“I’m demonstrating for all the pensioners, for the future of my children, for single women, for everything we’re fighting for. I am a gilet jaune. I have the anger of the people in me … it’s always the little people who pay.”
So said Christophe Dettinger. A defender of the people for some, a violent thug for others. Now finding himself in the spotlight after he was videoed punching a riot police officer.
Nicknamed the Gypsy of Massy, the French boxer said he was trying to defend himself and other yellow vesters, but admits “I reacted badly.”
“Through this kitty, we wish to support his family and show him the solidarity of the people of the Yellow Vests, the true French people,” a fundraising page said.
More than £100,000 had been donated before Leetchi, an online fundraising platform and unit of Credit Mutuel Arkea bank, closed it.
“Given the amount reached so far, the pot is no longer accepting contributions . The rest of the money collected will be refunded to the participants when all the legal steps have been financed,” they said.
“Contributing to a fundraising kitty to support someone who attacked an officer is tantamount to being an accomplice to these grave acts of violence,” said Marlene Schiappa, junior minister for equality.
Mounir Mahjoubi, minister for the digital economy, said: “Apparently hitting a police officer makes money. When the attraction of money adds to hatred and violence, I feel only disgust.”
Yellow vesters in reply have pointed out numerous videos showing heavy handed police brutality. One of them shows three riot police officers dragging a man to a quiet road, throwing him to the ground, with seven or so police officers then batooning the protester.
Numerous likewise incidents across the country have been videoed. This uprising, however, has had a violent bent to it, mostly directed towards buildings destructions, usually banks.
One video, for example, shows gas bombs thrown towards protesters, with protesters in turn throwing gas bombs towards riot police.
In the midst of this very tense situation, Luc Ferry, a former French education minister, has suggested bringing in the army.
“Listen, let them use their weapons for once and that will do,” he told Radio Classique on Monday according to the BBC.
With this movement having the support of some 70%-80% of French citizens, it is not clear whether such escalation might risk an outright civil war in the middle of Western Europe.
It is probable all are very closely watching for the Yellow Vests movement has directed its anger towards what they see as favoritism of the rich at the expense of everyone else.
They are therefore questioning the system of the governance of the republic itself. With their primary demand being a Swiss style direct democracy system or a jury like parliament of a sample of ordinary citizens.
Macron has promised a national debate on “ecological, fiscal and institutional questions.” The French prime minister however said yesterday: “Those who question our institutions will not have the last word.”
Reuters now reports: “The official appointed by the French government to lead a national debate over the grievances raised by ‘yellow vest’ protesters quit on Tuesday following a controversy over her salary.
Former sports minister Chantal Jouanno said she could not guarantee conditions for a calm debate as she had become a focus of attention after a news magazine revealed she was paid 14,700 euros (13,225 pounds) per month to head France’s National Commission for Public Debate.”
The debate was to begin next week with no detail provided on how exactly it will be carried out. This peculiar resignation, however, shortly after the Prime Minister’s statement, may raise the question of whether there will actually be a debate.
If there isn’t, then it isn’t clear how a peaceful solution can be found to what is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the current system of governance in France.
If the elite there opts for a less peaceful end, then they risk a significant radicalization of fringes on both the left and the right within France and outside it.
That’s something no one wants, whether king or pauper. The focus, therefore, should be on de-escalation, and on debate, which may well not be calm but at least it will be limited to words.
Regarding the closing of the donations account, which some said should be seized to compensate the riot police officers affected, this may add – rightly or wrongly – to the protesters’ general dissatisfaction with banks.
They are planning a run on the banks. Something they perhaps haven’t thought out very well because who would want to walk with cash amidst riots. A banking collapse, moreover, wouldn’t serve anyone.
Or any sort of collapse. Reforms are needed, but they have to be peaceful and gradual as no one wants to see schools being closed or hospitals.
Grievances can be raised in the debate, including whether banks have far too much power. And although the movement might have a violent bent, it must have an “intellectual” arm that peacefully engages if it actually wants to achieve anything.
Starting with a drawing up of demands. It may well be just one, a Swiss style governance system or a jury like parliament house or it might have a bucket list of demands.
It may also want to put up candidates in addition or alternatively because the movement does eventually need to move off the streets and into halls of debate.
Macron has promised such national debate. The yellow vesters should prepare for it, engage with it, and perhaps even be first to start the debate with a list of demands.
Otherwise this all may end up being for nothing, which would not be very good in the medium to long term for either the elite or citizens for the widespread anger has made it quite clear that peacfull reforms are necessary.