During 53 consecutive weekends, French citizens from all over the country gathered in the French capital after government officials rejected to meet with them. “We do not want this, but we will keep fighting for our rights until someone from the Government will meet us,” said Antoine, a retired man from the western region of Bretagne (Brittany). “I hate violence, but this is the only way that we have to be heard, as French citizens we have that right,” he adds.
Protests by the “Gilets Jaunes” originally began in mid-November 2018 in reaction to increases in fuel prices and taxes, but have since continuously expanded to a broader and ill-defined set of demands, including the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron. Without a leader, the “Gilets Jaunes” have mobilized people of drastically different opinions, unified mostly by their shared discontent with a rising cost life, using social media to spread calls for demonstrations.
People taking part in the demonstrations, which have included professional vandals (referred to as “casseurs” in French) numbering at least in the hundreds, have ransacked storefronts and banks, set vehicles, and buildings on fire, painted graffiti on landmarks and uprooted the pavement, in neighbourhoods adjacent to the Champs Elysées, the Opera and numerous other popular tourist attractions, while overwhelmed police forces responded by launching tear gas and stun grenades and attempted to disperse protesters with barricades and water cannons.
Since the beginning of the movement, 11 people have died (but none since the end of January), mainly in road accidents. According to the Ministry of Interior, 1944 police officers and 2,495 demonstrators have been injured on the demonstrators' side, many of them as a result of the use of extreme violence by police forces who continue to use controversial LBDs, which is criticized by human rights organizations. According to a study by Mediapart, 2 people have died, 315 people have suffered head injuries, 24 people lost an eye and 5 lost hands due to police violence.
“We are a pacifist movement, we don’t like violence, and it is time for the media to make a difference between many of us and others that come here just to create chaos. Just wearing a yellow vest does not make some a yellow vest,” says Pierre, a retired Parisian. “People like me are worried about the future of our family – what future will they have? This government does not care about the people, and we won’t stop until Macron resigns. It does not matter how long it takes, but Macron is going to go, I can guarantee you that,” he concludes.
The movement continues, and more protests are announced for the coming weekends in France… Will it last through a second year? According to a recent poll, 69 % of the French believe the “Gilets Jaunes” movement is still justified.
Photography: © Omar Havana. All Rights are Reserved
Part of this story has been published in Al Jazeera English