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The Yellow Vests Are Here to Stay

Although the recent attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, has sapped some of the energy from the Yellow Vest protests, the root causes of French voters' discontent remain. At issue is not the need for reform, but rather the costs – and who should bear them.

WARSAW – The terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on December 11 came after a month in which the “Yellow Vest” protests in Paris and other cities dominated international headlines. French police have since tracked down and killed the attacker in a shootout, and an old law of politics holds that the French will now rally behind President Emmanuel Macron – at least for the time being.

That is what happened after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015, when then-President Francois Hollande’s declining popularity was momentarily reversed. It also helps to explain how Vladimir Putin, previously an unknown entity, cemented his power in Russia following a series of bombings in 1999. Of course, in that case, investigative journalists have marshaled ample evidence to suggest that the government orchestrated the attacks to bolster its public support.

Although the Yellow Vests’ protests continue, tempers have cooled, providing a respite to Macron. But the movement’s socioeconomic roots remain. As anyone remotely familiar with French history knows, the competing forces of revolution and Bonapartism have long driven political outcomes. Macron owes his presidency to the latter. The French were attracted to the young reformer’s European triumphalism, not because they are particularly fond of the European Union (they aren’t), but because it seemed to augur a return of French imperial grandeur.

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