The fight for democracy in the deep countryside
'On the 12th December The Guardian published an article entitled ‘If you want to understand the Gilets Jaunes you have to leave Paris’. The article had little by way of analysis, devoting itself to a standard ‘look at me I live in France’ one up man-ship. The ostensible topic, the Gilets Jaunes and questions concerning why now, who and where – surely the key questions – were largely ignored or under-developed.
I too live in France, about 800 kilometres from Paris: in South West France. My department is one of the poorest in the country. Moreover, even within this department, the area where I reside is backward in a developmental and progressivist sense: there are no motorways, the towns are little more than villages, there is little by the way of hospitals, work or facilities and, despite its fantastic natural beauty in the shade of the Pyrenees, the towns display an obvious air of poverty, unemployment and civic decay.
Support for the Gilets Jaunes is everywhere. One in two cars display some sort of yellow vest on their dash. In the conversations at local bars, in the anger and ferocity filling the language of placid individuals, in the complaints of small shop-keepers and finally, in the Christmas newsletter from the mayor of my village.
It’s an anger that’s has been building for a long time. The two lane main road from Auch to Toulouse has been blocked by strikers, farmers or truckers, on a dozen occasions in the last two years. Two months before the initial protests in Paris, a worker at the local hardware store spent 10 minutes listing to me all the complaints which subsequently informed the protests.
But more evidence of the long-standing anger now exploding is contained in the prolonged, spontaneous, entirely local and informal guerrilla campaign targeting French radar speed cameras.
A campaign which means that, currently, it is estimated that nearly three-quarters of the radars across France are out of service.
In my department, only one out of twenty-seven is still intact and that remaining one has been wrapped in state plastic bags to avoid ‘citizen decommissioning’.
The figures are staggering nationwide: 18 radars are out of service in the Alpes-Maritimes, 18 in the Var (out of 21), 60% in the two departments of Eure and Seine-Maritime, 25 out of 34 in Tarn-et- Garonne, 14 out of 15 in Cantal, 20 out of 30 in Allier, half in Indre, Morbihan and Nièvre, 19 out of 34 in Eure-et-Loire, 25 out of 27 in Côtes-d’Armor , 10 out of 16 in the Cher, 16 out of 33 in the Yonne and 40 out of 57 in the Gard.'
Read more: The Gilet Jaune and ‘France Profonde’