A video that purportedly show diners calmly eating their meal in a restaurant as flames surround the building has gone viral on social media, as French cities are set ablaze during protests over the raising of the national retirement age. Many on Twitter compared the scene to a real-life meme.
“The French really did the ‘this is fine’ meme,” wrote one Twitter user sharing the video, which has now reached more than 485,000 views, referring to a popular two-pane image meme of a dog sitting in a room engulfed by flames but declaring that everything is fine. The original image is from a webcomic from K. C. Green’s, Gunshow. It’s unclear where the video was shot, as various locations ranging from Paris to Lyon, in France, are mentioned. It is also unclear when and how the video was shot.
But the scene portrayed in the video—open fires casually burning in the middle of the street—is one that is consistent with the images that have emerged from certain parts of France in recent days.
Shoulder-high flames and piles of garbage: this is how some of Paris’ streets have looked these days, as protests against a highly contested pension reform, forced through by President Emmanuel Macron, rage on. On March 16, Macron’s government sidestepped a parliament vote on the bill using special constitutional powers, angering protestors.
Triggering Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, Macron pushed forward his plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, forcing it through the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. The bill had already gone through the Senate, but its approval at the National Assembly was far from guaranteed.
Though France’s state retirement age is much lower than in many of its European neighbors—in the U.K., for example, the retirement age is 66 and, in Germany, it is 67—the issue is considered extremely contentious in the country, and Macron’s proposal led to strikes and widespread protests. But Macron and his party have said that the reform is necessary to make sure that the pension system remains sustainable in the long term and save it from bankruptcy.
A similar debate is creeping up in American politics, with analysts predicting that the U.S. Social Security program could become insolvent by the middle of the next decade. Possible solutions, like raising the age required to access pension benefits, are likely to be deeply unpopular with the public.
In France, anger against the bill was only exacerbated after Macron resorted to measures perceived as extreme to pass the proposed legislation. Strikes that have been ongoing since the beginning of the year intensified, involving schools, transport, oil refineries, the public sector, and more.
As garbage collectors have continued to strike, heaps of trash have been piling up in the streets of Paris and other French cities. Despite the smell taking over the streets and rats feasting over the unexpected banquet, Parisians and the French public have generally been supportive of the protests. “I’m 200 percent behind these guys,” 62-year-old Vincent Salazar, an artistic consultant who lives in Paris, told The Associated Press. Garbage collectors are “smelling [trash] all day long… They should get early retirement.” Polls have shown that a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension legislation.
Macron’s government, led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, survived two no-confidence votes on Monday, which were triggered after it forced through the increase in the pension age. Now, the pension bill is expected to become law.
The failed votes of no-confidence sparked new protests in Paris and across France, with clashes and tense standoffs between demonstrators and anti-riot police happening in the capital.
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