Everyone but himself: Macron blames social media & Russia for Yellow Vests
3 Feb, 2019
Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.”
Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.
The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.”
First slackers, now trolls
Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin.
His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.
In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” In spring the following year thousands were back in the streets protesting against an education reform that makes it more difficult for students to attend public universities of their choice, and taxes that favored the rich.
Unlike the Yellow Vests which began on November 17, 2018, these did not become a weekly feature of French political life. Nor did they spill into nationwide discontent.
This time not only are the protesters demanding more, but the dismissive tone of the government is helping to only inflame them, not dampen things down.
It took Macron four straight weeks of clashes, tear gas, and cannons all across France to finally address the nation. He did so only after the rallies descended into violent street battles with police, with injuries on both sides and hundreds of protesters detained.
The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage.
But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.
Macron’s Houdini move out of this predicament has been the organization of months-long nationwide debates that are intended to both defuse and diffuse the anger. So far, many of the Yellow Vest leaders have turned down the opportunity to talk, particularly with the latest Macron statements suggesting the president is no more prepared to listen.
On Thursday Macron did try to be more understanding, regretting his arrogance when saying he is a “gilet jaune,” and claiming the past 12 weeks of protests left him scarred as he talked to three major French outlets. The next day however, he altered his tune, slamming the media and blaming the protests on Russian trolls.