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Yellow Vests Protests

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Yellow Vests: could there be a summer truce?

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Yellow Vests protest at the Eiffel Tower on 30 March 2019 REUTERS/Charles Platiau

As the Yellow Vests completed their 25th week of protests, the movement has significantly dwindled. Will the arrival of summer usher in a well-deserved break for protesters, police and the people?


For the 25th consecutive week of protests on Saturday, the Yellow Vests held three marches in Paris on 4 May, including a 'Media March', where demonstrators visited major French television and radio stations, accused of biased coverage.

Demonstrations were also held in the city of Lyon and in the southern French towns of Montpellier and Toulouse.

The numbers were significantly down on previous weeks. At 14h00 CET, just 1,000 marched in Paris and only 3,600 in all of France, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior. The protestors claim the number was higher. But it was certainly a significant drop from the 300,000 involved in the first weekend of protests last November.

The marches were generally much calmer than in previous weeks, possibly also due to the fact that wintery weather had returned to Paris and enthusiasm was possibly waning after the May Day clashes with police.

LIVE ON TWITTER: the 25th consecutive week of Yellow Vest protests

May Day hangover

After the May Day demonstrations - when the Yellow Vests were joined by France's trade unions, climate marchers and other disgruntled protesters - the gilets jaunes seem to be on their own again.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched across France on 1 May, some honouring France's May Day tradition with the lily of the valley flower, others with signboards, and a few stray 'Black Blocs' with their proverbial mayhem.

An incident at a Paris hospital sparked false claims of an 'attack' by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner

The Black Blocs, sideline hardliners who have been infiltrating the Yellow Vests right from the start, have frontlined media coverage with their acts of vandalism.

Notable scenes of destruction included the desecration of the Arc de Triomphe, a violent break-in at the French government's spokesman's offices and looting of high-end shops.

Then, there was the burning of Le Fouquet's, the elite restaurant on Paris's Champs Elysées avenue, a symbol of France's pampered 'elite' - politicians, businessmen and high-profile journalists.

This all adds up to half a year of protests, vandalism, social media frenzy, debate and dissatisfaction.

But, for Act 25 of this endless theatrical odyssey, the question on everybody's lips is 'how much longer can it keep going?'

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters thrown by police at Place de la Republique on February 2, 2019 in Paris, on the sidelines of a march called to protest against police violence Zakaria ABDELKAFI/AFP

Numbers drastically falling

One would expect that with the coming of spring and better weather, more Yellow Vests would be seen on Saturdays amidst the summer-clad tourists in central Paris

However, even if the Yellow Vests have been faithfully hitting the streets every Saturday for nearly six months now, figures show that since April, numbers have been dramatically dwindling.

This may be attributed to two reasons:

Firstly, despite an initial smattering of reforms that only added fuel to the gilets jaunes' fire, French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have wisened up.

Over the past few months, he has proposed many reforms addressing the meagre revenue of France's working and rural middle classes, who claim they cannot make ends meet.

Crucial to this series of government reforms was the Grand Debate, where Macron rolled up his sleeves and spent months touring France's forgotten towns and villages.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference to unveil his policy response to the yellow vests protest, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

He put in many hours in the true tradition of French 'debate', ostensibly reaching out to town councillors, people's representatives, the retired, and other groups who feel left behind by the young President's political stance.

The conclusion of the Grand Debate was a series of revolutionary reforms which promised a government overhaul.

But, as fate would have it, on the night that Macron was to proudly announce the measures on national television, a fire ravaged Paris' Notre Dame cathedral, and the complaints of the Yellow Vests were momentarily forgotten.

 

Notre Dame vs the people?

After the Notre Dame dust cleared, the Yellow Vests expressed their amazement at the huge amount of donations that went into the cathedral's reconstruction, and lamented that a national heritage monument was deemed more important that the plight of the suffering masses.

Macron came back on national television a few days later to announce his reforms.

The reforms, to be fair, did address many concerns of the Yellow Vests. There were tax cuts, benefits for the retired, and even a shutdown of the ENA school, often pointed out as a breeding ground for France's elite.

A keyYellow Vests' demand had been ignored, namely a government system led by a citizens' referendum. But Macron's reforms seemed to have appeased a large number of protesters.

The Yellow Vests started deserting the streets.

Jerome Rodrigues (L) and Eric Drouet (R), two of the leading figures of the Yellow Vests movement at a press conference on 30 January, 2019 in Paris AFP/Bertrand Guay

Sacred summer

Another reason that may explain the fall in Yellow Vest numbers is the advent of summer.

As anyone who has lived in France will know, summer holidays are a sacred ritual in the country.

Regardless of political circumstance, rich and poor, old and young rush to get a piece of sunshine on France's summer beaches - from temperate Brittany in the West to the Mediterranean sun in the South.

Summer in France is, indeed, a time for truce. A time where left and right-wingers rub shoulders on bright cafe terraces, burying the hatchet until the weather cools down.

One wonders if this summer truce, along with Macron's reforms that seems to have addressed many gilets jaunes concerns, will see the movement slow down to a mere trickle this summer?