The so called ‘yellow vest’ protests over the increased fuel tax across France has spread out of its rural beginnings and into the cities, gaining new gripes as it did so. Paris has been subject to the brunt of the violence, as radicals have hijacked the planned protests and caused severe damage to various areas of the capital, including the Arc de Triomphe. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has described the protests as having, ‘created a monster.’ To summarise, a select group of disgruntled citizens of France protesting the actions of the governing body has led into mass violence from many different factions, all of which are wanting different outcomes. It sure feels like we have heard something like this before.
The strikes over the weekend of the 8th December, containing an estimated 31,000 people nationwide, have caused Parisian tourist areas to be shut-down and multiple football games around France to be cancelled so that police can ensure that these protests don’t emulate those of the previous weekends. Particularly rural areas have been angered by this recent fuel tax, believing it to be an unfair tax on them, as the transport links outside of major cities are not good enough for them to be able to not use their car. As these protests have picked up steam, they have been joined by outraged students protesting about the cost of tuition, and even radical right-wing groups have become involved, unsurprisingly spearheaded by Marine Le Pen.
The bigger question surrounding these protests is whether they are once again showing something of a hereditary need among the French people to protest. The French government has already announced that the fuel tax has been scrapped, along with freezing electricity and gas prices in the 2019 budget, but these protests are still raging on ferociously. France is currently living in its fifth republic, the second already since World War Two, and in comparison to various other regimes, this one is relatively long standing. The second republic lasted a mere 3 years before Louis Napoleon reneged upon his promises and declared a new empire.
The fact that this is the fifth republic, and that some have even referenced (a somewhat farfetched belief) the possibility of a sixth republic due to Macron’s plummeting approval ratings, demonstrates the French refusal to 'put up and shut up', as it were. They will always fight for a system which everybody believes in, but this can cause problems when there is serious disagreement and polarization across the country, as last year's election showed. It is the combination of these two factors that has led to the volatility of so many political regimes in France. Due to their people being more prone to demonstrations when unhappy than would be the case in this country, the likelihood of a coup d’état is greatly increased, which will merely serve to make a different group of people unhappy. Even in the current situation, the range of groups involved in these demonstrations means that there are no clear outcomes, as students and right-wing extremists are unlikely to come to some sort of coalition, and Macron cannot fulfill his own policies and give way to the groups which are protesting him.
I do not think for a minute that this is the dawn of a new revolution, but it is certainly a wake-up call and a reminder that, as a nation, the French do not have it in them to take things lying down.