I generally try not to simply repost articles on this blog, but Noelle Lenoir’s recent post, “France’s burning hate” does a good job placing France’s Yellow Vest movement into context. Her perspective is sympathetic to Macron. In this depiction, the Yellow Vest movement is an increasingly violent force, which hearkens back to the anti-Semitism and hatred of the 1930s. What is particularly interesting in her description of how establishment figures have adopted the Yellow Vest movement for their own ends. Lenoir is clearly sympathetic to Macron, and says that he is gaining legitimacy by his principled and restrained response to the crisis. I think, however, that the voices of the protesters are missing from the piece. Her essay could have gone into greater depth about their demands, and the grievances that have fueled the movement. In her depiction the Yellow Vests seem more an atavistic force than a reflection of deeply held beliefs.
As in discussions of populism in the United Sates, Lenoir points the finger at the impact of Russian fake news, which incites popular unrest. Last week in my Cyberwar and Espionage class my students discussed Russia’s fake news and propaganda efforts. Collectively, they made a few points: foreign influence in politics and elections is nothing new; outside actors could only have an influence when the U.S. is deeply divided, and the apparent success of the Russian troll factories -which are quite real- may overshadow other political forces driving discontent. While Russia is certainly trying to sow dissent and protest in the West, I also believe that its efforts have become a convenient scapegoat to explain protest movements and unrest. Does Russia really have the influence ascribed to it? If so, what are the weaknesses in Western societies that permit this? And how many people in the United States or France are really following RT, or consuming fake news on social media?
Despite the gaps in the piece, I do think that Lenoir’s piece provides a useful perspective on the Yellow Vest movement, which is well worth reading.