Social rift rocks France
BEIJING — The “yellow vest” protests in France have posed a formidable challenge to President Emmanuel Macron.
More than 100,000 French people took to the streets on Saturday, and as of Sunday night a total of 263 people were injured and more than 412 people arrested in what has been described as the worst street violence in France since 1968. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the government was considering imposing a state of emergency to ensure public order and people’s safety.
France is known for its “protest culture”, but why has a riot triggered by an unexceptional rise in fuel taxes turned into a nationwide unrest in just two weeks and become the biggest political crisis for Macron since he came to power?
First, deep divisions in French society have pitted ordinary people against the government. The government’s economic reforms are seen as favoring the wealthy, and as in other countries, “forgotten” people in the process of globalization have increasingly felt insecure, and the rift between those with less education and low incomes and the wealthier intellectuals and technocrats has grown.
They have different understandings of national policies and social systems, and different demands.
Second, a rise in fuel taxes in the context of declining disposal incomes and purchasing power among the less well-off has ignited popular discontent with the government, which has finally turned into a widespread demonstration against it.
Moreover, the “sweeping reforms” launched by Macron have exacerbated the already-wide divisions in society although his reform initiatives are aimed at promoting social transformation, enhancing competitiveness and cutting high social welfare spending.
Such reform measures with an obvious “neoliberal” tinge, however, have touched the “cheese” of many classes and interest groups and increased their sense of loss.
It remains unclear where the weekslong rioting will lead Macron-led France.
However, it will be difficult for him to eliminate the impact of the violence in a short time, and how to rebuild the social order and the government’s authority after the chaos is expected to become a long-term challenge for his government.
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