Disaffected crowds clad in yellow vests and Guy Faux masks have overrun many of France’s streets in a demonstration against Macron’s leading environmental policies, which would see a fuel tax increase at a time when the average French citizen’s take-home pay increasingly falls behind their cost of living. During the last two weeks, though, protests have evolved into a widespread anti-government assault that has defaced several of the country’s prominent landmarks.
Nationwide protests have left cars burned and store windows smashed in some of Paris’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Broken glass and gas canisters litter the ground. As of December 2, at least three people have died in the unrest across the country. Over 260 people were wounded nationwide, with at least 133 of them in Paris, according to the prefecture police. About 412 people have been arrested.
Reporters have noted that the “Yellow Vests” (Gilets Jaunes) are predominantly men in their 30s and 40s. In some areas, the protest movement has united members of the far right and far left for the common cause of opposing Macron’s administration. Because of the turmoil, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Sunday, December 2, that he and the president have not ruled out declaring a state of emergency in the country. (Following the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, the president’s ability to do so was greatly expanded.)
On Saturday, Macron returned to Paris from the G20 summit in Argentina to inspect the damage wrought upon some of the city’s cultural landmarks. The Arc de Triomphe was a target of violence, as was the high-end Champs-Elysées. Protesters graffitied the landmark’s exterior and ransacked its interior, destroying a statue of Marianne (a symbol of the French Republic) according to security footage.
Vandalism spread across the famous Tuileries gardens and into the Place de la Concorde. Cars smoldered after being set alit in front of the famous Orangerie and Jeu de Paume galleries; the latter of which had its glass windows smashed in by some demonstrators. Protests also forced many of the city’s museums to shutter their doors on Saturday. The Grand Palais has closed its doors for the last two Saturdays because of the Yellow Vests demonstrations. The Petit Palais also closed. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs closed its entrance on the Rue de Rivoli, obliging visitors to enter via its secondary, back entrance near the Tuileries gardens. And for security reasons, the Musée Nissim-de-Camondo in the 8th arrondissement closed its doors early at 4pm.
However, civil unrest did not have a big affect on the Parisian auction world. Artcurial auction house, located on the Champs-Elysées, has had its Saturday auctions interrupted for the last two weeks but still made a healthy profit on its rescheduled Sunday auction, which surpassed $1.48 million.
‘‘What happened today in Paris has nothing to do with the peaceful expression of legitimate anger,” Macron said on Saturday. “Nothing justifies attacking the security forces, vandalizing businesses, either private or public ones, or that passers-by or journalists are threatened, or the Arc de Triomphe defaced.”
Public opinion polls in the last week suggest that somewhere between 70 to 80% of French people sympathize with the contention of the Yellow Vest protesters that Macron “talks about the end of the world while we are talking about the end of the month.” The comment underscores a dissonance between Macron’s policy agenda and the primary concerns of most French people, who have increasingly seen their take-home pay fall behind their living costs. Like the United States, France has also contended in recent years with rising inequality and financial instability for its lower and middle classes.