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January 23, 2009

Hope and Change in Europe
Posted by Hanna Lundqvist

A wave of violent protests and riots is spreading across Europe in response to the financial crisis.  The outbreak has prompted EU leaders to call a March summit to address the unrest.

Violent protests have erupted in:

  • Iceland: After the Icelandic economy collapsed this fall, protests against the government have escalated, with demonstrators throwing eggs, paint, snowballs, and yogurt at government officials and being met with tear gas and clubs.  The Prime Minister agreed today to call early elections for May 9, and will not seek re-election.
  • Bulgaria:  Hundreds gathered outside the parliament, violently protesting the government's corruption and inept response to the financial crisis.  EU officials have stated they are particularly worried about developments in Bulgaria.
  • Greece:  Violent riots erupted around the country in December after the police shooting of a teenager.  A second wave of riots continues for the second week over the economic crisis and the failing education system.  The riots in Greece prompted sympathetic protests in Moscow, Madrid and Berlin, where the Greek Consulate was briefly stormed.
  • Latvia:  10,000 people laid siege to the parliament last week, protesting high taxes and government austerity plans required for EU and IMF loans.  Latvians are demanding action or resignations.
    • "'Latvians are normally very quiet,' a Latvian diplomat told the EU observer website. 'People obviously are seeing what is happening in other countries in the rest of Europe, such as Greece, and they thought "Why are we so calm?".'"
  • Lithuania:  Crowds threw stones at parliament, protesting government austerity plans.
  • Russia:  Unrest erupted in Yekaterinburg and Vladviostok over expensive car import duties.

Riots and protests are expected to spread further.  Hungary and Poland are especially nervous, and Spain's unemployment figures are rising fast.  China is also extremely concerned about rising social unrest due to falling exports and increased unemployment.

Interestingly there seems to be a connection between some of these European protests and the inauguration of Barack Obama, particularly in Iceland:

Jón Gíslason, a university student, said the inauguration of President Barack Obama caused feelings of rage to boil over [in Iceland]. Obama, Mr. Gíslason said, “is actually respected.” The event in Washington, D.C., “stood in stark contrast with the situation here,” Gíslason said Wednesday night, as he stood near a burning trash can. “Our leaders have lost all credibility and seem to bear no responsibility.”

Though the desire for change and accountability is largely shared by Americans, and peaceful protest is a shared right, the violence employed by protesters all over Europe contrasts spectacularly with the peaceful, organized, smooth transition of power from President Bush to President Obama by a passionate and peaceful democratic election.  While Obama's message of "Hope and Change" may have inspired the desire for a new direction in some of these protesters, their violence dishonors the first part of his message.  Following Obama's example of seeking unity and bipartisan solutions, violent protesters in Europe should find another way to peacefully, democratically pressure their governments to respond to their concerns and more effectively address the financial crisis and other problems.  

h/t Heather


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