Yellow Vests Protests, one of the social movements in France, also known as the “Yellow Vests Protests”, or the “Yellow Jackets Protests” aka Yellow Vests Movement. Particularly, what were the grassroots of the Yellow Vests Protest’s sentiments, the strategies of the movement, and the costs and the effects of the movement. How did the government of France respond to the sentiment?
As NPR (2018) news article described, Yellow Vest Protesters initiated as the French President, Emmanuel Macron announced a “green tax on fuel” in 2018 that would be applied in January. This led to the continuous weekly protest in thousands in France. NPR stated that the “Yellow Vest Movement” triggered “political crisis” for the French government. In short, the Yellow Vests Movement was the result of French government policy reform proposals concerning environmental policy (reduce greenhouse gas emission). To explain more, it could be argued that the green tax policy affects several people (long distance drivers vs. high cost of fuel) in France. Policy alternatives concerning the environment, directly impacted long distance drivers from rural regions even if it had environmental benefits. NPR (2018) explained that the movement started in rural provinces and rapidly diffused to the city (Paris) and turned to “riots” that involved “violent civil unrest” in major roads. This demonstrates that Yellow Vest Protesters used violence as the means to achieve their goals (to reverse green tax policy proposal).
In addition, NPR (2018) discussed that the Yellow Vests Movement had caused destruction of property worth $3.4 million. They engaged in “roadblocks”, “…looted shops”, “vandalized buildings”, “ attacked police” , “defaced Arc de Triomphe”, and “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” calling for Macron to “resign” from his power and possibly for the dissolution of the constitution. The protesters used violent strategy to subject president Macron to reverse the new green tax policy to its subjects preferences. Thus, Macron had blamed the ultra-right and far-left parties as the gas lighters to achieve their interest. Here, the opposition parties might have supported the Yellow Vests Protesters to delegitimize the current government and use it as an opportunity to get their policy agenda at the national level that their policy agenda is better than the existing government (Macron). It is plausible to say that opposition parties could have used the Yellow Vests Movements as an opportunity to get legitimacy by undermining the status quo. Thus, violence could be an effective strategy for short-term power gains, but the cost of a high level of repression is likely by the regime.
The World Economic Forum (2020) stated that Macron had “crystalize[d]” the anger of all protesters and their “languages” being more violent. The response of the French government (Macron) was to keep those responsible for the violence in custody. This creates tension between the elected legitimized government and its opposition parties as well as other non-political organizations (unions). This is an example of a cause where democratic erosion could take place. Protesters use violence as means to get a response for their demand and the national government may use its forces to keep law and order. Simply, Macron’s response to the movement would be considered legitimate because the French citizens would support law and order over violence that is caused by Yellow Vests Protesters. The report also mentioned that those far-right extremists and far-left extremists get support from externally (Germany and UK). Both sides of the political spectrum in France were considered Populists under the current regime. This is connected to the argument by Stephan and Chenoweth (2012) about violent resistance and non-violent resistance. The authors’ findings show that non-violent resistance is 53 % times more successful than violent resistance that is 26% of success (pp.8). One of the reasons is that non-violent resistance gets legitimacy both internationally and domestically. Despite this argument, the Yellow Vests Movement decided to use violent resistance as a means to achieve their demand since the president of France, Macron, is less responsive to protestors’ demands. In order to make an argument that non-violent resistance is more effective than violent resistance, then there should be a more democratic and responsive government to the protester’s demands. France’s case indicates that violence cost them for repression, but the level of violence had also returned for an answer from the national government. In other words, even though violence is not legitimate, it may be the quickest way to get attention from the regime. The World Economic Forum described that repression did not fully end the protest in France. There were still protests despite changing their forms (less violent than before). Here, repression by Emmanuel Macron subjected protesters to be less violent, but the resistance continued. Yet, the French government also changed its strategies (changed his attitude on protesters: less blame) and became less threatening against them.
In conclusion, the Yellow Vests movement used both non-violent and violent resistance. In the end, non-violence was more effective.
Cigainero, J. (2018, December 3). Who Are France’s Yellow Vest Protesters, And What Do They Want? NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/2018/12/03/672862353/who-are-frances-yellow-vest-protesters-and-what-do-they-want
Yellow vests, rising violence – what’s happening in France? (2022, May 20). World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/france-protests-yellow-vests-today/
Maria J. Stephan, & Erica Chenoweth. (2012). Why civil resistance works: the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Choice Reviews Online, 49(07), 49–4127. https://doi.org/10.5860/choice.49-4127
McAuley, J. (2019, November 16). ‘Yellow vest’ anniversary: What happened to the movement that shook France? Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/yellow-vest-anniversary-what-happened-to-the-movement-that-shook-france/2019/11/15/3ef43c98-0570-11ea-9118-25d6bd37dfb1_story.html