Yellow Vests movement battles repression in France

By G. Dunkel
February 22, 2019

For the 14th consecutive Saturday, tens of thousands of Yellow Vests marched throughout France on Feb. 16. The cops gave the number of marchers as 41,500, while the Yellow Vest movement claimed the figure was 104,070.

While the major focus of media attention was on Paris, there were also significant marches in Rouen, Lyons and Bordeaux, where the main slogan was “Death to the rich.” The cops broke up the march in Bordeaux with water cannons and tear gas grenades. (Le Monde, Feb. 16)

The French government, under highly unpopular President Emmanuel Macron — whose approval index has dipped as low as 24 percent — has attacked the Yellow Vests from three directions: physical, legal and political.

Over 1,700 people have been seriously injured by French cops during Yellow Vest protests, most of them by “flash balls,” hard rubber projectiles copiously fired by the cops, or by GLI-F4 grenades, which combine a loud bang (165 decibels), tear gas and a hard blast. From pictures on Google and Flickr, most of the injuries have been to eyes and limbs.

The intensity of feeling by Yellow Vest protesters is such that even after they have been severely injured, they keep on protesting.

Legal and political reprisals

In legal reprisals, Éric Drouet, a truck driver and prominent member of the Yellow Vests, was recently convicted of organizing two demonstrations in January without “prior notification.” Under the state of emergency in force in France because of the threat of “terrorist attacks,” this charge carries major penalties. Drouet has thus far received only a month in prison, perhaps because of the ferocity of the protests. He has another trial set for June. (Le Huffington Post, Feb. 17)

Christophe Dettinger, an ex-champion boxer, was arrested when he kicked a cop during a demonstration in January and then punched another one, over his shield and through his face mask, down and out. Dettinger was sentenced to a year of prison, though he will be able to work during the day and be locked up at night.

Government political pressure has come down on the Yellow Vests. Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner has regularly denounced the movement in Parliament. On Feb. 14 he announced he was “watching” Christophe Chalençon, a Yellow Vest member, on the far-fetched charge that he was planning a coup and organizing a paramilitary band.

On Feb. 16, a well-known right-wing member of the French Academy, Alain Finkielkraut, got out of a Paris cab when it was stopped by the Yellow Vest march. Protesters recognized him and began calling him a “dirty Zionist.”

Some cops who escorted him out of the crowd said they heard an anti-Semitic epithet, which, if uttered in a public place in France “with the intent to injure or defame someone,” carries a penalty of 12 years in prison and a 45,000 euro fine. However, Finkielkraut did not file a complaint.

Nevertheless, the whole bourgeois political establishment piled on, treating the incident as being essentially anti-Semitic. Those feigning outrage included Emmanuel Macron, his Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Marine Le Pen, head of the Front National — whose roots are anti-Semitic and neo-Fascist — and every other right-wing party. It was a clear case of the French establishment working as hard as they could to take down the Yellow Vests.