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Good old France – No More

COVID led France into a recession that the country had not known since 1949. Compared with the previous year, French GDP fell by 5.8% in the first quarter of 2020.

The organization for economic cooperation and development (OECD) predicts that France could lose up to 14% of its GDP this year. In this case, it will be the world biggest drop in the economy.

The recession is accompanied by a catastrophic increase in unemployment. The number of registered “temporarily unemployed”, 80% of whose wages are paid by the state, exceeded 12 million people. It is almost half of the working age population. According to Pôle emploi, the French state employment service, the unemployment rate rose by 22% in April compared to March, which was 843,000 people.

Having realized the need to resume economic activity and having started to apply measures to get out of quarantine, France faced other challenges.

Despite the ban on demonstrations in many major cities of France, such as Lille, Marseille, Lyon, thousands of people continue to hold the protests against racism and police brutality. They reach the largest scale in the capital. Already on the first day of getting out of quarantine the 3rd of June, the protests, which according to various sources involved from 15 to 30 thousand people, ended with riots in the area of Clichy in Paris. The “Truth for Adama” committee is calling for protests. It was created by Assa Traore, sister of a black young man Adama, who died in police custody after being arrested in 2016. He became a kind of French George Floyd.

The ongoing demonstrations are accompanied by numerous acts of vandalism and clashes with the police. The French are particularly outraged by acts of desecration of monuments of Charles de Gaulle in Hautmont in the North-East of the country and in Pavillon-sous-Bois near Paris. Busts of the General are painted orange and written “slaver” despite the fact that de Gaulle in the late 50s, overcoming the resistance of the far-right, initiated the process of decolonization, which led to the independence of many African countries, including Algeria, Senegal, Mali, etc.

In response to the protests in Paris, there are demonstrations of police officers who resent the actions of Interior Minister. The manifestations are organized by police unions, outraged by accusations of racism and violence that they consider unfounded. Discontent was caused by the words of interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who in his speech declared “Emotions exceed legal rules”. He also demanded the police officers to be suspended from work “at the slightest suspicion” of any violations. In many cities in France, the policemen held protest and defiantly placed handcuffs in front of city police stations.

“My colleagues are no longer protected, they are left to their fate by their Minister, so I call on them from now on not to detain anyone and not to interfere in anything,” said Yves Lefebvre, head of the police Union Unite SGP Police – FO.

This situation contributes to the development of impunity and arbitrariness throughout the country. While racial riots continue in Paris, mass clashes between migrants from the Maghreb and Chechnya have been going on for almost a week in the Eastern city of Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region.

The reason for the riots was a conflict in a cafe, where migrants from Algeria beat a 16-year-old teenager from the Chechen diaspora. In all likelihood, the dispute was related to the drug trade. After that, there were calls on social networks for Chechens to punish the perpetrators. Representatives of the Diaspora began to come to Dijon not only from neighboring French cities, but also from Belgium and Germany. By Monday evening, when the robberies of representatives of the Chechen Diaspora began to subside, the Arabs, having also gathered a sufficient number of people from different cities, in turn took to the streets of the city and organized pogroms. If the Chechens were mostly armed with knives, baseball bats and rebar, representatives of the Maghreb community armed themselves with pistols and AK-47.

The fire from Dijon is already spreading across France. On Sunday night, three Chechens were injured in a shootout during clashes between the communities in Nice.

Similar clashes have occurred in France before but on a smaller scale. Back in April during the quarantine, tensions were observed in areas of Nice, where a network of drug dealers operated. Irritated residents tried to take control of the buildings to prevent the drug deal. It led to a clash with automatic weapons, two men were injured. After this incident, there were acts of vandalism in the city with the burning of cars, the walls were painted with anti-Chechen inscriptions. Also in March, there was a shootout in Toulouse, apparently related to drug traffic. It injured 6 people of Chechen nationality who were employees of a private security company.

Chechens living in France say that problems with people from the Maghreb have been occurring for a long time. The reason was the fact that refugees from the Caucasus were settled in rough areas next to Africans, where their own laws had already been established. The Africans allowed themselves to search the residents of the houses where the drugs were dealt, suspecting them of police agents. It was extremely unpleasant for the Chechens. Over time, the degree of opposition increased.

