Less than 10 minutes ago, the French government had survived a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. Less than a kilometer away, in front of Napoleon’s tomb in the monumental complex of Les Invalides, the street had already given its sentence. “We also want to impose ourselves by force”, shouted this Monday hundreds of citizens, mostly young people, watched from a distance by almost the same number of police.

It was half past seven at night, and this song resounded through the empty streets of the most bourgeois Paris, which alluded to the decision of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to impose by decree unpopular pension reform. The song sums up the moment that France is living. A president who imposes himself by force but fails to persuade his fellow citizens and lacks a majority to pass his laws. An opposition that feels strong enough to torpedo the legislature and perhaps the presidency, but without leaders who appear in the eyes of the country as a solid alternative. A street – this unavoidable actor in French political life, at least since the Revolution of 1789 – in growing tension, but which has so far failed to bend Macron’s will.

French politics today is a game of impotence. No one is strong enough to defeat the other. And the movement, so even, solves little.

Spontaneous demonstrations were organized across the country after the announcement of the result. There were altercations, clashes with the police, fires. Police sources cited by France Presse raised 287 detainees in the protests. Of them, 234 in Paris.

“The anger is enormous,” said Alexis Corbière, deputy of La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s anti-capitalist and Eurosceptic party, hours before, in the corridors of the Bourbon Palace, seat of the National Assembly. “We have to keep fighting.”

France, Paris, the Bourbon palace became a political and social arena. The battle – peaceful until last week Macron activated Article 49.3 of the Constitution to adopt the reform without a vote by the National Assembly – takes place in parallel and geographically close scenarios. The Parliament, the Place de la Concorde, where in 1793 the French beheaded Louis XVI, or the Place de Vauban, four steps away from the mortal remains of Napoleon.

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Sometimes the scenarios get mixed up. To the left unsubmissive He returned to remove banners this Monday in the Chamber. Mélenchon has been encouraging for days to continue with spontaneous demonstrations.

Divorce with the majority

There is a divorce between Macron and the French. Figures with his image were burned in the demonstrations. The failure of the motion, by a margin of nine votes, means that from now on any law will be subject to new motions. Maybe one will succeed.

Historian Jean Garrigues wrote in the diary the world: “These manifestations of hatred towards the head of state, assimilated to a monarch of the Old Regime, are symptoms of the radical disconnection of a good part of the citizens with the political elites, of which the head of state is the archetype”.

“French democracy is in a deep, deep crisis”, reflected, before the vote in the Assembly, the national secretary of the Communist Party, Fabien Roussel. “This is extremely dangerous. We ask the president to come to his senses. It is harming our Republic, our country, and could cause a serious crisis, the outcome of which nobody knows”. Laure Lavalette, from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, declared on camera: “More than ever, I am convinced that we are the real alternative.” Addressing the presidential bench, she added: “I am convinced that, after you, we come.”

On Place Vauban, opposite Les Invalides, a young man in a suit protests. Ties are beginning to be seen at demonstrations. His name is Axel, he’s 23 years old, he’s a lawyer specialized in labor law. He says he is not here to protest the reform itself, but the way Macron has imposed it.

“It’s not worthy of our country,” he says. “I’m not a regular at demonstrations, it’s the second time in my life, but as a French citizen I thought I should be here.”

Demonstrators march through the streets of Marseille on Monday.
Demonstrators march through the streets of Marseille on Monday.Associated Press/LaPresse (APN)

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