21 June 2012 - A new report on ‘subterranean politics’ across Europe from the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit reveals a strong undercurrent of political disillusionment that runs deeper than frustration with austerity cuts.
Professor Mary Kaldor, who led the study, says: “Mainstream political circles portray the crisis in primarily financial terms. Our study suggests that the crisis in Europe is primarily political. These protests are not about austerity per se, but rather about the failures of democracy as currently practiced.”
The report, which was launched in Brussels today and is supported by the Open Society Foundations*, shows a widening gulf between European politicians and their publics. While politicians concentrate on saving the Euro, the public are growing increasing distrustful of political elites.
Engaging on a Europe wide level with activists from many of the protest movements and burgeoning political groups of 2011-2012, the research involved seven field teams who undertook four country cases studies (Germany, Italy, Spain and Hungary), one global city (London) and two trans-European studies, employing a range of methodologies, including in-depth interviews and focus groups.
Key findings include:
Contemporary protests in Europe are resonating with mainstream public opinion in a way that has not been true for decades;
This ‘bubbling up’ of ‘subterranean’ politics can be seen most dramatically in the success of non-mainstream political parties of both right and left, as we saw in the French and Greek elections or in the rise of the Pirate Party in Germany and Sweden, among others;
Despite the relatively positive economic situation in Germany, there is political unrest amongst its grassroots groups, just as in other European countries;
Concern with process, accountability and transparency for many activists is more important than a programme of specific demands;
While many of the interviewees regard themselves as European in terms of life experience, Europe as a political community or public space only seems to exist for a small ‘expert’ minority of activists;
A re-thinking of democracy is taking place, witnessed in the new techniques of consensus building in public squares and in campaigns for the recent referendum in Italy;
This generation are the children of the Internet; they use the methods of social networking and they are preoccupied with internet freedom, particularly issues of anti-piracy;
Some of the interviewees wanted to shed pre-conceived labels and emphasise the ‘newness’ of what they are doing as ‘different from the communists, anarchists, bobos or greens.’
“There’s a lot to be said about frustrations with political processes,” says an Occupy LSX activist. ‘This is a screwed up system in terms of allowing people to have a say, policies for the common good, informed debate and critical media coverage.”
The full report, entitled ‘The ‘Bubbling Up’ of Subterranean Politics in Europe’ is available to download from http://www.gcsknowledgebase.org/europe.
*Active in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education. Visit www.soros.org for further information.