I’m sure you must have heard about the rioting that’s been going on in Paris this weekend. The perpetrators are the Gilets Jaunes, which the UK news programmes are translating as ‘yellow vests’, although ‘yellow waistcoats’ is more accurate. Under French law drivers have to carry a fluorescent yellow safety gilet in case of breakdowns. Of the car, not the person. The jacket must be put on before you leave your vehicle to erect your safety triangle, warning other road users that there’s a hazard ahead, at least 30 metres from the scene of the problem.
The Gilet Jaune protest began mid-November, with its initial focus being the hike in fuel prices. It has got pretty daft here in France: the price just goes up and up as more and more tax is slapped on fossil fuels. Another big rise is coming in January 2019. Yes, we’ve got to act to prevent a worsening of climate change, but this knee-jerk price-hiking isn’t necessarily the best way. All it’s really doing is penalising rural dwellers who have absolutely no alternative to a car. In our case, our nearest bus-stop is 13 km away, and nearest tiny train station 20 km, although there is an extremely limited service in both cases of one or two buses/trains each day. The nearest functional rail station is 45 km in Gueret, but again that offers a very limited choice of destinations. Mainline stations are at Chateauroux and Montluçon, each an hour’s drive away. Without a car we can’t even access public transport.
This is the case in much of rural France: you just can’t manage without a car. It’s a different case in cities with their fabulous public transport networks. And yes, the government’s right to try and encourage lazier people to use this public transport by making a short walk to it rather than just climbing into the car. I can see that hitting people financially is sadly one of the few methods that might actually work, since appealing to someone’s better nature to act for the good of the planet doesn’t seem to have much impact. But I can also see that hitting people financially is mainly going to hurt the rural dwellers, like us. For that reason I originally had a lot of sympathy with the Gilets Jaunes.
But that’s changed. The criminal activity they’re engaging in, such as burning cars and threatening or actually hurting others, is totally unacceptable. But I was already going off them before this weekend’s disgusting spectacles. Chris and I were in Boussac on Thursday, and so were a couple of Gilets Jaunes. They were simply standing in the street, handing out leaflets in an acceptable and polite peaceful protest. We took a leaflet. One side lists their values which call for a revolution in terms of persuading the government to change their aims and actually start listening to le peuple, and cites non-violence and solidarity as the means of achieving this. I was very impressed with that.
However, on turning the leaflet I found the statement: Les gilets jaunes ne sortent pas que pour la [upwards arrow symbol] de l’essence. I stumbled over this to start, because of that ‘que’ which here means ‘only’. I thought they were saying they were only coming out to protest against fuel rises. But then I worked out it means ‘The GJs do not come out only for the rising price of fuel’, and that’s backed up by the long list of woes beneath it, which seem to cover pretty much everything from TV licences to burial costs. From one clear point of contention, it now seems that anything goes as a means to start protesting. That’s diluting their power as a protesting group whilst opening it up to thugs to jump on board with any trumped-up grievance as means of justifying their actions.
Generally the Gilets Jaunes are being peaceful, certainly around here. However, they’re still causing damage by burning pallets at roadsides and on roundabouts, which will cost taxpayers money to repair. A load of cars were parked on one of Gueret’s roundabouts on Friday, which will be ruining it and again calling for expense to regrass it. It’s not OK to cause damage to public property just because you think you’re right. And holding me up in my little Sandero when I’m en route to collect Ruahri from lycée for the weekend is hardly going to upset Monsieur le Président, just inconvenience someone who has absolutely no influence on politics whatsoever as I can’t vote in general elections. Some people have suffered severe delays, and again, I doubt M Macron was put off his morning croissant. And trashing Paris is not the answer either.
People have a right to strike and protest in this country, and I respect that, but other people surely have the right to not be adversely affected by these same strikes and protests. Frankly the Gilets Jaunes protest, however well-intentioned it was to begin with, is just becoming an out-of-hand mess and will result in alienating le peuple rather than bringing them on-side.
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