Tuula Vaarakallio

French Yellow Vest Movement and Populism

The yellow vest movement, les Gilets jaunes, has been shaking France a year now. The movement has become symbolic visualisation of the political polarisation prevailing in France between the ordinary “people” in the street and the establishment, “the elite” that Macron represents and personifies. In a Laclaulian sense the Gilets jaunes movement acts as an empty signifier meaning that under the movement a variety of differing demands are expressed in the name of shared opposition to Macron.

In my talk I will discuss the topics that polarise contemporary France and analyse the different levels of social and political cleavages the protestors themselves are voicing and constructing under the symbolic yellow vest. I will discuss how the Gilets jaunes movement entangles with populism and populist parties on both extremes of the political spectrum. In this respect I will analyse the differences between politicians’ top-down populism and the so-called bottom-up populism by autonomous social movements, in this case the Gilet jaunes. In which way the yellow vest movement is populist and in which way grassroots leaderless social movements can be defined as populist?