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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Since the Yellow Vests, “repeated crises that we cannot resolve”

LA TRIBUNE – Five years after the emergence of the Yellow Vest movement and the expression of a latent social crisis. What signs are still visible through the interviews you still conduct?

Magali DELLA SUDDA, researcher at Sciences Po Bordeaux / Center Émile Durkheim – Today, the movement no longer exists in its massive form of demonstration on Saturdays and occupation of roundabouts, except in special cases. The azalea roundabout in Reunion is busy night and day, it is a place of life and culture. In the South-West, we have roundabouts still active in Lot-et-Garonne. This form is really sporadic. Many of the participants in the Yellow Vests can be found in the social struggles around pensions. Which is no surprise because in our questionnaires the subject came up among 50% of those questioned.

Bruno CAUTRES, researcher at Sciences Po / Cevipof – I have real doubts that the movement could restart as it was formed at the beginning. The damage is too great in people’s lives, and not just for the mutilated. People who were convicted of damage were marked. Many yellow vests have turned the page. Among media leaders, some felt threatened or were too disturbed by this period. But the problems are still there and in the depths of the country’s memory, everyone remembers these Saturdays.

Have the demands of the movement survived it?

Bruno CAUTRES- Things are not unequivocal. There are effects, as on the demand for direct democracy and referendum, which is on the agenda of the Saint-Denis meetings today. This brings reflections even five years later. But we see that the demand for public order is very important in the country because the politician does not understand that there is an addition of eruptive episodes. These are repeated crises that we cannot resolve.

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Ongoing studies

Around fifty researchers in France are carrying out research projects around the sociology of the Yellow Vest movement. This work, funded by the National Research Agency, notably resulted in the publication in June 2023 of the work directed by Magali Della Sudda, Jean-Pierre Lefèvre and Pierre Robin, entitled “From the waltz of roundabouts to the notebooks of anger”.

The feeling of injustice was again widely expressed this year during the mobilization against pension reform…

Magali DELLA SUDDA – In the survey, the people who responded to us were around 45 years old. These are generations born just before the bicentenary of the French Revolution. These generations were in elementary school when we planted freedom trees, we made them participate in this national story by dressing them in sans-culottes. We must remember the orchestration of Jean-Paul Goude’s parade on the Champs-Élysées, all the more important since people were able to see it on TV. All this to say that we grew up with this idea that the Republic is an emancipatory horizon. Today, we find ourselves in a world which produces more and more wealth but where people do not have the feeling of receiving what they give. Access to public services is difficult, whereas it was self-evident twenty years ago. There is a deep sense of contempt that also comes through in the interviews.

Bruno CAUTRES- I would like to remind you that what we observed in December 2018, when collecting data for the annual Cevipof survey on political trust, was so impressive in terms of distrust. The drops in all confidence indicators were massive, so much so that I consider them to be the extreme limit of confidence that one can have in the institutions of a democratic regime. We were roughly between 20 and 25% confidence, and even 9% for political parties. It’s specific to France. We then observed a connection between the feeling of not being represented, political distrust and felt social injustice. The political system can no longer explain to people this enigma that many people experience: why am I struggling when I live in a rich country?

How did political power react to this shock?

Bruno CAUTRES- I am not saying that politics does nothing, it is certainly not a question of falling into caricature, of saying that we must fire them all, which would be extremely populist. The politician does things, but not up to the level of the country’s wealth and people’s expectations. In the wake of the Yellow Vests, the executive is making attempts, such as “zero remaining charges” for certain health care. But behind it, there still remain crazy inequalities in access to care.

When you look at the political trajectory of Emmanuel Macron and the executive in general, one can wonder if the Yellow Vests have not partly won. The President left the initial trajectory and never found it again, there is a before and an after for Emmanuel Macron as well. There are words from the Macronist universe that have disappeared, like “emancipation” or “progress”. But during the entire 2022 campaign, there is not a moment where he makes a proposal that he heard during the Great National Debate. This reflects for him how difficult it is for him to recognize the limits of his political model.

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How do we view the violence committed during this period?

Magali DELLA SUDDA – When manual workers lose their hands, they lose everything. The honor of workers, carried through the Yellow Vests, is collapsing. Many mutilated people have not been compensated and never will be. We have a recognition problem. However, recognition goes with trust. The bodily experience of what we have seen and experienced will cause us to take physical and financial risks in going to demonstrate.

The issue of violence scared people away from the start, as did the evolution of the themes. When social justice, the question of the redistribution of wealth, ecology and opposition to the violence of the police become demands, part of the Yellow Vests from the start, who were there on a word of The anti-tax order is going away. This is the time when roundabouts are evacuated. It revealed territorial, socio-economic and cultural divides too, it is very clear on ecology for example.

Bruno CAUTRES- This is another source of the social drama that has played out: how can such a rich, developed and democratic country manage a crisis with such damage everywhere? We have all been marked by incredible and terrifying scenes. There remains in society, in a diffuse state, a feeling of greater vulnerability.

How do the past five years show that the initial movement was not anti-ecologist despite its opposition to a fuel tax?

Magali DELLA SUDDA – We have a certain number of people in the investigation who were neo-protesters in 2018 and who we found five years later in Sainte-Soline. It’s something we couldn’t imagine. Joining the cause of basins is not easy, these people say “it concerns me” when they could say that it is only a problem of local agriculture in Deux-Sèvres . This is the case for a significant part of the Yellow Vests who are still active.

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