Jean-Luc Mélenchon comes under fire for comparing Macron’s government to the Nazi regime, writes Lauren Joffrin in Libération.
Mélenchon – who is now French President’s main opponent – spoke at a protest march against Emmanuel Macron’s new labour reforms last Saturday. He stated to the audience that ‘it was the streets that beat the Nazis.’
In the face of ensuing criticism, he has since justified his comments as a direct response to Macron’s statement on CNN International: ‘democracy doesn’t take place in the streets.’ Joffrin argues this is an ambiguous phrase: ‘the right to protest… against elected representatives… is a fundamental one. The government can heed this or not, but history shows that… this type of expression has an effect.’
‘The streets’ in French history
Mélenchon is right to remind us that public protest has often contested the arbitrary within politics, or been the first indicator of forthcoming change, says Joffrin.
It was ‘the streets’ that forced the Juppé government of 1995 to back down on proposed reforms, and likewise the Mitterand administration on educational reform in 1984. From the barricades of the Fronde during the 17th century French Civil War to the uprising of the 1848 Revolution, French history is a record of the power of the public voice. Though it is not always the progressive voice, as was clear from the anti-Semitic protests during the Dreyfus Affair, or the far-right anti-parliamentary riot of 1934.
A clumsy comment
Nonetheless, Joffrin considers Mélenchon’s comment somewhat misjudged. It was the allied forces, he asserts, and not the people, that drove back the Nazis. It was not a question of protest by the streets, but of bloody combat in the streets.
Joffrin adds that the march on the Champs-Elysées during the Liberation of Paris had little to do with the insurrection. In what he terms ‘a little extra irony’, the uprising was initiated not by the masses but by the local police. ‘So Mélenchon was more or less right,’ concludes Joffrin, ‘but he will doubtless choose his examples with more care next time.’