The Diaspora of immigrants from the Maghreb countries is a direct consequence of the large flow of migrants due to the decolonization of Morocco and Tunisia in 1956, and Algeria in 1962. Migrants from this African region, primarily from Algeria, have formed a stable and very active Diaspora in France, which is the largest in Europe and has, according to various sources, up to 9,000,000 people.

The Chechen community in Europe, particularly in France, Germany and Belgium, is significantly less numerous. It was formed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They emigrated after the second Chechen war, when Europe was willing to accept refugees from the war-torn Caucasus. More than 60,000 Chechens have been granted political refugee status in Europe. The largest Diaspora is located in the Eastern regions of France and has more than 20,000 members.

Both diasporas deal with crimes. In particular, Algerian groups, according to the French police, control a significant part of drug traffic in the country, while Chechens prefer theft and fraud, which does not cause mass discontent among the population.

If the Chechens have earned more trust from the French than the Arabs by their “peaceful” trade, today’s clashes in Dijon show that they are still belligerent and ready to take up arms if necessary. Chechens have a reputation for being strong soldiers. It also provided them the leading positions in international terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Clear examples are Abu Umar al-Shishani, a former “war Minister “of ISIS. Musli Margoshvili or Muslim Abu Walid al-Shishani is one of the leaders of the rebel coalition in Syria. The prefix “al-shishani”, indicating Chechen origin, has become a standard in ISIS intelligence.

Today’s confrontation between diasporas is taking place at a time when the country’s police system is very weak.

Today both Arabs and Chechens strive to expand the confrontation and to force as many people as possible to take to the streets of the cities. Mass performances are actively fueled by infusions of videos into the network from fake accounts. For example, a video of Arabs defiantly waving automatic weapons at the camera appeared on Youtube on Monday evening, and was distributed by suspicious accounts. These videos do not apply to official media, as the Arabs declare “Putin”, praise Kadyrov, and paint the walls “Vive Poutine, vive la Russie”.

According to few eyewitnesses, men distributed the Kalashnikovs right on the streets of the city.

Chechen and Arab groups are much better armed in France than in the rest of Europe. They are likely to be able to obtain arms from North Africa, Kosovo and Albania. Also in the immediate vicinity, there is the North of Italy, where mafia groups like the Camorra are involved in the arms trade.

The French in this situation apparently expect that during the clashes, Chechen groups will be able to pacify the Algerians and reduce drug traffic in the country. However, while they wait and hope that the warring diasporas will not switch to them, there are more clashes with the gendarmerie and special forces of France. Two special forces units were recently sent to Dijon.

Security forces will give a “tough response” said Secretary of state under the Minister of internal Affairs Laurent Nunez.

So far, approximately 10 people have been injured and only 4 have been detained.

The fact that the groups do not face each other, and that migrants from the Maghreb countries took to the streets only when the Chechens stopped to stage riots, proves that neither side is ready for the actual use of force, but only to demonstrate it.

Usually ethnic criminal organizations demonstrate a violent-oriented behavior because they are mostly involved in street crime and operate on the fields of organized crime assuming regular acts of violence (human and drug trafficking, prostitution, robberies etc). However, the current situation is a result of not only the usual approaches of gangs. Both sides of the conflict actively exploit the religious factor. In the future, this may either escalate tensions between them or become a uniting factor that would shift their aggression towards a third party. Expected large-scale provocations are likely to attract the attention of the greatest possible number of destitute, impoverished and still hesitant migrants across Europe and attract them to fight but not with each other.

Thus, at a time when the racial conflict is gaining strength in the north of France, a religious conflict emerge in the east and the south of the country. If the central government does not start employing direct steps to contain the threat of organized crime complicated by ethnic or religious factors, the affected social groups may become the basis for further destabilization of France. The situation is further complicated by consequences of the COVID-19 and migration crises. The conflicts are likely to cover a large territory of the country, or even pass its borders.

The only way that would allow France to settle this situation with minimal losses is to consolidate its entire forces to maintain order so that today’s contradictions do not lead to future civil clashes.