Do not expect the French medias, all owned by the French 1%, to be objective when speaking about the Yellow Vests. We shall then look at the Sputnik News France to get a fair vision of the phenomenon. Here is a translation made by Le Saker Francophone after the 8th act, hold on January 5th.
By Fabien Buzzanca – January 9th 2019 – Sputnik France
The Yellow Vests came back full throttle for the beginning of this year with their Act VIII. With demonstrations already planned for January 12th and the government having promised even more firmness to face the protesters, what is the feeling of the demonstrators? The law enforcement? Sputnik contacted both parties to provide an update.
With the kind of half truce we observed during the holidays, the government hoped that the yellow vest movement would not survive the end of the year. It has not been the case. As if the President’s offensive New Year wishes had blown over the embers, the flame of the protest that has been heating up France since 17 November has set off again in style. Starting with the breakage of Benjamin Griveaux’s State Secretariat door by some hot demonstrators, during the Act VIII on January 5th. Let’s skip the usual battle of numbers (50,000 demonstrators for the government, 300,000 for France Police -Policiers en colère [ a policemen union ]), the many photos circulating on social networks showed yellow processions all over the country.
The Yellow Vests don’t want to give up and have sent a strong message to the government. The resurgence of the protest came with its share of violence. In addition to the emergency exfiltration of the government spokesman [because of the door of his building has been broken by somme demonstrators], vehicles were set on fire in Paris, barricades were set up and a former boxer, Christophe Dettinger, played fists against the CRS on a footbridge in the capital.
In the provinces, the town hall of Rennes was attacked and clashes between demonstrators and police forces were observed in Nantes, Beauvais or Bordeaux. Non-exhaustive list.
“We only talk about violence, everything peaceful is ignored. The media have a large part of responsibility and stir up anger on the street. I was in Nice for Act VIII and everything went well. We talked to the police, we negotiated with them. The women successfully completed many peaceful marches on January 6 [French Women organized an only-female demonstration, thus preventing hooligans to infiltrate, just to show that the Yellow Vest movement is a non-violent one]. It was great,” explains Charlotte, a young mother who is very involved in the cause of the Yellow Vests on the French Riviera.
A message that did not fully reach the ears of Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. During the evening TV news of 8 pm on TF1 [the most viewed TV channel], he announced on January 7 a new “anti-hooligans” law and despite the approximately 2,000 wounded and mutilated since the beginning of the movement, he promised even more firmness:
“In many cities in France, the demonstrations took place peacefully, but we cannot accept that some people use these demonstrations to go too far, to break, to burn. These people will never have the last word in our country.”
In addition to tougher penalties for hooligans, the prime minister also announced the creation of a highly controversial list of people banned from demonstrations, based on the model of stadium bans. Several judges are already denouncing the risks of infringements on citizens’ freedoms.
For Michel Thooris, general secretary of the France Police -Policiers en colère union, who is also upwind against the measure, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between the hooligans and the Yellow Vests. He denounces a certain confusion purposely made by the government:
“These types of individuals, who will break down a government building’s door, are professional hooligans and not Yellow Vests. It’s easy to wear a yellow vest for a hooligan. I think it is a manipulation of the government to make the French public think that these actions are the result of the Yellow Vests. I dispute this version of the facts. I am a professional used to policing and I know very well that it was not ordinary Yellow Vests that did this and set up an operation of this magnitude. These hooligans are used to infiltrate demonstrations to engage in violence that we condemn. They take advantage of the Yellow Vest movement as they take advantage of social movements in general, May 1st or sporting events. They are detrimental to the movement, but they are not Yellow Vests at all.”
Grégoire [not his real name], a Gilet jaune from Paris who followed almost all the rallies since November 17 considers that the government’s strategy will worsen the situation: “Édouard Philippe’s speech pours an oil tank on the fire of the revolt. By talking only about hooligans and repression, without mentioning the political requests of the Yellow Vests, still supported by 55% of the French [60% on January 10th], he encourages the anger of the country and increases the risk of radical actions. With regard to these actions, it was funny to watch the elites horrified by the degradation of the door of a government’s building with a pallet truck. They think that the broadcast of such a video will denigrate the Yellow Vests, ignoring that a good part of the French are looking at these images with jubilation and an irresistible desire to applaud.”
Alexandre Langlois, general secretary of the Vigi-CGT-Police union, wondered about a possible strategy of the tension played by the State:
“It seems as if they are working to achieve this result. That is the feeling police officers have when they see how they are being led in the field. There is a desire for an escalation of violence in order to undermine the credibility of the movement rather than provide political answers to the Yellow Vests. The State can no longer continue to play confrontation, given the state of exhaustion of the police forces and the fact that some of them support the Yellow Vests’ proposals on purchasing power. These tensions are created by people in offices, people that never receive any blows.”
“At the end of our demonstration, we went to thank the cops and say hello… It’s sad to say, but they do their job. And for the moment, I have only good experiences with them…”, says Charlotte. Like her, many Yellow Vests continue to call on the police to support them. But for others, the exchange of blows between the two sides, demonstration after demonstration, created a deleterious climate.
