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Écharpe tricolore de maire, worns by mayors in France. Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

Threats, attacks against French elected officials tripled in 2020

In particular, violence by citizens against mayors has risen sharply. The total number of attacks, threats or insults against elected politicians recorded in 2020, stands at 1300.

Published: April 1, 2021, 5:50 am

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    In one year, this figure has soared – multiplied by three – which is an increase of 200 percent, reported FranceInfo on March 30. It is a worrying scourge that raises questions about the causes of this violence and the solutions to stem it.

    From insulting tags to death threats, including physical assault, many elected officials now experience this fear of seeing their homes, their vehicles or in some cases themselves being attacked. Some mayors even had to be placed under police protection. On this distressing phenomenon, the Association of Mayors of France (AMF) considered that local elected officials were even more exposed since the municipal elections, but affirmed that the increase in violence against them was not new and that it has been growing for several years already.

    Worried, the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin and the president of the AMF François Baroin, wrote to the 35 000 mayors of France to encourage them to make themselves available for training in a campaign launched last February. On the program, are practical scenarios to teach them how to better manage situations of tension with their citizens.

    Among the elected officials attending the training, the mayor of Vire Normandie Andreu Sabater, who told FranceInfo about the aggression he suffered two years ago and lamented: “It is true that we have more and more situations where our role as mayor, our status, is not known at all or is no longer respected. Unfortunately, I think this is a pretty clear trend in our society today.”

    Two years ago, two masked individuals were stopped by the mayor as they were busy vandalising a public garden. On December 2, 2018, Sabater saw two hooded “youths” who attacked the decorative flower garden and the signs that are opposite in the parking lot of the municipal offices. “I opened the window and asked them to stop.”

    The two then ran up to the window, took a tear gas canister out of their pockets and exploded it in the mayor’s face. “Very quickly, I closed the window and left. The youths then tried to break down the garage door of the restaurant. The owner of the restaurant also went out and was able to stop them.” He called the police and they were able to arrest the two men.

    Some people who were in the building were inconvenienced by the gas and shocked by the violence of the scene, but no other individuals were injured. The mayor lodged a complaint with the gendarmerie.

    Henri Delatour, mayor of a small village in the Cévennes, also described the violence he suffered when he tried to intervene to reason with anti-mask activists in a market: “I try to resist the pressure and there, boom, the blow in the mouth. I was knocked out completely. Frankly, it’s scary,” he concluded.

    The Lyon-based Communist Party’s Rhône federation received a letter threatening a beheading in November 2020. The letter appeared to be in response to urban violence in Bron. The local section of the PCF then advised the mayor Jérémie Bréaud to “ignore it” for the sake of public tranquility. Five mayors in the Rhône department alone received similar threats.

    And the tide has not turned. The mayor of Rillieux-la-Pape, Alexandre Vincendet (LR) was threatened with a beheading on social networks this year. Two Internet users respectively suggested emasculating him and cutting his head off, in comments on Facebook. Vincendet filed a complaint after being targeted by Islamists, against the backdrop of a controversy around the distribution of food parcels in this district of Lyon.

    But some mayors have taken a preventative stance by showering potential troublemakers with money. The violence-plagued, immigrant-dense district of Villeurbanne, also in the Lyon metropolitan area, received, on Tuesday March 30, the French capital of culture label. Awarded for the first time, it aims to encourage the “urban cultural project” of the city, announced the Ministry of Culture. This label is accompanied by funding of one million euros.

    “Villeurbanne, rich in its industrial history, a young and growing city, has chosen youth as the strength and target of its urban cultural project,” noted the jury, welcoming the fact that this city of 150 000 inhabitants “intends to reconnect with its tradition of popular education and innovate through its artistic and cultural education actions”.

    Without irony, the Socialist mayor of Villeurbanne, Cédric Van Styvendael, hailed this distinction as the culmination of “twenty years of commitment to cultural youth policy”. The district has been the scene of extreme violence aimed at law enforcement recently as FWM reported. It is the second-largest metropolitan area in France after that of Paris.

    “We had made the choice, leaning towards a ‘place for young people’ which could have been unfavourable to us, it is not bling-bling, but the jury trusted us and saw the very solid and very sincere base of our candidacy,” he added, welcoming this “second breath of fresh air” brought to “cultural players who need encouragement”.

    In the past, Villeurbanne had been best known for its National Popular Theater (TNP), a national dramatic centre created in 1920 in the old building of the People’s House in the heart of the historic district of Gratte-Ciel, a modernist utopia of the 1930s.

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