It can only be a good thing when Christians on this side of the Channel join with their brothers and sisters in the French speaking world and lift France to the Lord in prayer, as opposed to merely looking on it as a holiday destination!. Recent media perspective on events across the Channel tends to be rather narrowly defined by news filtering through from the journalists who take up residence beside the Arc de Triomphe, with little or no information on what is happening around the rest of the country. The fact is that, with the widespread protests of the so-called ‘gilets jaune,’ France finds itself in a distinctly uncomfortable situation. Friends who live outside Paris have spoken of widespread disruption – to say nothing of very low morale in the police force, overstretched as they have been in recent months.[i]
A ‘People’s Revolution??’
With the threat and memory of revolution never far away when considering France, a number of friends with deep knowledge and experience of life in France have written to me to share their concerns. One, who lives in a quiet and not particularly wealthy region in the south of France has long since become accustomed to taking alternative routes to her local market town in order to avoid the protests. She comments,
“How much longer they [the gilets jaunes] will hold out now there is snow forecast remains to be seen. While quite a number of people have put their gilets on the dashboard of their cars, I’m not sure how deep support runs for them: they say that they support the gilets jaunes but they have no clear idea of what that means. They were against paying extra tax on diesel at the start of the protest but do not appear to have thought matters any further than “we want life to be better than it is.” At least they are not stopping supermarkets from being restocked, or fuel from being delivered!
One lady locally had her car set about in the dark on a roundabout and was far from impressed with these ‘protesters!’ It is clear that there is an element of anarchic agitation and hooliganism that has attached itself to anything sensible that they might have to say.”
The trouble with those on the extremes is that they don’t mind going about things in a less civilised manner. And so when they meet a bunch of police, who let’s face it are often anything but saints, the results are all too predictable.
Linda also wrote to me yesterday:
“The teacher of my French class went online to express her views that the ‘thug’ (an ex-boxer) who injured the policeman last Saturday should receive a sentence. She’s had no end of hate-mail since then for taking such a line. The overwhelming view in France is that this man is a hero and there is crowd funding to support him. 50 per cent of the population say that they are for overturning the government and want the gilets jaunes to form a People’s Party – in other words for a revolution.”
Another friend wrote,
“Seeing how things were escalating in Paris it wasn’t hard to imagine how a second revolution could happen. People here feel very strongly about things and are not afraid to take action. Strikes are virtually a weekly occurrence.”
By contrast, a friend who lives in the Auvergne writes,
“It certainly doesn’t look like revolution on the streets where I live. I think that much of the support for it is rhetorical; people may be discontented, or want some kind of change, but I doubt they really want revolution, although it sounds good in print. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the French are generally more polarised, volatile and reactive than the Brits, and so what seems extreme from a UK perspective is viewed as more common-place over here! People expect the farmers to dump manure on the Champs Elysées if they are feeling aggrieved!”
The Swiss model
Linda’s French teacher suggests that:
[The gilets jaune] are also eager to bring in a change in legislation so that ‘the people’ can vote on every single issue. Apparently this is what happens in Switzerland. Everyone in our class was saying, “Well at least this isn’t happening in the UK!” Mind you, in the light of events outside Parliament . . .! A British friend who lives in France certainly isn’t keen on the idea:
I do hope they don’t try having a referendum on everything – it would be a huge waste of money. The French don’t have the same temperament as the Swiss, so those who don’t get what they wanted will be just as bad losers as ever!
There are, of course, sharply divided opinions concerning President Macron, whose popularity is in free fall. A Guardian columnist writes that:
The most anti-populist leader France could have hoped for finds himself actually reinforcing populism. And the experience of his centrist cousins doesn’t bode well: Barack Obama gave rise to Donald Trump, Matteo Renzi to Matteo Salvini, and Angela Merkel’s departure could result in chaos. Is Macron leading us towards an Italian scenario? . . . Multilateralism is disappearing, great powers are flexing their muscles, and Europe is splitting at the seams just when [it needs to be at its most united.]
There is widespread criticism that Macron is ‘The President of the rich’ – but it is possible to make out a strong case to say that he was only attempting to implement reforms that various other presidents should have made, and indeed may have set out to make, but who ended up being deterred by the strength of the hostility. As an ex-pat friend comments:
Macron is a smart cookie, but neither he nor a lot of the députés in his party have a lot of experience in government. The Left don’t like him because he doesn’t want to tax the richer people (the all-time unpopular Hollande did that and people responded by simply moving their money out of France, leaving the country worse off) and the Right don’t like him because he’s not sufficiently vociferous about making France great again. However, neither extreme had anything sufficiently credible for more than a minority vote.
Neither the Left nor the Right – who have dominated the country for so long – were able to produce policies which gained overwhelming support in the presidential election. President Macron is therefore something the French aren’t used to: a centrist pragmatist. As such, the notion of there being a straightforward “opposition” in government needs updating.
Macron has certainly tried to diffuse the situation with a far-reaching series of ‘appeasement’ measures which may well bring relief to many. See this article:
Two things become clear in all this; the first is that how things are presented in the media is matter for prayer in its own right. (We will have more to say about that on another occasion.) The second is that the Lord’s grief continues for a nation that has gone to great lengths to deliberately foster a secular spirit.
God has made the French different from their Anglo-Saxon neighbours; they are passionate and a creative people, which makes it all the more paradoxical that so much of the Reformed Church remains stuck at a purely cerebral level, endlessly debating the nature of God and the meaning of salvation, for instance, instead of experiencing the abundance of Jesus’ love and wholeheartedly embracing Him in His fulness.
Jesus, put such a hunger in people’s hearts that nothing but You can satisfy. Harness the creativity and passion of the French people so that they may bring to the world the fulness of the redemptive beauty you have sown within them. Make this time of emergency a time of emergence. Use even the pressures to raise up those who are extreme only in their passion for justice, love for life and willingness to allow the cause of Jesus Christ to progress.
Let the true “artisans de paix” shine out. Find a way to unjam that which is jammed – and even in the face of extremism, indifference and plain self-centredness let Your light shine ever brighter from one end of the nation to another. May Your Church become ever more contagious for You, and may more and more people move beyond the cerebral to recognise the One who is calling them, and to embrace and serve You with all their heart.
I have been sent this report giving the opinions of the ‘average’ French person regarding President Macron, and the quality of life the majority of French citizens are experiencing. It puts the protests in context.
[i] The police were already stretched in France before the recent round of troubles, with many experiencing stress after weeks of facing the widespread protests day after day. Apart from sympathising with the gilets jaunes in some of their grievances, they are also feeling deep resentment at having their leave severely restricted. Their recent pay rise, given in response to their own threatened strike action, has by no means completely allayed their strong feelings. Meanwhile the notorious CRS (Riot Police) have, on occasions, waded in with unprovoked brutality. With their obvious need for police support, the authorities are as reluctant to clamp down on them as they are to order more forceful action against les gilets jaunes, who enjoy considerable support across the nation.