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Protests Worldwide - January 2021

Protests Worldwide Newsletter
Protests Worldwide - January 2021
By Protests Worldwide Newsletter • Issue #1 • View online
If you are like me, and you are interested in protests, revolutions and social movements around the world, you may have faced a problem: While there are great resources to stay informed on particular protest movements, types of protests or regions, there aren’t really that many ways to stay informed in a short, digestible way without delving into alot of detail and individual research.
So…starting this year, I will write up a quick summary of protest movements last month. I will do my best to provide additional sources if you want to do more in-depth reading, but mostly, think of this newsletter as a summary and overview across a wide range of topics. The emphasis lies on developments and dynamics in individual cases, and similarities across cases, rather than detailed event anlysis and specificities of cases.

U.S. Capitol...Somethings?
This one was hard to miss if you had access to media this year, honestly, so I won’t delve into it for long. After the last U.S.-election, incumbent candidate Trump lost, but refused to accept the outcome, instead inciting his supporters and challenging the legitimacy of the election. This result was protesters storming the Capitol building, some of them armed. Yet, what emerged next was a truly interesting debate about the terminology: Are these protests, riots, a coup or even an insurgency?
Ok actually, terminology may not be the most interesting part about armed people storming parliament, but it did reveal some awkwardness when it comes to describing events at home which commentators seem to avoid with similar events abroad. At first, most media outlets were reporting it as protests, but at events unfolded on January 6th, they switched to other, more drastic terms, leaving mostly with Trump-supporters as the ones who used the term protest. Instead, some opted for riots; yet, riots, an inherently unorganized, spontaneous form of protest, seemed not in line with the level of organization preceding the storming. Others spoke of insurgents, even terrorists, indicating more of a militarized kind of direct action which mostly lacked central leaders, pointing to the lack of military support. Yet, there were plenty pointing out that the mere success does not indicate whether or not a coup was attempted, with academics on both side of the debate disagreeing on how close it came to a coup. Ultimately, though, this raises another question: Is terminology also debated as much and worded so carefully in other countries?
India's Farmers Protests
Modi’s rightwing government had seen quite a few protests over the last year: The citizenship protests and a 24-hour strike in early 2020, as well as farming protests and what could be the largest general strike in history. And 2021 sees a continuation of these farming protests. The government is so far reacting with some concessions and some repression, hoping to endure these protests like it did with previous ones. So far, it seems unwilling to repeal its liberalization laws, despite the number of suicides by farmers increasing and 60 percent of India’s population depending on agriculture.
Anti-Lockdown Protests in Europe
A number of small protests against anti-pandemic measures shook up European countries. Most European countries are firmly in the midsts of another wave, while fending of a new, more potent strain of the virus and preparing mass vaccinations. Yet, (mostly) on the fringes of their respective political systems, these measures see some resistance. In the Netherlands, what started as anti-Curfew protests quickly turned into a series of riots, with virus deniers and vandalizers organizing through Social Media. Dutch authorities reacted with emergency measures and arrests, but what remains is a sense of how volatile Dutch politics are. In Austria, anti-Lockdown protests were partially organized by the far-right party FPÖ, while Belgium and Hungary also saw protesters defying bans on gatherings.
French Security Bill
Ever since November 2020, France has seen protests over its new security bill banning video footage of police. Activists are worried that this will not as much protest police, as it will enable police brutality. After drawing large crowds last year and French President Macron promising a revision of the controversial bill, protesters still moblized tens of thousands in January. Protests included members of the yellow vest movement and opponents of pandemic measures.
Lebanese Anti-Lockdown protests
Just a little over one year ago, a tax on WhatsApp started major anti-government protests across Lebanon. While the pandemic stopped most major movements, the recent anti-Lockdown protests show how quickly protests can emerge. While Lebanon, like most of its neighbours, avoided most of the pandemic earlier last year, cases have been spiking since last summer. And since the country remains in deep political and economic crisis, its population is not well positioned to deal with a lockdown, with many still reeling from the Beirut explosion in August 2020 and half the population living below the poverty line. Inflation, a historic GDP decline of 19%, fallout from the Syrian war, and blows to the tourism industry due to travel restrictions add to that.
Israel: Anti-Netanyahu and Orthodox Anti-Lockdown
Israel is not only facing high numbers of infections per day, and running one of the fastes vaccination programmes in the world, it is also seeing mass protests across the political spectrum. First, there are the protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu due to his corruption charges. For months, they have rallied on a weekly basis in order to call for his resignation, sometimes using car convoys in order to circumvent rules on gatherings. While protesters against the Prime Minister mostly circumvented rules and employed new forms of protests, Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox community has been much more likely to openly challenge pandemic measures and refuse to cooperate. Their protests over the closure of religious schools resulted in major clashes with security forces and riots.
Tunisians protest 10 years after their revolution
Tunisia enacted a lockdown over the 10th anniversary of the revolution. This, however, backfired in a series of protests. Tunisia is struck by political gridlock, pandemic measures and a drop in tourism, a key sector of its economy. This frustration, combined with state repression, quickly led to riots - just in case “Neither police not Islamists, the people want revolution” didn’t give that goal away. Many protesters seem to be minors, but that did not prevent repression. With Tunisia’s economy set to contract by 8,2% in 2020, and a unemployment high, there is little hope the government can offer protesters. Although it could try shooting less.
Navalny Protests
Russia, despite its seemingly stable autocratic rule under Putin, has been shaken up by protests frequently. Just a decade ago, the largest anti-government rally since the fall of the Soviet Union drew headlines, with Navalny organizing protests against the election in 2011. More recently, local politics erupted in major anti-Kremlin protests in Eastern Russia over the arrest of a popular ex-governor. In both cases, protesters were able to mobilize, and maintain, thousands to tens of thousands of supporters for months to come, despite repression.
This should provide some idea of just how much potential a protest movement could have. After the arrest of Alexei Navalny, arguably the best known opposition figure with a nationwide platform, who attacked Putin directly with his documentary “Putin’s Palace” on corruption, supporters of his took to the streets. The government reacted by arresting thousands and mobilizing massive security forces. Protests seem to be largely driven by young Russians organizing over Social Media, but with the government expecting protests and willing to answer with massive force, an escalation seems more likely than a quick solution.
Turkish Student Protests
After Turkish president Erdoğan appointed a new rector of Boğaziçi University, students across the country protested against the move in another effort to fight for autonomy of campuses. Ever since the coup in 2016, Turkey has seen arrests and dismissals of professors, with many seeking asylum abroad. Security forces seem to take a harsh line against students, yet this may backfire, as during the 2013 protests when seemingly localized resistance against an urban development plan led to a violent eviction, and this violence spurred nationwide protests as a reaction.
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