‘French anti-gay-marriage protesters smeared as extremists’
Central Paris saw outbursts over in violence over the weekend
when police cracked down on crowds protesting last month’s
legalization of same-sex marriage.
Though the 200,000 protesters estimated to have attended were
largely peaceful throughout the day, the rally ended with tear gas,
clashes and arrests.
John Laughland, from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, said it was “mad” for the French government to crack down on the protest when President Francois Hollande’s popularity is at its lowest level ever.
RT: So, why there was such a harsh response from the French police towards the anti-gay demonstrators?
John Laughland: I think the French police under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior regard these demonstrations as an ideological threat to their power – and indeed that what’s they are. This is the biggest mass demonstrations probably in the whole of French history, and certainly for the last 30 years or more. And they have been completely unexpected. The government never expected so many people to turn out into the street. And they realize that those people who were demonstrating yesterday, as I say, they are ideological enemies. And there’s been a lot of propaganda, encouraged again by government, saying that the demonstrators are an extreme-wing gang.
RT: As you say, the Interior Ministry had fully expected the far-right groups to join the protests and provoke clashes. Over 4,000 police were mobilized to maintain security, so why were they unable to control the situation?
JL: I didn’t want to say that there are far-right groups. This is the government propaganda. This is precisely the way that the government has been seeking to delegitimize what is a massive demonstration and is overwhelmingly peaceful. The fact that a few young people ended up throwing a couple of bottles at the police – not that I approve it – doesn’t mean as the government would like to pretend that somehow dangerous, sinister forces work behind these demonstrations. As far as I know, although there were clashes and although there were a large number of arrests, I don’t believe that there was any serious breakdown in law and order.
RT: The French government's extremely unpopular at the moment, with president Hollande's rating hitting a record low of 24 percent. This doesn't seem like the best timing for a crackdown on protesters.
JL: It’s completely mad. And, of course, it only encourages the demonstrators and their supporters around the country to think that the government is dictatorial. You know, they’ve gathered together a million people, the vast majority of whom have demonstrated peacefully, and yet they were met in the run-up to the demonstration on Sunday with very hostile propaganda by the government. The Ministry of the Interior said that children shouldn’t come, there’s going to be violence and so on. The impression we got very strongly, commentators and participants alike, was that the government was doing everything it could to delegitimize the demonstration and to discourage people from coming.
RT:Hollande's election was hailed as a revival of social democracy. What does the recent police action tell us about its current state?
JL: It tells us that, whereas in economic policy, none of the policies of Francois Hollande can be described as left-wing. He campaigned, you’ll recall, against austerity, saying that he wasn’t going to accept an austerity package. And, of course, as soon as he was in power he implemented one. And this is having very serious effects on French society. So, to substitute, if you like, for this failure to pursue any kind of social or economic policy, he’s instead putting through this law on gay marriage, which in the words of its own authors will bring about a change of civilization. It’s a kind of substitute, if you like, for the economic policies that he refuses to implement. And as for the police, they’re acting under government’s orders. The head of the Ministry of Interior [Manuel Valls] was in police headquarters yesterday more or less directing operations. So, they’re acting politically.