By Juliette Gaggini ’20
Paris, France, often referred to as the City of Love, has been faced with a tremendous controversy the past few weeks beginning with the raise of fuel prices in mid-November. The people’s movement, which has since turned into a political movement, has taken on the name mouvement des gilets jaunes, translated in English to the yellow vests movement. The name comes from the symbolic high-visibility yellow vests worn by protestors in the streets of Paris during the protests. Protesters blame French President Emmanuel Macron for the political upheaval due to the price of diesel, which has increased by nearly 20 percent, since the beginning of the year, and his most recent policy which plans to increase the taxes on fuel.
President Macron did give in to the protestors a bit in early December, when he released that he was not going to follow through with his planned fuel tax increase for January. However, despite the outcry of objection from the people against raising gas prices, President Macron has remained confident in his decision, expressing that he feels it is a necessary step in protecting the environment.
Protestors responded to President Macron’s interest in preserving the environment by arguing that he is out of touch with the people and doesn’t understand their struggles due to his privilege. This series of protests, beginning in November, has been the culmination of this ongoing feeling for many in Paris, growing since the inauguration of President Macron in May of 2017. Although it may seem that this protest could be ended by President Macron listening to the wishes of the people, the majority of the protestors will not settle until resignation of current President Macron.
Disapproval with the recent gas changes can be seen all across France, but the heart of the protests lies in Paris. Demonstrators have begun picking up speed, with new measures of road blocking, violent attacks on police officers and graffiti on major monuments, such as the Arc de Triomphe. Photos have gone viral of graffiti in the streets, one of the most viral reading “la crise climatique est une guerre contre les pauvres,” which means “the climate crisis is a war against the poor.” When looking at the motivation of the graffiti, it is a direct response and opinion of the people specifically against President Macron, asking for his resignation from the presidency.
President Macron is most commonly targeted for his disconnect with the people. Some protestors have expressed a belief that his detachment is so strong that he has traits that resemble that of former French King, Louis the XVI, the last King before the fall of the French monarchy.
“Macron=Louis 16” was spray painted on the Paris Garnier Opera House in early December. Demonstrators also held signs saying that May 14, 2017, the day that President Macron was inaugurated, signified the restoration of the French monarchy. He’s viewed as overly privileged and is said to often make decisions without consideration for the average working family, which are attributes of Louis the XVI, who resided in the extravagant Palace of Versailles and crippled the French economy for the average citizen.
Aside from the city center of Paris, another large portion of the anger in the country comes from small rural towns. Many people residing in these areas are reliant on their cars, and have become especially frustrated with the rising gas taxes and diesel prices directly resulting from President Macron’s policies. With little public transportation in such areas, dissatisfaction with President Macron and his recent changes is growing, as this sentiment of his detachment from the French citizen grows.
In December, demonstrators began getting aggressive with violent attacks on police officers, prompting police fighting back. A video of an officer taking out his gun against the yellow vests was captured by a local journalist which depicted protestors throwing various objects at the officers who were blocking the street, and pushing them off of their motorcycles. It was only after another officer drew his gun that the attackers backed away momentarily, but when he put it away to leave the scene, all three officers on duty were instantly attacked again.
In other video clips, officers are seen tear gassing the crowds, which has only made the people more upset. These protests that were meant to be peaceful and productive have become violent mob scenes across Paris, which has prompted the whole country and global community to tune in to the issues at hand.
These protests have hugely impacted the people of France thus far. Those in disagreement with these new laws will not be giving up anytime soon, despite the frightening number of people affected by the violence during protests. Hundreds of people have been arrested since the start of the protests, and dozens have been killed while demonstrating. This movement is important to all those affected by the raising taxes, but there seems to be no simple answer on how to solve the issues at hand despite President Macron seeking a common ground with his people.