Europe faces challenge: Revolt of 'Yellow Vests' - Interview by Bruno Surdel | Eurasia Diary -

21 June, Friday

Europe faces challenge: Revolt of 'Yellow Vests' - Interview by Bruno Surdel

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Europe political agenda was shaken by French protests. Spreading violence and civil unrest in Europe is becoming more serious day by day, and make all to think about the root and solution of the revolt.

Eurasia Diary focused the issue and took an interview by Dr. Bruno Surdel.

Dr. Bruno Surdel is an expert at Centre for International Relations Warsaw.

How the revolt emerged and became so popular?

The French protest movement, called “Gilets Jaunes” or “Yellow Vests” has several sources: first, still too much etatism – deeply embedded not only in the French state tradition but also in the French society. France needs even more decentralization or devolution. The powerful Leviathan is quite naturally expected to resolve all the economic and social woes of the people. Second, social injustice and exclusion: 8.8 mln people are living below the poverty line; this makes around 14% of the population, with 65% from that number living in big cities – according to French statistics. The problem increased with the financial crisis of 2008 and the stagnating economy; these issues have not eased until now. Ordinary people are genuinely angry with the reduction of their purchasing power – and on the other hand - slashing of the wealth tax by the current President Emmanuel Macron who after just 18 months in power is called the „President of the rich”. Very many citizens think he has not done enough for them, and instead he has been trying to play a Napoleon on the international stage - including his climate change agenda – a real problem indeed – but probably a lot of French people from provinces think differently. The fuel tax issue became a tipping point, and people exploded. Third, all the revolt wouldn’t have been possible without the incredibly powerful weapon which is social media.

They – with a little help from their owners who had recently introduced some changes in favour of local news – „created” the might of the „Yellow Vests” movement led by ever new viral videos and posts – and sometimes – equally powerful fake news. Fourth, the new French revolt is of that kind that anybody and everybody can subscribe to: ordinary citizens with their everyday, real grievances as well as extreme left and extreme right wing groups. Each of them have their own issues – genuine or imagined – and all of them can be represented within the „Yellow Vests” movement – which is a truly interesting phenomenon. Hence its success:.They could say: „We, the people”. The problem is, however, the terrible violence – it is hard to accept that level of violence. But this is – unfortunately – the lasting tradition of the protest movement in Western Europe.

Do you think that there is 3rd power behind, or is it possible?

- In my personal opinion, the very source of the French protest movement is genuine people’s grievances and problems they face in their everyday lives. On the other hand, however, social media have become the real battlefield for cyber wars waged by various states, including Russia. Actually, I’m not sure if anybody is standing behind the social conflict in France. But, yes – such a conflict is in Moscow’s interests. The weaker and divided the European countries and societies are – the more opportunities and field for the Kremlin’s „divide and impera” agenda. Interestingly, this is China who is interested in a stronger and more integrated European Union as it fits the economic and strategic interests of the Middle Kingdom.

What did the revolts bring to society and politics?

The French revolts have a very long tradition and quite often they had succeeded in changing the ways the governments were doing their business with the society. At least on the surface and in the short term. But this is the people’s self-awareness that gets the maximum empowerment and boost. This is good for France and good for the civil society there. One should bear in mind that such events and images from them become a fuel for people in other countries too. Recently, the Egyptian authorities have got anxious with the yellow vests on the markets’ shelves… Paradoxically, the globalization is working also for the anti-globalists and all the anti-system forces anywhere and everywhere.

It empowers them. Provides them with a unique fuel. But for France, the whole story is a lesson President Macron had to learn, as he proved to be too inexperienced. Now the French government got humiliated a little bit. Is it too less too late? We’ll see this weekend. Probably, Macron’s speech, contrition and promises will work for a part of the „Yellow vests”. The real aim was to divide them and appease a big part of the movement that knows no unity anyway. But – the problem is – that they saw what they have done is working; the government and president are afraid and had capitulated to some extent. Of course, this is just tactics not any capitulation. The reforms have not been revoked. They are just waiting for „better times”. And, sincerely speaking – France needs reforms. But more fairness and solidarity of the rich is needed.

What does this signal mean for France and Europe? 

I think, a kind of a dreadful post-politics world is coming where social media will be creating social movements more than the people themselves. Kind of „Matrix world”. The danger is that any change in social media algorithms made by social media owners, creators and masters will cause social havoc. Real world may – and already can – be steered by the new overlords: social media owners. On the other hand, 2019 year is going to be a real test for all those „Anger groups” living in their virtual worlds and exploding occasionally into the streets. I would prefer instead of violence they go to the polling stations and took part in the elections to the European Parliament next spring. But I’m afraid that very many of those „angry people” will choose staying home instead. Voting is not that spectacular and eye-catching as the live-streaming from demonstrations or riots. It has no chance to become „viral”. So will the people and voters care? I still hope. This is the way we can change the course of European politics. It must be done anyway. „The time is ripe.”

Interviewed by Ulvi Ahmedli

Eurasia Diary

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