News / Europe

Protests Rile Southern Europe Threatening Continent's Unity

Demonstrators holding placards march towards the building of the Spanish parliament in Madrid, June 19, 2011
Demonstrators holding placards march towards the building of the Spanish parliament in Madrid, June 19, 2011
Lauren Frayer

Social unrest is sweeping southern Europe, with protesters taking to streets in Spain and Greece, angry about high unemployment, welfare cuts and their governments' handling of the economic crisis. With demonstrations showing no sign of ending soon, Europeans are asking what the movement's lasting impact will be on the continent's social, political and economic unity.

Protesters - taking to the street

Walk down main thoroughfares in the Greek or Spanish capitals, and you're likely to see demonstrators - young people camped out on city streets, protesting high unemployment and their governments' handling of the economic crisis.

David Gomez is one of those out of work in Madrid. "In this situation, it's so difficult to find a job, because there are not many opportunities," he said. "The salaries they give to us are not very good."

Gomez says he feels like he's joined a pan-European movement. He's never been to Greece, but he calls protesters there his "brothers." He says if they unite, politicians can't easily ignore them. That's especially true here in Spain, with a general election expected by early next year. "They can't ignore us, because the movement is going on and on," he stated.

Similarities/differences in southern Europe rallies

While protest rallies in Athens or Madrid look remarkably similar, Spanish politicians are constantly pointing out the differences. Greece, along with Ireland and Portugal, is receiving European Union money to keep its economy afloat. Spain doesn't want to have to do the same.

Spain's finance minister, Elena Salgado, says that financial markets know the difference between a healthy economy and an ailing one.

Salgado says she believes the markets can "distinguish perfectly" between Greece and Spain. She says her government is implementing the reforms Spain needs, and that Europe as a whole has nothing to worry about when it comes to Spain.

But people like Gomez, who has been unemployed for two years, offers himself up as proof that Spain's economy could be the next to fall. "We're not the first country to have very big important problems, but they think we could be the next one to get in that situation. Maybe they should be worried about that," he noted.

With much of southern Europe teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, resentment has erupted between the continent's north and south.

Some Germans, for example, don't like the idea of bailing out southern economies generally seen as more corrupt, and less efficient. Some Greeks, on the other hand, resent the strict belt-tightening that comes with aid money.

Conspiracy theories, sterotypes, envy

This week, EU finance ministers postponed a decision to hand Greece another vital loan, until more austerity measures are implemented.

Decisions like that spark more anger - and even some conspiracy theories. Spanish protester Ruben Hernandez describes the stereotype he thinks northern Europe has about protesters in Spain or Greece.

"They show some news saying that we are very violent, and people without studies and that we only came here to drink and smoke. I don't think that's the truth. I have studies, and a lot of my friends have careers. We came here to protest and to try to change society," Hernandez stated.

But Hernandez also says he's envious of Germany's economy, and would take a job there in a second. "In their jobs, they earn much more than here, and they have better holidays and benefits that here in Spain we don't have. Since we came into the eurozone, all the things became expensive, but our salaries didn't grow," he said.

Vanessa Rossi, a European economics expert at London's Chatham House, says some of that animosity between north and south might be misplaced.

"It's like a sort of charity where they're biting the hand that feeds them. Somehow some of the problems that have been incurred in the eurozone have not been well explained to the public. In Greece, the explanation of what will happen if they do not fulfill conditions of this bailout. If they think that there's an easy option, to default or even to leave the euro - these are not easy options that will bring very quick, pleasant surprises for their economy," she said.

In such dire economic times, it's important to remember: Neither Spain nor Greece is the poorest country in Europe. Places like Romania have more poverty. But Rossi says social unrest sweeping southern Europe now has more to do with the continent's north-south divide, intervention from Brussels, unemployment and the way people perceive the legitimacy of their own governments.

"Populations feel disconnected from Brussels. But even more importantly, in the case of Greece, the population seems disconnected from its own body politic, and Brussels cannot resolve that. It's not a Brussels problem, it's a national problem," she added.

Rossi offers an incredible statistic. "The number of unemployed in Spain is about the same size as the total Greek labor force," she explained.

That's more than 4.5 million people. So while Greece struggles to fulfill austerity promises, Spain is carrying the burden of more than 21 percent unemployment. And northern Europe is left to figure out how to keep the continent's unity intact.


You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs