french farmers protest
© Fred Scheiber/Sipa
Following almost two weeks of intensive protests, the black smoke from huge tire fires is clearing as transport routes open again in Occitanie, France, where farmers had blocked roads, motorways, and railway lines with piles of manure, trash and hundreds of tractors. With Toulouse - France's 4th-largest city - and other cities at times almost completely blockaded, the impact was felt throughout southwestern France, and likened to a 'civil war'.

Already feeling the downward pressure of low prices for their products, local farmers were up in arms over re-zoning plans that would see them effectively made redundant because their farms would no longer be entitled to EU subsidies. But the crisis appears to have been temporarily solved after French Minister of Agriculture committed Thursday to leaving intact subsidies for most of the affected communes in Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine.

Rural colere against Paris and Brussels is sure to flare up again soon because President Macron hinted just last month that he is willing to consider a complete overhaul of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, something French governments have until now always strongly defended because France's rural communities are particularly dependent on EU subsidies.

French national media largely ignored the farmers' protests - after all, so long as peripheral matters don't directly impact Paris, then tant pis - although they did sit up and take notice when the siege of Toulouse became really serious earlier this week. In the meantime, a number of other protests across France in the last ten days or so have contributed to a pronounced sense of national gloom.

farmer protests france
© Nicolas Albrand
The cost of damage to highways by protesting farmers across Occitanie is expected to run into millions of euros
The atrocious weather of late hasn't helped lift spirits any. Non-stop rain this winter flooded Paris for the second time in 6 months, with the accumulated rainfall in December and January reaching a level not seen there since the winter of 1935-36. Nationally, France saw its wettest January since 1959. Incessant low pressure has brought non-stop storms in from the Atlantic, and with them persistent overcast skies. Swathes of France and Belgium recorded their second-lowest count in sunlight hours for any month since record-keeping began in 1887, though the endless darkness was at least 'brightened' this week by heavy snowfalls in central and northern France, bringing Paris its biggest snowfall since 1987 and again seizing up transport networks.

In late January, La Manche fishermen protesting the use of 'electrical pulse' fishing by large Dutch trawlers - which hits smaller fishing operations financially and depletes stocks for everyone - blockaded Calais and Boulogne with more tire-fuelled roadblocks, while trawlers prevented ferries coming in or out of Calais port, the major transport hub between the UK and France.
fishermen protest france
© Unknown
Fishermen in Boulogne set pallets and tyres alight on an access road while two French boats blockaded an area of the port where Dutch trawlers unload
Also in late January, and also lasting 10 days, French prison guards - en masse - flouted a rule that prohibits them from 'downing keys' by going on strike in 129 out of the country's 188 correctional facilities until they received guarantees for better pay and working conditions - specifically, the isolation of Muslim radicals from the rest of the prison population.

That protest was sparked by a knife-attack against three prison guards on 11 January by Polish-German 'Muslim' terrorist Christian Ganczarski, convicted for his role in a terror attack in Tunisia in 2002, and who had just that day learned he was up for extradition to the US for suspected involvement in 9/11. Guards' protests then flared into a nationwide strike after a convicted murderer seriously injured 7 guards at a prison in Landes on 16 January, followed by an incident two days later at a prison in Corsica when a radicalized inmate screamed 'Allahu akbar' as he knocked two guards unconscious.

Back in Calais, the immigrant 'Jungle' - which officially no longer exists since it was 'cleared' in late 2016 - saw the worst outbreak of violence in its 19-year existence when hundreds of its denizens armed with iron bars and sticks fought a running battle on 2 February for control of the camp and 'people-smuggling rights'. Firearms have apparently now reached the immigrant complex as 5 of them received bullet wounds that night.

That same day, 5 French army officers were killed after two Gazelle military helicopters crashed mid-air at a flight training school east of Marseilles. Authorities have provided no information about what caused it.

death of france

Ma pauvre France
French authorities are apparently doing little about all these rolling crises because they're too busy focusing on what really matters, like passing legislation that outlaws 'fake news' about the rolling crises. The French Minister of Culture announced last week that a new law will make "different" media platforms "cooperate with the state", while a "judicial procedure" will enable the state to "rapidly block the dissemination of fake news once it is published." It's of course being done under the pretext of 'countering Russian propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik', but the real purpose - as in the US and elsewhere in the West - is to stifle internal dissent. On the bright side, at least France still has a Ministry of Culture: its president infamously said "there is no such thing as French culture" while campaigning last year.

Other recent kafkaesque moves by Macron's government include impending legislation to outlaw 'sexual contempt', part of a 5-year-plan to wage 'cultural war' against... well, in this instance, French men, who could be fined up to €350 if they "follow women in the street, whistle at them, make loud comments about their appearance or ask for their phone numbers." The list of potential transgressions may not end there.

There's no money to subsidize farmers paying the hidden costs of neoliberal globalization, but there apparently is money to roll out an expensive nationwide reduction in the speed limit on national roads from 90 to 80kph. With signs on over 400,000km of roads to replace, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe reckons the price will be worth it because his bean-counters estimate the reduction in speed will save 350-400 lives a year. This measure is set to come into force on 1 July, and it too prompted mass protests that brought traffic to a halt up and down the country.

Every life matters, I guess, especially when your national statistics office announces that the birth rate fell in 2017 for the third year running, pulling France down from the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman in 2014 towards the depressed EU birth rate average of 1.58. Julian Assange suggested last year that "Capitalism + atheism + feminism = sterility = migration." Sounds close enough, though it depends on what is meant by 'capitalism'. France has long prided itself on a healthy birth rate but it looks like Western mania for sexual liberation and novel genders has finally caught up with it too.