La France en Colère!!! or La France en Colère? Yellow Vests or Red Scarves?
People’s Front of Judaea or Judaean People’s Front or Judaean Popular People’s Front or Popular Front of Judaea?
Confused? You’re not alone. It’s neo-revolutionary politics à la française.
The Tragi-Comedy of the Gilets Jaunes – Acts XI and XII
The Government was forced to shake itself after the previous weekend’s Act 11 of weekly demonstrations. Initially, there might have been a Governmental mini-sigh of relief at the news that there’d been but 69,000 gilets jaunes on the streets. Down nearly 20% on he previous week. That’s not many over the whole of France. Surely this was hard evidence that, at long last, the dynamic of the movement was beginning to drain away.
Had fatigue and a lack of clarity about the multiplicity of objectives in the depths of January bored people into submission? Maybe the launch of President Macron’s Great National Debate had contributed to reduced numbers on the street?
But that was rapidly superceded by the consequences of the possible blinding, by police munitions, of a leading gilets jaunes figure-head. Cue 24/7 news coverage.
Act XII of The Events (2 February) was dedicated to the more than 1,900 demonstrators and bystanders injured since mid-November, with over a hundred seriously injured. Many of those injured participated in a ‘Great March of the Wounded’, calling for a ban on the riot control weapons which fire rubber ‘bullets’ and stun grenades. Some joined the march wearing eye-patches or with fake wounds – this make-up artist was found by a Le Monde journalist.
The police reported 10,500 in Paris. Consultants Occurrence (working for the media to produce ‘their’ numbers) said there were 13,800. But those demonstrating had clearly dropped again: more than 15% further down at less than 60,000 (said the Interior Ministry). Numbers, as always, are an opinion battle-ground. Yet even the gilets jaunes’ own count of Active Saturday Supporters is down. [The Préfet of Bordeaux – still a gilets jaunes stronghold each Saturday – has a wheeze for dampening enthusiasm. For the 2nd successive week no total of Bordeaux demonstrators was issued. Out of numbers, out of mind? Agence France Presse‘s view was that 4,000 turned up.]
The Great National Debate v. The Real Debate
Apart from suffering Saturday battle-weariness, some demonstrators surely went online. Why not play Pretend-Politics by adding to the over 500,000 so-called ‘contributions’ to the Great National Debate website? Give your replies to questions on the Government’s defined thematic areas: Organising the State and public services; Democracy and citizenship; Tax; the Environment. Join the clickocracy. It’s so easy.
That word ‘contributions’ merits quote-marks. Do click-responses to a few questions in 4 instant ‘questionnaires’ constitute serious elements of a ‘Great National Debate’?
Question 1 [in the Tax questionnaire]: In order to reduce its public deficit, caused through spending more than it receives, do you think France must …? Reduce public expenditure/Increase taxes/Do both at the same time/Don’t know.
That helpfully leads in to Q2: To lower taxes and reduce debt, what should be the priority for cuts in public expenditure? Government expenditure/Social and welfare expenditure/Local government expenditure/Don’t know.
Then, so you understand what’s expenditure, Q3 invites you to declare whether most savings should be made in the areas of: Education and research/Defence/Law and order/Transport/Environment/Housing/Other (type in the expenditure you want cut). [Multiple responses are possible, so serious axe-wielders are free to give full force to their slash-and-burn tendencies]
All a helpful, if more-than-somewhat loaded, primer defining the Government’s economically liberal policies.
In addition there’s 170,000 separate ‘proposals’. People have responded (often at some length) to a further set of specified Government questions. So the ‘Great National Debate’ is, in reality, constrained every which way. Although, with revolutionary wit, many respondents have broken this straitjacket of pre-determined questions, within a strictly defined view of the sole politico-economic possibilities. Accordingly, there’s almost twice the number of ‘tax’ proposals [with demands a-plenty on the (off-piste) subject of taxing wealth] as those on ‘democracy’.
In parallel, the gilets jaunes have established their own interactive website (Le Vrai Débat). It went live on 30 January. After five days they’d had over 40,000 ‘contributions’ to their rival Debate Space. As is the modern way, the outfit that’s responsible for the Government’s Great National Debate website (Cap Collectif who’ve got a nice niche in ‘consultative democracy tools’) have donated the electronic wherewithal to the gilets jaunes, many of whom want nothing to do with the Government’s Debate.
