Is This the Beginning of a European Spring?
Well, no. At least the protests that were ignited in Paris, France have a long way to go before they can be considered a proper revolutionary protest.
Though it would be hard not to admit that the yellow vests protest very much like the insurgents of France’s recent past (we’re all looking at you 1968!), the threat is not leading towards a total government shutdown as it did back then. It is yet to be seen whether Macron will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors -from Charles de Gaulle to Francois Hollande, in falling victim to street uprisings and violence. The French government, both on the presidential and prime ministerial level, looks pretty helpless at the moment. Although they have taken a step back, and agreed to postpone (read: cancel) their decision to hike the fuel tax, the government can’t seem to be able to find anyone to talk to on the other side. The Turkish saying “You have to smash the head of the snake while it’s young” doesn’t apply here as the Yellow Vests are still without an apparent leader -or at least, a negotiating body. There were some interlocutors that seem to step forward, but they were quickly pulled back by other protesters who are adamant on not being tied to a political party, ideology or a social group.
Nevertheless, the protests have seen some (minor, compared) initial signs of spreading, none of the reflections weigh nearly as much as the one still burning Paris. And what sets them particularly apart from the one in France, is that they all seem to be connected to right-wing parties and political groups -which is a bit unnerving. Famous French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy recently wrote a column at Project Syndicate (https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/yellow-vests-or-brown-shirts-by-bernard-henri-levy-2018-12) urging the protesters to “flush out” the violent “brown vests” who he says will be circulating around them shortly.
The takeover of the protests by the far-right political wing in France is highly likely. Just look at Marine La Pen urging her supporters to occupy (OCCUPY!) Champs-Elysees, and the response she received last Saturday.
The hijacking of the movement by the right has examples popping all over Europe:
In Serbia, there was a member of the nationalist right-wing Dveri opposition party who put on a yellow vest at the Serbian Parliament to protest against rising fuel costs. He warned his government against fuel rate hikes, threatening “yellow vests marching on the streets of Belgrade and Serbia.”
In Belgium, there was a small-scale protest of 300 to 400 people chanting right-wing slogans along with calls for more regulations on fuel prices while burning police car and marching towards Rue de la Loi, where most EU institutions reside.
In Germany, there were some protests as well organized by the right-wing, and particularly by the Right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose Sayn-Witthenstein praised the protests in France, and urged her country-folk to imitate their French neighbor’s “sense of style”, asking them to wear yellow.
Spain, which according to some analysts, is the next country where we should expect an insurgency move in large-scale, saw protests in Madrid by people who call themselves “Chalecos Amarillos” (yellow vests).
And there are surely more to follow soon.
When I spoke with my relatives living in Paris last week (and they can be considered a proper middle-class bourgeois family) they said they were not fazed by the protests, and that the protesters were putting the blame of at least two decades of politics on Macron. They said they didn’t find it fair. That may be, coming from a relatively well-to-do middle-aged couple, but in France, for the struggling classes, Macron seems to have turned into a “president for the rich.” It’s hard to blame them. Macron, after all, replaced a comprehensive wealth tax with a less damaging real estate tax for the rich. Also, his international image as a “rising world-leader” does not seem to be faring well with the French population. The hike in fuel taxes was presented with the best intentions possible. The move was aimed at decreasing France’s dependency on high-emission carbon fuels, and funneling the country towards a more renewable future. But for the average struggling citizen, this was a perfect example of how disenfranchised the ruling class was from the general population. The inexperienced Macron failed to see how a tax intended to reduce vehicle use, something indispensable to most urban French, was to become the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The French Government’s stance against the protests in the coming days is more crucial than ever. The fourth Saturday of protests, which is in two days, promises to bring in more people and more destruction than ever. It will be very interesting to see what the government will do to avoid a simultaneously more concentrated and spread-out protest.
As for the question to whether a similar protest may broaden all the way to Turkey, the answer is “very unlikely.” The Turkish folk seem to be content with their own economic destruction that is still being denied by the Turkish government -to this day! Even Turkey’s last-minute efforts to curb inflation by year-end so they can extend a merely modest wage hike by playing the numbers game doesn’t rile up the crowds over here, it is hard to say what will.