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Violence Against France’s Institutions – How Far Is Too Far?

An arson attempt on Saturday at the residence of France's Speaker of the Assembly has put the spotlight on similar acts of vandalism aimed at France's public institutions.

Richard Ferrand, speaker of the Assembly for France's ruling party La République En Marche (LREM) was no doubt surprised to hear that his secondary residence in Brittany was the venue of attempted arson on Saturday.

Local police said they found a blanket, a piece of rubber tubing and a handmade torch imbibed with fuel, which confirmed “without doubt” the criminal intent of the perpetrators. Ferrand has pressed charges and an investigation is under way.

No evidence of 'Yellow Vest' motive

The attempted arson, which took place on the same day as the 13th Yellow Vest protests, was initially suspected be linked to the movement's hardline demonstrators.

But according to Jean-Philippe Recappé, public prosecutor of Brest (Brittany), no evidence of this has been found.

“There was no graffiti, demands or other signs that link the arson with the gilets jaunes ”, said Recappé. “A window shutter and pane exploded, and it stopped there.”

He also underlined the absence of danger for Mr Ferrand.

“This is not a main residence”, Recappé said. “No one was in the house”.

How far will the vandals go?

Even if this incident did not cause any severe damage, it brings into light questions that are becoming more and more pertinent in France in the wake of the continuing Yellow Vest protests.

How far does one go to make one's grievances heard?

According to parliamentary sources, some sixty deputies of President Macron's ruling party LREM have been targeted with violence or insults since the Yellow Vest movement began in November.

“Attacking a Ministry, vandalising parliamentary offices, hateful and racist letters against deputies, and now arson at Richard Ferrand's house – what next for elected officials?” askedLREM deputy Sandrine Mörch

Indeed, hardline Yellow Vest protesters have tagged graffiti and burnt cars in front of elected officials' homes since the beginning of the movement.

A few weeks ago, violent Yellow Vest protesters bulldozed into the offices of France's government spokesman and set cars alight.

On Saturday, during the 13th week of Yellow Vest protests, some demonstrators urinated on France's National Assembly and Senate buildings.

Interior Minister said on Saturday that these acts were “a threat to democracy”.

France's changing government systems – a sixth Republic?

France, of course is no stranger to massive public upheavals. This is where the people rose against established monarchy and beheaded the King and Queen.

France's government system is also unique in the sense that it has gone through several 'Republican systems' since the 18th century. France has embraced monarchy and imperialism, parliamentary and presidential-style democracies, and even a regime under German occupation.

These changes in government systems are known as France's five 'Republics'.

Some speak about changing the system again to form a sixth Republic, and perhaps this is what some Yellow Vest protesters are trying to achieve.

But times have changed.

While the demands of Yellow Vest protesters are considered legitimate by a large number of French people, the hardliners are, in fact, harming the movement rather than helping it along.

Destroying public property, attacking elected officials, breaking into the intimacy of their homes and urinating on France's institutions do not propagate a healthy image of the movement.

Moreover, a section of the Yellow Vests plan to run for European Parliament, and have formed a political party. But this has divided the movement even further.

Acts of disrespect to elected officials and national institutions on the one hand, and a jump on to the electoral bandwagon on the other, where, indeed, is the Yellow Vest movement headed?

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