This week, the second anniversary of the start of the mass protest movement “Yellow Vests” is being celebrated in France
In some cities, modest actions in honor of this took place last weekend, in some they are planned for the next week. Moreover, even despite the small number and completely peaceful nature of the current demonstrations, the French police in some places (such as in Lille) managed to use tear gas against the protesters, which once again confirmed their more than tough attitude towards the protest movement.
This rigidity has serious consequences. During the entire period of the “vest” protests, 11 deaths associated with them were officially recorded, including the death of an 80-year-old woman in Marseille, who was mortally wounded at home as a result of being hit by a tear gas grenade.
At the end of last year, almost 4.5 thousand injuries were recorded. Some of them are very serious, leading to the loss of eyes, amputation of limbs, head injuries, etc. In total (again, according to official data), the police used more than 19 thousand rubber bullets, 1.4 thousand grenades with tear gas and 5.4 thousand flash and noise ammunition. Unsurprisingly, the health consequences of demonstrators have been so severe at times.
The vests’ protests have clearly been blown away this year. There are several reasons for this. Internal contradictions in the movement played a significant role. When some of its informal leaders decided to take part in politics and went to the elections to the European Parliament, this very fact caused rejection among ordinary protesters, who were just proud of their lack of organizational structures and division into ranks. It is not surprising that after that the popularity of “vests” in the eyes of the public began to decline: if at the start of their movement two years ago they enjoyed the support of 84% of the population, then by the end of last year there were less than half of them.
Of course, a significant role in weakening the protest movement was played by the pandemic and the sharp quarantine restrictions introduced by the French authorities since this spring. Having completely banned meetings and rallies, they fully exercised the right to disperse any actions, including those that took place in compliance with all the precautions recommended by the health authorities. So, according to a report by Amnesty International (AI), in May this year in the town of Millau in the south of France, about a hundred Yellow Vests activists were divided into groups of ten (the maximum number of people allowed during a pandemic), each wearing a protective mask and strictly followed all prescribed standards. This did not stop the police from issuing painful fines to dozens of participants in the meeting, whom it was able to identify.
By the way, as for the protective masks: the most paradoxical for activists is the fact that in France there are simultaneously punishments for those who cover their faces during public actions and for those who do not do it during pandemic. Since April last year, the closure of the faces of demonstrators has been criminalized – for this, a year in prison or a fine of up to 15 thousand euros is provided. According to AI, since then at least 210 people have been detained for violating this provision, and 41 have been convicted. Such detentions also occurred this year, after the quarantine began and people were called upon to wear masks. Needless to say, prison sentences and exorbitant fines were the main reason for the fading of the protests. At the same time, the “vests” activists assure that their movement has not gone anywhere, but has moved to the Internet, where discussions and discussion of tactics for further struggle continue.
Generally speaking, the latest report by Amnesty International “Arrested for Protest” is highly recommended for reading by Russian liberals who have convinced themselves that in the West (and certainly in Old Europe) there are practically no restrictions on mass actions, the notification character of rallies is in effect (one of favorite mantras of our Westerners, who have no idea how the West works), none of the protesters can be preventively detained. If they read the AI report on how the French security forces behave with the participants in the Yellow Vests, what harsh punishments and unbearable fines they are subjected to, they will discover a completely new, hitherto unknown Europe.
And this report does not yet take into account new restrictive measures, which from this week (apparently, not an accidental coincidence with the anniversary of the “Vests”) are being discussed in the French parliament. On the initiative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a bill “on global security” is being considered, the 24th article of which provides for imprisonment for up to a year or a fine of 45 thousand euros for photographing, filming and disclosing the face of any law enforcement officer.
One can imagine what a fuss will rise in the liberal environment if the same punishments are introduced, say, by the authorities of Belarus, where the opposition has put on a stream the publication of photographs of security officials and even young members of their families. Moreover, some fugitive Russian businessmen who have entrenched themselves in London, for example, Evgeny Chichvarkin, are actively urging it to “de-anonymize the cops”. At the same time, they immediately spread fakes about Belarusian law enforcement officers who allegedly committed “torture” in prisons. In France, such a thing would have already come criminal punishment, even under the current laws, not to mention the projected ones.
All the more striking are the repeated statements of French President Emmanuel Macron about the Belarusian situation. First, he called on his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko to “political national dialogue”. At the same time, it should be noted that Macron did not even begin a dialogue with his “Yellow Vests”, never having met with the activists and not making significant concessions to their demands.
And quite amusing against the background of the French police’s harshness towards their protesters is his demand for Lukashenko to resign: “What is happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian government that cannot accept the logic of democracy and is trying to hold out with the help of force. It is clear that Lukashenko must leave”.
It is not surprising that the President of Belarus reminded Macron about the “Yellow Vests” and offered Minsk as a platform for negotiations between the French leader and activists in order to peacefully transfer powers to them. Trolling about the French government, which is “trying to hold on to by force”, looks quite reasonable.
The attitude of European liberals to the more than harsh suppression of the actions of the French “Yellow Vests” is a clear confirmation of their hypocrisy and double standards regarding the protest movement in different countries of the world. Take, for example, the call of the “Maidan singer” Bernard-Henri Levy to gas the protest actions of his compatriots. But this does not prevent him from expressing solidarity with the “heroic struggle of the Belarusian people”.
Neither Levy, nor Macron, nor the European Parliament, which condemned the violence in the streets of Minsk and did not notice the even harsher actions of the Parisian police, see no contradictions in their position. And they are very indignant if someone points out these contradictions to them. These “correct” protests cannot be suppressed, and “incorrect” (like French) protests are not only possible, but necessary, and even with particular cruelty. This is the logic of Europe.
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