Comrades in Protest


For Europe, the time is ripe for an Arab Spring-style rebellion.

The protests raging across southern Europe share much with their Arab counterparts. In both regions, the masses are wildly discontented with corruption in national politics, which has ravaged their countries’ economies for decades. The sentiments behind Arab revolts, which aimed to throw off the shackles of dictatorial regimes, have resonated deeply with European audiences and have sparked widespread protests.

Europe is a continent of democracies. Its political climate cannot legitimately be called repressive or authoritarian, as many Arab regimes unequivocally are. However, institutionalized corruption in parts of Europe is undeniable and proves to be exceedingly vexing to its citizens.

According to European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, 4 out of 5 Europeans consider corruption a major national problem. In Greece, where anti-government protests and strikes are held daily, perceived corruption rivals that of the Arab Spring nations. On the 2010 Transparency International Perceived Corruption scale – where 1 is “highly corrupt” and 10 is “very clean” – Greece scores a 3.5, Egypt a 3.1, and Tunisia a 4.3.

Corruption goes hand-in-hand with economic woes. For Arab countries, the relationship is blatant. Tunisia’s former first lady Leila Trabelsi, through extortion and coercion, essentially used the national economy as her personal ATM account. Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak too has been accused of engaging in corrupt business transactions, accepting kickbacks and allowing close friends to steal public funds.

European politicians are not above the corrupt tactics seen in the Arab world. Economist John Sfakianakis writes, “The Greek political landscape is ingrained with vested interests, endemic kleptocracy and bribery.” These practices have devastated the country and caused rampant unemployment, stagnant economic growth, and a lack of opportunities for young people.

The regularity of government corruption in Mediterranean Europe is reflected in the fury of its citizens. The aganaktismenoi – the outraged – occupying Athens’ Syntagma Square demand that, “the corrupt political elites who have ruled the country for some 30 years and brought it to the edge of collapse go.”

The Greek economy’s state of desperation has caused tensions between government and citizens to peak. Greek protests, riots and strikes represent a wider discontent that is evident throughout southern Europe.

Spain’s los indignados – the indignant ones – filled Madrid’s Puerta del Sol by the thousands calling for political reform. The demonstrators claim that, “unions have engorged themselves, that corruption and self-dealing hampers government, and that… a three-year downward economic spiral has impoverished the common folk and enriched powerful financial interests.” Showing solidarity with Spanish protestors, the French and Italians have also rallied for “Real democracy now!” and an end to government corruption.

Unlike Tunisian and Egyptian protestors, government overthrow is not the intention of European demonstrations. However, as protests rage on, regime change may yet be in the cards.

As young protester Jaime Viyuela explains, “You can’t really compare us to people who were risking their lives by protesting… But yes, you can say that we are inspired by the courage of the Arab Spring.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons