News Analysis: "Yellow Vests" symptomatic of sickness that eats at participative democracy

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-13 00:35:06|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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PARIS, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- There is reason to believe that the social concessions made by French President Emmanuel Macron, in his address to the nation on Monday, will not be enough to calm the anger of the "Yellow Vest" protesters, an unprecedented movement which, beyond concerns about spending power, appears to be a symptom of a sickness eating at participative democracy in France but also abroad.

In a brief address broadcast to some 23 million French citizens, Macron, while not giving in, made concessions to the protesters who, for almost a month, have been mobilizing an unprecedented movement on social networks without connection to either political parties or trade unions.

In response to planned fuel tax increases, some 290,000 protesters throughout the country took to the streets on Saturday of Nov. 17 wearing fluorescent yellow vests, which all motorists must own. The protests resumed the following Saturday, and rapidly grew to include demands for measures to increase spending power.

Saturday Dec. 1, the third major day of demonstrations, saw violence break out in several places, especially in Paris, where the Arc de Triomphe and several upscale neighborhoods were ravaged by urban warfare. Last Saturday afternoon, despite calls for calm and a massive deployment of forces of order, supported in Paris by armored vehicles, clashes erupted in the French capital and several other French cities.

On Monday, Macron, speaking for the third time during the "Yellow Vests" crisis, the impact of which is beginning to be felt on the French economy, declared a "state of economic and social emergency" and announced fiscal measures worth between 8 billion and 10 billion euros, already provoking concern in Brussels regarding the French budget deficit.

"The salary of a worker at minimum wage will rise by 100 euros a month from 2019 without it costing a euro more for the employer," declared the French head of state.

Macron also announced that pensioners earning less than 2,000 euros per month would be exempt from certain controversial social taxes, taxes on overtime pay would be abolished, and employers would be asked to pay year-end bonuses.

The symbolic demand -- repeated over and over by the protesters -- to reinstate a wealth tax (ISF), which was partially revoked in 2017, was ruled out by Macron. This did not appear to go down well with the protesters, many of whom believe that Macron, despite his concessions, is a "president of the rich" who acts with arrogance and does not understand them.

Throughout France, several protesters kept up their blockades throughout the night, and stayed active on Tuesday, arguing that the president was offering them "breadcrumbs" only and that the schism was definitive.

While the price of fuel appears to have lit the fuse in France, the "Yellow Vests" movement is not merely a protest against stagnant spending power, and it should not be forgotten that this movement feeds on a general defiance towards the political classes.

This profound crisis of participative democracy is not a new problem, but it has become endemic, as can be seen in the growing number of abstaining votes in different elections, in France but also in other democracies. Many political scientists have already sounded the alarm, underlining that Macron was only elected by 20 percent of eligible French voters.

Even if it is too soon to come up with a sociological analysis of the movement, the explosion of anger and despair expressed by the "Yellow Vests" undeniably reflects latent frustrations, anxiety about the future and a deep feeling of injustice in the ranks of post-industrial society's 'new proletariat' which, through the collective dimension of individual tragedies, seems to have acquired the premises of class consciousness.

The calls for social justice, dignity and democracy made in a dispersed manner by the "Yellow Vests" is even more difficult to hear and understand because the movement has no organizational structure and does not actually want one. Hence the absence of legitimate representatives and specific demands.

The social networks have enabled the movement to logistically organize itself, but they did not allow for the emergence of sufficiently legitimate leaders to engage in a dialogue with the government, plunging the latter into a difficult situation.

The French government would probably like to see the movement lose steam and public opinion shift on the eve of the year-end holidays. But for now the future remains uncertain, and whatever the result of the "Yellow Vests" movement in the coming weeks, the roots of their anger will not disappear.