The Strategist

What happened to French Yellow Vests?

07/01/2019 - 12:47

The Yellow Vests movement has not disappeared. The French, dissatisfied with the authorities, hasn’t missed a single Saturday rallying in the streets of Paris and French cities. Now, however, this protest movement is far from as strong as it was at the end of last year. Moreover, it has changed a lot in these eight months.

kriss_toff via flickr
kriss_toff via flickr
Last Saturday, only a thousand people went to the streets of the capital. For comparison, 280 thousand demonstrators took part in the protests in November, when the movement was just beginning. To be fair, it should be noted that record heat is prevailing throughout France.

The decline of the movement can probably be explained not only by the heatwave that engulfed France, but also by the general fatigue and fear of violence on both sides.

At the very beginning, the Yellow Vests was a movement born and raised in anger from the success of a number of large French cities. According to the protesters, they rose through the exploitation of rural areas and don’t even care about the rest of the country.

The Yellow Vests movement is currently changing its shape. The anger persists, but in most cases it has ceased to be a channel for expressing people’s feelings. Not only has the protests weakened in strength and scope, but their composition has changed. They are dominated by left-wing activists. It is not surprising that, in parallel with the decrease in the scale of actions, the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the protesters is growing.

At first the protesters were not concerned with politics, but with expensive gasoline and diesel fuel, low pensions and the high cost of living in general. Now, however, the majority of the protesters are young citizens. Their number is much smaller, and they have other goals - political. Many veterans of the movement disagree with the politicization of the movement that is taking place today.

A split in the movement has also contributed to the weakening of the Yellow Vests. Now there is a completely a parallel community, whose members believe that they don’t belong to the veterans league.

At first the absence of a leader and a leading center seemed to add additional strength to the movement; now it is obvious to everyone that the lack of unity has become almost its main weakness.

Authorities also played a role in the troubles of the protest movement. President Macron was expected to fail in December last year. Yet he survived as a politician, and also passed this very serious test, becoming more powerful and more experienced. The movement decline of the, of course, is explained not only by the fatigue of the demonstrators, but also by the generally skillful actions of President, who in mid-December announced a tax reduction of €17 billion, an increase in pensions and other measures aimed at reassuring the Yellow Vests and bring down the heat of anti-government sentiment.

These measures, by the way, have already had a beneficial effect on the French economy and have increased the purchasing power of the French. Now, rating of Emmanuel Macron has risen much higher than just a several months ago. In the fall of 2018, President Macron’s popularity was at 18%, now it has risen to nearly 40.

However, it is too early to relax. Autumn will probably finally answer the question about the future of the movement. Either it will continue to weaken, for which the authorities naturally hope, and will finally disappear from the political arena of France, or it will take another breath, with the most stubborn Protestants remaining on the streets.