Democracy in Peril: How far is too Far in the Name of Collective Security?

Hannah Martinez is a second year War Studies student who serves as Global Politics and Security Current Events Reporter. She is deeply interested in current political events and international relations that she finds particularly challenging in our contemporary time. Also, she is that girl who officially is too snobbish to watch certain Netflix shows and goes to art galleries but secretly loves KUWTK.

[Featured Image: Protests in front of the Eiffel Tower in association with the world wide Black Lives Matters Movement]

Ever since the election of the Republican president Donald Trump in 2016, scholars have denounced his administration and political agenda as a true threat to the American democracy. The most powerful democracy in the world is being corrupted by a weakening of checks and balances, fake news as well as the lack of separation of power and of media freedom. If this prospect is not worrying enough, it seems that other democracies have also recently become under threat of authoritarian tendencies such as France. Indeed, what was once the country of Human Rights is crumbling into a scared democracy due to the political agenda of Emmanuel Macron, a socialist turned centrist who has now drastically cornered towards the traditional French right. 

            Let’s start from the beginning. France is famous for its patisserie, Montmartre painters, and for its excessive tendency to use the right to protest and this phenomenon has not proven weakened in recent years. Indeed, all throughout 2018 and most of 2019, the streets of Paris and other important French cities were invested every Saturday afternoon by Yellow Vest protestors who originally argued against the raise of fuel prices, as well as by Black Blocks, groups of violent hooligans. These protests led to 11 dead and over 4 000 people injured. Some streets were destroyed and many commerces had to shut down due to the violence of some of the protestors. The Arc of Triomphe was even tagged in the process. At the time, the police was already harshly criticized, by some due to their violent and dangerous methods to contain the protests, and by others for their apparent lack of efficiency in doing so Yellow Vests were already calling out police brutalities, but in the light of a year long protest that costed so much to the French people and that seemed to crumble week after week into confusion and division, no one beyond the protestors listened. However in 2020, protests against police brutalities, ignited or at least favored by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, started growing; The protests in June and then in September and October by high schoolers have stood out. I believe that it is safe to state that in the case of the protests against racism in the police forces in June in France, the phenomenon of police brutalities were perceived as real but not consequent by the general public. Furthermore, the government denied the existence of such a phenomenon and argued for “brutalities committed by some policemen“. However, the high schooler protests did not get much public attention and seemed to be perceived as a tantrum of young people fed up with almost a year of sanitary restrictive measures. Furthermore, many videos had shown violent acts of policemen/women only in response to the dangerous chaos caused by some teenagers during those demonstrations.

            However, the public opinion made a 360 degrees turn on the 17th of November as the law on “Global security“ (loi relative à la sécurité globale) was presented at the French National Assembly by the right-wing minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin who claimed on the 15th of November that the cancer of society is the disrespect of authority. The law aims to give more latitude to the police in the context of violent protests and a high-terrorist threat since 2015. If this law has been highly controversial, two articles in it are the main causes of the criticism. First of all, article 22 authorizes the use of drones in protests and pedestrian cameras on every police agent in order to identify any potential dangers. This measure can be considered to be extreme but somewhat necessary in a context of mass violence in protests. This phenomenon can be even be illustrated by the protests of the 5th of December against that said law, during which Black Blocks infested the demonstration and destroyed cars and shop windows when businesses have only been opened for two weeks since the second national lockdown. Furthermore, as stated by the French President in an interview on the 4th of December, these pedestrian cameras are not only to identify hooligans in protests but also any excessive use of violence by the police force itself. However, it is Article 24 that causes high critics of anti-democratic measures. This article punishes the diffusion of un-blurred images of policemen/women on social media, a sanction that also applied to journalists therefore trampling the 1881 law on Freedom and Independence of the Press. Furthermore, on the 18th of November when asked about the modalities involved with Article 24, the minister of the interior implied that every journalist would need an authorization of the prefecture to attend a protest and record or film it. Furthermore, these controversies were ignited during the week of the 23rd of November when images of horrendous police brutalities were published on social media. The first images were ones of the police force brutally evacuation a refugee camp in Paris. The other images that were footage from a security camera, circled the world: they showed policemen attacking and trampling a black man for 15 minutes as they shouted racial slurs. At this stage of the investigation, it is considered that the man did nothing to attract this kind of violence in the street and did not even defend himself as he was being beaten in order to to avoid any false accusations against him.

            However, the text of law still passed on the 24th of November regardless of the strong contestations on each side of the political spectrum and even within the majority in power. When asked about the law on the 4th of December, the French president claimed these measures are a necessary response to growing violence in protests.

            To summarize the situation, as a law restricting fundamental democratic rights of citizens and journalists during protests passed, clear evidence of police brutalities and racism has been put in light. The revolting injustice of the whole situation seems to be a consensus amongst many politicians and further isolates the government from any political allies and support. It is hard to believe, as far-left partisans have claimed for example, that Emmanuel Macron, the young, liberal and progressive president, has any authoritarian aspirations or is insensible to democratic rights. However, this right-wing turn can be analyzed beyond the security context of violent protests and terrorist attacks: It can be explained as an electoral tactic at the dawn of the presidential elections of 2022. Indeed, the strategy could consist in assembling the right around Macron to face his supposed main opponent Marine Le Pen. If this strategy could be found efficient, it drives away Macron’s traditional base of progressive and cosmopolitan center-left citizens and most importantly poses a great threat to the democratic institution of Freedom of Press and Informing. These measures might be a classic case of anti-democratic procedures on the verge of democratic backsliding in an aim of political gain.

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