History kind on French activists, not Occupy

| Cheng Huan 31 Dec 2018

Mainland Chinese tourists used to flock to Paris for its beautiful architecture and luxury shopping.

That was a few, long years ago.

Since then there have been too many reports of pickpockets and muggers who target Chinese tourists, to such an extent that Paris has lost much of its previous luster.

When I hear friends discuss a trip to Paris nowadays, the advice that is often repeated is "be careful, especially at night."

It's all very sad because, to tell the truth, most big European cities are less safe now.

Paris has also been in the news recently for another reason.

Huge demonstrations, riots, mayhem and general disorder erupted across the whole of France and even spread into Belgium and the Netherlands.

Every Saturday for five weeks disaffected people took to the streets to express their unhappiness with the government.

Their initial complaint was about an increase in the price of diesel, but their grievances soon grew to include inequality.

"Our incomes are too low and taxes are too high" was the common grudge.

Using social-media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook the demonstrators had no organizer or leader.

They identified themselves by wearing the yellow safety jackets - gilets jaunes - that French law says must be kept in every vehicle for use in case of an emergency.

The thousands of gilets jaunes made me recall Occupy Central and its adoption of yellow umbrellas as symbols of unity and defiance - and to appreciate why the Hong Kong movement was bound to fail and the gilets jaunes were sure to win.

It comes down to cultural background.

In Hong Kong there is no social or cultural acceptance of movements like Occupy Central. It was always bound to fail.

But in France the opposite is the case.

Rioting has been part of its culture ever since the 1789 French Revolution and its people know that big spontaneous demonstrations achieve their objectives.

When the French get a whiff that a government is weak, their instinct is to voice their discontent in the streets.

Look at the behavior of grumpy French farmers, who are so easily upset that governments are frightened of them.

Anger them and within days they will dump something nasty outside local government offices - such as pig manure.

France is one of those countries where demonstrations have molded the nation.

It was rioters who attacked the Bastille prison that started the 1789 revolution.

Another crowd attacking the royal palace overthrew the monarchy in 1792.

People power introduced democracy in 1848, and in 1870 another riot created a republic.

In 1944 protests led to the liberation of Paris from Germans, and in 1968 massive demos in Paris spread across Europe.

The French understand that demonstrations and the use of violence gets results and even professionals with high incomes do not mind if their interests are supported by rioters who burn cars and shops.

A poll this month found the rioters were supported by 73 percent of the population.

That's an incredible figure - typical of France but something that I don't think can ever happen in Hong Kong.

It's also why the publicity-seeking antics of a few democrats in Hong Kong will never earn popular support.

I feel somewhat sorry for French President Emmanuel Macron, who won a historic victory only a year ago.

But all of a sudden the gilets jaunes have crushed him, and his reputation is in ruins.

Such is the life of politicians in France.

In a way I admire the French but only because their behavior is part of their culture. What works in France brings necessary results, but the French way of effecting change does not work elsewhere.

France really is different - Vive La France!

is an author and a senior counsel who practices in Hong Kong.

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