Is Paris burning?


Dear Partners in thought,
Those who remember the great movie of the early sixties, partner of “The Longest Day”, will forgive me but these burning sights of the City of Lights and the Champs Elysées as a war zone these pas three weekends are unusual even for a challenging country like France that has much liked its revolutions since 1789.
While the 1790s, 1848 and 1968, not to mention the many times of instability like during the Algerian events of sixty years ago, have been traditional features of French history and a French trait of character, earning them the moniker of râleurs (moaners), the current events in the streets of Paris and France are puzzling. While the so-called “Gilets jaunes” (yellow vests more than waistcoats or cardigans) may have justifiable reasons to complain about the gas price hikes, especially when living in rural areas – not caring much about fighting the environment even if only a small portion of the tax would be allocated to this – their movement, which mirrors in some ways Five Stars in Italy, is hard to understand as to its dynamics or leadership. Their demands, expressed violently in what some find now an acceptable norm “as we see it elsewhere”, are also conflicting as aimed at getting everything at the some time – like less taxes and more State aid. It is assumed by the pundits to be non-political as if not pushed by any political party or pressure group. It is organised and led somehow but has no clear leaders. It is vehemently and indeed violently vocal but comes short when invited to discuss matters with the government it stands opposed to (only two representatives of the “Gillets Jaunes” showed up to a high level meeting with the government, one of them leaving after minutes).
While Président Macron is now unpopular (as all French Présidents eventually are) though determined to keep his course, this “Gilets Jaunes” situation was born as the regular political opposition has been non-existent in their force of counter-proposition. The only opposition for months has been of the populist kind both on the extreme left and extreme right though with no credible programmes on offer, while traditional parties have been swallowed up in the electoral tsunami of May 2017, notably the once formidable Socialist Party. If anything these current developments show the key democratic necessity of having a regular opposition able to have a dialogue with and indeed oppose the government in power, in France and elsewhere. One silver lining for the French government is that the amateurish and violent ways of the “Gilets Jaunes” will demean their message and eventually discredit them with the French people as they did in late May 1968 likely supporting the government to end the perduring chaos in the streets.
Warmest regards,
Serge Desprat- Dec 1st, 2018 (Prague)