The gilets jaunes Debate is more ‘wide-ranging’ than the Government’s. Le Vrai Débat has 8 subject areas, including Europe/foreign affairs; sport and culture; plus a portmanteau ‘Others’. Le Vrai Débat winds up 2 weeks before the Government’s Debate … so they’ll get out their conclusions first. Clever.
Cynics viewing the President’s Great National Debate as a smokescreen for ultimate inactivity may be wrong-footed. There’s increasing rumours of something tangible emerging. Yesterday’s Le Journal de Dimanche had an exclusive: President Macron’s been reflecting on the idea of holding a referendum on 26 May, Euro-Election Day. This might be a consultation on proposals emerging from the Great National Debate, which ends mid-March with 2 weekends of citizens’ assemblies.
Red scarf, yellow vest, red scarf, yellow vest
Not a useless tongue-twister. Rather an attempt (in the words of the Red-Scarved Ones) ‘to defend democracy and institutions in the face of violence’. At last, Paris streets saw the representatives of that mammoth world-wide non-movement, The Silent Majority.
Facebook-created as a ‘response’ to the gilets jaunes, 27 January saw the first physical manifestation of the foulards rouges (by their ‘red scarves’ shall ye know them). 10,500 processed through Paris. That helpful number (produced by Paris police) was 500 more people than the organisers’ stated minimalist target. Though it must be said that while several elegant foulards were on display, the rouge was, regrettably, little in evidence. Even recognising the foul weather, only persuading out 10,500 means that the Counter-Revolution has clearly been postponed, if not yet officially cancelled.
The main foulards rouges chants summed them up:
- ‘Non, non, non à la révolution. Oui, oui, oui à la démocratie.’
- ‘Nous aussi on est le peuple‘ and
- ‘Merci la police’.
It was all as tranquil as might have been expected. As The Spectator‘s Mortimer commented ‘corduroy … was without doubt the trouser material of choice for the middle-aged men’. The sophisticated tone was set by a poster at the start of the march: ‘Ochlocracy kills democracy’ [I admit it. Not a clue till I looked it up].
The marchers’ average age was older than the Saturday boulevard-trampers: many looked as if they’d been retired a while. Like the gilets jaunes they sang La Marseillaise. Lots waved French flags. There were also several EU flags – they’re almost entirely absent from Saturday marches. Also, among the marchers some 20 Deputies and Senators from the President’s République en Marche party: each incognito (no tricolore sash of office) to reduce any idea that the foulards rouges are just a Macron Support Band.
The only potential flash point came at the end of the march. A few dozen Yellow-Vested-Ones (high on the Opéra de Bastille steps for better visibility) jeered comically-historically at the arriving Red-Scarved-Ones: ‘We want some cake’ and ‘Where’s your Rolls?’
Each group then hurled ‘Fascist’ at the other, while the Red Scarves thanked the police and dispersed rapidly. Thus allowing the police to go up the road for more serious work in the Place de la République where things were kicking off.
The Angriest Shade of Yellow: Jerôme Rodrigues and Eric Drouet
Jerôme Rodrigues was seriously hurt, possibly blinded in one eye, while live-streaming in Bastille on 26 January. The dramatic footage can be seen here. He is heard warning fellow gilets jaunes that the black blocs [anarchists whose sole purpose appears to be to have as violent a fight with the police as possible] were about to attack. Then, after 9 minutes filming, the camera drops when grenades are launched and we hear people shouting for help. Interior Minister Castaner hastily [much faster than usual] announced a formal investigation of the incident by the police’s police … that will be another of the more than 100 internal police investigations under way.
Rodrigues’s injury may have been caused by a Sting Ball Grenade or a Flash Ball (see previous post). Or he may have been hit by both: one by his feet and the other near his head. We’ll have to see whether the Interior Minister’s encouragement of police officers with such non-lethal launchers to wear cameras – and systematically activate them ‘under normal conditions’ – is of practical use.
Rodrigues – because of his predilection for live-streaming and his highly recognisable beard – had become a well-known figure in that wing of the gilets jaunes movement known as La France en Colère!!! [Note exclamation marks. They really matter.] He was often alongside super-activist ex-lorry driver Eric Drouet.
