A French Anger
Gulgun Gunal | 2020, Fontainebleau
Yellow vests movement
The “Yellow Vests” movement was created as a result of the increase in fuel prices due to the government’s increase in the domestic consumption tax.
At the root of this movement is the search for another system that will provide an answer and solution to the increasing livelihood of the middle class, which has begun to disappear in the country, and the desire to establish a new government that will provide it.
Every Saturday from November 17, 2018, “Yellow Vests” took to the streets, occupying roundabouts and demonstrating across the country to protest rising fuel prices. According to the Statista Research Department, the number of participants in “Yellow Vests” demonstrations between November 2018 and June 2019.
Movement without hierarchical structuring
Unlike traditional demonstrations coordinated by unions, the “Yellow Vests” developed their protests through social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) or private platforms without any les corps intermédaires.1 This movement was neither structured nor centralized, and its demands increased in the process; such as the improvement of the living standard of the middle class, the restoration of the wealth tax, the resignation of the president Macron, the RIC (Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne)….2
The cycle of repression and violence
The police used disproportionate force on an unprecedented scale against the “Yellow Vests” movement. Many yellow vests had never been demonstrated before. First of all, the discovery of the power of repression as a result of direct confrontation with the forces of order, which has become the object of hatred and the embodiment of state violence, was a surprise! Exposure to gas, being targeted by flash-balls/plastic bullets, caused a form of radicalization.
Concerts, music festivals, museums, theaters and other cultural venues in metropolitan areas have been closed, postponed or canceled as a precautionary measure due to the protests. The Interior Ministry has postponed several matches of the French Football Championship to ensure that the police are fully prepared for the “Yellow Vests” protests.
During the protests, many brands, restaurants and cars were targets of violence at rallies in Paris. Barricades were built on the Champs-Élysées and then set on fire, bus stops, shop windows broken, vehicles, kiosks burned, street furniture damaged. Damage is estimated at hundreds of thousands of euros. According to the Vinci Autoroutes3group, by mid-December 2018, damage to the entire French network amounted to “tens of millions of euros”. Between the start of the movement and January 2019, more than 60% of the automatic road control radars were painted, vandalized and destroyed by the “Yellow Vests”.
Yellow Vests and violence
At the beginning of the movement, violence was accepted because it was seen by the public as an understandable, deep expression of despair. The majority understood that these people were pushed even more violently to the limits of their social standing. This empathy can also be explained by the fact that there is often a shortage of rural people, a certain age, and even families.
On the other hand, violence creates a kind of addiction, it produces adrenaline. Having the feeling of making history invigorates and gives status. Letting go of this situation will be painful… But the use of violence is always a risky calculation, at some point counterproductive. The threshold to legitimize the violence of a social movement is always multifactorial. In the case of the “Yellow Vests”, the persistence and repetition of the protests caused a fatigue of thought that gradually turned against the movement. The lack of distance between the “Yellow Vests” and the vandals led to public condemnation of the violence. Especially the destruction and looting of the Arc de Triomphe turned into a deep sadness and anger in the society.
The great national debate
Faced with the scale of this movement, the government is giving up on the increase in TICPE4. Emmanuel Macron then explains the measures approved by the economic and social emergency measures law, then starts the great national debate and finally announces the reduction of taxes and restructuring of small pensions, especially for the middle class. But these improvements did not end the movement. Throughout the country, and especially in Paris, the protests continued in different forms every Saturday.
Les corps intermédiaires consists of all strata of civil society that organize and represent aspirations, interests and collective passions. It is an intermediate world between the people and the political power. This is what the “Yellow Vests” reveal: “This deep-rooted belief in the need to rely on natural spokespersons because it doesn’t allow us to “know” social conditions is DONE! Now we carry the word ourselves. We don’t give our voice to an institution anymore, we give a voice!” Unions emerge from the crisis of the “Yellow Vests”; What is deeply questioned is their way of seeing and understanding the world.
Consequences of the “Yellow Vests” movement5
Eleven people were killed during the protests, and one death occurred during a protest near the victim’s home. More than 4,000 people were injured, some very seriously, between the demonstrators and the police. According to figures reported by the Ministry of the Interior, the police carried out 12,107 arrests in seven months as part of the “Yellow Vests” movement in France, resulting in 10,718 detentions. Nearly 2,000 convictions and numerous.
The case was closed without any action. At the political level, the defiance led to a decline in the popularity of the ruling French rulers.
Although the “Yellow Vests” protests continued from time to time, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was stopped by the government’s first Confinement (sanitaire)6 decision of 2020.
Today, some are ready to don yellow vests or rejoin a major national movement, while many have turned to another alternative to get what they once demanded on the streets: the 2022 presidential election!
* These are my personal observations and comments about the “Yellow Vests” movement, which I photographed almost every Saturday for a year since its inception.
- Les corps intermédiaires: Intermediate organs, which are the heirs of the “Ancien Régime” organs, are social and human groups that are independent and autonomous, formed naturally or by mutual agreement, between the individual and the state.
- RIC (Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne): It is the tool that allows its citizens to propose a law and decide through a referendum whether it will be accepted or not.
- Vinci Autoroutes: It finances, designs, builds and operates motorways in France. VINCI Autoroutes is the leading French highway concessionaire, with a network of 4,443 km corresponding to the concessions of ASF, Cofiroute, Escota, Arcour and Arcos
- TICPE: It is a tax that targets a range of energy products, particularly those of petroleum origin.
- Source: CNEWS
- Confinement (sanitaire): A set of measures taken by public authorities in the context of the epidemic, aimed at reducing the risk of transmission as much as possible by keeping the public at home with strict travel restrictions
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