DThe cancellation of his state visit to Germany at short notice shows that Emmanuel Macron is losing control of what is happening in France. Of the many crises that have marked his presidency, the current one is the most dangerous. Unlike at the time of the yellow vest movement or during the pension demonstrations, Macron can neither restore peace with tax breaks and public debates nor simply sit out the protests. The longer the unrest lasts, the more people’s confidence in Macron’s leadership dwindles. A year before the Summer Olympics in Paris, expectations are growing abroad that the government will quickly restore security.
The opposite impression is currently emerging. The riots spread from the suburbs to the inner cities. In Paris, Marseille or Lyon, the police are unable to prevent looting despite a large presence. The Champs-Elysées had to be partially cordoned off. Politicians are physically attacked. A mayor’s car was bombarded with firecrackers and other projectiles until she was shocked to free herself. A mayor’s home was attacked at night, leaving his wife and children injured.
Escaped parental authority
Schools, libraries, cultural sites, town halls and police stations are set on fire. Parents in a number of suburbs have already formed vigilante groups to protect their children’s schools. The violent criminals act according to a script that seems to spring from the darkest prophecies of the extreme right.
After the terrorist attacks in 2015, there was an immediate cross-party consensus that the rule of law had to be defended against attacks from within. But there is currently no sign of a political alliance for law and order. Leading voices from the strongest left-wing party, the LFI, have stylized the eruption of violence to the French George Floyd moment and have refused calls for calm and trust in the judiciary. Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who won nearly 22 percent of the vote a year ago, called for the police to be disbanded. Even important Greens do not want to see a case for the judiciary in the shooting death of a youth by a traffic police officer, but attribute it to systemic racism on the part of the police.
A comparison with the three-week riots in the suburbs in late autumn 2005 offers little cause for reassurance. The Internet is a faster fire accelerator than the television images that fueled the riots 18 years ago. On Tiktok and Snapchat, the perpetrators, some of whom are very young, whip each other up to new excesses. At the first court hearings, rioters put on record the important role that collective experience plays for them. One defendant spoke of the euphoria of the violent intoxication. Many of the underage perpetrators have eluded parental authority. The Netflix film “Athena” vividly shows the mechanisms of a completely unrestrained violence in the multi-ethnic suburbs of France.
Monocausal explanations such as mass immigration or police violence fall short. The failure of the French integration model was in the offing for a long time. Not only Macron should remember the warning parting words of his former Interior Minister Gérard Collomb. When he resigned, the social democrat admitted that the rule of law in the suburbs was on the wane. In many places, the law of the strongest prevails, Islamists and drug dealers have entire neighborhoods under their control. Distrust of the police gripped large parts of the population. “We still live side by side, but I’m afraid we’ll soon be against each other,” Collomb said in 2018.
“Hate”, the title of a 1995 film about the suburbs, feeds off of failed hopes. The banlieue also has many success stories to tell. But state institutions are increasingly unable to cope with the educational failures in dysfunctional, uprooted families. In many cases, the French school system, with its chronically poorly paid teachers, has not been able to fulfill the promise of advancement through education. The education offensive started by Macron in the suburbs with reduced class sizes in the most important elementary school years has not (yet) changed anything.
The eruption of violence does not bode well for the country. Should Macron not be able to settle the situation quickly, this should give the parties on the right-wing further impetus. Marine Le Pen does not even need to comment on the events.