Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A French Revolution?
One can't help but think that the spreading riots in France are more than just the work of gangs and anarchists, as French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is categorising them. The rioters are seeking redressment for fundamental issues that have long been bubbling under French society, and De Villepin and Chirac will be well served to do more than just stick their heads under the sand.

The numbers are indicative. In just over a week, 300 districts have erupted in violence, 4700 cars have been torched and 1200 people have been arrested. The eyes of the world are firmly on the French response, and clearly the French leadership was caught unawares by the ongoing unrest. These riots are about racism, poverty, unemployment and the marginalisation of French immigrants. These are not issues that will take care of themselves, and the French will have to take bold steps to resolve them. This could well develop into a revolutionary socialist movement, with discontent over France's (already extensive) welfare programs developing into a further shift to the left in domestic politics. This may either move France out of step with the rest of Europe, or it could further drag Europe with it to the margins of the socialist left.

As an aside, it always amazes me how these riots are usually sparked by one small event that serves as a tipping point. The current unrest began after two boys, both immigrants, were electrocuted on Oct. 27 by high-voltage equipment in an electricity substation where they took refuge fleeing a police check in a Paris suburb.