I hope you had a good week, that you recovered from Thanksgiving, and are heading peacefully toward the holidays.
I am overwhelmed with sadness today. I don’t know how much it is reported in the States, but one of the ways that the French express their displeasure with governmental policies is to demonstrate, gather in the streets, to protest policies and conditions they don’t like. Demonstrations in France are usually peaceful, but not always. They can be noisy sometimes (or not), and rarely result in violence. For the French, demonstrations are a form of freedom of speech. In the States, I think demonstrations tend to be bigger and less frequent, on a variety of important subjects. We should all have the right to let our governments know how we feel about things, hopefully peacefully without injury to property or people, nor destruction of any kind. Some people do it by writing letters to their legislators, others prefer to do it in a march, or a demonstration. It’s a show of hands for new and different policies, which seems fair to express those opinions.
The French people are generally unhappy about a variety of subjects at the moment. The economy is not doing well, there are certainly injustices that need to be corrected, and problems that have not been addressed, as with any government in any country. And to bring current problems to the government’s attention, a group of citizens applied to demonstrate for several consecutive Saturdays, beginning two weeks ago, for what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration in a number of cities in France. Since the issues are important and heartfelt by the demonstrators, the demonstrations became heated, erupted in destruction of property a week ago, and as a precaution stores were ordered closed in many areas, this past Saturday for the third demonstration.
The third demonstration two days ago became a nightmare of mob brutality and wanton destruction in Paris. However valid or not the complaints may have been, the expression of them got out of hand. Cars were burned, homes were set fire to, businesses and stores were destroyed and vandalized, bonfires were set in the streets, flaming bricks and rocks flew through windows setting fire to homes once inside, people were frightened, important monuments were graffiti-ed and severely damaged, trees were burned, entire streets were destroyed, smoke was heavy in the air from all the fires, and the acrid smell of smoke from tear gas bombs, water cannons were turned on the crowds by police. By noon, it looked like the city was in flames, over a hundred people were injured, both law enforcement and civilians. And observing it at close range, one sensed the frenzy of the crowd, a frightening excitement to destroy anything at hand. By nightfall it looked like there was snow on the ground which was a carpet of broken glass from all the destroyed cars, windows, bus stop shelters, etc. In an economy already suffering, in the weeks before Christmas, there will be fewer purchases with stores that will take months to repair (or closed forever for shop keepers who can’t afford to repair them), and people afraid to leave their homes for something as benign as Christmas shopping. Even sadder, the small independent shops and businesses who are the livelihoods of people who own them and work there, small grocery stores, dry cleaners, book stores, florists, which they can’t afford to repair and will not reopen. Big fancy stores as well as small ones were looted, vandalized and set on fire. Fire fighters couldn’t get from one fire to the next fast enough, and in some cases, an entire street of cars were burning. The destruction of property of all kinds was extreme, as shocked Parisians watched their city burning.
In the past few weeks, I have seen the shocking cataclysmic destruction by nature with the fires in California, with homes and businesses and lives lost, a true tragedy and natural disaster……and now to the kind of destruction Man is capable of when emotions run high, and get out of control, even if with the best of intentions. In either case, the results are tragic and immeasurably destructive.
And just as I was heartbroken for the tragic immeasurable losses to the fire in California, I am deeply saddened now for the destruction in Paris, and all the people who will suffer from it. In its own way, it is tragic too, to see a beautiful city looted and pillaged and in flames, and so many people affected by it. When Nature or Man get out of control, we are all losers in the end.
Have a great and peaceful week, and I hope the holiday spirit prevails and begins to grow in all of us.
PS. Elaine very correctly said that she read that “professional rioters” have joined the Gilets Jaunes (the yellow vests, because that’s what they wear to identify themselves) demonstrators in France. The Gilets Jaunes began by demonstrating peacefully, and a group informally known as the “Casseurs” (the breakers, the people who break things) infiltrated their ranks, and are wearing the same yellow vests, making it impossible to tell who is who. The Casseurs have added the violent element to the demonstrations, and turned them into riots more than peaceful demonstrations. It’s a tremendous dilemma, because the yellow vests they wear (the same ones), make it impossible to figure out who’s who. I don’t think the Gilets Jaunes ever intended for the demonstrations to become violent, and the Casseurs have appeared at other demonstrations in France. And the end result now is some tremendous damage that will be very costly to repair, graffiti on many important monuments, windows broken, shop windows smashed and the stores looted and vandalized, cobble stones hacked out of pavement, and thrown through windows and used to smash cars. Some of the professional rioters use sledge hammers to destroy cars. And with the added element of experienced rioters, violence has erupted. Everyone in Paris hopes that it will stop, stores are suffering from lack of business, not just big fancy stores, but small independent stores, grocery stores, dry cleaners, neighbourhood florists, people who depend on their business to earn their livelihood, and now their stores have been vandalized. The big luxury stores have been attacked and looted, and are able to recover more quickly. Everyone in Paris is affected in some way. And the situation Elaine described is exactly the problem, and once violence is added to the mix, it’s very hard to calm it down again. I hope that solutions will be found soon that will be acceptable to all, so Paris can recover, tourists can return, and people can move around the city safely. D.