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Firing on Protesters: Will Macron’s New Tactics Against the Yellow Vests Make Simmering Pot Boil Over?

Firing on Protesters: Will Macron’s New Tactics Against the Yellow Vests Make Simmering Pot Boil Over?

Firing on Protesters: Will Macron’s New Tactics Against the Yellow Vests Make Simmering Pot Boil Over?
March 27
18:31 2019

NICE, FRANCE — A 73-year-old activist is the latest casualty of French President Emmanuel Macron’s crackdown on the Gilets Jaunes protest movement. Geneviève Legay of the anti-globalization group Attac had her skull fractured by police in Nice as they charged at her during the nineteenth consecutive week of protests against the president’s unpopular austerity and tax policies. The feminist campaigner and grandmother was carrying a rainbow flag marked “peace” as she was attacked, in what her family calls “willful violence” in an official complaint.

The embattled president went after Legay, currently in serious condition in the hospital, lecturing her on her “irresponsibility” for being in a “prohibited” area, claiming that, “when one is fragile and risks being shoved, one does not go to places that are declared off-limits and one does not put oneself in that kind of situation,” adding that he wished her “a speedy recovery…and perhaps a kind of wisdom.”

Macron’s comments have been received by many as a calculated addition of insult to injury. Leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon claimed Legay did not need his lessons in wisdom while Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of the right-wing Stand Up France group derided Macron’s “arrogance” and “inhumanity.”

 

The origins of the Gilet Jaunes

The “Yellow Vest” protest movement began in November and is now in its fifth month of continuous weekly demonstrations across France. It began ostensibly as a spontaneous protest against a rise in fuel prices, but that, in reality, was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Macron has pursued an agenda of reforming and undermining the French welfare state and labor laws, considered some of the strongest in the world.

The unifying symbol of the movement – the yellow vest – is particularly apt, as French law requires all drivers to carry a high-visibility vest in their vehicles at all times. The movement is not easy to define politically, embraced by both the left- and right-wing opposition to Macron, and it came as a surprise to the political pundit class. Thus, it bears some resemblance to angry people’s movements seen throughout French history — from the Jacquerie peasants’ revolt of the 14th century to the sans-culottes of the French Revolution and the May ’68 rebellion.

Perhaps the most cogent description of the beginnings of the Gilets Jaunes has come from ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who wrote about the origins of the movement in her adopted country:

It is a revolt that has been simmering in France for years. A revolt by ordinary people against the current political system which – as in many other Western countries – colludes with the elite and despises its own citizens.”

Although the French government has condemned the violence of the demonstrators, Anderson claims the “symbolic violence” of the Yellow Vests was inevitable because of the enormous “structural violence” of the French state, imposing neoliberalism on an unwilling populace.

 

The French kiss — and kick

The Macron administration has responded to the Gilets Jaunes in a number of ways. It has canceled the hated fuel tax increase and promised a six-month moratorium on fuel prices. It has also pledged to increase the minimum wage by €100 per month, eliminate taxes on overtime and bonuses, and decrease other fuel and motor taxes. But this has done little to dampen the anger and resentment of the French public, who continue to demonstrate across France in large numbers.

The government has also reacted to those on the streets with a clenched fist. More than 8,000 people have been arrested, 12 have been killed and dozens more seriously injured and permanently disfigured, including at least 14 people who have lost eyes after clashes with French police. The website Disarm Them! collates evidence of some of the most graphic victims of the violence.

Macron has announced a ban on protests in Paris and other cities and has deployed the military to the capital to quell the uprising – the first time the military has been used in such a fashion since 1948. French police are using semi-automatic weapons and a military general, Bruno Le Ray, announced his troops would open fire with live ammunition against those he designated “terrorists.” “Our orders are sufficiently clear that we do not need to be worried at all…That can go are far as opening fire,” he said.

Macron has downplayed the significance of sending the troops to impose order on the historic Champs Elysees. Yet it is unclear if the order is given to open fire that the soldiers will carry it out. “We have no business interfering in this ‘yellow vest’ business,” one soldier complained to France Info, on condition of anonymity. It is also unclear whether the action would quell the protests or be the spark that ignites an unstoppable counter-movement. Ironically, Geneviève Legay decided to protest precisely in response to Macron’s ban on demonstrating, according to multiple sources close to her.

Despite the crackdown, Western nations and human-rights organizations, so focused on the transgressions of enemy nations, have been decidedly muted on the repression in France. Human Rights Watch has not discussed the Yellow Vests this year. Nor has its famously talkative leader Ken Roth made any comment on the situation. Over the same period, Human Rights Watch has produced 131 articles, reports or statements on Venezuela.

France stands at a crossroads, with the Macron government attempting to drag the country in a new direction and a disunited and leaderless movement attempting to reverse this change. The outcome of this battle will shape the course of Western Europe’s largest country for decades to come.

Top photo | Anti-globalization activist Genevieve Legay, 73, lies unconscious after collapsing on the ground yellow vests protests in Nice, southeastern France, as part of the 19th round of the yellow vests movement, March 23, 2019. Claude Paris | AP

Alan MacLeod is an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.

The post Firing on Protesters: Will Macron’s New Tactics Against the Yellow Vests Make Simmering Pot Boil Over? appeared first on MintPress News.

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