Drouet reacted to this injury to Rodrigues with an ultra-incendiary communiqué: ‘We declare a people’s state of emergency. That requires exceptional measures. We call for an uprising [sic] like we’ve never seen before using every possible means.’ The statement ended with a rousing ‘Aux armes citoyens, formez vos bataillons.’
Drouet later withdrew the statement, claiming he’d not read it, saying ‘we have never called for hatred, violence or insurrection.’ He was probably thinking through how all this might play in the context of his judicial hearings for carrying an offensive weapon (a wooden stick) and organising an unauthorised demonstration. To complicate his life further poor Drouet had to suffer a dreadfully OTT hommage from hard left politico Mélenchon: ‘That’s why I look at Eric Drouet with such fascination’.
Interior Minister Castaner reflected on all this for a couple of days. He then appeared on TV denouncing Drouet’s call to insurrection, rhetorically asking what means were intended to be used: ‘Pétanque balls have already been used. Paving stones too. And Molotov cocktails. Do you realise he’s asking that new weapons be used?’
Night fell earlier than anticipated for the first nuit jaune
That previous Saturday evening, Drouet rushed off to the Place de la République to participate in what he’d pre-announced as the first nuit jaune. This was heralded as the moment to turn Paris’s central (and highly symbolic for the left) meeting place into a rond-point géant (giant roundabout), thus reminding the gilets jaunes of their roundabout roots. The police had other ideas, the Place de la République was quickly cleared and all participants had an early night.
This Saturday, there was another attempt to establish a nuit jaune in the Place de la République, and in other towns too. But fairly soon it became apparent that there was little appetite for this mode of protest.
Journalist and film-maker David Dufresne has been trying to produce a definitive number of civilians injured since the beginning of December. He’s now put the information on a website with the assistance of investigative online site Mediapart.
There are some horrific figures
- 160 head injuries
- 18 have lost an eye
- 4 have lost a hand
The details, accompanied by shocking photographs, all classified by location and divided between demonstrators/journalists/passers-by/students etc are available here (behind a paywall). Here’s an article (in English) about Dufresne’s work. Agreed there’s no evidence of what occurred immediately before each of the films and photos Dufresne has tweeted, but it’s a frightening catalogue of injury and assault. When you see this lot it’s understandable why so many chants on the marches target the police.
These ‘sub-lethal’ anti-riot weapons are not used in most Northern European countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany (except for 2 Lande out of 16), Ireland, Norway, Sweden and UK all ban them. Greece, Poland and Spain (like France) use them.
Last week, the CGT trade union and a Human Rights Association called on the Conseil d’Etat (the final arbiter in cases relating to executive power, local authorities and independent public authorities) to ban the use by the police of non-lethal weapons. The Conseil d’Etat, however, decided on Friday that their use did not infringe the right to demonstrate, and that they were necessary in the face of the levels of violence used. Over 1000 members of the security forces have been injured: violence directed against the police has often been of frightening ferocity.
A Less Angry Non-Exclamated Shade of Yellow: Priscillia Ludosky
One of the most famous gilets jaunes is from ‘Angry France’ (note absence of exclamation marks). Priscillia Ludosky initiated the petition on petrol prices which was a founding event of the movement. Her petition became the 2nd most signed petition ever on change.org (now 1.2 million ‘signatures’). Paris Match named her and Angela Merkel as their Women of the Year.
Ludosky broke away – very publicly and very outspokenly – from her erstwhile (Very) Angry colleague Drouet. She says she (and others) were threatened by Drouet. Part of the problem seems to have been those cussed exclamation marks. Drouet’s Facebook page had !!! at the end of his Angry France title. Ludosky went off and kept her part of the movement un-exclamated, announcing in mid-January she hadn’t worked with Drouet for several weeks ‘because of his behaviour’.
She went so far as to meet the Minister for France’s Overseas Territories: Minister-Meeting is anathema to the Angriest. Ludosky also – further evidence of her independent approach – condemns the Great National Debate as ‘intended to make the gilets jaunes fall asleep’, but she still urges active participation in the Government’s Great Debate.
