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Europe remained an interesting place for the assertion of rights and freedoms in different countries in different ways. In some cases, the restrictions in social life brought by the governments were the bone of contention, in other cases like Poland, Bulgaria, Belarus, protests happened despite the lockdown restrictions in place.

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IPRI # 135, 31 December 2020

Conflicts around the World in 2020
Europe: From anti-government protests in Belarus to ‘United for Abortion’ in Poland 

  Kamna Tiwary

The year 2020 witnessed a number of protest movements in Europe spread out from the eastern part of Europe to its western part. While in the eastern part of Europe, people in Belarus struggled with the ideas of liberty and democracy, some specific liberty of choices with regard to women were at stake in Poland this year. Other protests by people in countries like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Belgium was about expressing dissatisfaction with their government on different accounts. 

The most important and probably the biggest protests in the last thirty years took place in Minsk, Belarus with the aim of toppling the last dictator in the eastern part of Europe in Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. While the protest in Belarus remains still active, the limited media presence and media feedback from inside the country has made it challenging for the world to keep track of the developments inside Belarus. The international media was asked to leave the country on the end of August this year after a strong peoples protest engulfed the country over a fraudulent election which brought back the dictator to power.  However, what has kept the world waiting is, if at all a peaceful transition of power is possible.  A calibrated approach by all major actors especially Russia, European Union, and the US for ensuring a peaceful transition of power from the current dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a democratically elected government is taking the situation to a status quo. Russia has recognised the government of Lukashenka after the elections while the European Union and the US deny recognising the government. EU has put phased sanctions on Belarus to put pressures on acquaintances of Lukashenko and the business entities supporting it. The opposition is mainly spearheaded by the leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya who is based in Lithuania presently and building up resistance by seeking support from the western world.

Poland presents a unique case for the assertion of women’s rights and a build-up of a feminist movement in the post-communist era through a strong protest that erupted in October 2020. Tightening of abortion laws was recently brought in Poland through a court ruling. The right-wing ruling party ( Law and Justice Party) has supposedly used their influence in the judiciary to push through this controversial and debatable law. The build-up of resistance against this law has been successful despite coronavirus lockdown measures in force. Abortion laws have always been very strict in Poland but what has been different this time is, that foetal impairment no more remains a necessary condition for abortion. Statistics suggest that around 98 per cent of abortions in Poland happen due to foetal impairment. Hence doing away of this condition amounts to the almost total ban on abortion in Poland. Earlier Poland allowed abortion in three cases. They are- if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, if there were evidence of foetal impairment or if the pregnant women’s life was in danger. The new ruling if notified will take away the right to abort a child even if it is suffering from impairment or deformities. Church groups and the conservatives have been widely supporting this law.

Europe presented a unique picture of different anti-government sentiments. On one hand, protests happened to question government’s lockdown measures while other protests happened despite the lockdown measures in force. An essential element of registering discomfort with the government policies was presented through a number of protests that erupted in different countries of Europe and had different motives and different demands from the government. But one movement united the entire world together – “Black Lives Matter”. Though the origin of this movement was in the United States, it engulfed all major countries of Europe as well and triggered debates on questions of Systemic Racism as well as Institutional denial that continues to persist. 
On the other hand, many protests were the result of restrictions imposed on social life by different governments in Europe. France, Italy, Spain and Germany saw violent anti lockdown protests by October, November 2020 when the second lockdown measures were about to be enforced. The largest among them took place in Berlin, Germany. The protests in Germany were mainly led by far-right groups with comparisons of wartime imageries of life under Nazi Germany. 

Another important protest movement was the direct result of the coronavirus pandemic and was led by those who were leading from the front to tackle it- the healthcare workers. Countries like Belgium, France, Spain, Italy witnessed protests by their healthcare workers, who registered their dissatisfaction with their respective governments with regard to lack of preparedness in handling the pandemic. Other important demands articulated were that of insufficient working conditions during the pandemic as well as a cut in social security spending by governments among others.  Though the protests by healthcare workers can be seen as being limited in participation as it involved a particular professional group, it has resonated with the wider public in conscience and cause. 

But it was not just aftermath of the coronavirus that agitated and empowered people to hit the streets, it was also issues of governance and corruption which forced people to come out of their home, not caring for risks associated with the pandemic to make their voices heard. One notable example is Bulgaria. Sophia witnessed a strong anti-corruption movement against their government in July 2020.  Bulgaria remains the most corrupt country in 27 member European Union according to a non-profit organisation Transparency International. The people’s protest demanded the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov even though the elections are due in March next year. Government has acted in a conciliatory manner and has offered to step down while three ministers of the ruling government have already stepped down after the protests erupted.

France witnessed a number of protests apart from the Black Lives Matter and few others already mentioned. Especially since the killing of the French teacher Samuel Patty, a number of protests have happened against the killing of the teacher. The latest protest erupted in the months of November and December 2020  and was aimed at the controversial security bill that places restrictions on the filming of police officers on duty ( photos or videos). Huge protests have erupted against the bill, calling it out for curbing media freedom and enabling police excesses. 

In conclusion, Europe remained an interesting place for the assertion of rights and freedoms in different countries in different ways. In some cases, the restrictions in social life brought by the governments were the bone of contention, in other cases like Poland, Bulgaria, Belarus, protests happened despite the lockdown restrictions in place. People came out to assert their voices for what they thought more important than being safe from the pandemic. Protests by healthcare workers and protests against lockdown measures will remain an important event to reflect back to from future, while the outcome of Belarus protests are still awaited, the fact that this year instigated it to such a strong level will make it special in times to come.


Dr Kamna Tiwary is an independent analyst based in France. 
 

