Global protests: are they all interlinked?

Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong, Chile, Ecuador... In recent weeks citizens in many countries and regions of the world have taken to the streets to protest. Commentators in European papers look at connections between the protests and identify a common catalyst.

Open/close all quotes
Trud (BG) /

A Latin American Spring in the offing

The era of left-wing governments in Latin America seemed to be over but the new rulers didn't factor the people into their calculations, Trud concludes:

“In Brazil, the popular Workers' Party leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was far ahead in the polls before the presidential election, was convicted of corruption in a show trial, whereupon the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro came to power. ... In Ecuador the new president Lenin Moreno gave in to the US and the IMF and introduced a 4.2 billion dollar austerity program. ... This led to a social explosion and mass protests. ... It's still too early to say, but it can't be ruled out that the new shift to the left taking place before our very eyes will soon sweep across the whole of Latin America.”

Público (PT) /

Looking to Facebook for inspiration

Público believes that one movement is taking its inspiration from another on the Internet:

“The political and social circumstances in and of themselves in each of these states justify the launch of protest movements that have clearly arisen for country-specific reasons. But an imitation effect can't be ruled out. This has always existed and in these times it is reinforced by the dominance of social networks and the inherent logic of communication.”

The Economist (GB) /

Protests are the new status quo

Showing solidarity has become an integral component of today's world, The Economist believes:

“For all its legal and physical dangers, protest can be more exciting and even more fun than the drudgery of daily life; and that when everybody else is doing it, solidarity becomes the fashion. Every wave of protests has its copycat element. The ubiquity of the smartphone, however, has transformed how protests are organised, popularised and sustained. ... Little suggests these trends are about to go into remission. In which case, this third wave of protest [after the late 60s and late 80s] may not be the harbinger of a global revolution, but simply the new status quo.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

A world that is uniting

The protests across the world are proof that a global society is forming, columnist Gwynne Dyer comments with delight in Cyprus Mail:

“What we have here, despite the multiplicity of languages, religions and histories, is an emerging global society with shared values and ambitions, especially among the young.There are millions of angry dissenters from this evolving consensus, but for the first time ever we really are becoming one people. That is a comforting thought as we head into the millennial storm of climate change. It couldn't have come at a better time.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Weak left needs to watch out

Commenting in La Repubblica, MEP Bernard Guetta fears that the worldwide protests could backfire:

“The front of fraternisation - the left, the centre and the progressives - has not yet regained the intellectual dynamism it lost in the last quarter of the 20th century. ... A total vacuum that is all the more dramatic in that it has enabled the rebirth and confirmation of the reactionary ideas that emerged in the 19th century from the criticism of the French Revolution and from the questioning of the Enlightenment. Even if it is a minority, the extreme right is currently the most dynamic political force. The authoritarian and xenophobic nationalists could use this to take the lead in the current revolt, as first fascism and then Nazism did at the beginning of the last century.”

Politiken (DK) /

The West acting appallingly

Politiken calls on European leaders not to side with authoritarian governments:

“Fear of civil wars can delay new demands for social and democratic modernisation, but not the need for it. The experiences of Iraq and Libya do not call for direct European involvement. But the cooperation of Western governments with authoritarian and restrictive regimes should at least be questioned, politically and morally. The expansion of cooperation with regimes that oppress and neglect their people and ignore their sacrifices is shameless and pathetic.”

Planet Siol.net (SI) /

No chances of advancement

Too many people across the world are struggling to make ends meet even though they have jobs, Siol.net explains:

“The protests are not just about the masses of the poor, the losers of globalisation, the people who become cheap labour for Western companies after fleeing climate change and corrupt regimes. The teacher in Chile, the student in Algeria and the nurse in Beirut all have the same problem: despite their education they are condemned to never being able to rise into the middle class. ... We already know what this feels like in Europe too.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

This crisis is enduring

Hopelessness and despair will further fuel the protests, Phileleftheros fears:

“Millions of people have experienced a significant decline in their standard of living in recent years. Wages are stagnating if not dropping, and the cost of living is rising sharply. ... Despair is widespread, especially among young people who are well aware that this generation is worse off than the previous generation, and who may never get the chance to have a better life. The crisis that began in the last decade seems to be enduring and is wreaking havoc. The protests will continue and it is likely that they will become even fiercer.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Democracy is in danger

Populists will exploit the people's profound dissatisfaction, De Volkskrant fears:

“Basically, populists aren't just anti-elitist but also anti-pluralist. They say: only we truly represent the people. That leads to an emotional, polarising stance vis-à-vis the established system. This system is quickly equated with a morally reprehensible, corrupt elite which has conspired against the people and therefore must be eliminated. This brutalisation of politics can be observed everywhere you look in the West. And in the rest of the world populist leaders all too often jeopardise honest elections, a free press, an independent judiciary and an unhindered political opposition. That is more than simply a midlife crisis.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Injustice is fueling protests

Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs explains in Novoye Vremya why the protests are above all taking place in rich cities:

“Because of very high housing prices, most people are pushed away from the central business districts and typically depend on personal vehicles or public transport to get to work. Much of the public may thus be especially sensitive to changes in transportation prices, as shown by the explosion of protests in Paris and Santiago. ... It behoves every society to take the pulse of its population and heed well the sources of social unhappiness and distrust. Economic growth without fairness and environmental sustainability is a recipe for disorder, not for wellbeing. We will need far greater provision of public services, more redistribution of income from rich to poor, and more public investment to achieve environmental sustainability.”

