Europeans Hit the Streets in Response to Global Recession

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Considering their magnitude, the protests that have taken place across Europe in the last week have received remarkably little coverage in the U.S. press.

One exception is the latest issue of Newsweek, which warns policymakers to “Beware the European Street”:

Everyone knows about the “Arab Street,” to which most policymakers listen with care. But now may be the time of the European street. More and more disenchanted citizens are deciding that the politics of the street make more sense than their ruling politicians. Europe’s elite may have just made its annual pilgrimage to Davos, but no one is listening to the incantations from the Swiss Alps. Instead, the European public has staged angry demonstrations in more and more countries.

More complete coverage comes out of London. In a piece called “Sarkozy vs. The Street,” The Independent reported on protests in France last Thursday:

In the biggest demonstrations seen in France for more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday to protest against everything from the global economic crisis to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to shrink the French state.

About 300,000 people – mostly representing the many tribes of a rejuvenated left-wing movement – marched raucously through the centre of Paris to demand higher wages, more job protection and greater government efforts to stop the country from tipping into a deep recession.

The Guardian offered a roundup of protests that took place around Europe the same day–particularly in Eastern Europe, where they are experiencing a new side of capitalism:

France paralysed by a wave of strike action, the boulevards of Paris resembling a debris-strewn battlefield. The Hungarian currency sinks to its lowest level ever against the euro, as the unemployment figure rises. Greek farmers block the road into Bulgaria in protest at low prices for their produce. New figures from the biggest bank in the Baltic show that the three post-Soviet states there face the biggest recessions in Europe.

It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.

Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.

The Guardian also has a photo series–take a look. Makes you wonder why we’re not seeing pictures like this from Sacramento, or Las Vegas, or Detroit–or Wall Street, for that matter.

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