on Discontent – February 2009

The 2008-2009 winter has proved a harsh one for peace and social justice movements worldwide with the brutal murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos on the 6th of December and war breaking out again in the Gaza strip. These two events ignited outrage everywhere and moved people in very different contexts to take to the streets not only to voice their opinions in reaction to these injustices, but also to speak out about their own immediate worsening situations, to show their discontent. It is impossible to cover every protest and uprising which has taken place in Europe in the past months so below is only a small part of the discontent. On Discontent

Financial Crisis

A look at how particularly hard hit the Eastern Europe and some of the Baltic states have been by the financial crisis has resulted in this general downturn manifesting itself in the streets threatening existing power structures, but also at times resulting in a rise in nationalist sentiments. Even though south-eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria have suffered from government corruption in the last years while places like Latvia and Lithuania have been undergoing an artificial boom they now find themselves in similar situations, with massive lay-offs and unemployment problems, salary cutbacks and food prices rising. [source: Eastern Europe braced for a violent ‘spring of discontent’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/18/eu-riots-vilinius]

As the situation around the world worsens with markets crashing and riots errupting as a consequence of people losing jobs and homes not all are, or pretend to be, shocked. Looking back to the situation in Argentina in 2001 Naomi Klein takes a look at Latvia and Iceland and the population’s similar, to the Argentinian one, refusal to bear the brunt of the crisis. She also brings up the point that while governments often try to take advantage of such moments of crisis in order to pass unpopular laws and reforms it has been made clear in the past months, as in 2001, that people are not willing to put up with such actions and are more than willing to take to the streets: [source: Public Revolt Builds Against Rip-off Rescue Plans for the Economy http://www.alternet.org/story/125566/?page=entire]

Nathan Coe, independent journalist, offers an overview of global unrest by giving examples ranging from Russia and China to the USA and France and the various types of actions, demonstrations and strikes which have taken place to protest mass lay-offs and conservative cut-downs and reforms, as well as looking at the fear governments are showing as more and more repressive and preventive law enforcement operations are taking place. [source: Revolt Spreads Across the Globe as “Crisis” Continues to Unfold ]

A brief rundown of recent events in different countries across Europe

In early December Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot and killed by police in the center of Athens. This ignited a wave of intense riots across greece and solidarity actions around Europe and further. However, taking a closer look it becomes clear that while this tragic killing may have been the spark the reasons behind the uprising have been adding up for a longer time and ranged from prison overcrowding, government corruption, increasing poverty and general worsening of social conditions. When the war in Gaza began in January it offered yet another reason for people to show their opposition out in the streets. Both events were important reasons in and of themselves for protests to errupt but they were also some of the catalysts for far longer lists of complaints and increasingly worsening situations which people could no longer tolerate. Cities which rarely, if ever, witness protests or similar actions made the news and governments have been forced to react to the will of the people either by listen or through even greater repression. Seemingly unrelated events and outbursts have created a general atmosphere which shows that the situation is no longer tolerable.

As one of the countries to have been first and hardest hit by the financial crisis the Icelandic population was also one of the first to state its demands, eventually forcing the old government to step down and choosing a new one at the beginning of 2009. Also in early January tense riots broke out in Oslo at a demonstration calling for an end to the war in Gaza. Riots also broke out in Copenhagen after police arrested over 100 people and used force during and after a peaceful rally and march by 7000 people protesting the war in Gaza. Later in the month out of a different impulse riots broke out in Riga, Latvia, where thousands of people took to the streets to protest government corruption and economic mismanagement. As the day wore on things heated up as protested tried to reach the parliamanent asking for a new government. Latvia’s government has since fallen. At the same time another call for a government to step down came out of Sofia, Bulgaria where a couple thousand people, including students, gathered to protest the high level of government corruption and the general poverty in the country. The protest was forcefully dispersed by police and some arrests were made. In cities across Russia a national day of action to protest the economic crisis was called for February 1st however protests did not have a chance to take place as authorities mobilized 23 000 police officers and 4000 soldiers in order to maintain order and ordered large numbers of preventive and administrative arrests around the country during those days. As Russian ones have done UK authorities are also preparing themselves for a spring and summer of civil unrest as the financial crisis worsens. Activists across the country have been mobilizing using a variety of strategies and types of actions to bring attention to both the situation and the fact that more opposition is needed. At the beginning of February, even a snowball fight was organized outside the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Neighboring country, Ireland has also been seriously affected by the economic downturn and is expecting a rise in mass union demonstrations such as the one that took place on the 21st of February with thousands in attendance. The general feeling of discontent around Europe has not been directly related only to the financial crisis, such as in Finalnd where students have been mobilizing to protest a new law which would include tuition and structural reforms in universities. A larger demonstratoin has already taken place on the 19th of February with the next one to happen on the 13th of March.


[sources: http://opiskelijatoiminta.net/english/ &http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2009/02/student_occupation_continues_overnight_at_helsinki_university_557609.html & http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/finland200209.html]


[sources: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/0212/1233867933253.html?via=rel & http://ie.indymedia.org/article/91285 ]


[source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/23/police-civil-unrest-recession & http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/02/421150.html]


[sources: http://www.vg.no/nyheter/utenriks/midtosten/artikkel.php?artid=550073 & http://www.aftenposten.no/spesial/bildeserier/article2856510.ece]


[sources: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7827708.stm &



[sources: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/21/iceland-globalrecession & http://newsfrettir.com/?p=2035 & http://newsfrettir.com/?p=2033]


[source: http://ekstrabladet.dk/gallerier/nyheder/article1109537.ece]


[source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7828709.stm]