After much of November and December were characterized by riots in Paris and various other cities across France, it looked as if peace was going to be restored when President Emmanuel Macron completely caved to the protesters’ demands. A new, drastic increase in the gas tax was scrapped and higher wages for the working poor were announced. Having put the elitist president in his place, the angry rabble were then free to go home and take a victory lap.
The problem is, they didn’t. Or at least not all of them. Significant numbers of the unhappy citizenry were back in the streets this week, setting fire to government buildings and clashing with the police. One common element in their demands appears to be a desire for Macron to resign immediately. (Associated Press)
French security forces fired tear gas and flash-balls after a march through picturesque central Paris went from peaceful to provocative Saturday as several thousand protesters staged the yellow vest movement’s first action of 2019 to keep up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron.
A river boat restaurant moored below the clashes on the Left Bank of the Seine River caught fire. Smoke and tear gas wafted above the Orsay Museum and the gold dome of the French Academy as riot police, nearly invisible at the start of the demonstration, moved front and center when protesters deviated from an officially approved path.
Police boats patrolled the river while beyond the Seine, motorcycles and a car were set on fire on the Boulevard Saint Germain, a main Left Bank thoroughfare. Riot police and firefighters moved in, and barricades mounted in the middle of the wide street also glowed in orange flames.
Since we tend to see these terms used interchangeably in the media too often, I should point out that these aren’t actually “protests” going on in Paris. They are riots. Whether you agree with the sentiments of the yellow vest squads or not, a protest is just a demonstration. These people are setting fire to boats and buildings, smashing windows and, in at least one case, attacking the police. That’s a riot by any meaningful definition.
Another thing that’s missing from much of the American press coverage I’m seeing is the outrage over the police using tear gas and pepper spray on a regular basis. Aren’t those “chemical weapons” and a violation of human rights? But I suppose when it happens in France in support of a socialist leader who is a liberal icon, it’s just the way the world works.
What’s unclear here is precisely what the yellow vests are looking to get out of the government. The original gatherings all seemed to focus on the gas tax, skyrocketing prices for food and common goods and insufficient pay. Macron has already given in on all of these demands. But the rioters are now calling for his resignation, claiming that he is a “president for the rich” and doesn’t care about the working class poor. That may be true, but it seems unlikely that Macron will be packing his bags anytime soon.
Macron isn’t facing any new elections until 2022, so he’s got some time to patch things up if he’s willing. Will the tenacity of the yellow vests last that long? If the president’s reforms are rolled back and wages go up it’s hard to imagine that they will. But he’s definitely no longer the golden child and his public honeymoon is definitely over. Just as a closing note, Macron’s approval ratings have tanked from above 60 after his election to somewhere in the 20s today.