Yellow vests: tense mood before next protests

The French government is cracking down after yellow vest protests turned violent last Saturday. It has announced partial bans on demonstrations and is not excluding the possibility of making preventive arrests again. Counter-terrorist army units are also to be deployed to protect certain locations. Journalists ask what effect this hard line will have and what image France is projecting.

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Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Perfect basis for an authoritarian successor

Dagens Nyheter expresses concern about the Paris government's hard line:

“According to Gaspard Koenig from the think tank GenerationLibre, Macron is in the process of creating a 'democratic despotism' in which public order will always win out against the rights of the individual. ... Macron is considered a liberal. That's correct, especially when you compare him with Marine Le Pen. But the president also has an anti-liberal side. ... Running riot on the Champs-Elysées is not permissible: vandals must be locked up, that's clear. But a liberal president who oppresses his opponents paves the way for an authoritarian successor.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Macron and Castener seem unsure

The plan to deploy soldiers against the yellow vest protesters on Saturday testifies to how helpless the government is, Der Standard concludes:

“The most radical yellow vests in particular like to attack the symbols of the state: they rioted around the Arc de Triomphe and rammed the entrance to a ministry building with a forklift. Are the soldiers placed there supposed to use their weapons in such cases? Interior Minister Christophe Castaner seems unsure. He allowed the Champs-Élysées to be overrun by the mob. He is exaggerated by ordering rubber bullets and then he left the field to the ultras. Macron also comes across as unsure, young and inexperienced now. The president is losing his natural authority when it's most needed.”

Libération (FR) /

France is angrier than other Western states

French society is deeply divided, Libération sighs:

“The spectacle of violence, destruction and pillaging delivered on Saturday by the yellow vests' demonstration on the Champs-Elysées shows the world a convulsive, irascible, divided and deeply unstable France. These images are being broadcast around the clock on news channels and social networks across the globe. The 'most beautiful avenue in the world' is now prey to rioters, vandals and arsonists, and has become the parable of France in the 21st century. Of course, democracy implies opposition, contradiction, and confrontation. But here the rifts are far more brutal and deep than in most other countries of the West.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Now is the hour of the moderates

Although violence as such is to be condemned the excesses during the demonstrations could have a positive impact, political scientist Angelo Panebianco argues in Corriere della Sera:

“The violence of the extremist fringe groups could have positive effects for the movement because it forces the government to distinguish between violent protesters and so-called 'moderates', in other words those in the movement who don't resort to violence. This could open up unexpected leeway to those activists who describe themselves as moderate because it puts them in a position to potentially serve as a reference point for the government should negotiations take place. The government in fact needs negotiating partners within the movement in order to isolate and defeat violent protesters.”

Politiken (DK) /

Macron was elected to change the country

Politiken warns President Macron against overreacting and explains what his focus should now be:

“It was jolly clever of the president to take the yellow vests seriously by initiating a national dialogue. ... Now that it's over it's time to show that its messages are being heard and understood in the golden chambers of Elysée Palace. That's no easy task because the yellow vests have so many - and such diverse - demands. But Macron was elected on the promise of changing France and leading the country out of its years of political standstill. Now he must show that he can keep his promises - so that even the less privileged sections of society will see that their voice is being heard.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Did someone say revolution?

The yellow vest movement is counter-revolutionary, Le Soir writes:

“A monster is being created, with far-left wings, far-right paws, a fascist-identitary beak, anarcho-libertarian fur, and the claws and fangs of a predator. When it's hungry it devours democracy. It is 'revolutionary', its participants say. Counter-revolutionary, more like it. Because it's 'reactionary' in all its forms, and doesn't hesitate to take advantage of this free-for-all. All of the polls show: there is now a desire for order, a conservative resurgence, and an increase in all forms of intolerance and hatred. If elections were held today the centre-right, right and far right would receive 65 percent of the vote. The left, including the centre-left, would drop to 24 percent, its worst result ever. Did you say 'revolution'?”

Le Figaro (FR) /

The unbearable lightness of LREM

Macron and his government have failed right down the line, Le Figaro rails:

“Faced with the threat of a 'black Saturday', the government has demonstrated a negligent insouciance. Its lack of foresight coupled with its inability to stop the rabble-rousers from causing trouble leaves one dumbfounded. The whole day long the police and gendarmes were overwhelmed and harassed, intimidated and attacked. Not once did they appear able to control the situation or stop the chaos. ... The entire strategy for maintaining order must be reviewed and corrected. For the past four months since the 'yellow vest' movement started it has been revolting to witness such havoc. It is intolerable that the executive has been unable to rise to the challenge.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Complicity destroying credibility

For La Libre Belgique the non-violent majority of protesters are also to blame for the violence:

“The most naive will continue to believe that rioters have infiltrated a legitimate protest movement. The realists will realise that the yellow vests who are not resorting to acts of violence have not distanced themselves from them either. Worse still: when they're not committing them themselves, they condone them. Such culpable complicity has definitively ruined what little credibility and legitimacy the movement still had. Because how can we accept it when anarchists and professional rioters transform the Champs-Élysées each Saturday into a playing field?”

Der Standard (AT) /

France in a shambles

The yellow vests are getting out of hand and becoming a threat to democracy, Der Standard comments:

“Ingrid Levavasseur, who campaigned for a list for her party in the European elections in May, is being maligned and harassed by members of her own movement. Most yellow vests also refused to take part in Emmanuel Macron's two-month-long 'grand débat'. For that reason this very innovative and creative national therapy session has only been partially successful. In social policy terms too, France is in a shambles. At the start the yellow vests enjoyed widespread support. Now, however, the movement has deteriorated to become nothing more than a radicalised, at times even anti-parliamentarian mob. This is poison for the country's national cohesion. Its lower middle class is impoverished and turning increasingly to political nihilism. Never in recent decades were France's institutions and democratic ideals in a worse state than they are now.”