‘Actors are not dogs’: France’s pension protests take centre stage

Two artists made their views clear at a prestigious theatre awards ceremony, prompting a rare response from France’s culture minister

The Molières are among the most prestigious of accolades for French theatre
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France’s culture minister was forced to defend herself after two artists took to the stage to criticise the government’s controversial pension reforms.

Toufan Manoutcheri (comedian) and Lucie Astier (circassian) made the remarks at France’s Molière Awards (‘Les Molières’), among the most prestigious ceremonies in French theatre.

“The [French actor] Gérard Philipe once said: ‘Actors aren’t dogs’, to denounce the precarity of our careers and the weakness of our social rights,” said Ms Manoutcheri.

“The workers in the entertainment industry, in the energy sector, the railway workers, those who collect our rubbish, those who care for us, teachers... none of us are dogs.”

“But all alone, in his solid ‘ultra-liberal’ logic, from the top of his ivory tower, [President Macron] decided to raise the age of retirement to age 64.”

Ms Manoutcheri addressed her next words to France’s culture minister Rima Abdul Malak, who was in the audience at the Théâtre de Paris on Monday (April 24).

“When are you going to decide to break your silence?” she asked. “Since January 13, you haven’t been answering questions from unions over the consequences of this reform.”

Read also: Reignite or fizzle out? What next for France’s pension reform strikes?

The duo then left the stage, saying: “Vivent les cassrolades!”, which translates as “long live saucepan protests”. This was a reference to the long-standing form of protest in France in which people bang saucepans (‘casseroles’) to make noise, which protesters have increasingly done in recent days, in particular, during President Emmanuel Macron’s visits around the country.

Read also: Banging saucepan protests ‘won’t move France forwards’, says Macron

A few seconds later, however, Ms Abdul Malak stood up and said: “Normally, it’s the role of a minister to stay seated, but it’s not possible for me to do that now.”

‘Exceptional funds’

The minister responded: “This phrase from Gérard Philipe dates to 1957. There wasn’t even a culture minister then. Now, there is a culture minister who strongly defends French culture, who defends your intermittent system, which is the pride of our country.

“You have a culture ministry that gave you massive help during the [health] crisis, to support all of you.”

Referring to herself, Ms Abdul Malak said: “You have a minister at the head of this ministry who has unlocked a historic budget [against] inflation and energy prices. I have unblocked exceptional funds to come to the aid of the most fragile structures.”

She also added that unions had cancelled two meetings with her and said that “my door is open” if they wish to change their minds.

The audience then applauded.

‘This smells fake’

The exchange has been lauded on Twitter, with some users calling it a ‘masterclass’ in responding to criticism.

However, Bruno Attal, deputy secretary general of the France Police union, suggested that the response from Ms Abdul Malak may not have been as ‘spontaneous’ as it first appeared.

He wrote on Twitter: “This smells fake. The microphone was already ready. She knows, as if by coincidence, that a phrase from Gérard Philippe dates back to 1957. And ‘spectators’ then applaud.”

He added: “The two ‘artists’ were reading from a teleprompter, so the intervention from the minister seems to have been well-prepared [in advance].

“The applause from these ‘artists’ who have received billions of euros in assistance shows the complicity of show business with power.”

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