Erupting across Spain in recent days is a new political movement fueled by young people and social media. Called the 15-M movement, it has quickly spread to several cities and countries, including Portugal, Greece, and France, using tools like Facebook, Twitter, and live event streaming. Young people in this movement claim they don't feel represented by existing parties and are calling for political and economical reform.
There are some similarities between the Arab Spring protests and this new movement; both use social media to propagate events and reveal people's unhappiness with, and mistrust towards, politicians, parties, and democratic institutions. However, the nature of the European protests is unique, as it is mostly fueled by the continent's debt crisis. In most Arab countries, political regimes were undemocratic, repressive, and authoritarian; Europe's political context is different. Unlike states such as Egypt and Libya, there is no generalized desire for a radical regime change, and I don't believe it will happen in any European country anytime soon.
Most European youth do not feel represented by the available menu of politicians and parties. Although there is an economic crisis affecting many European countries, it is not the root of Portuguese, Spanish, and Greek social and political woes. But taking into account the social, economic, political, and cultural differences among them, there is one overriding similarity: The political elite that has ruled for the last 20 years is seen as responsible for the current situation. Therefore, most protesters see the current democratic system as ineffective and don't feel represented by politicians in power. This is one of the movement's cornerstone protest topics.
It is tempting to link these protests to the Arab Spring, but the political, social, and economic contexts in Europe are different. In Spain and Portugal, government officials are elected through democratic elections, unlike in most Arab countries. In terms of public sector corruption, according to 2010's Transparency International data, the difference among Portugal, Spain, and the Arab Spring countries is still large. Even though Portugal and Spain have rates of state-level corruption, comparing them to those of Egypt and Libya makes no sense.
So far, this cry for "real democracy" hasn't been as amplified by traditional media as it has by social media. To date, there has not been any real progress in negotiations with governments, parties, or unions. We should wonder if it is possible for citizens and political institutions to interact in a new way since the movement is determined not to identify with any traditional institutions. These protests should serve as a serious warning to political leaders across Europe.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons