France's Emmanuel Macron, who was elected as the new president in November 2018, sharply raised oil taxes with the aim of preventing environmental pollution. In response, the French people began to protest. At the protest, French people wore yellow vests and raised strong complaints against the government. From this beginning, the yellow vest protesters continue to be a global issue. Let's find out about the yellow vest in France and how the yellow vest movement spread around the world.
What is the yellow vest demonstration?
In France, some drivers wearing fluorescent yellow vests demonstrated against the government's increase in oil taxes. The fluorescent yellow vest was made mandatory to be placed in vehicles in case of an accident by the French government, and the yellow vest protesters symbolized the lower classes particularly drivers. The protest started from drivers' resistance to higher fuel taxes, as well as various lower class participations in the protests as a resistance to the government’s political reform. As the protests expanded, the yellow vest became a symbol of protests around the world. When the people protest against the government, demonstrators often participated with 'yellow vests'.
The yellow vest demonstration was sparked by the resistance about a reform plan to raise oil taxes that President Macron's government announced in December 2017 as a plan to prevent pollution caused by automobile exhaust. The Macron government raised the oil tax by about 23 percent on diesel and 15 percent on gasoline for a year from 2017 to 2018. Paris is a city with a dense network of public transportation. Therefore, even without cars, is the tax hike is no big problem in everyday life in Paris. However, because farmers and small-town people have less public transportation networks than people in the city, they are heavily dependant on their cars. So, they immediately protested the government's decision. France's 'Yellow Vests' protest drew 282,000 people at the first protest on November 17, 2018. And lastly the 21-week protest from April 6, 2019 drew a total of 22,300 people, including 3,500 people in Paris.
The yellow vest demonstration started as an opposition to higher oil taxes, but it expanded to deeper issue that that will be discussed later. In response to this tax hike, French citizens protested strongly, saying the Macron government would cut taxes on businesses and would only impose heavier taxes on ordinary people. The yellow vests protests have even spread to anti-government protests demanding Macron’s resignation, condemning the president's policies as favorable to the upper class and large businesses. Also, they demanded a reduction in unemployment benefits for high-income bracket. According to a survey of 1,943 voters conducted by the French Opinion Institute (IFOP) between December 7 and 15, 2018, French President Macron's approval rating plummeted to 23 percent, down 2 percent from 25 percent in November. Also, the percentage of those who said that they were very unhappy about Macron's administration rose to 45 percent in December, up 6 percentage points from 39 percent in November.
Results of a yellow vest demonstration
Due to strong opposition by the protesters, Macron accepted their demands in a live speech on December 4, 2018, which was broadcast to 25 million French citizens. Prime Minister Eduard Philippe officially said, “The government will delay the rise in oil taxes, electricity prices and gas prices, by six months. The government will also tighten regulations on automobile emissions, which were scheduled to go into effect in January 2019.” On April 29, 2019, in a press conference, President Macron said that he would drastically cut the income taxes of the lower classes and will reduce government spending to make up for the dwindling taxes. In response to that, the yellow vest protesters criticized policies that are friendly toward the upper class and big businesses. He also insisted on abolishing the National Academy of Public Administration, which has been criticized for monopolizing key posts, although it has been producing elites. According to Reuters communication on February 26, 2019, Prime Minister Eduard Philippe held a press conference to reform unemployment benefits at the Prime Minister's Office and said, "The unemployment benefits of the average person should be corrected."
The yellow vests protests, which began with a rise in oil taxes, have led to a resistance against the French government. Although the movement of French policy change appeared to be effective, the protesters have been challenged about the protesters' violence. During the protest, protesters staged violent demonstrations, including destroying shops and major buildings in Paris, the French capital, and burning cars. On December 2, 2018, some 3,000 protesters gathered on the streets of Champs-Elysees, Paris, and barricaded themselves and threw sidewalk blocks at the police. So far, about 1,000 people, both police and protesters have been injured and about 10 were killed because of the yellow vest protests. In addition, there has been a rise in the suicide rate among French police officers due to the psychological violence indirectly inflicted by violent demonstrations, including aggravation of working conditions and radical stress. On April 20, 2019, a video showed some protesters chanting "Self-suicide!" to police officers at the yellow vests protest in Paris' Lebedevillek Square, for which they drew criticism. France's Interior Ministry said that 28 police officers in the country committed suicide in the four months from January to April 2019. When this is compared to the suicide rate in 2018 , the figure is a sharp increase. The Interior Ministry has decided to open a suicide prevention center for police officers and to expand psychological counseling and support for police officers in the field service.
