France has been the scene of protests and clashes between police and demonstrators who are protesting a rise in fuel taxes as well as economic inequality in the country. Scenes of police beating the so-called “yellow vest” protesters on the one hand, and the looting of shops and setting them on fire on the other, has changed the image of France as a free country.
Some experts regard the yellow vest movement as a revolt staged by the middle-class citizens that will eventually lead to a change in the country’s political landscape. Some others are of the conviction that the protesters are only rioters seeking adventurism.
What is going on in France today is an issue which has drawn the attention of experts on European issues. There are also a lot of media speculations on how the protests were provoked and how they will play out in the future.
Alexandre Beauvais-Chiva, one of the protesters, has expressed his views on the protests in an interview with the Islamic Azad News Agency (ANA). The highlights of the interview follow.
As the first question, I should ask what you call yourself: a protester or rioter?
In response to your question, I should say we are protesters who are only asking for our legitimate rights. Under the French Constitution, it is completely free and considered as part of people’s rights to hold demonstrations and protests. And we, too, are exercising this legal right and are pressing ahead with our protest legally and peacefully.
But the pictures we saw today of French streets show something else. Shops have been looted, cars have been burned, and there is no sign of peaceful protests.
No! I should say that 99% of yellow vest protesters would like to express their protests in a completely peaceful manner and they refrain from any violence. What media show is related to only one percent of the protesters whose behaviour we do not approve of. Yellow vest protesters demand peace. We will move forward using a completely peaceful approach and will put forward out demands.
What goal are your pursuing by staging the protests? What do you specifically want from the French government?
The first thing that I should say loud and clear is that yellow vest protesters have two general demands: 1. Respect for people and 2. Listening to protesters. It is right that we began our protests by objecting to an increase in taxes on fuel, which heavily affected the lives of middle-class citizens, but now we are no longer protesting against the tax hikes. We are objecting to the concentration of power in one post and position, and that this power is not divided and distributed.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced pledges last month to help improve the economic situation of middle-class citizens. Will you stop your protests if those privileges are offered?
I should say what distinguishes Macron from his predecessors is that he never listens to anybody. Former French presidents always talked to citizens and representatives of different syndicates and received their reports. However, Macron has not listened to any critic over the past 18 months. Yellow vest protesters are not against the government; rather, they only seek their legitimate demands. We are trying to strike a balance in power. The fundamental principles of the French Constitution are equality and freedom. In the past, a worker was able to reach higher levels by trying hard, but that is not the case today. As for freedom, I should say the images you see of the police crackdown on protesters completely show a lack of freedom of speech. In France, only one group of people has freedom and most other people are deprived of this natural and human right. Brotherhood has melted away in recent months, too. The high number of the wounded and prisoners is a testament to that. At the moment, we do not receive proper services in France despite paying high taxes, and this problem is much more serious in small towns than in cities like Paris and Marseille.
In his 13-minute speech, Macron did not talk about the protests by yellow vest demonstrators and only gave some promises. This shows he hasn’t understood the nature of this popular protest movement and has not heard people’s voice. We will continue our protests until they listen to us and meet our demands. We should be respected. We want peace and will continue our peaceful protests. I should say that we have also been inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran, which was against tyranny and was aimed at reaching democracy.