What does the yellow vests' anger tell us?

French politicians have called on the yellow vests to end their protests following the attack in Strasbourg. However, the protesters seem to be sticking to their guns and plan to demonstrate again this coming Saturday. A look at Europe's press indicates that their anger won't evaporate so quickly because it is a symptom of profound social disparities in Europe.

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Handelsblatt (DE) /

The winners are living in a parallel universe

Handelsblatt suspects that the same fundamental problem is the root cause of the many conflicts in Europe:

“From London to Paris and from Rome to Berlin, a rift is tearing Europe apart. ... A rift between booming metropolises and regions that have been left behind, between well-paid knowledge workers and people in precarious working conditions. ... There is hardly any contact any more between the worlds of the winners and the losers. ... It will require many measures, from support for structurally weak regions and a clever technology policy to increased options for life-long learning if we want to keep our societies together. But not even all that will be enough if our wealthy elites continue to live in a parallel universe that has little in common with the lives of most people.”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Le Pen's populism should have been a warning

Newsweek Polska also sees parallels between France and other wealthy Western nations:

“Everywhere you look, large swathes of the population believe that the social security and relative prosperity they used to take for granted are becoming increasingly unattainable. That arouses their anger, which in turn provides the perfect basis for the populist policies of Trump, the Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy, the Alternative for Germany and the Brexit to flourish. Macron's victory in France was supposed to have proven that France is resistant to such threats. Le Pen's populism, however, was a symptom of deeper, structural problems. ... In the flush of victory Macron's camp acted for a year as if these problems didn't exist. Now, at least for the time being, this won't work.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Middle classes are rebelling

Daily Sabah also believes that the middle classes' lack of hope for the future poses a threat to today's democracies:

“The perceived loss of sovereignty pushes European nations toward nationalism. Will they want to unite under a European identity? What type of regime will democracies with troubled middle classes produce? ... The current crisis isn't just Macron's problem. All democracies stand to face more serious turbulence and efforts by various governments to undermine each other will only make things worse.”

Cumhuriyet (TR) /

Justified anger will keep triggering protests

The yellow vests have good reason to be angry, Cumhuriyet points out:

“The people are right to be angry that they are being made to pay for the crises triggered by neo-liberal policies. And it is highly questionable to write this reaction off as fascistic or as vandalism. ... If the yellow vest protests are quashed and their demands swept under the carpet without seeking real solutions to the structural problems, the protest will surface once more in one form or another. As long as unfair distribution of income, unemployment, environmental problems, climate change, migration, migration flows and the digital gap aren't tackled, the announcement of tax breaks for the wealthy, the repeal of dismissal protection and false privatisations that don't serve the public good will continue to provoke such reactions.”

Diena (LV) /

Equality and fraternity are passé

Using brute force against the demonstrators will only make things worse, Diena warns:

“Suppressing the yellow vest protests will not prevent social injustice or the decline of the social welfare state. It won't change the fact that out of freedom, equality and fraternity in France only the freedom remains intact. This is bad news. Not just for France but for all Europe. Because on the one hand France's role in the united Europe is being called into question. And on the other hand Macron's next step towards a capitalist ultra-liberalism will lead to even stormier protests. And sooner rather than later imitators will emerge in other countries.”

Dilema Veche (RO) /

French crisis could be contagious

Romanian-born author Matei Viesnic, who now lives in Paris, stresses in Dilema Veche that the crisis in France must be resolved quickly before it spreads:

“Something unique is happening on this planet, including in the wealthy areas where democracy works. ... The consumer society with its excess of images and 'success models' is well on its way to becoming toxic for the human being. ... Nothing has any value any more unless it is happening in the now and immediately. We must hope that the phenomenon of the 'yellow vests' remains a typically French incident. Over the last three centuries France has been the European champion when it comes to demonstrations, revolts and revolutions. Europe needs a France that calmly resolves its crises before their fever become contagious.”

Fokus (UA) /

The old Europe is disappearing

The protests of the yellow vests must be seen in the context of major political change in Europe, political scientist Iliya Kusa writes in Focus:

“Germany, Spain and France are among the last bulwarks of the traditional Western European elites. And they will remain so for the time being. The 'fuel protests' in Paris must be seen in the context of two other events this week: the regional and municipal elections in Spain, and the election of a new CDU leader in Germany. ... In each case, independently of how the struggle between the old and the new Europe pans out, we will observe the gradual demise of the traditional political environment. In that regard the elections to the European Parliament in the coming year will be very telling.”

Mandiner (HU) /

Hypocritical imitation in Hungary

In Hungary three politicians of the Socialist Party (the MSZP) had photos taken of themselves wearing high-visibility jackets. Writing for Mandiner journalist Robert Puzsér finds this extremely inappropriate:

“In France these yellow vests are setting cars on fire and have attacked police stations because they have had enough of the lies of the elite. They've had enough of getting poorer and poorer while the rich get richer. I would like to point out that in Hungary these three socialist politicians embody exactly what Emmanuel Macron symbolises in France: politics bought up by neoliberalism. They are the face of the MSZP, which since the political transition has fought every day to maximise the profits of the multinationals and to exploit Hungarian society.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Finland not an island of contentment

Even if acts of violent protest like those in Paris seem unthinkable in Finland social peace there should not be taken for granted, warns Kaleva:

“Finland is celebrating its Independence Day today in a situation in which events like those in France seem inconceivable. The public protest threshold was always high here. ... Yet there are things in Finland that cause bitterness. And when enough resentment has built up it can erupt. There is still a large group of people who are marginalised, more than 200,000 people - unemployed, families, pensioners - who live in real poverty. Caring for the poor is always necessary to build an intact, secure society.”

Danas (RS) /

Serbians look on in surprise

In Serbia the people have to put up with far worse than they do in France, Danas argues:

“Seen from the hilly Balkans, very interesting things are going on in France and many parts of developed Europe. The citizens who are dissatisfied with their social situation and political elite are taking to the streets or being roused from their slumber. The French are traditionally the loudest. This has been true from the French Revolution to 1968 to the present day. We survive and put up with things while the rich Europeans criticise, protest and strike. ... And what about the situation here? There are unhappy and angry citizens, but no protests. Serbia, the government says, is making economic progress, so why should we go out and protest?”