France has been in a state of emergency every Saturday since November 2018. From early in the morning, in all major cities and in many medium-sized provincial towns, the Gilets Jaunes, the yellow vests, demonstrate. While the original goal of the movement was the abolition of the fuel tax increase, the protests are now directed against the Macron government's tax policy, against the privileges of politicians and against representative democracy. The yellow vests demand the resignation of the president and his ministers, new elections, the introduction of direct democracy through a citizens’ initiative, and increasingly the French exit from the EU, the ‘Frexit.’ Some demonstrations are now registered, others are more or less spontaneous. In order to keep the Gilets Jaunes under control, whose number in the whole country officially falls short of 90,000 every Saturday, the government has been mobilising all of the country's 80,000 security forces every Saturday for the past three months. If the government figures were correct, there would be a police officer for almost every yellow vest. Since this ratio between demonstrators and security forces does not even exist in dictatorial systems, one can safely assume that the government figures have been manipulated downwards. The minority police union ‘France Police - Policiers en colère’ speaks Saturday for Saturday of between 300,000 and 400,000 yellow vests on France's streets. These figures are likely to be more realistic.
Since the first demonstration on November 17th, all protest marches end late in the afternoon in civil war-like street battles between security forces and yellow vests. The security forces have suffered more than 1,000 injured, the Gilets Jaunes more than 2,000 casualties. According to the left-wing extremist collective desarmons.net, which documents police violence, among them are one dead and 124 cases of severely injured and mutilated for life: Four people had their hands torn off, 20 lost an eye and one lost his hearing. The left-wing journalist David Dufresne, in his victim archive published on Twitter, counts 383 severely, some of them very severely injured victims. The government has only recognised 50 seriously injured victims to date, including four who have lost an eye.
Due to the large number of injured, the yellow vests have now set up their own first aid service. In twos or threes, these ‘street médics,’ as they call themselves, take part in the demonstration and try to provide the injured with first aid. Many complain that they too are victims of police violence, that the security forces confiscate their medical supplies, spray them with tear gas or even arrest them. However, it is fair to say that there are groups of ‘street médics’ from the left-wing extremist spectrum who seek to confront the security forces, refuse to care for injured police officers, and threaten neutral paramedic groups.
But the crucial question is why there are so many victims and why there has been so much violence in France these past few months. The Gilets Jaunes accuse the Macron government of suppressing its protests with brutal police violence. The criticism centers especially on the use of the hard rubber bullets LBD 40 of the Swiss manufacturer Brügger & Thomet, as well as the tear gas grenade GLI-F4 enriched with 25 grams TNT of the French manufacturer SAE Alsetex. The GLI-F4 is banned in all other European countries due to its mutilation and killing potential. Like the LBD 40, it is classified as a war weapon. The gendarmerie and the national police recognise the danger of both weapons, but still insist on their use to protect police officers from extremely aggressive demonstrators.
It is noticeable that the majority of the demonstrators suffer injuries to their heads. On the investigative website reflets.info, a former army parachutist, Jim, who lost an eye in Bordeaux and suffered other serious facial injuries, explains: “If you aim at the head, it means that you have been ordered to do so. 220 joules in the head, you can't survive that without being hurt. It’s to intimidate.”
The police and gendarmerie reject these accusations and blame the head injuries on the usual chaos at the end of the demonstrations and a lack of accuracy of the LBD 40. Alexandre Langlois, chairman of the VIGI police minority union, also points to a lack of training for police officers and complains about the use of civilian colleagues who have no experience of demonstrations. It is precisely these units that are responsible for most of the injuries caused by hard rubber bullets. The ‘Gendarmerie mobile’ as well as the Republic’s security units, which are both trained in the smooth running of demonstrations, make much less use of the criticized weapon and are hardly ever or not at all responsible for serious injuries. The left-wing portal ‘Slate’ asked the police prefect of Paris why he, who had banned the use of the LBD 40 during demonstrations in Paris in 2017, had re-equipped the police officers for the protests of the Yellow Vests and received the following answer: “From the start the demonstrations of the Gilets Jaunes had the character of urban violence and no longer fell under the maintenance of public order. Under these conditions we could not expose the policemen to the violence of the participants of these gangs without a medium strength weapon. A demonstration has a predetermined path and is secured. This was not the case here. They [ie. the demonstrations] were nevertheless violent, very violent.”
By their choice of words and presentation of the facts, the police prefecture admits that, from the beginning, the state authorities regarded the protests of the yellow vests as an illegitimate insurrection. From this point of view, it is only logical to resort to police in civilian clothing who, in addition to the fight against organised crime, are trained to suppress urban violence. In order to be efficient, two police officers often share an LBD 40 in their ranks, while the ‘Gendarmerie mobile’ has one hard-rubber bullet gun for 28 gendarmes who, according to the rules applicable to them, are only allowed to use the weapon with due regard for proportionality. Because for them this requirement has been dropped, some police officers use the LBD 40 for targeted shots to the face. At least some videos give this impression. The Macron government therefore uses some of the policemen to crush what it considers the illegitimate insurrection of the ‘little guy’ from the province and suburbs.