In addition, there has been significant economic cost from the yellow vest protesters. On December 2, 2018, many walls in Paris were covered with spray graffiti from protesters, which read "Yellow vest wins!", "Macron step back!" and " Vandalism (Destruction of Cultural and Public Facilities) hurrah!” Even the statue of Marianne was destroyed by protesters at this day. The Marianne statue, of a woman who represents liberty, equality and fraternity, was a symbol of France after the French Revolution, was a target of destruction by angry protesters. On December 2, 2018, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Arc de Triomphewas also damaged by the attack of the protesters and the damage amounted to millions of euros. Also, on December 6, 2018, AFP communication reported that the Eiffel Tower's operator announced the closure, saying “it was not safe to receive visitors on December 8, 2018, when violent demonstrations will show.” More than 10 major museums and art galleries, including the Louvre museum and the Grand Palais, also decided to close. Also, the Bastille Opera House canceled a concert which was scheduled for December 8, 2018. Furthermore, the French soccer league game between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Montpellier, which was scheduled on December 8, 2018 was postponed. More than four games are known to have been canceled for safety reasons. Also, on March 16, 2019, during the 18th yellow vest rally on the Champs-Elysees, some violent protesters plundered and set fire to famous restaurants and fashion brand stores. As a result, the high-rank restaurant 'Lefuke', the high-rank clothing brand 'Hugo Boss' and 'Lacoste' stores on Champs-Elysees were broken and burned. This violent demonstration by yellow vest protesters has damaged tourism as well as the French government and citizens.
The yellow vest that spread all over the world
The yello vest protests have become an issue all over the world and have affected protests in other countries. Let's take a look at protests in other countries affected by the yellow vest protests.
First, the country is Belgium. After the yellow vest movement began in France, the protests gradually spread to neighboring Belgium on December 30, 2018. Belgium started a protest in sympathy and support of the French 'yellow vests' protesters. The yellow vest protests in Belgium began simply as a demonstration about protecting and supporting France's yellow vest movement, but it expanded to rally against the government. The yellow vest protesters of Belgium gathered at 10:30 a.m. on December 30, 2018, in a park near the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels, and marched to the city center along the street in front of the EU headquarters, with about 500 people. But protests in Belgium were also violent, protesters threw stones at police, and when they passed by Michelle's office, they threw stones at the prime minister's office and chanted "Michelle step down!" After the protest continued for about three hours, police launched tear gas and water cannons to compel an end, while protesters set fire to two police van vehicles and resisted. Police arrested about 60 protesters at the scene, including a suspect who set fire to a police vehicle.
Second, the place is London. On December 9, 2018, a yellow vest protest marched through Whitehall and Piccadilly in central London. The protests began to endorse the Brexit (the call for the UK to leave the European Union) agreement and to ‘protect children's legitimate rights,’ and talking about 'the government's corruption using fake news.' Childhood Rights Protection included references about child abuse regulations, rape and murder of children. This demonstration was violent, and injuries also occurred. On February 16, 2019, in the second demonstration at Whitehall and Piccadilly , two police officers were assaulted while repressing violent the yellow vest protesters. London police said “Both police officers were taken to the hospital to be treated for assault injuries. They are now discharged from the hospital”. London police said ”Four people were arrested for assault to citizens or emergency workers, and two people were arrested on charges of assault against police. All criminal were taken to the police station for questioning." Also, a video of the incident was posted on SNS, which showed some yellow vest activists colliding with police officers. In the video, a violent man was seen handcuffed after making several assaults on police, and the spread of the video on SNS has become more controversial. As of April 20, 2019, protests continued but government policy about this demonstration has not changed.
Third, in Berlin Germany, on May 1, 2019 ‘World Labor Day’, more than 20,000 yellow vest protesters gathered at the Labor Day memorial rally. The protesters complained about gentrification (a phenomenon that residents and small merchants are forced to move by rising rent rates) in the Friedrichshane area of eastern Berlin. Berlin police deployed 5,500 police officers to prepare for the violent demonstrations. In Berlin, on May 3, 2019, among the workers who participated in the demonstration, the largest number of people were drivers of cash-transfer vehicles. They also staged a nationwide strike at the same time as the protests.
