By Venice Hancock, News Sub-Editor.
It has been a year since French protesters, known as the “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests), appropriately named for their chosen attire during demonstrations, first took to the streets of different French cities. After a call on social media, more than 250 000 people marched on to denounce the increase in fuel prices made by the government as a way of tackling climate change. Since that Saturday last year, the movement has spiralled into a more general demonstration against Emmanuel Macron’s presidency and his economic policies. The “Gilets Jaunes” really peaked towards the end of 2018, when over 300 000 people were involved and violence between protesters and police forces reached a new level and the severe anger over social injustice was a cause of worry for the French government. It was during this period that the President pledged to reverse some of his tax plans, and extend €10 billion in measures that address demonstrator’s concerns.
In recent months, the movement had lost some of its momentum, but leaders hoped that the one year anniversary would make for a high turnout throughout France. For its “53rd act”, the movement assembled 28 000 protesters throughout the country, 4700 of those gathering in Paris, according to the Ministère de l’Intérieur, France’s Home Office, while the movement itself claims that 39 530 people protested in the country. In Paris, some protesters assembled at Place d’Italie, where confrontations lead to severe damage of cars, storefronts and other urban goods. Police forces responded with the use of tear gas against protestors. There were also larger scale gatherings in other major French cities such as Lyon, Montpellier, Marseille, Nantes, Bordeaux and Toulouse. Many people also gathered around roundabouts throughout the country to block traffic.
Protestors are fighting for the same thing they have always fought for: ending social and economic inequalities. Most adherents of the movement belong to the lower middle class and feel like they have been abandoned by political classes for too long. This 53rd episode of “Gilets Jaunes” comes right after a French student of Lyon 2 University tried to kill himself by setting himself on fire to denounce the overwhelming financial problems many students have to face during their time at university. The student blamed Presidents Macron, Hollande and Sarkozy, as well as far-right leader Marine LePen of killing him. This incident and the one year anniversary of the Yellow Vest movement has underlined many people’s deep insecurities concerning social injustice and the disdain for Macron’s economic policies in France. The “Gilets Jaunes” have, on multiple occasions, called for the removal of President Macron. According to the movement, he is too concerned with matters relating to the EU and is not a representative leader. It is their wish to have someone in power who will address issues that “directly concern them”.
Overall, the movement has managed to spark a nation-wide conversation about police tactics after some particularly violent encounters with protesters and cost the state an estimated €297 million in funding extra police hours and repairing damaged infrastructure. According to the Ministère de l’Intérieur, the human cost currently stands at 1800 policemen and 2400 demonstrators injured and 11 people killed, mostly in traffic accidents. The “Gilets Jaunes” have also declared that 24 of its participants have lost an eye as a result of confrontations during demonstrations.
Adherents of the movement are torn on whether or not the protests have been successful. As to the French population as a whole, a poll conducted a week before the anniversary revealed that 55% of people supported the movement but more than six out of ten do not want the weekly Saturday protests to start again.
The future of the movement is still uncertain. For many, this anniversary was an opportunity to relight the dying spark that had been lit back in November of 2018. Despite this, the turnout for the 53rd instalment of the “Gilets Jaunes” protests was received as a bit of a disappointment by many adherents.