The Dangers Of A European Spring

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Context

This alert examines the possibility of a European Spring. There are similarities and differences between the dynamics of Europe and the Arab world. However, nationalistic sentiments and ethnic tensions are increasing across South Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Europe. For example, Kosovo is coming back in to the headlines and irredentist movements represented by Pukhtunistan and Kurdistan are also becoming hot. Meanwhile, as national structures weaken in Yemen, Libya and Syrian tribal affinities are playing an influential role.

Analysis

European countries are presenting with some similar scenarios as those that fueled the Arab Spring uprisings: namely a large and growing portion of the population out of work, and increasingly discontent with their governments. We saw in the UK riots that social media played a role in fanning the spread of the riots to other cities, as it also played a key role in the organization of action in Arab countries.

While there are some similarities between what is happening in the Arab world and the potential in Europe, it is apparent that a European Spring would be of a darker tone to the Arab Spring. There is the possibility for far more destructive action in Europe because there is not an overriding goal bringing the population together. In the Arab uprisings there was a distinct sense of cohesion among protestors because their goal of bringing about leadership change superseded divisions within the population. In Europe, however, there is the possibility that civil unrest will deepen divisions.

PoliTact is carefully monitoring the developments in Europe for signs that deepening economic woes could trigger widespread protests, if not riots across the continent. Ethnic tensions are a key element to watch, especially since the attacks in Norway. Increasing nationalist sentiments and organizational activity, such as planned marches by the far-right group the English Defense League (EDL) in the UK are also possible triggers for further unrest.

At its current pace, a European Spring may not eventuate, or may take years to fully blossom. However, two scenarios may cause tensions to rapidly ignite:

Firstly a sharp downturn in the economy that affects Europe deeply and broadly could jumpstart a European Spring.

Secondly, an attack in Europe by anyone with connections to Islamic extremism, particularly of a “home-grown” nature could also be a catalyst for igniting already-existing tensions in wide-spread European unrest.