Yellow vests a year on: what have they achieved?
About 28,000 protesters took to the streets on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the yellow vest protests in France, according to the French Interior Ministry. One year ago just under 300,000 people went out to denounce high petrol prices and social inequalities. Despite dwindling interest in the movement, commentators take the opportunity to reflect on its social and political significance.
Blockades and pressure jeopardise democracy
According to a current poll a majority of French people take a positive view of the yellow vest movement. Ouest-France is appalled:
“This perception of a movement that rejects any kind of organisation, that developed solely via social networks and is incapable of speaking with one voice due to constant internal dissent is surprising. ... It is even dangerous if one considers the precedent the movement has set. In maintaining its strength while having nothing to do with classic frameworks or codes of social dialogue, the yellow vests are showing that it's possible to succeed with nothing more than blockades and pressure from the street. Without parties or unions. And without a net for democracy.”
Yellow vests moving society forward
The yellow vest protesters have set an important process of democratic change in motion, a group of sociologists led by political scientist Bruno Bauraind write in La Libre Belgique:
“The resistance engendered by the yellow vests brings to mind a historic truth: to a large extent we owe the achievements of democracy to popular struggle. In order to survive, humanity today needs to fight a double battle: to radically change the neo-liberal economic policy whose repercussions have caused collossal damage in the past four decades. ... And to radically change political models by daring to engage in a profound form of democracy truly anchored in the values of equality and fraternity. ... The yellow vests one year on! A year of exemplary political courage! Humanity needs them! Let's hope it realises that very quickly!”
What the protesters should do next
Deutschlandfunk recommends that the protesters change their strategy:
“Many yellow vests had hoped that their protests would prompt reflection about the political system in France. A debate that would ultimately lead to greater participation and more direct democracy. But the political system looks the same as it did a year ago. ... As long as Macron has no serious political opponents beyond Marine Le Pen he won't budge from his basic political approach of reforming France from the bottom up. For the yellow vests who call for more social justice this means that they must somehow steer their demands into political channels. They must use the political system if they want to be successful.”
Losers of globalisation making themselves heard
Geographer Christophe Guilluy draws parallels with the rise of populist politicians in other countries in El País:
“This protest is the result of a diagnosis of the negative consequences of an economic model, not of an ideology. This is what makes it comparable to other populist movements in the West: all over the world the losers of globalisation are using populist puppets to make themselves visible. Trump, Salvini and Farage are neither demiurges nor political geniuses, but simply puppets of the ordinary social classes. Those protesting on the street do not have an awareness of belonging to a new proletariat, but they share a common perception of the economic model and the conviction that they are culturally and geographically excluded from the territories that create employment and wealth. This is a reasonable perception that is not the result of manipulation but of real analysis.”