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 51
IPRI Comments

Chavindi Weerawansha

A majority in the minority community suffers, for the action of a few

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 50
IPRI Comments

Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare

The Cardinal sermons for peace, with a message to forgive

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 49
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Who and Why of the Perpetrators

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 48
IPRI Comments

Natasha Fernando

In retrospect, where did we go wrong?

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 47
IPRI Comments

Ruwanthi Jayasekara

Build the power of Co-existence, Trust, Gender and Awareness

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 46
IPRI Comments

N Manoharan

New ethnic faultlines at macro and micro levels

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 45
IPRI Comments

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

A year has gone, but the pain has not vanished

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 44
IPRI Comments

Kabi Adhikari

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 43
IPRI Comments

Jenice Jean Goveas

In India, the glass is half full for the women

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 42
IPRI Comments

Fatemah Ghafori

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

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Conflict Weekly 13
April 2020 | IPRI # 41
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Executing Mujib's killer in Bangladesh, Continuing conflicts in Myanmar, Questioning Government's sincerity in Naga Peace Deal, Releasing Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, and a report on damming the Mekong river by China

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Conflict Weekly 12
April 2020 | IPRI # 40
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Globally, Coronavirus increases Domestic Violence, deflates Global Protests, threatens Indigenous Communities and imperils the migrants. In South Asia, two reports question the Assam Foreign Tribunal and the Afghan Peace deal

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Afghanistan
April 2020 | IPRI # 39
IPRI Comments

Sukanya Bali

One month after the deal with the Taliban: Problems Four, Progress None

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Conflict Weekly 11
April 2020 | IPRI # 38
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Releasing a former soldier convicted of a war crime in Sri Lanka, Deepening of internal conflicts in Myanmar and the Taliban’s Deal is a smokescreen in Afghanistan

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Report Review
March 2020 | IPRI # 37
IPRI Comments

Lakshmi V Menon

Pakistan: Decline in Terrorism

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Conflict Weekly 10
March 2020 | IPRI # 36
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

More violence in Afghanistan, Naxal ambush in India, Federal-Provincial differences in Pakistan's Corona fight, and a new report on the impact of CoronaVirus on Conflicts

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Conflict Weekly 09
March 2020 | IPRI # 35
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

The CoronaVirus: South Asia copes, China stabilises, Europe bleeds and the US wakes up finally

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Conflict Weekly 08
March 2020 | IPRI # 34
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Triumphant Women's march across Pakistan, Anti-CAA Protests in Dhaka,  Two Presidents in Afghanistan, and Turkey-Russia Ceasefire in Syria

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Conflict Weekly 07
March 2020 | IPRI # 33
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Aurat March in Pakistan, US-Taliban Deal in Doha, Anti-CAA protest in Meghalaya, Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UNCHCR Resolution, and the problems of ceasefire in Syria and Libya 

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Conflict Weekly 06
February 2020 | IPRI # 32
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Seven Days of Peace in Afghanistan, Violence in Delhi, Setback to Peace Talks on Libya and the Ceasefire in Gaza

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Conflict Weekly 05
February 2020 | IPRI # 31
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Afghan Election Results, US-Taliban Deal, Hafiz Saeed Conviction, Quetta Suicide Attack, Assam Accord, Mexico Femicide and the Climate Change impact on Bird Species

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Conflict Weekly 04
February 2020 | IPRI # 30
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Sri Lanka drops Tamil anthem, Assam looks for a new census for the indigenous Muslim population, Bangladesh faces a Rohingya boat tragedy and Israel witnesses resurgence of violence post-Trump deal

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Conflict Weekly 03
February 2020 | IPRI # 29
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Continuing Violence in Afghanistan, Bodo Peace Accord in Northeast India, Attack on the anti-CAA protesters in Delhi, and Trump's Middle East Peace Plan

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Conflict Weekly 02
January 2020 | IPRI # 28
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Bangladesh and ICJ's Rohingya Verdict, Taliban and Afghan Peace, Surrenders in India's Northeast, New government in Lebanon and the Berlin summit on Libya

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Conflict Weekly 01
January 2020 | IPRI # 27
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Nile River Agreement, Tehran Protests, Syrians meet in Berlin, Honduran Caravans in Mexico, Taliban's ceasefire offer, Quetta Suicide attack, Supreme court verdict on J&K and the Brus Agreement in Tripura

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Myanmar
October 2019 | IPRI # 26
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Will prosecuting Suu Kyi resolve the Rohingya problem?

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Climate Change
October 2019 | IPRI # 25
IPRI Comments

Lakshman Chakravarthy N & Rashmi Ramesh

Four Actors, No Action

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From Okjökull to OK:
September 2019 | IPRI # 24
IPRI Comments

Rashmi Ramesh

Death of a Glacier in Iceland

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The Hong Kong Protests:
August 2019 | IPRI # 23
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudan

Re-defining mass mobilization

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The Hong Kong Protest:
August 2019 | IPRI # 22
IPRI Comments

Parikshith Pradeep

Who Wants What?

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Africa
December 2020 | IPRI # 6
IPRI Briefs

Apoorva Sudhakar

Ballots and Bloodshed: Trends of electoral violence in Africa

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Myanmar
March 2019 | IPRI # 5
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

The Other Conflict in Rakhine State

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West Asia
February 2019 | IPRI # 4
IPRI Comments

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Yemen: Will Sa'nna fall?

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China and Islam
February 2019 | IPRI # 3
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudhan

Sinicizing the Minorities

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Terrorism
January 2019 | IPRI # 2
IPRI Comments

Sourina Bej

Maghreb: What makes al Shahab Resilient?

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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