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Monday, 23 December 2013

Summer of discontent: Citizen unrest and the politics of protest in Southeast Europe

Kerem Öktem (Open Society Research Fellow, European Studies Centre, St Antony's College, Oxford)

The summer of 2013 has been marked by significant citizen mobilization almost all over Southeast Europe. The mass protests of Istanbul's Gezi Park and Sofia's Orlov Most stood out. Yet, as we discussed in the workshop 'Citizen unrest and the politics of protest in Southeast Europe', discontent with populist politics and incomplete democracies had been building up all over the region over the last few years. As Gwendolyn Sasse (Nuffield) and Michael Willis (St Antony's) suggested, neither the Eastern and Southeast European protests, nor the Arab Spring uprisings can be understood as sudden outbursts of frustrated segments of society. As a matter of fact, protests don't just happen, they always have a pre-history, as one participant stated. In all cases discussed, a certain path dependence explains how popular discontent is translated into action or the lack thereof. In Algeria, for instance, protests did not take hold despite immediate proximity to Tunisia and economic problems as pressing, because the memory of the destructive Algerian Civil War is still very much alive. In this pre-history, a series of factors matter: From the levels of public sector employment to the content of IMF rescue packages, from public trust prior to the protests to forms of party mobilization, protests are shaped by these factors.