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The Problem With People
by

In the thick of a demonstration in Paris protesting the unfairness of it all, a French professional boxer assaulted a cop and sent him to the hospital and thence on a fortnight’s sick leave.

Demonstrations by men and women wearing yellow fluorescent safety vests entered their third month in many French cities.

The same week, a high-ranking police officer in another French city, Toulon, an ancient port with an important naval base, beat up a demonstrator badly enough to get himself hauled before a court. The extreme lefts and rights in France have denounced police brutality and a hardening of the government’s attitude toward these demonstrations, which have been going on for nigh two months now, weekends.

Used to be said the revolution never sleeps, but in the age of the 35-hour week, which France invented, maybe weekends are better for overthrowing the government. Several high ranking members of President Emmanuel Macron’s government have indicated such a project is inappropriate, but they are scarcely disinterested.

Not the least interesting aspect of the incident in Paris involving the boxer, known as the Gypsy from Massy (a suburb of Paris), was the cops’ unwillingness to reply in kind. Neither the one who took some hard ones to the face, nor either of two colleagues nearby, took advantage of opportunities to whack the former national light-heavyweight champion on the head with their batons. Their only move was to put some space between him and the uniform on whom, with professional intensity, he concentrated.

In Toulon, on the contrary, the police officer — a major with over three decades of service — having put one man out of action, turned on some others and promptly sent them into the dust, or rather the asphalt. Different cops, different attitudes, for sure.

The boxer turned himself in the next day, contrite. He said he did not know what happened, he just felt it was all so unfair. He is currently under lock and key awaiting his court date. A French go-fund-me promptly raised vast sums of money for his defense, to the dismay and indignation of police unions’ representatives, who said there was something wrong when money was raised to defend violent subversives, so the fund-raiser went off the air, or off the web rather, as officials studied ways of seizing the funds to turn them over to the injured lawmen.

The commandant (major) went promptly to court and had all charges thrown out inasmuch as the judge agreed his behavior was fully justified. One of the men he pummeled was a known local tough and was carrying a glass shard and had been observed vandalizing cars and breaking windows. He was not even wearing a yellow vest — neither was the boxing gypsy. Although the tax rebels have disclaimed violence and looting, it has occurred. Sympathy for the cause of the “yellow-vests.”

President Emmanuel Macron made a conciliatory speech in the guise of New Year’s wishes to the nation, while letting it be known that violence, and in particular assaults on the policemen and firemen trying to keep the rioting under control, would not be tolerated. He could not very well say the opposite. His top ministers spoke of hateful people who lack respect for the institutions of the Republic.

However, there is no consensus on the meaning of these protests, which began as a revolt against the unfairness of it all, and taxes in particular.

Of course, it could continue and it might get worse, but this does not strike a neutral observer as the equivalent of Budapest 1956 or Tiananmen Square 1989 or Tahir Square 2011, or Mexico City 1968 or Gdansk 1980 or the Easter Rising 1916, and also Lexington and Concord, 1775.

It is, in fact, a lot more like Paris in May 1968 when vastly out-numbered police and gendarmes, almost all of them working class lads, bore the brunt of tantrums by privileged middle class overage children who called them fascists and threw heavy cobbles at their heads and bodies. The uniforms stood their ground with stoic discipline, doing little more by way of response than to whack a kid on the ass from time to time. The whole thing stopped when the annual summer holiday season began and when that was over most Frenchmen gave up neckties, while both male and female of the race stopped using the second person plural.

Life really is unfair when you cannot even provoke the authorities to let you have a real revolution where people die. There have been about 10 fatalities in the course of the yellow-vest protests, most of them when motorists ran into the barricades that the truckers have set up across France to disrupt trade and commerce.

High ranking members of the Italian government expressed support for the movement, which they view as having affinities with their opposition to the kind of open-border united-Europe the protesters blame for the unfairness of life and income inequality. They feel “Europe,” the entity, favors the rich in the capital cities and leaves the “people of the periphery” to suffer in invisible anonymity, in jobs requiring fluorescent vests but gaining little individual satisfaction.

The French minister for European affairs told the Italians to mind their own business. However, President Macron and others have voiced disapproval of the Italians’ programs, including tightening border controls. The Hungarian government has done this as well, tighten border controls, and the French prez said this represented a denial of European values.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said liberal democracy was not working for Hungary, which would follow the principle of Christian democracy. For good measure and to rub it in, he said that if liberal democracy meant the kind of alien invasion that the big, western European countries favored, as well as abortion, illiberal democracy made more sense.

Minding one’s own business can be a relative proposition. You have to know what you want. President Macron wants a strong and prosperous France in a united, liberal Europe, with uniform regulations for the brewing of beer and the making of workplace rules. Some countries in central and eastern Europe feel this is in effect a form of protectionism, since it undercuts their competitive edge.

Little Hungary is having its share of drama too, as demonstrations take place protesting labor law reforms that let employers in certain sectors to require overtime.

It is difficult to name an economy in which somebody, sometimes, does not have to work, and sometimes wants to work, overtime. My editor, Mr. Pleszczynski, works overtime often. So do most policemen and the other uniforms that guard us. In fact, I do not recall a single one of the many jobs I have had, some of them working for slobs, where I was not required to agree to overtime assignments, “as needed.”

Admittedly I am not a good example as my aim always has been to get away early to make my tennis date.

But that is not the issue. The issue is that neither “liberal” France nor “illiberal” Hungary is immune to discontent.

Which is funny, though not har-har funny, when you consider all the people who are trying to get near France and Hungary, as compared to near where they come from, which our prez describes not as countries but as [not nice word, though not without some accuracy, either.]

Maybe Viktor Orbán should invite the yellow-vest people to come live and work in Hungary and Emmanuel Macron should invite the no-overtime people to come live and work in France.

Something tells me, though, that this is a solution that will quite thoroughly miss the point.

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