‘Gilets jaunes’ part of global pivot to far right:

Vi­o­lence, racism, sex­ism and anti-Semitism are dark side of move­ment that has plunged France into cri­sis

The Irish Times - - World News - Lara Mar­lowe

The gilets jaunes re­volt will turn two months old this week. It has al­ready done more to dis­rupt the French po­lit­i­cal sys­tem – a cam­paign prom­ise of Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron – than Macron in his first 18 months in of­fice.

Twelve peo­ple have died, most in ac­ci­dents that oc­curred when mo­torists tried to run bar­ri­cades manned by yel­low vests. About 1,700 pro­test­ers have been in­jured and 1,000 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces. Four peo­ple have had their hands mu­ti­lated by tear gas grenades con­tain­ing ex­plo­sives. Sixty have been wounded in the face by rub­ber bul­lets, in­clud­ing 12 who lost an eye.

Pro­test­ers were less vi­o­lent but more nu­mer­ous in “Act IX”of the move­ment on Satur­day, when 84,000 peo­ple demon­strated across France. The fact that po­lice and gen­darmes matched the gilets jaunes nearly one-to-one partly ac­counts for the diminu­tion in vi­o­lence. Clashes none­the­less oc­curred at the Arc de Tri­om­phe, in Bordeaux and Toulouse.

Coun­try dwellers who’ve found fra­ter­nité around night time bon­fires at traf­fic cir­cles are the sym­pa­thetic face of the gilets jaunes. “Chou­choune” and “Coco bel oeil” wore flu­o­res­cent yel­low when they mar­ried last month, at the traf­fic cir­cle in the Pyre­nees where they met as gilets jaunes.

The re­volt is ide­o­log­i­cally clos­est to the far right. Gra­tu­itous vi­o­lence, racism, sex­ism, anti-Semitism and ho­mo­pho­bia are the dark side of the move­ment that has plunged France into its worst cri­sis of the past half cen­tury.

Like Don­ald Trump’s grass­roots sup­port­ers in the US, the gilets jaunes deeply dis­trust tra­di­tional me­dia. “Jour­nal­istes, col­la­bos, jour­nal­istes, col­la­bos,” they chant in front of tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and news­pa­per head­quar­ters. Jour­nal­ists are re­garded as part of the elite, and as “col­lab­o­ra­tors” of the Macron ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Phys­i­cal at­tacks on French jour­nal­ists are so fre­quent that most hire body­guards to cover protests. On Satur­day, jour­nal­ists were at­tacked in Rouen, Pau, Toulon, and Paris. A body­guard for LCI tele­vi­sion was taken to hos­pi­tal with a bro­ken nose. “We’re go­ing to drag you out of your car and rape you,” a demon­stra­tor threat­ened a woman jour­nal­ist from La Dépêche du midi in Toulouse.

Con­spir­acy the­o­rists

Yel­low vests pre­fer to be­lieve “news” spread on so­cial me­dia by Maxime “Fly Rider” Ni­colle and other con­spir­acy the­o­rists – for ex­am­ple al­le­ga­tions that non-French, Euro­pean se­cu­rity forces have been called in to help quash their re­volt.

More than 50 par­lia­men­tary deputies from Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) have been threat­ened with hang­ing, guil­lo­tin­ing or shoot­ing. In Dor­dogne, the cars of an LREM deputy and her hus­band were torched out­side their homes by gilets jaunes.

Jean-François Mbaye, an­other LREM deputy, re­ceived an anony­mous let­ter call­ing him “a to­ken black” and ask­ing what right an African had “to med­dle in French prob­lems”. The same text was sent to two other Black LREM deputies. “You are go­ing to die,” noted the let­ter.

Min­is­ter for gen­der equal­ity Mar­lène Schi­appa de­nounced a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign for Christophe “le boxeur” Det­tinger, who is now in prison await­ing trial for at­tack­ing two po­lice­men on a bridge over the Seine.

Schi­appa said she re­ceived “thou­sands of death threats, in­sults and co-or­di­nated cy­ber harass­ment” after crit­i­cis­ing Det­tinger’s sup­port­ers. “There are calls for rape, filthy rhetoric. I’m por­trayed as an in­flat­able doll. There are mon­tages of me half-naked.”

Gilles Le Gen­dre, the pres­i­dent of the LREM group in the Na­tional Assem­bly, ac­cused Jean-Luc Mé­len­chon’s far left France Un­bowed and Ma­rine Le Pen’s far right Rassem­ble­ment Na­tional of “com­pet­ing to take ad­van­tage of the chaos, when they’re not fo­ment­ing it”.

The yel­low vests’s ha­tred of high fi­nance of­ten trans­lates into anti-Semitism. Just be­fore Christ­mas, a group of yel­low vests were filmed in Mont­martre, mak­ing the quenelle, a ver­sion of a Hitler sa­lute in­vented by the hu­mourist Dieudonné. That night, a 74-year-old woman watched three men in yel­low vests do­ing the quenelle in the metro. “That’s an anti-Semitic ges­ture. I am Jew­ish. My fa­ther died at Auschwitz. Please stop,” asked the woman. “Get lost, old lady,” shouted one of the men. “This is our coun­try! This is our coun­try!” chanted an­other, re­peat­ing the slo­gan of Le Pen ral­lies.

Like for­mer Ital­ian prime min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi, Macron took of­fice in a burst of op­ti­mism. Like Renzi, his ap­proval rat­ings col­lapsed and he be­came a hate fig­ure. The gilets jaunes are clos­est in spirit to the pop­ulist Five Star Move­ment (M5S) founded in Italy by the co­me­dian Beppe Grillo. M5S now shares power with Mat­teo Salvini’s far right Lega. Some fear that France will re­peat the Ital­ian sce­nario of a coali­tion be­tween pop­ulists and the ex­treme right.

‘‘ More than 50 par­lia­men­tary deputies from Macron’s La République en Marche have been threat­ened with hang­ing, guil­lo­tin­ing or shoot­ing

In­ter­na­tional trend

The gilets jaunes are part of an in­ter­na­tional trend that has re­cently seen the swear­ing in of “Trump of the Trop­ics”, the Brazil­ian Jair Bol­sonaro, and a meet­ing be­tween Ital­ian strong­man Salvini and Pol­ish na­tion­al­ist Jaroslav Kaczyn­ski. Speak­ing in War­saw last week, Salvini promised to “over­throw the (lib­eral) Franco-Ger­man axis”.

The fu­ture of Europe, as well as the fu­ture of France, is at stake in Macron’s strug­gle quell the gilets jaunes. The French leader will pub­lish an open let­ter on Mon­day out­lin­ing the terms of the “grand de­bate” he will be­gin on Tues­day with may­ors in Nor­mandy.

The lat­est polls show tiny rises in the very low ap­proval rat­ings of the pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter. One might de­plore the fact that 52 per cent of re­spon­dents want the gilets jaunes move­ment to con­tinue, but that is a sig­nif­i­cant drop from Novem­ber, when close to 80 per cent of the French sup­ported the protests.

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