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow vests) movement in France is dwindling, thousands of protestors wearing yellow vests marched in the streets of Paris as others were gathering in the central French city of Bourges in protest against the government of Emmanuel Macron. The demonstrations took place amid high security measures as authorities feared possible violence between police and protesters.
In Paris thousands of people gathered near the Finance Ministry in at around 11 a.m. (1000 GMT; 5 a.m. EST) and were walking peacefully in the central streets of the capital. They were planning to head toward Champs-Elysees avenue. Paris police say 24 people were arrested Saturday before the protests started, primarily for carrying potential weapons.
Meanwhile, yellow vest protesters were also gathering in Bourges, a provincial capital with a renowned Gothic cathedral and picturesque wood-framed houses, where online groups mounted calls through the week for actions.
Authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide for a ninth straight weekend of anti-government protests. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner threatened tough retaliation against rioters and their backers, warning of increasing radicalization among the largely peaceful demonstrators.
The numbers of people protesting diminished somewhat over the holidays but there has been a resurgence this week, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s promises of tax breaks, higher public spending and an upcoming “national debate” to address demonstrators’ concerns. Not only do protesters believe these are false promises, they have lost what little trust in the politiocal establishment they had at the time Marcon was elected, and want deeper changes to France’s economy and politics, seen as favouring the rich and corporate businesses.
For the mass of ordinary people, far from the political, financial, media centers of power in Paris, democracy is already moribund, and their movement is an effort to save it. Ever since Margaret Thatcher decreed that “there is no alternative”, Western economic policy is made by technocrats for the benefit of financial markets, claiming that such benefits will trickle down to the populace. The trickle has largely dried up, and people are tired of having their needs and wishes totally ignored by an elite who “know best”.
President Emmanuel Macron’s New Year’s Eve address to the nation made it perfectly clear that after one unconvincing stab at throwing a few crumbs to the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protest movement, he has determined to get tough
France is entering a period of turmoil, there is no sign of these protests going away. The situation is very complex, and made more difficult for the authorities to understand because the protestors are a true grass roots movement, with no political ideology, no leaders and no formal organisation behind them. Inevitably some sections of French media and a few pro — EU politicians have tried to suggest Russia is behind the unrest, but this is plainly ridiculous.
The Yellow Vests gather in conspicuous places where media coverage is guaranteed: the Champs-Elysées in Paris, main squares in other cities towns, and the numerous traffic circles on the edge of small towns. Unlike traditional demonstrations, the Paris protests have been very loose and spontaneous, people just walking around and talking to each other, with no leaders and no speeches.
The absence of leaders is what separates the movement from normal political activism. All politicians, even friendly ones, are mistrusted and no one is looking for a new leader. People are organizing their own meetings to air their grievances and voice demands.
In the village of Commercy, Lorraine, a half hour drive from Domrémy where Joan of Arc was born, inhabitants gathered to read their proclamation. Six of them read in turns, a paragraph each, making it quite clear that they want no leaders, no special spokesperson. They sometimes stumble over a word, they are not used to speaking in public like the TV talking heads. Their “Second appeal of the Gilets Jaunes de Commercy invites others to come to Commercy on January 26–27 for an “assembly of assemblies”.
This was in a small community, similar events have taken place, unreported, all over France while the noisier, more violent protests in the large cities claim worldwide news coverage. But the Commercy protest demonstrates the depth of dissatisfaction with government in France, but not conflined to France.
Today as in previous weeks, Paris police deployed armored vehicles, horses and attack dogs around the city today. Subway stations and some shops closed, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees, the avenue where the presidential palace is located. Luxury boutiques in the avenue have been hard hit by repeated rioting in past protests.
In a press statement Paris police said they had made several arrests before Saturday’s actions, notably in France’s historic Gypsy or traveler community, which has called for protests in support of a boxer caught on video punching police last weekend in central Paris. That incident dominated French media over the past week and prompted fears of escalated tensions between protesters and police. Boxer Christophe Dettinger turned himself in to police and is in custody pending trial.
Such tactics by government and police are only likely to harden attitudes in the protest movement.