Unlike the 2014 Ukraine uprising, which witnessed invasive meddling on the part of US politicians and diplomats, Western support for the French Yellow Vest protests has been conspicuously missing in action.
With the streets of Paris ablaze for a fourth weekend in a row, as a swarm of Yellow Vests assert themselves against a French government which, they argue, has become increasingly detached from the cares of ordinary citizens, support among Western capitals for the protesters is nowhere to be found.
This is a bit odd since the ‘gilets jaunes’ are not just protesting Macron’s (rescinded) plans for a fuel tax, but have released a list of 42 demands they want to see implemented. This includes an increase of the minimum wage, pensions and wages, as well as a halt to illegal immigration into the country. In other words, we are not talking about violent anarchists on the streets of France, but regular citizens. Thus far, the movement enjoys a high level of support among the French, with one poll showing 72 percent siding with the protesters.
The United States and its allies may have trouble explaining their tone-deafness in the face of these legitimate concerns on the part of millions of French citizens. At the very least, their icy silence will reveal a no small amount of double standards and outright hypocrisy since the West rarely misses an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of foreign states – mostly in the Middle East – when ‘democracy’ is purportedly on the line.
Consider Washington’s starkly different attitude to Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution, which brought down the government of Viktor Yanukovich through the explicit support of the United States, as well as a number of influential NGOs operating in the country. Yanukovich committed the unforgivable mistake of thinking he would be allowed to pursue an independent course for his country, despite the fact that since 1992, the US had spent over $5 billion propping up ‘democracy-building programs’ in Ukraine.
Did Kiev really think that Washington would not eventually expect something in return for all those dollars, like maybe deciding who would eventually rule the Eastern European country on Russia’s border? And that is exactly what happened.
When Yanukovich signaled that he would not sign Ukraine up to an EU trade deal, he awoke a sleeping giant below his feet. Several weeks after the announcement, as his country was becoming increasingly divided over its options, the late US Senator John McCain appeared in central Kiev where he tossed dry wood on the smoldering fires by proclaiming at a rally on Independence Square, “Ukraine will make Europe better, and Europe will make Ukraine better…America is with you.”
What could have motivated Washington to pursue such blatant interference in the affairs of Ukraine, while ignoring the French ‘gilets jaunes’ that are now fanning out across France, protesting the neo-Liberal policies of President Emmanuel Macron? Could the answer have anything to do with something as simple as money? That certainly seems to be a large part of the equation.
After all, steering Kiev away from Russia, Western officials understood, would pay off handsome dividends for Western lending institutions, like the International Monetary Fund, which had already lent Kiev billions of dollars to stay afloat. The West was fiercely opposed to the idea of Russia and China becoming ‘lenders of last resort’, a financial and political function that the Western world covets more than any other, with the possible exception of military interventionism against sovereign states.
Fast forward one year after John McCain was agitating rallies in Kiev, and Victoria Nuland was handing out cookies to the protesters, and we find Ukraine, under the new leadership of the US-anointed President Petro Poroshenko, inking a $17.5bn (£11.5bn) loan deal with the IMF, together with the painful austerity measures that always accompany the bags of cash.
Presently, there are no such financial incentives in France that would convince Western capitals to ‘rally on behalf of democracy’ as it had done without delay in Ukraine.
This glaringly hypocritical position with regards to the French protesters reveals a deeply flawed, cart-before-the-horse Western axiom that commands: ‘whatever works to the advantage of Western institutions and its political elite is automatically good for democracy.’ This does not exclude social upheaval and revolution. If violence in the streets translates into the empowerment of Western institutions, not least of all the global financial institutions, then such actions will be rewarded with Western support without a moment’s thought.
Today, Emmanuel Macron, 40, the former Rothschild investment banker known as “president of the rich” by his countrymen, is facing the prospect of an early political demise, no less than Viktor Yanukovich faced in 2014.
Indeed, to say that Macron’s popularity among the French is in the toilet would be putting the situation mildly.
As one local English-language French magazine summed up his plight: Macron is “long-hated by the extreme-leftist groups because of his past as a banker… detested by the far-right because of his pro-European, globalist beliefs and now hated by many ordinary French people, who see him as arrogant, aloof and unsympathetic to their problems.”
Yet, not a single Western politician to date has appeared in the French capital, rallying the protesters and demanding Macron step aside; nor has any top-ranking US diplomat been spotted handing out cookies to the French rabble as Victoria Nuland did in Kiev at the height of Ukrainian tensions.
Incidentally, with such stark images in mind, it seems preposterous that the US can actually accuse Russia of meddling in its political affairs, and without a shred of evidence to back the claims. But I digress.
The simple reason that no Western country has come out to condemn Macron is because he toes the line on neo-liberalism and extreme free-market economics that has ravaged the French middle class to breaking point. The fuel hike was just the proverbial straw that broke the voters’ back.
It would be no exaggeration to say that all segments of French society have become caught up in the protests. Today we see hundreds of French schools, for example, shutting down as students take to the streets to protest Macron’s unpopular education reform. Pensioners are also counted among the protesters after Macron lectured them to stop “whining” about spending cuts, at the very same time he was slashing taxes for the wealthy.
Clearly, there is nothing about Macron that Western leaders can find not to their liking. He is carrying out painful liberal reforms with gusto, and only under pain of usurpation does he backpedal on his political program. Although the rudderless French president may fancy himself as a modern-age Napoleon, acting tough with his subjects to get what he wants, ultimately it will be the French street that decides his fate, which at the moment looks very bleak.
Such a brutal wake-up call may very well be in store for many more Western neo-liberal leaders, who fail to feel the pulse of their people when instituting their unpopular policies, in the weeks and months to come.
By Robert Bridge