What are the origins of France’s saucepan-banging protests?

Historians say they evolved from a mediaeval ritual but their political use dates back to the 19th century

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Whether it is Emmanuel Macron, Élisabeth Borne or a more junior minister, wherever the French government goes right now there is a familiar sound.

The unmistakable din of saucepans being banged.

It is a form of protest intended to drown out a politician’s speech or show disdain for a particular decision.

The government’s move to force through controversial pension reforms has seen the practice come raging back into fashion.

Dubbed casserolades - a word formed from casserole, the French for saucepan - the protests appear to have touched a nerve.

France’s president, after facing a casserole chorus on a recent visit to Alsace, said banging saucepans “won’t move France forwards”.

“I don’t think these people want to talk. I think they want to make noise,” Macron added. “If we are in a society where we only listen to people who want to make noise to cover up words, then we won’t do very well.”

Read more: Five key takeaways from Macron’s televised speech to the nation

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

What is the history of France’s saucepan protests?

To find out, The Connexion interviewed author and historian Bruno Fuligni, a lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris.

He said France’s first casserole or saucepan protest for political reasons was linked to the 1830 revolution, which saw three days of protests from July 27 to July 29 and ousted King Charles X in favour of Louis Philippe I.

Known under “Les Trois Glorieuses” in French, it is understood as the second French revolution after 1789. The events propelled France into the July Monarchy that ended in 1848.

In 1832 protesters used saucepans to denounce the revolution and the new king.

The tradition then spread to other parts of France, including smaller towns where the protests were seen as a way of denouncing MPs, prefects or priests.

Mr Fuligni said a much-forgotten ‘casserolade’ happened in 1904 following the government scandal involving authorities keeping paper records of Catholics and monarchists who were suspected of sedition against the Republic.

“Back then in slang Parisian, the term casserole meant snitch,” said Mr Fuligni, adding that the display of saucepan was therefore meant to provoke the government.

‘A means of expressing radical disapproval’

Speaking generally about saucepan protests in the 19th century, historian Jean Garrigues, from Orléans university, said they were used to “express a radical disapproval toward the sovereign leader” and made a link with today’s demonstrators.

He said back then it was a way for citizens - without a means of doing it politically - to express their opinion.

While today’s protesters can express their views at the ballot box, the use of the 49.3 article - which meant the pension reforms were approved in parliament without MPs voting - left them feeling disenfranchised.

"The idea behind the disconnect between the Republican monarch and citizens is something we have found in the pension reform strikes because of the verticality with which Emmanuel Macron used the Republic's institutions," he told RTL radio.

Another reason that these protests have endured is the ubiquity of saucepans in households in France and the fact it is difficult to use them as a weapon, added Mr Fuligni.

“A bit like the yellow vest protests, everybody has a saucepan at home,” he said.

A link with mediaeval protests?

The use of saucepans as political protest is thought to have evolved from ‘lecharivari’ in the 14th century, said Mr Fuligni.

“It was a symbolic non-violent act meant to show reprobation,” he said, defining charivari as a “collective outburst of sound to protest or stigmatise.”

Charivari often happened below someone’s window late at night to denounce bad moral habits such as adultery or people who had married too early or with the wrong person.

“However old or in disappearance it [charivari] is, there may be remnants of that custom,” he said, a nod to the protests of today.

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