The scenes in Paris were stopped, as protesters marched on the Champs-Elysees, the largest avenue in the city, throwing projectiles at the police and receiving tear gas in return.
But it's in small French cities like this, nestled at the foot of the hills near the Swiss border, where anger is most felt.
People here depend on their cars. They are therefore particularly frustrated by the rise in diesel prices and by a new tax on gasoline, at the heart of the national "yellow vest" movement, which has led to marches and roadblocks throughout France over the last few years. last weeks.
"Put the question to a Parisian. For him, none of this is a problem because he does not need a car, "said Marco Pavan, 55, who said he drove trucks and taxis in Besançon and the surrounding area for more than 30 years. .
"We live on the side of a mountain," said Pavan. "There is no bus or train to take us anywhere. We must have a car. "
Many people here are also deeply frustrated by their president. They see Emmanuel Macron as part of an elitist coterie that does not understand or care about their way of life or how the decline of traditional industry has dug their city and limited their prospects.
"And then, there is the disdain – he laughs openly people," said Yves Rollet, a retired Besançon who spent the time Wednesday listening to a Bach concerto in his parked car. A yellow vest was visible through the windshield.
Rollet said he participated in last weekend's protest because he was fed up with how Macron ruled monarchy and rejected the poor and the workers.
Rollet remembers an incident that occurred in September when Macron told a young unemployed landscaper that it should be easy to find a job. "If you are willing and motivated, in hotels, cafes and restaurants, in construction, there is not a single place where I do not go where they do not say that they are looking for people, "said the French president, formerly the young man's business banker.
"We called him from the beginning the" president of the rich, "said Rollet. Noting how many times Macron, who introduced himself as a centrist, uses the phrase "at the same timeIn his speeches, Rollet added: "Well, he is at the same time the president of the right and the president of the right. "
Saturday, about 75,000 people took to the streets across the country during the third act of the event. In Paris, supporters of the yellow vest burned cars, attacked shop windows and clashed with the police. Local authorities said at least 92 people were injured in Paris, including 14 policemen.
In Buenos Aires for a summit of the Group of 20, Macron promised that violent protesters would be "held responsible for their actions".
For his part, Macron last week sought to show empathy and humility, while insisting that it would not yield to violent demands or the revocation of the tax. on gasoline, a product of the country's climate change commitments. "We can not be Monday for the environment and Tuesday against the rise in the price of fuel," he said in a statement speech on energy.
Macron acknowledged that French politics had not done much to reduce life-related spending in major French cities, except to encourage people to live further and buy cars.
"They do not perpetuate this situation, they are simply the first victims. . . "He said," So we have to listen to the social alarm, but we must not do it by renouncing our responsibilities today and tomorrow, because there is also an environmental alarm. "
Since being elected in May 2017, Macron has been one of the world's leading advocates for climate change. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convince President Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreements of 2015 and organized a second climate summit in Paris in December 2017.
France has more diesel cars than any other country in Europe. Higher taxes on diesel have been part of the climate negotiation since the beginning and have also been included in the global guidelines for years. Paris and the surrounding suburbs have moved to ban old models of diesel cars from their roads. And the Macron government has urged France to ban the sale of all gasoline cars by 2040.
Macron, however, was criticized for doing less on climate change than he had promised. His Minister of the Environment, who resigned last August, said he "did not want to give the illusion that my presence in government meant we were responding to these problems properly."
Now Macron's opponents of both the extreme left and the far right have supported the movement of the yellow vest, making the demonstrations easier to dismiss as a politicized spectacle. Skeptics also point to the perception of white dominance among yellow vests, and movement leaders refused to meet the French prime minister after learning that the meeting would not be filmed or broadcast live.
Although Macron's approval rating has fallen to record levels, it can also be tempered by the historical trend of the French, who have generally turned against their presidents so far.
As Macron said in an interview with Der Spiegel last year: "The French want to elect a king, but they would like to overthrow him when they wish. . . . You have to be ready to be decried, insulted and ridiculed – it's in the French nature. "
Sociologists and advocates of poverty point out that the frustration underlying the yellow jacket's demonstrations is real: it is the inevitable result of decades of social fracture between a rural France, increasingly destitute, and the big ones. prosperous cities of France.
"In these territories marked by the absence of tomorrow, there is a form of post-industrial desperation that is eating away at the middle and working class who have been hit hard by the brutal crisis. [of] 2008 and the resulting budget cuts, "said Niels Planel, a poverty reduction consultant who has worked in the region.
"To cite one example, a young student who just finished her bachelor 's degree said she could not stay in her home area because, in her city," it' s not a problem. There is nothing, "Planel said." In the face of austerity, city councilors must always do more with less, while facing growing dissatisfaction from their constituents. "
Although France has one of the largest railway networks in the world, the map looks a bit like a wheel: all the rays come from mid-sized provincial cities and converge towards Paris in the center. You can get to the capital from Besançon by fast train in about 2h30. But much of the surrounding area is relatively poorly served by public transport. Without a car, a basic commute would take hours, often along a hijacked route.
"It is important to understand that this movement of" yellow jackets "is in no way an opposition to the environment," said Benoit Coquard, expert at the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Dijon, which belongs to the same region administrative system than Besançon.
According to Mr. Coquard, the question is perceived as a double standard. "What is disputed, is that middle and lower class drivers are forced to pay, but that in their eyes we do not ask enough of it to big business and the rich, who also pollute the most because they often take airplanes. "
Fuel prices and social charges increased in parallel with the administration of Macron, which abolished the famous wealth tax in France.
Pavan, the driver, said: "France must be aware of the environment, yes, but it's a change that everyone needs to do – not just the workers."
"Why do small people have to pay, when big dogs pay nothing? People have a feeling of injustice and I do not know how it will end. "