Conversation with Hervé Le Bras: "The yellow vests movement is based on two different clienteles"

While the scale of the yellow vests movement is no longer questionable, the question of the division between an urban, ecological and well-off France and another reactionary, rural and doped with diesel arises. Hervé Le Bras, demographer, guest of Press Tribunes 2018 in Bordeaux delivers his analysis of a situation that he considers explosive.

Is the conflict of the yellow vests the illustration of the opposition France of cities against France of the fields?

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Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Hervé Le Bras: We must not have a simplistic view of the situation. For years, we have fed on a vision opposing metropolis and anti-metropolis. In reality, the periphery is extraordinarily varied. To analyze the conflict of yellow vests, I did not base myself on the number of yellow vests per department, but on their percentage in relation to the population. This gives a better idea of ​​the intensity of the phenomenon. The map that has been drawn corresponds to the least populated areas of France, and in which the population tends to decrease. More or less, it corresponds to what the geographer Roger Brunet called "the diagonal of the void", stretching from the Ardennes to the Hautes-Pyrénées. In the background, it also shows that part of the countryside is doing well, like the Vendée. The action of the yellow vests is intense in abandoned rural territories, but also in the peri-urban, which corresponds to the old rural departments about fifty kilometers from Paris. The people who live there have a daily problem, that of the commuting between their home and the capital or its inner suburbs.

In spite of everything, isn't there a form of unity in this movement?

HLB: The yellow vests movement is based on two different clienteles. This may explain the fact that the yellow vests cannot agree on a program or a particular request to the authorities. The structure of this movement is at the base contradictory and paradoxical. On the one hand, neglected rural territories require more state presence and the return of public services, which is legitimate but very costly. On the other hand, peri-urban areas are asking the state to lower taxes, especially on fuel.

In this movement, some yellow vests wanted to oppose those who have chosen to approach the metropolis, those who have suffered the gradual withdrawal of public services. I think this classification is wrong, because very often those who live in "the diagonal of the void" have chosen to stay there. Conversely, it is possible to consider that the choice to go to the peri-urban area is sometimes made under financial constraint. It is cheaper to buy a pavilion in the suburbs than in the metropolis. We have a tendency in France to want to simplify everything, based on an old concept, that of unity. We consider the territory to be homogeneous but in reality it is more and more heterogeneous.

The Congress of Mayors highlighted the divide between local elected representatives and the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron: do mayors still have a role to play in the cohesion of the territories?

HLB: This unease among elected officials concerns both suburban mayors and mayors of small rural communities. The President of the Republic said he was a populist. He didn't lie. Ignoring intermediary bodies is one of the generally accepted meanings of the word populism. However, mayors are intermediary bodies. The mayor is the only politician who still enjoys a certain reputation among the population. Most of these elected officials earn little money. They are at the heart of the territories and we can see them concretely at work. Their discomfort is global. Even Rachida Dati in the 7e district complains! (Laughs)

Can we say that the government is disconnected from the territories?

HLB: The government gives great advice but does not know what people are doing. I spoke recently on television with Gilles Le Gendre, and I pointed out to him that Emmanuel Macron should not drive a lot of cars in his day. Its drivers take care of everything! The president does not realize what the car represents for the French. The car is like a second skin, it symbolizes the freedom to move. There is a real rift between what the president calls the bottom and the top.

Part of the political spectrum, especially on the left, is sidelined by the action of the yellow vests. Can transversal movements appear on the fringes of this conflict?

HLB: The yellow vests map does not correspond to any political mapping, but to what the yellow vests say: they do not engage in politics. We do not see a political party behind this movement, all have been very careful. However, there will be a recovery. Who will recover? I have my little idea. One thing was not emphasized much; we have not seen any anti-immigration or anti-Europe slogan, apart from Flixecourt. These themes were not dominant. Left-wing populism could take over the movement because we are in a poor versus rich opposition, while right-wing populism is more about a conflict around immigration.

This movement of yellow vests was also characterized by a distrust of journalists, how do you explain it?

HLB: This characteristic, alas, goes even beyond journalists. Many homes of elected officials of the En Marche group have been targeted and thrown into the pasture on social networks. Such behavior is quite new and I fear that it is due to something more general for example the alternative truths of Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban… Regimes are installed democratically, with majority votes, which was not the case. case in the 1930s. This is all recurring on television with Trump insulting the media.

I am struck by this bad climate which is spreading on the planet, with a hunt for journalists which is organized, but also a hunt for grassroots politicians. Social networks can facilitate these behaviors, but in this case, the yellow vests are the most numerous where social networks are less established. Putting only the weight of protests on social networks would be a little inaccurate. The situation is all the more serious because it occurs in what was once called the "free world", and it will become less and less so if this continues.

Interview with Hervé Le Bras conducted by François Beneytou and Clément Bouynet (IJBA) on November 24, 2018.

Interview by François Beneytou and Clément Bouynet, professional master's students in journalism at the Bordeaux Aquitaine Journalism Institute (IJBA) under the supervision of Marie-Christine Lipani, lecturer, authorized to supervise research, at the IJBA.The Conversation

Marie-Christine Lipani, Lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences authorized to supervise research at the Bordeaux Aquitaine Journalism Institute (IJBA) -

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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