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25. March 2019 Maxim Oweyssi

Gilets Jaunes in Toulouse

In January, I took some extra shifts at the cafe where I work so that I could buy myself a birthday present, a ticket from Edinburgh to Toulouse. The original plan was to simply visit a friend doing his pilot training in France, however the date of my visit just so happened to be during large scale protests by the yellow vests “movement“. I’d generally prefer not to digress into the motives of the manifestants, however since I have, luckily/unluckily, found myself in the centre of it all and just so happened to have my camera with a fresh roll of film on me, I decided to try and find the “human” snippets inside the general craze, because I believe that they speak the most about these kinds of situations.

In the previous photo, I managed to witness a dispute between two men and a police officer. It seems almost civil, in that one could even assume that there is some sort of a discussion going on. In reality though, everything was terribly unorganised, words and emotions were flying through the air from different directions making me discombobulated. Our eyes started to water… Teargas has been used all but a few blocks away from us.

What made the whole situation even more surreal to me was that the protests were happening not long after the 30th anniversary of Palach’s week and events that, to this day, resonate inside the Czech society like ripples on a pond. For my generation, The Velvet Revolution is occupying a very strange thought space. All of our parents, all our teachers in school and most people on the street have witnessed it, however none of us did. This makes it even stranger to see hundreds of policemen around with body armour and shields, trying to manage a crowd counting thousands of people. But a crowd of people out who aren’t protesting for their freedom or human rights. They are protesting against everything and nothing at the same time.

As I was leaving with burning tears in my eyes, getting away before the whole thing escalates any further, I still couldn’t quite figure out what to think about what I’ve just seen. Reading about protests is one thing, but seeing armed policemen all around, pitted against people who all disagree with system reforms out of mostly individualistic reasons, is a completely different thing.

Even after coming back to Edinburgh, I’m still not sure which side had the moral high ground that day. Only thing that I am sure about is that I’ve never seen this many policeman at once anywhere in Prague, but I’ve also never been to a manifestation where the larger idea or sense of the protest would be as blurred as there.

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