T24 (TR) /

Song and dance as weapons

The best thing about the protests is their peaceful nature, comments T24:

“Let us take note of another thing they have in common: these are peaceful mass protests, without a trace of violence. ... Songs, folk songs and dances are becoming weapons. ... In Chile's capital, Santiago, songs by Victor Jara can be heard from the balconies. In Lebanon, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Yezidis and Maronites all sing the same song, arm in arm, side by side on a huge square. They sing the song from Beethoven's 9th Symphony in Arabic.”

Libération (FR) /

Demonstrators lack concrete ideas

The protests taking place around the world should be more constructive, Libération urges:

“While these movements are expressing a spontaneous rebellion, they suffer from a dramatic lack of intermediaries in parties and associations. Anger at the elites is understandable, after all they fine-tuned the cult of financial orthodoxy, the celebration of 'top performers' and dogmatic austerity policy. ... In most cases, however, such anger has resulted in a vacuum, or in demagogy. Without reforms, without negotiations, without compromises, nothing can be accomplished. Protesters fill the streets, the squares, symbolic buildings. Then they go back home without tangible results, bitter and frustrated. A social movement without political prospects is like opium for the people. ... At the end of the spring one should start thinking about the harvest.”

El HuffPost (ES) /

Perhaps you are part of the problem

Commenting in El Huffington Post, activist and artist Yolanda Domínguez criticises those who find the demonstrations annoying:

“Social justice is not a passing trend, as many say, nor is it a slogan on a T-shirt. ... Anyone who compares the social and political movements of several generations with rapid consumption or accessories is demonstrating a huge lack of perspective. To say this is something temporary or trivial testifies to a complete absence of empathy. ... If you are the kind of person who is annoyed that articles are being written about the same things again and again, about feminism or social justice, and that demonstrations are constantly taking place, you should ask yourself why this bothers you. Perhaps because it reminds you that if you do nothing, you are part of the problem.”

De Standaard (BE) /

When politicians ignore citizens' demands

The protests show that in many places politicians are not focussed on the citizen interests, warns De Standaard:

“Hong Kong, Lebanon, Barcelona and Chile... In all four cases, citizens are taking to the streets to protest what they see as unacceptable injustices in their country. In Hong Kong, they are fighting against the demise of the rule of law, in Chile against inequality, in Lebanon against mismanagement and in Barcelona against a lack of respect for self-determination which the Catalans claim as their right. Four examples of states that are more or less deliberately ignoring the wishes of their citizens. Maintaining a grip on power, institutions and established values has been given priority over the concerns and needs of the population.”

Mediapart (FR) /

No one tackling the underlying causes

Mediapart believes that the current wave of demonstrations across the globe is an expression of a crisis of neoliberalism that will only escalate further:

“This crisis is just the beginning. There is absolutely no reason to hope that this neoliberal crisis will be resolved quickly - in fact, quite the contrary. Societal pressures are being compounded by the growing number of climate disasters that only worsen social conditions. ... Above all, states seem incapable of finding solutions other than those set out in the neoliberal canon. True, protesters in Ecuador and Lebanon were satisfied by the withdrawal of controversial schemes. In Lebanon a redistribution measure was even approved, a tax on bank profits. Yet these successes are fragile and leave both the underlying problems and democratic demands unanswered.”

Expresso (PT) /

The failures of liberal democracy

Expresso also analyses the root causes:

“Each of these situations [Brexit, Catalonia and US president Trump's wall] has its own causes - not just historical, but also social, economic and political. ... However, it is undeniable that there is an increasing tendency towards isolation in some societies and countries. There is an attempt to build ghettos, to erect walls and barriers. To pit the good guys against the bad guys. Us against them. A threat that comes from outside and undermines inner harmony. This is a divisive discourse that generates social divides and exalts some at the expense of others. This dangerous notion - the more isolated, the better - is a failure of liberal democracy and capitalism.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Like an epidemic

Mass protests and street battles seem to be in vogue at the moment, Mladá fronta Dnes comment:

“In Hong Kong, they have been demonstrating and fighting for over four months. In Barcelona half a million people have taken to the streets. In Lebanon the atmosphere is reminiscent of the times of civil war. In Chile, of the Pinochet era. Indonesian students are studying the protest methods used in Hong Kong. They are importing this know-how to create an explosive situation in their own country. They believe their cause is just, so anything goes. It really does feel like an epidemic.”