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Leonid Bershidsky

Macron’s Yellow Vest Response Makes Putin Look Soft

Protester violence is a problem in France, but the Russian dictator is not a good example when it comes to dealing with popular discontent.

Restrict violence, not protests.

Restrict violence, not protests.

Photographer: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron’s handouts to Yellow Vest protesters have damped the demonstrators’ fervor somewhat but failed to stop the regular eruptions of violence, so now Macron and his government have decided to wield a heavier stick. The new rules being proposed ought to raise some eyebrows: They’re tougher than the norms Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime uses to suppress political opposition.

The shift from a conciliatory tone toward law and order began with Macron’s New Year’s speech, in which he condemned extremists who had no right to speak in the name of the French people. “They are only the spokespeople of a hate-filled mob,” he said. Then, on Monday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the government would seek a new law to crack down on violent protest so that those who “take advantage of these manifestations to overrun, to break, to burn” don’t “have the last word.” The bill, he said, would likely be considered by parliament in early February; according to Philippe, it would be similar to a measure the Senate, controlled by the center-right opposition, approved in October.