The “battle of the jackpot” is a good example. A fundraising campaign had been launched to support Christophe Dettinger [The boxer who give some strikes to a CRS] and his family and help him pay his legal fees. Faced with the controversy caused by the huge amount collected in less than 48 hours (more than 115,000 euros), Leetchi, a Crédit Mutuel subsidiary [a French bank], decided to close the collect.
In the wake of this story, the President of the LR [a right party] of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Renaud Muselier, launched his own collect, this time in support of the police. It already exceeds 175,000 euros in donations.
Is the divide widening between demonstrators and law enforcement? “I don’t think we’re falling into hatred. There are strong tensions with some Yellow Vests that do not understand – and I can understand it – why they find themselves very restricted when they come to demonstrate. And unfortunately, when violence is committed by thieves and our colleagues retaliate, they can be affected. But I think the population is smart enough to understand that it is imperative to maintain law and order and fight the hooligans. We cannot let a group of individuals enter the National Assembly and destroy everything,” said Michel Thooris.
“France is a century behind on the issue of policing. Our staff are very well trained, but the authorities and senior management must also use them wisely to avoid injuries. In the countries of North Europe there are models that work very well with a de-escalation of violence. In France, the government and the Ministry of the Interior have chosen to show their muscle and go to confrontation. But we are the ones who receive the paving stones, not them, because of their lack of a political response to a social problem. We hope to stop taking blows because of these people and hope that they will be responsible enough to get out of the crisis we are in. Otherwise, the wounded will continue to increase and we will never get out of it.”
While Charlotte admits that the police “only carry out orders”, she is concerned about the spiral of violence that causes injuries on both sides: “We have had Yellow Vests that have had their hands ripped off, some ebony, others mutilated. People whose lives will never be the same anymore. And they even weren’t hooligans! And you know what is the result? It is a bare-handed guy boxing the CRS or people who forget who the real enemy is and take it out on the cops!”
“I would like to remind you once again that the police officers only comply with the orders of the administrative authority. They obey the prefects, who themselves have instructions from the Ministry of the Interior. The level of severity of policing is defined by politics and if today we see an extreme firmness – if not something else – towards the Yellow Vests, it is not the wish of my colleagues”, Michel Thooris insists.
Gregory also regrets this situation and holds the government accountable: “The gap between the people and decision-makers seems insurmountable. The elites are completely losing it and are becoming more and more enraged. All those who attended the rallies noted that the orders consist in also attacking the weakest pacifists (young women, the elderly) in order to reduce the rallies to a handful of unpopular hooligans. But it seems that the solidarity between the Yellow Vests is indestructible, as is their determination.”
For the Yellow Vests and police officers interviewed by Sputnik France, it is on the political side that the solution to end the clashes will come. As Alexandre Langlois explains:
“The majority of the French support the movement on issues of purchasing power. They want to live and no longer survive. They want to be able to enjoy a little bit of life and the fruits of their labour. According to Mr. Macron, work pays off, well, it’s time to act. Signals sent, such as the freezing of the wages indexation for civil servants or the absence of an end-of-year bonus as requested to the private sector, go in the opposite direction. And in the meantime, we change the carpets at the Elysée [the presidential palace]… And before taxing off the overtime, just pay it first. I would remind you that in the national police force, we are at 1,300 years of unpaid overtime.”
Michel Thooris has the same opinion: “The government is sending signals that are just adding fuel to the fire. They spend their time insulting the Yellow Vests without responding to any of their demands. As early as November 17, I said that the response to this crisis must be political. You have a simple measure to take: the citizens’ initiative referendum or RIC. The next day, the demonstrations will stop and the Yellow Vests will go back home. The government is in a position where it wants to show the muscles and not give in. I think Emmanuel Macron knows that he has lost all chance of a second term and will seek to force through the measures expected by the establishment that set him up.”
According to RTL [a popular French radio], “216 people linked to the violence were imprisoned between 17 November and 17 December”, a “record figure, unprecedented in the context of a social movement”. On 20 December, the Ministry of the Interior reported 1,843 “civilian” and 1,048 law enforcement injuries. Since then, these figures have increased. According to Libération [ a French corporate newspaper], ten people have died on the fringes of the movement since November 17, including three Yellow Vests. As Charlotte reminds us: “We have already had deaths and unfortunately I am afraid that it will keep on.”
“We’re facing Yellow Vests that have little left to lose. They suffer, do not have enough money to reach the end of the month, do not eat properly. The determination is there. And until the political response is up to the task, it will not stop. How far can this go? It’s hard to say. But from act to act, from demonstration to demonstration, violence multiplies, a minority of Yellow Vests becoming more and more radical. We, as a police union, are very concerned that we will end up with more deaths during the clashes in the demonstrations. If this is the case, I don’t see how the government can maintain its position as the head of the country,” Michel Thooris points out.
This point of view is supported by the general secretary of the Vigi-CGT-Police union:
“If the political response is up to the task, people will go back home. There may still be some individuals who want to go further, but given their small number, the police will be perfectly capable of supervising them and they will not have the massive support of the population,” says Alexandre Langlois.
Act IX is already announced on social networks. On the different groups of demonstrators, the determination seems intact. On the government side, the announced security system will include no less than 80,000 police officers throughout the country, including 5,000 in Paris. This is the level of security that was in place… mid-December.
Translated by Le Saker Francophone