France is a nation seemingly tearing apart at the seams.
Not two days ago, the country was in a manhunt situation, searching for the gunman who had gunned down three people in a Strasbourg Christmas market. While Cherif Chekatt was found and killed on Thursday night, his ability to flee for hours – and apparently falling completely off radar – before being fatally apprehended is a sign of how chaotic a state that France is in.
Protests against the President, Emmanuel Macron, have raged for over a month now, and it’s taken a toll on the economy. Paris’ iconic Champs Élysées boulevard, the equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue or LA’s Rodeo Drive, has been besieged by anti-government protests. The protests have not been peaceful, involving burning, defacement, window-breaking, and intimidation that has sacked what is typically a lively shopping area in in the Elysées.
‘French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Monday highlighted the negative impact of the protests on the economy, estimating they will trim 0.1 percentage point from the country’s economic growth this year. The Bank of France also cut its growth projection for the year’s final quarter by 0.2 point on Monday, citing the impact of protests on retailers. Shop closures and disruptions in the countrywide logistics have so far cost more than €1 billion ($1.13 billion), the French Federation of Commerce and Distribution said.’ (Wall Street Journal)
Perhaps the biggest issue with the Yellow Vest Protests – gilets jaunes in French – is that their ends and motivations remain unclear, aside from a disdain for the French president. In response to the protestors, who oppose Macron’s proposed business reforms, the President canning a rise in the nation’s fuel tax, promising a rise in minimum wage, and tax cuts for pensioners – all moves that the cash-strapped nation cannot truly afford, and all steps that Macron has been adamantly against. Despite these concessions from the top, the protests rage on.
Signs are emerging that these may be professional activists behind the Yellow Vest Protests, or at least insatiable rabble rousers who have gained international attention and are not likely to just let it slip away. They can’t even wait until the next in-person protests to soak up the célèbre.
‘While attention has been directed at the dramatic Saturday protests across France, much of the action occurs on the social network the rest of the week. Between Sunday and Friday, people like Mr. Mirallès broadcast Facebook Live sessions, share sensational videos of police aggression, host polls to crowdsource what issues to talk about during coming TV interviews, and plot their next moves.’ (New York Times)
Reports have emerged that the Yellow Vests have planned even more protests for Saturday. As the discontent and destruction the group has spread seeps into neighboring European nations, their persistence an alarming prospect.
Even more alarming is the still-unanswered question: what, exactly, do the gilets jaunes want? What will make them put down their pitchforks and return to their homes?
The reasons for discontent given by the group vary; for some, it’s economics; for others, the French president; for yet others, mass migration has them riled up. The common thread: their yellow vests. This has led some to contend that what we are witnessing in Europe is a color revolution of the European variety – and that means a few important, specific things.
‘While color revolutions can morph into popular resistance movements, they are at their core professionally organized and instigated, sometimes at the state level.
Color revolutions are a strategy of fomenting unrest within a country with the ultimate goal of removing the state’s current regime from power.
More recently, the Ukraine Maidan movement and Arab Spring could be considered color revolutions, as could the “Make America Great Again” movement in the United States. These operations are exceedingly intricate, requiring financial support, social conditioning, training and coordinated online and media information campaigns to successfully pull off.’ (William Craddick, Disobedient Media)
Like most modern protests of this magnitude and length, it would seem more likely than not – as Craddick indicates – that the Yellow Vest Protests are being supported financially by somebody, most likely not of French origin. We’re talking tens of thousands of protestors, after all. This is not the sort of mob that is likely to gather without motivation, and a hike in fuel prices rarely garners such passion.
Another indication that these protestors have a long-term fight in mind – and perhaps far greater goals than they claim – is the implausibility of their requests. France, and much of Western Europe, is a nation of high taxes. That is not going to change, regardless of how many signs are hoisted or shops are burned.
And, at the same time, they want a hike in minimum wage. That will require higher taxes. But, the protestors also don’t want a hike in their fuel tax.
All of these fragmented goals are indicative of the nation itself. France has become a disparate, confused hodgepodge of ideologies, cultural groups, and values that has put its president in an impossible position: satisfy everybody. The Yellow Vests may prove to be funded by outside forces seeking fundamental change in the region. They may even be organic.
But they aren’t united, one could argue they aren’t completely honest in their motives, and because of these realities, they aren’t going to stop any time soon.