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I have been doing my best to avoid the news recently, so it was with a shock that I discovered the recent news of nationwide protests rocking France. From Paris and into the countryside, these past few weeks have seen growing unrest which culminated in a rash of burned cars, smashed store windows, and injuries across Paris this past Sunday.
Les gilets jaunes / The yellow vests
The movement, which started earlier in November, gets its name from the bright yellow vests that protesters have adopted telle une cocarde* pour un nouvel âge (like a rosette for a new era). From rather banal beginnings (all French drivers are required to have a bright yellow safety vest in their car for emergencies) the vest has become a sign of growing frustration among working-class French citoyens (citizens).
As often happens in France (1789, 1830, 1871, mai ’68, …) what started with unrest has devolved into violence that as of today has resulted in over 260 injuries and at least three deaths … not to mention the destruction of property including “100 abribus endommagés, 16 kiosques à journaux dégradés et 7 mâts drapeaux détériorés” (100 bus shelters damaged, 16 newspaper stands defaced, and 7 flag poles ruined).
Events are moving fast, and understanding all of the details is complicated. The conflict is even playing out in cyberspace where the conflict has spilled onto the newly created Wikipedia page on the events which carries the following warning:
“Les contributeurs sont tenues de ne pas participer à une guerre d’édition sous peine de blocage.” / Contributors are asked to refrain from ‘editing wars’ or risk being blocked. [Read more here.]
In the real world, things have gotten so tense that President Macron and his government have even considered declaring a state of emergency. As reported in Le Monde, le ministre de l’intérieur, Christophe Castaner, “estime que face à des nouvelles formes de violence, il faut des moyens différents” (the Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, feels that different methods are required to confront new forms of violence).
The events are significant enough that they are getting a fair amount of coverage in the international press, but you can also follow the latest in French at www.lemonde.fr, www.liberation.fr, or www.france24.com.
UPDATE: The recent protests appear to already be shifting policy in France. As of Tuesday 12/4 the French government has announced that the fuel-tax increases planned for January will be suspended for six months.
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* La cocarde (tricolor rosette), one of the many symbols of the French Republic, traces its origins to the Revolution. Combining the colors of the city of Paris (bleu et rouge / blue and red) with the royal blanc / white, la cocarde was worn by revolutionaries as a sign of their adherence to the new mouvement.