But there is another point that explains the orgies of violence during the demonstrations: the Gilets Jaunes have become an ever more colorful bunch over time. The spectrum now ranges from monarchist Gilets Jaunes to criminal migrant gangs. In other words, anyone who is dissatisfied with the government is now wearing the yellow vest. This ideological ambiguity shifts the political struggles from the centre of society to the ranks of the protest movement and threatens to split them in the long run and involve them in ideological struggles. This is particularly evident in the behavior of left-wing extremists. They are strongly over-represented in the forums of the yellow vests and in the organization of citizen councils, and try with rather modest success to inspire the mostly practically thinking yellow vests to support the Bolivarian revolution. While many Gilets Jaunes have certain sympathies for left-wing envy taxes and French state money instead of supra-state European money, the migration issue is the big fault line. The left-wing extremists attack and denounce as ‘fascist’ every critical remark on this at least as vehemently as the Macronists do, and personally threaten the authors of migration-critical thoughts. At the Saturday demonstrations, the Antifas and ‘black blocks’ have been waging an underground war against right-wing to extreme right-wing groups within the Gilets Jaunes since December, as the antifa-friendly blog streetpress.com reports. “Just as we chased the fascists out of the universities, we must drive them away from the Gilets Jaunes,” comrade Stéphane is quoted as saying. Militant right-wing extremist thugs like the Zouaves Paris happily accept the declaration of war and also threaten the police: “If the police want to put down the uprising, we will react to them,” streetpress.com quotes an anonymous Zouave.
During the twelfth demonstration in Paris, the conflict became obvious: the yellow vest leaders Éric Drouet and Jérôme Rodrigues, who was seriously injured in the eye, had to be led out of the demonstration by their own security forces because rumours had it that Antifa had called for an attack on Rodrigues. However, Antifa has denied this so far. After that, the Gilets Jaunes expelled a whole group of Antifa activists and ‘black block’ fighters from the Paris protest march. Among the ranks of the Yellow Vest are not only ‘normal citizens,’ but also supporters of the Identitarians and other right-wing and nationalist groups as well as some former French soldiers who fought as volunteers in the pro-Russian militias in the Donbass, Ukraine. The slogan of the right is “honour and fatherland” in reference to the French Resistance during WWII.
Basically, the political orientation of the Yellow West varies from city to city. In the Antifa strongholds of Rennes and Nantes, they are dominated by left-wing extremists. But since the two leaders Drouet and Rodrigues have been represented by the decidedly right-wing lawyer Philippe de Veulle, the left-wing extremists fear more and more that they will lose the protest movement to the right. In an interview with RT France the day before the demonstration, pacifist Rodrigues also addressed the Antifas and the ‘black block’ directly, explaining that they were responsible for the police violence and were therefore completely unwelcome in the Yellow Vest demonstrations. In this confused situation, it does not seem very unlikely that the violence was not only caused by the security forces, but also partly by demonstrators or the war between them. The extremists of all stripes are the useful idiots of the system who, through their violence, help to delegitimise the protests in the citizens’ eyes and give the government the desired opportunity to take even tougher action against the Gilets Jaunes.
The so-called ‘Anti-Troublemaker Law’ from Interior Minister Castaner, which is based on a bill proposed by the conservative Bruno Retailleau and was adopted on February 5th by a majority in the Assemblée Nationale, is one such measure. Article 2 authorises prefects to impose, without a court ruling, bans on individual demonstrators in the case of “a particularly serious threat to public order.” Violation of such a ban could result in a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros. Article 3 provides for the creation of a national register in which all persons banned from demonstrating are recorded by name. With this law, the government is de facto abolishing the right to demonstrate, since only demonstrators who are acceptable to it will then be allowed to express themselves in public.
The judiciary, which should be independent of the executive, submits to it with anticipatory obedience and great zeal. Régis de Castelnau, a lawyer, wrote in ‘Causeur’ on January 14th: “The public prosecutors have gone wild and are zealously pursuing the punishment of the masses, making thousands of deliberate arrests, dragging thousands of people to court with the help of emergency procedures, in which they make requests for staggering punishments. What is even more astonishing is that the judges go along with it and are churning out gobsmacking punishments. Since the beginning of the Yellow Vest movement, there have been more than 5,000 arrests, 1,000 convictions, 350 prison sentences based in part on strange accusations and often bizarre interpretations of criminal law.”
Reports have come from all over France confirming such accounts of partisan justice. The ‘Canard enchaîné’ even reported on January 30th that the judges had been ordered from above to proceed as harshly as possible against the Gilets Jaunes. They will no longer be able to acquit a Yellow Vest activist. Even in the case of an erroneous arrest by the police, the personal file of Gilet Jaune is to retain the entry ‘previous conviction.’ In addition, the name of each arrested person, whether guilty or innocent, should be recorded in a file. And to ensure that the ranks of the demonstrators do not swell too much on Saturdays, the judges are politely asked in the newsletter not to release any pre-emptively detained Gilets Jaunes before late Saturday evening or Sunday morning.