Four Political Shades of Yellow: Ingrid Levavasseur, Jacline Mouraud, A.N. Other 1 and A.N. Other 2
Initially, the gilets jaunes wanted nothing to do with politics. They were for protest, not politics. But times change. Leading the way into the political blocks was Ingrid Levavasseur. She immediately lost many gilets jaunes friends when announcing her intention to head a list of candidates, the Citizen-Led Rally, in the Euro-Elections. A nursing assistant, single mother of two, Levavasseur regularly appears on TV. That’s her medium of choice, not Facebook. The group’s statement said, at its launch: ‘The citizen movement… has shown the need to transform anger into a political project capable of giving answers to the French people who have supported it.’
When the announcement was made, there were only 10 of the 79 names needed for her party’s Euro-Election list. She said she’d have the rest by mid-February. But, within days, her list shrank. Two deserted. One said he’d received death threats for having committed the act of head-over-parapetting. Another decided that being a trade union activist was more fun (sic). Levavasseur’s would-be campaign manager also slung his hook. The list has been cheekily named the Citizen’s Initiative Rally (abbreviation ‘RIC’ in French) – ‘cheeky’ cos that’s the abbreviation of the gilets jaunes much-demanded ‘Citizens Initiative Referendum’ (also ‘RIC’).
Reaction from exclamation-ridden Angry France!!! was swift: ‘No. The real gilets jaunes do not want lists [of candidates] in the European Elections. A vote for the gilets jaunes is a vote for Macron.’ Extremely Angry Mr Drouet ran a click poll on his Facebook page. 98% of more than 18,000 clickers pronounced themselves AGAINST any gilets jaunes Euro-Election list – for good measure Levavasseur was accused of ‘treason’.
Close behind in the political stakes was that bewildering individual, Jacline Mouraud. This accordeon-playing hypnotherapist from Brittany (self-described ‘Spokesperson for a Suffering France’) had a coup de gueule (rant) on Facebook last October. This included asking the President: ‘But what are you doing with the people of France’s money?’ With over 6 million views it was undeniably another ‘event’ which created the gilets jaunes. This week, Mouraud announced the launch of her own political party bafflingly called The Emerging [No. Little idea what it’s meant to convey]. Its purpose is to ‘remake politics with heart and empathy’ [Still less idea what they’re about]. Her Party will fight the 2020 local elections, not the Euro-Elections.
Mme Mouraud chose Orléans for the launch because ‘it is the historic city of a woman’. Is she intending to reclaim Joan of Arc from her multi-year role as Front National figurehead? Or perhaps Mouraud is just France’s next saviour. Her advice to Lavavasseur: there’s not enough time for the gilets jaunes to stand in the Euro-Elections.
Within days, two further prospective lists of Euro-gilets-jaunes candidates emerged:
- Union Jaune, a ‘non-political and non-trade-union’ list, which will present ‘ideas’ on ‘immigration and sovereignty’ (nudge, nudge) and
- Rally of the Citizen gilets jaunes.
Just think, each list only needs some €750,000 to be able to stand. Crowd-funding here we come. Tho’ there’s talk of money from a rich singer intending to fund yet another list. While rich ex-‘entrepreneur’/’ex-‘Socialist’-Minister/man-about-funny-business/regional newspaper owner Bernard Tapie may fund Levavasseur’s list.
What’s the punchline of possible gilets jaunes Euro-Elections list(s)? Elabe‘s end-January poll found 13% intending to vote gilets jaunes. Their votes would be syphoned off from Le Pen’s ultra-right (down 3) and Mélenchon’s hard left (down 1.5). Leaving President Macron’s République en Marche party down 1 point (and laughing) as France’s leading party !!! 22.5% for the President’s party and 17.5% for Le Pen’s ultra right !!!
Now that really would be worth 3 exclamation marks. One of the few elements that unites gilets jaunes is that the priority is ‘Macron démission‘ (Macron resign). What irony that he’s the main beneficiary of a gilets jaunes act of democratic participation.
Smug smiling may be premature
Timing is all. It’s unfortunate for the Government that it looks as though it will suffer the adverse consequences of a new law which prohibits the sale of branded products at cost price. The BBC explains the effects well. This graphic infographic on rising prices from Le Parisien is all over gilets jaunes chat forums
France has to wait till their economic Commission pronounces on the abolition of the Wealth Tax towards the end of the year.
It’s interesting there’s currently a live debate in the USA about the merits of a wealth tax. Here’s the views of that dangerously radical hard-left weekly The New Yorker: ‘Why Elizabeth Warren’s Wealth Tax Would Work?‘