Eastern Europe: A year of protest

From Ukraine to Romania and Slovenia popular anger led to street demonstrations across the region.

In March, protesters in Slovenia forced the government from office [Reuters]
In March, protesters in Slovenia forced the government from office [Reuters]

For Eastern Europe, this was a year of protest. It started with Slovenia’s mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Janez Jansa, which had gained momentum in late 2012. By March, Jansa and his government were gone. Known as a quiet and stable Alpine country, Slovenia seemed an unlikely place for such mass protests. However, anger at growing economic woes of the country, but also at the cynicism of its politicians and their shameless display of  corruption , pushed thousands of Slovenians to the streets, on a scale the country had not witnessed since the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The winds of social protests swept through Romania and Bulgaria, where people demanded better living standards. Later in the year, both countries were hit by a second wave of public anger, after politicians tried to disregard the unrest. Romania’s protests also were related to environmental concerns over resource exploitation that the population voiced and the politicians ignored.

Little was said in international media about the demonstrations in Bosnia, but Sarajevo witnessed a rare protest that cut across ethnic lines, as people gathered to blockade their MPs in the Parliament until they resolved the dispute over the issuance of national ID numbers. This was a  signal sent not only to local politicians but also to the international community that the sectarian nature of Bosnian politics is running the country into the ground, and needs to change.

In Hungary, anti-government forces continued their  struggle against what they consider the deepening authoritarianism of the ruling Fidesz Party.

Russia and the EU

Ukraine wrapped up the year with a mega-protest of its own the – EuroMaidan – which echoes that nation’s Orange Revolution of 2004. The decision of the government to break negotiations with the European Union was the last straw that sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to the streets, driven by the desire to do away with what protesters view as a  predatory system of government developed by Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies.

Although the unrest in Eastern Europe largely has been seen as a consequence of Europe’s persisting economic crisis and austerity measures, protests in the region also have reflected anger and dissatisfaction with the entire region’s political elite, not just the ruling parties. The parliamentary elections in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic highlighted this process of confidence withdrawal from traditional political forces. Both countries saw a punitive  fragmented vote which made it difficult for a coalition and a new government to be formed.

Meanwhile, popular dissatisfaction in Eastern Europe has also fueled the far right and provided it with more political space. This year’s Polish Independence Day celebrations ended in clashes with the police after a far right  march became violent. Throughout the year, far-right factions in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria have flaunted their increasing sway with the public through demonstrations, violent attacks or controversial media appearances.

And the year is ending on a high note – bringing Georgia and Moldova closer to the European Union. The two countries recently  signed economic agreements with the EU amid hopes of future integration.  

Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova

Source : Al Jazeera

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