The fourth country is Tunisia. On December 8, 2018, Tunisia announced massive anti-government protests on SNS, but they said that they wanted peaceful demonstrations, not violent ones, unlike those in other countries. The protests, which began on December 22, 2018, called for a pay increase for 670,000 public workers in Tunisia, North Africa. And as the protests expanded, they led to calls for changes to political policies of the government. Requirements included the improvement of the national standard of living, medical attention, education and public transportation reform, minimum wages and annuity increases, repair of road and infrastructure facilities, and judicial proceedings of corrupt officials among other demands. Workers participated in the strike at schools, universities, local governments and central government across Tunisia. All workers in hospitals except for emergency room staff joined the protest. A ‘red vest,’ which imitated ‘yellow vest’ protests of French, was a symbol of the protesters, as a "red vest" symbolizes the Tunisia flag. The color red also symbolizes sin, guilt, passion, blood and anger. Riyadh Junior, an activist who participated in the protests, said, "We acknowledge that the Tunisian protesters are inspired by the experience of the French protesters and we will bring our demands to Tunisian authorities."
The yellow vest in Korea
The biggest controversy about the yellow vest protesters that have affected the world is their use of violence. But in Korea, there have been internationally recognized nonviolent protest. In addition, there is now a nonviolent yellow vest protest movement in our country.
On October 29, 2016, there was a huge candlelight rally in Korea about former president Park Geun-hye. The candlelight rally progressed in a nonviolent peaceful manner for the purpose of remembrance or protest about an issue, by a large number of people outside the plaza at night. The rally surpassed 16 million people on a cumulative basis until the 20th rally on March 10, 2017 and was an unprecedented nonviolent peaceful rally, even though it was a five-month large-scale rally. Demonstrators showed an amazingly mature sense of citizenship, voluntarily picking up trash after the protests and removing candle wax from the candlelight rally. This became a new page in the history of democracy in Korea and was the driving force that the National Assembly voting to impeach the president in December 2016. The candlelight rally drew keen attention from around the world as a large number of awakened citizens judged unjust powers and drove them away through peaceful protests without violence. On November 26, 2016, Stephen Evans, a reporter for the BBC, said that participants shouted hoarsely and this sound must have reached CheongWaDae. On November 26, 2016, the BBC introduced the Gwanghwamun candlelight rally as a major article in the Asia section of its website, calling it "the biggest protest in history" and "opening a new chapter in a peaceful rally." On November 26, 2016, the New York Times said, "Even in the cold weather with the first snow, a large number of people filled the center of Seoul,” and "Some citizens were seen marching with wooden tables or carrying pet dogs. Some stores even handed out free coffee to citizens." Also, on November 26, 2016 Xinhua communication reported that this rally with 1.5 million participants in the main rally were the largest in Seoul, surpassing strike of 1 million participants in 1987, and that three sections of protesters who formed the "human belt" surrounding CheongWaDae. Also, they said, “There was also an event where many candles were blown out and lit again to send a message that darkness could not overcome light,” and “The Korean people opened a new chapter of the rally in a peaceful and festive manner.”
Recently, there has also been a yellow vest protest in Korea. On January 14, 2019, about 500 workers from Korean Air's second subcontractor began a protest and demonstrated about ‘the minimum wage and non-regular workforce’. They formed a ‘Yellow Vest Joint Action for Korean Air's subcontractors’ and they followed the yellow vest protesters in France. They demanded "guaranteed living wages" and a "long-term retirement age of 65" with their walkout. So Korean Air and affiliated companies of the Korea Airport were involved in a crackdown on the striking airline workers. In the process of suppressing labor unions, unfair labor practice such as ‘Alternative manpower management plan’ and ‘Compensation for damages provisional attachment’ was prohibited by law are found at Korean Air. Here, ‘Compensation for damages provisional attachment’ means a pressurization system, in which companies claim damages indemnification against union members who stage illegal strikes. On April 17, 2019, the yellow vest protests continue as the resolution contest about Korean Air's ‘Compensation for damages provisional attachment’ and the suppresion of labor unions in front of the headquarters of Korean Air and the presidential office at CheonWaDae. But the union was trying to make a peaceful yellow vest protest.
It is natural to express one's thoughts and rights as a citizen, and it is also true that expressions through the right protests can be a good method of narrowing the distance between the nation and the people. However, if the protests go beyond the permissible range and lead the struggle, it will not be a method of expressing rights of citizen. It will merely end up as an emotional riot. The protests, which began in France, had great meaning around the world. But it has become a problem of violence. I want to say that violence is not the best answer.
<저작권자 © 인하프레스, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>