In this way, the executive and the judiciary come to an understanding with one other. Or to put it in the words of the left-wing geographer Christophe Guilluy: “The formally educated, globalized, politically correct, urban France from the top is allying itself against the less educated, economically dependent, politically realistic, rural-small-town France from below.” It is the egalitarian elite of the country that imposes a merciless class struggle from above on the rather less equal ‘little guy.’ Not the other way around. The economist Charles Gave, influenced by the Austrian School, also alludes to this fact: “If everyone is equal, i.e. interchangeable and arbitrary, as the official state ideology has taught for years, then ‘those who are nothing’ (Macron) are themselves to blame for their unfortunate situation. While in the traditional, hierarchical society the socially superior person had the moral duty – whether this was always so in every individual case is a separate question, the concept is the issue here – to take care of the weaker members of society, egalitarianism produces a merciless, brutal society in which the weak has, at best, a right to exist, but only as a weak person. If he rebels against his circumstances, this is illegitimate, since he himself is to blame for them. All he has to do is start working as hard as the successful people and right away he would also be successful. This view of man and the world can be found in many small phrases of Macron and his ministers: “There are those who do everything right, and there are those who only mess things up,” Macron once said. Since they see themselves as the ones who do everything right, Macron and his ministers have no intention of questioning their policies or goals. They simply do not understand that there are any problems in the country.
But there are a lot of problems: the introduction of the euro has widened the gap between urban and rural areas. After Greece, France is the European country that has been most deindustrialised by the single currency. No other European country has such a high social security burden as France. This makes the labor force very expensive and the relative strength of the euro puts France at a disadvantage on the export market. In addition, compulsory government levies deprive companies of the resources they would need to invest in research and development in order to survive on the world market in the long term. But France's industrial sector now accounts for only ten percent of GDP, whereas according to Brussels standards it should be 20 percent. 1.8 million jobs are lacking in industry, which according to economic opinion would create 3.6 million additional jobs in the service sector. The ordinary people who, without being economists, intuitively understand that the euro and the EU have a large part to play in their misery, suffer from this development.
Another major problem is mass immigration from Africa and the Maghreb. Poverty migrants are sucking the welfare state dry. The French underclass has to pay proportionally more and more for fewer and fewer state services: Day nurseries and smaller hospitals in rural areas are being closed, school classes are growing larger and larger, and garbage is collected only from central locations in the villages. While poor French people find it very difficult to get social housing, the state, often without consulting the population, settles poor migrants in empty buildings. While Muslims insist on their cultural and religious traditions, the French are largely uprooted culturally and religiously. The state mobilises against the few remnants of Christian tradition in order to enforce the ‘separation of church and state.’ Since 2015 Islamist terror has been shooting and stabbing into the cultural vacuum. Here, too, ordinary people intuitively understand that mass immigration is not an opportunity for them, but rather a source of future ethnic conflicts and distribution struggles.
Because people's dissatisfaction with these two problem areas, in particular, has been expressed in surveys for years and the number of non-voters has risen, Jean Lassalle, a member of parliament who was an independent at the time, went on a 5,000-kilometer walk through France for eight months in 2013, to get an idea of the situation on the ground. He summed up his impressions in a report that can be downloaded from resistons-france.fr and warned the country's political class against riots coming very soon if nothing changed. But instead of listening to Lassalle's warnings, the political caste made fun of the homeland-loving shepherd’s son from the Pyrenees. In the Assemblée Nationale he has the status of a court jester.
But since November 2018, Lassalle's predictions have begun to become true. Here is an extract from what he wrote five years earlier: “The French have been criticizing the same things for a long time. We've heard it all before. But the fact that we're still hearing it proves that we haven't been listening and have taken nothing into account. What are we waiting for? The tone becomes shriller, the complaints that were once only whispered turn into a vociferous cry: ‘France no longer exists!’ I was surprised by their intensity, their violence and their radicalisation. The social climate is getting worse and worse. Nine out of ten people I’ve spoken to say: ‘The place will blow up!’ Three out of ten people are ready to join a riot if and where it takes place. The social networks are a wonderful weapon of mobilization. It would be wrong to believe that there still exists a France from above and one from below, a France of cities and one of the country. This is undoubtedly the case from a material point of view, but from a political point of view the most economically advantaged often feel as powerless as the recipients of social assistance. I have seen the return of shameless racism and anti-Semitism at all levels. Many people who stopped voting told me that they would vote again out of desperation, and that they would vote for extremist candidates. Especially in the forthcoming European elections.”
The next few months will show whether the ‘elite’ in France can once again succeed in putting down the revolt of the little guy in a yellow warning vest, or whether it will be swept away by his revolutionary rage. In any case, things are going to get uncomfortable.
Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on March 3rd 2019.