France is coming unglued, ostensibly over Macron’s gas tax hikes, but really, over just about everything:
The centre of Paris was on lockdown tonight after masked protesters stole an assault rifle from police, clashed with riot squads and set fire to cars and Christmas trees on the Champs-Elysees in furious demonstrations against the French government.
Protesters said today’s actions were ‘the start of a revolution’ worse than the mass strikes and occupation of universities and factories during the 1968 French Revolution when the country was on the cusp of civil war.
Fires and clouds of tear gas covered the French capital from early morning until late in the evening, in some of the worst violence ever seen in the French capital as more than 5,000 demonstrators brought chaos to Paris for the second week running.
Macron said today’s demonstrations which have left dozens injured and hundreds arrested ‘have nothing to do with the peaceful expression of a legitimate anger.’ He said ‘no cause justifies attacks on police or pillaging stores and burning buildings’.
Meanwhile there were further rallies spiralling across the country, spreading to Marseille, Biarritz and Antibes on the Mediterranean coast and even into the Netherlands.
The protests, named ‘Yellow Vest’ after drivers’ high-vis jackets, began last month amid fury over rising fuel prices but have mushroomed into an all-out challenge to Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
2018 is going to be remembered as the year that discontent with elite policies exploded globally. Globalization has created a kind of fabulously wealthy “stateless” elite class with little in common with the ruled and more in common with each other. But the reverse is also true: because of the globalized nature of our modern world, the backlash against this elite has looked pretty much the same everywhere.
The French are rioting over Macron’s gas price hikes, but they are also tired of years of economic stagnation and failed economic policies, and increasingly flagrant and blatant corruption. The French left are unhappy too – even though Macron is one of them, they want a socialist government now, and not some time in the future.
Some of you may remember the ugly July riots in Haiti. Much like in France, they began over gas price hikes, but quickly spiraled into more generalized anti-corruption protests..Haitians have faced years of failed economic policies, NGOs stealing and misallocating aid money, and corruption. The Haitian president Jovenel Moise is also very unpopular, similar to Macron, and there are questions over whether he will be able to maintain power.
The Brazil truckers strike, while primarily orchestrated by the left, again over gas price hikes. The Brazilian government has been crippled by corruption scandals in the past several years, driven primarily by the left wing populist party of the former president Lula. The “Trump of Brazil,” Bolsonaro, was elected partly as a backlash against this corruption.
In Nicaragua, the same factors again were evident – the protests broke out after unpopular cuts to the country’s social security system, and the country’s population had grown very disenchanted with President Daniel Ortega’s rule, with polls in May showing his approval rating at a dismal 29%.
These outbursts of protests all have a few things in common, and the common factors seem to be a corrupt, unpopular, and out of touch political elite combined with some policy (usually tax hikes, gas price hikes, or benefit cuts) which harms most of a given country’s population. The outcomes might be different – in Nicaragua, the protesters lost and were killed, jailed, or forced to flee, while the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil served as a safety valve to defuse the chaos – but I feel all these events are linked.
We are not done with these explosions of popular anger. In any country with an unpopular leadership that are implementing particularly hated policies, we should keep an eye on the news for outbreaks of riots, chaos, and violence.