Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 436, 15 September 2021

Europe: Protests triggered by COVID-19, climate change and homophobia
Joeana Cera Matthews

In the news 
On 11 September, a multitude of protests and marches took place across Europe. Polish healthcare workers marched in Warsaw demanding better pay and work conditions. In response, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said: "...if at this moment we have a budget for health that is 120 or 130 billion zlotys and there is a demand to increase that by 100 billion... it goes completely beyond the bounds of good sense and reason." 

On the same day, thousands marched in Serbia urging the government to increase efforts to prevent industrial pollution. Responding to the march, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said: "only since 2014, Serbia, despite all the problems and difficulties, has found time for such an important topic." Hundreds of people also gathered in Madrid calling for better protection of LGBT rights. 

Issues at large
First, climate change and pandemic as primary triggers. One of the major triggers is climate change. Many countries in Europe are either preparing for elections (like Germany) while others have just finished with their elections (like Norway); in both countries, climate change is a major election issue. The Serbian protesters, while expressing discontent in the governmental efforts, also denounced plans of developing a lithium mine. In Germany, a group of youngsters who are on the third week of their hunger strike claim that German political parties aren't conscious enough of the environmental crisis. Adoption of new measures by countries across Europe to reduce the pandemic's spread is another major trigger to the protests. Such protests made thousands gather in the Netherlands, Greece, Poland, and Turkey. While Greek protesters clashed with police forces over their demonstration against mandatory vaccinations, the Dutch protesters rallied under the slogan "Unmute Us" dissenting against the pandemic-induced nightlife ban. The French health pass protests, however, saw a reduced turnout on its ninth consecutive weekend. 

Second, other protest issues. Another widespread trigger is that of gender. The past months have seen a series of homophobic attacks in Spain, while other regions of Europe remain concerned about gender rights. Spain also witnessed a separatist march on La Diada (National Day of Catalonia), wherein thousands of Catalans rallied for their independence from Spain. The surging prices of electricity across Europe have also led to several protests in the region. 

Third, the background. The increasing heatwaves, floods, and other natural disasters have hit the conscience of both the people and the governments. Focus continues on climate change, as well as efforts to reduce its impact. Gender and gender rights are also coming to the forefront all over Europe.  

Fourth, governmental responses. In a step addressing the Spanish homophobic attacks, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez chaired a meeting to discuss reducing hate crimes which have grown by 9 per cent a year since 2014. The Dutch government, after deliberations on easing COVID-19 restrictions, announced on 14 September that most social-distancing requirements would be dropped by 25 September. With regard to the raging electricity prices, the Spanish government adopted emergency measures that would channel profits from energy companies to consumers and help cap increasing gas prices. Poland's Health Minister, however, dismissed the health workers' claims, saying their demands were expensive and unrealistic. In Serbia, the lithium mine development – considered environmentally damaging by Serbs – is an economic booster to the government.  

In perspective
The continuing protests indicate that Europeans are yet to come to terms with the pandemic restrictions and new governmental measures. The issue of climate is an immediate one in Europe. Green parties across the region have been pressurizing governments to take initiatives towards achieving the region's prescribed climate goals.  

The triggers to the protest are issues that need long-term solutions and will affect the quality of life. It is important that the EU and the regional governments address these issues with the utmost gravity.

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