Will the French Revolution Be Televised?

The international media need a story to tell, so they tell tales of disaster in France. What they ignore are somehow both the more tame reality and the festering problems that really do exist.

July 13, 2023 01:56 EDT
Peter Isackson’s Thoughts

So, what’s going on here in France? Not much in my quiet village in Charente-Maritime, though one of our towns, La Rochelle, had at least one incident of violence: an attack on the town hall of a suburban locality, which was set on fire.

For the international press, it looks like a revolution. Foreign journalists are wondering whether French President Emmanuel Macron won’t be toppled by the protests, just as they wondered last week whether Putin wouldn’t be toppled by General Yevgeny Prigozhin. After all, even though re-elected to another five-year team, Macron’s grip on power has been extremely insecure ever since failing to obtain the majority in the French Parliament needed to support his agenda. On top of that, he insisted on bypassing the parliament to push through his pension reform, which was disapproved by 70% of the population. That led to a powerful protest movement that still hasn’t said its last word.

And what about the gilets jaunes, the famous yellow vests that had built up so much momentum during his first term? It was a drama that, even after a year and a half, was still developing when, in March 2020, Macron declared war on the Covid pandemic and reunified the nation by confining us willingly to our homes to ward off a silent, but deadly, enemy. The embers of the yellow vest movement are still glowing.

© hapelinium / shutterstock.com

Not having much of a direct perspective on the question, other than what I can see in both the French and international media, I decided to consult with my son, Thomas, who lives in one of the most sensitive areas, just beyond the border of Paris. Bagnolet is located in the dreaded proletarian and immigrant-dominated district called Seine-St Denis (93), which the locals designate by the more urban-sounding name Neuf Trois (Nine Three).

Thomas Isackson’s Thoughts

I don’t have much of a direct perspective either, but I have seen the aftermath of the riots in my town, which hasn’t turned into a pile of rubble. When the viral video of Nahel Merzouk’s encounter with a trigger-happy officer hit social media, I expected some rioting. This is France, after all. My political views were shaped by French and American hip hop, so I can understand the initial rage of a subset of my neighbors.

In the days that followed, it felt like the political message was drowned out by the opportunistic looting of the tobacco stores and supermarkets. I’m grateful our local arsonists targeted the police station rather than the multimedia library or the schools my children go to. My most anticipated party of the year, a steelpan music celebration, had to be cut short, and last Thursday, the corner store was boarded up so I had to walk over to the next one. I feel sorry for the people whose businesses were vandalized, but I feel worse for the kids and parents in other working-class neighborhoods that lost critical public infrastructure. 

In short, I was shocked by Nahel’s summary execution, understand the urge of the “disenfranchised” youth to revolt, but am mildly annoyed at some of the inconveniences after a few nights of riots. One thing’s for sure, this is not a coordinated political revolution.

Peter Isackson and Thomas Isackson’s Reflections

In a little more than a week, the same week as the next NATO summit in Vilnius, France will be celebrating Le 14 Juillet, which English speakers call Bastille Day. It marks that fateful moment when, in 1789, French mobs stormed a medieval prison in the east of Paris to pilfer its huge ammunition stores and incidentally release a handful of prisoners. 

Will that historical memory be on the minds of the French people who are now doubting how the nation may hold together politically, socially and economically? 

France is clearly a nation not yet ready to challenge its political leadership, just as its own leaders have not been willing to challenge NATO’s leadership at a time when Europe itself is mired in doubt. Macron’s priority is to clean up the city before the opening of next year’s Olympic Games. If nothing substantial is effectively cleaned up by then, the younger generation in the suburbs may see the Olympics as a bigger target than the Bastille.

Fair Observer will soon be launching its French language extension. We will be focusing not only on France but on global francophonie, which includes parts of Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and Africa. Of course, we’ll do our best to make sense of France as well. Remember the country’s internal conflicts don’t date back to a shooting last week in Nanterre, just as Ukraine’s drama did not begin with an invasion in February last year. 

France and Europe need to construct their future in what our friend Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer and noted geopolitical analyst, has identified as the emergence of a new world order. At Fair Observer, we will be making sense of this fast-emerging new world. 

Viacom is paying $31 million for the rights to televise next year’s Olympics. Does that include the price for televising yet another French revolution?

Avec nos meilleurs messages, 

Peter and Thomas Isackson
Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Editor at Fair Observer
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