May 5 in Paris, thousands of people surrounded Place de la Bastille demanding changes in President François Hollande’s unsuccessful austerity policies.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, one of the founders of the Front de Gauche (FG), organized the rally this Sunday, following the May 1 Labor Day protests. Mélenchon reported that 180,000 came out to the event.
With France’s unemployment rate reaching an unprecedented high of 12.1%, Mélenchon’s far left party is not alone in its frustration. Critics from all sides either condemn Hollande’s policies for being too conservative or not conservative enough, for dividing the left-wing parties and unions, or for not taking decisive action. Sunday’s protest came the day before the one-year anniversary of Hollande’s election, but protesters hope to push him to change his tactics, if not just “sweep” him away altogether. Some demonstrators on Sunday carried brooms for just that purpose as people rallied together to call for a sixth republic.
As followers of the FG, two attendees, ages 38 and 28, explained, “We didn’t have any expectations of Hollande. We wanted Sarkozy to go away. He’s working for the French socialist party so we knew he would be conservative, but we wanted to have less aggressive and less racist speech. So this is an achievement, but now we want something else.”
And what is this something else? “We are asking here for a sixth republic.” They hope this sixth republic will be one “with less corruption and less concentration of power.” This desire to restructure the government and start anew reflects the utter disillusion with France’s trajectory expressed by many French citizens.
Ipsos released survey results showing that only 25% of the French still view Hollande favorably, which is down one point from the previous month. Le Monde also reports today that the French people’s pessimism far exceeds that of the average European, with 85% in France who believe that next year will only be worse, compared to the European average of 75%.
Looking ahead, Remi, a 17-year-old attendee, fears for his future. As he is about to enter university next year, his biggest worry is the unemployment that young people face when they finish their studies. Standing with a few friends in a crowd of thousands, he explains, “I’m fighting for my future – for everybody’s future.”