The Paris Riots: What’s Really Happening?

When the world thinks of Paris it tends to think of its iconic landmarks, irresistible patisseries and long stretching avenues filled with lovers strolling carelessly. Fires, overturned cars and armoured vehicles are not so commonly associated with a tourist’s conventional view of Paris.

However, for 8 consecutive Saturdays since November the 17th, Paris has become a hotbed of social unrest as the Yellow Vest protesters descend on the capital. Whilst protests have been occurring in other major cities across France, many people have been travelling to Paris in the hope of amplifying their political visibility. It has become part of weekly life across France to see hordes of people wearing high-vis jackets parading through the streets, blocking off motorways and singing La Marsaillaise.

So, what do they want?

The difficulty in understanding the movement lies in the fact that different protesters have different aims. Initially, the protests began over fuel taxes which the Yellow Vests felt perpetuated pre-existing marginalisation; people living in the poorer outskirts of towns could not afford to travel for work. This, alongside rising living costs, was enough to ignite protests against further economic and social inequality. In its early stages, the movement assembled over a quarter of a million people and had the support of the broader population.

However, many people who initially championed the movement have now distanced themselves from it. Violent clashes with police and the infiltration of the movement by the hard left and right have left the movement with a less favourable image both within and beyond France’s borders. As the sides making up the movement become more extreme, so do its demands. The desired reforms now go far beyond the fuel tax, with some calling for the resignation of President Macron and even a new republic. Many have dubbed Macron ‘president of the rich’ in light of his policies which they feel favour the wealthy.

“The movement is expected to linger for the coming weeks”

In a bid to quell the anger, Macron announced various measures including a backtrack on the fuel tax hike and a freeze on gas and electricity rates. These reforms were largely dismissed by protestors, many of whom have the larger goal of Macron’s resignation in sight. Although protest turnout numbers are dwindling, the movement is expected to linger for the coming weeks. Renewed calls for protests across France unceasingly surface on social media and the apolitical movement continues to draw people from both ends of the political system, united under an anti-government umbrella.

“Parisians continue to live their lives around the protests”

At its core, the Yellow Vest movement began as a legitimate expression of economic grievance. It remains to be seen whether its current incarnation will be the source of its downfall or whether the movement will regain traction. Conspiracy theories, Anti-Semitism and violent insurrectionism plague the group and have ruined what pacifistic protesters hoped would be a tranquil expression of social discontent. Each Sunday, after a pop-up day of chaos, the streets of Paris largely return to normal. Although the surroundings are scattered with graffiti, ash and shattered glass, Parisians continue to live their lives around the protests. As the famous French song says, Paris sera toujours Paris (Paris will always be Paris!)

Anya Mcloughlin

Image credits: Pedro Szekely via Flickr.
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