Share & Connect
By now, London is in a state of collective hangover, but the recent week’s mayhem could just as well have swept through Athens, Madrid or Rome. The year 2011 will be remembered as the year of youth revolt; where the youth of Europe realized generations before them did not leave much for their future.
But lawmakers around Europe can’t really say that the protests, which most recent turned into arson and looting, were all that surprising. Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten reported that the generation that took to the streets in European capitals are the first in decades who cannot expect to reach a higher living standard than their parents. The rioting in Britain underlines this with socio-economic irony; the underbelly of society has been ignored for years while leaders scrambled to save the economy under the global financial crisis. A breakdown was unavoidable.
The initial problem has played out in several countries. In Spain, a staggering 40 percent youth unemployment led to mass protests in Madrid in May. Demonstrators, despite a ban, gathered to express their anger at the unbearable unemployment rate, the recent austerity measures and political corruption. In Athens, demonstrations and strikes led to violent clashes between police and protesters and last weekend saw a protest in Tottenham, UK, against the shooting of Mark Duggan turn into a weeklong street riot that destroyed so much more than materials.
The English anarchy was a display of societal meltdown — the media and politicians were quick to point their finger at fault but the explanation is straightforward. What it comes down to is a generation, raised in the economic boom of the 90s with all its optimism, but held back as they were about to enter society themselves as workers. A strained labor market and an increasingly nervous financial climate prevents many from looking to the future. No wonder those with the least hope, financially or socially, will break first and most furiously. It may be a terrible and upsetting situation, but it shouldn’t be a surprising one.
According to Chris Roycroft-Davis, a British political commentator, Prime Minister David Cameron’s harsh words in the wake of the recent riots will achieve nothing without direct, unrestrained consequences.
“Society is being destroyed because for decades we’ve gone soft on a underclass of lawbreaking, drug dealing layabouts who treat with contempt a world which they think owes them a living,” Roycroft-Davis said.
Though Roycroft-Davis’ words are hard, they voice the tension between the have’s and have-not’s which triggered the violence in London. One part is that young people have no jobs and no future to plan for – another is that some of the European welfare states have taken such good care of their people that they have forgotten society is a two-way agreement.
Some countries have nothing to give and the opportunity to give back is equally limited. The unemployment rate in Greece climbed to 14.2 percent by March and Spain was at a staggering 20.9 percent in the second quarter of 2011. In comparison, Germany only had 7 percent unemployment as of July.
But on the other hand, many western European countries continue their generous benefit systems despite numbers showing that only half of the population is employed. With the deduction of children, students and elderly, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten found that there were still a large amount of people who simply lived off the state — a vicious circle that many of the newest generations on the labour market will drop into by default.
In comparison with other decades and areas, the youth of Western Europe was arguably spoiled rotten by optimistic and protective states. Whether they achieved academically or was raised on the streets, there was always some sort of security net that tried to catch them if they fall.
There comes a point where people stop being grateful and start expecting more: ‘we want jobs’ or ‘we’re entitled to benefits’. The point is when they truly believe the world owes them just because they were born into it. The people who had no problem destroying their fellow citizens’ livelihood in the last week should be considered the fruit of society’s unrelenting labor. Kids down to eight years of age were out smashing windows and grabbing all they could get because society kept telling them that they were “entitled”. On the other hand, students and graduates want governments to take responsibility for creating jobs for them, while blaming people at the top for everything without fully appreciating the complicity of their parents, the greater society — not to mention the world.
The lost generation of Europe is in the end a motley bunch. All layers of society, educated or not, face bleak prospects in the coming years. While the student camps in squares with eloquently written protest banners, the mobster throws stones and steals designer hoodies but none of this can really change the probability that economic order will not be stabilized before our most important years on the labour market have passed. Governments will ask for patience and restraint but the revolting youth will not be silenced with words and they may spend the rest of the year proving this.
Image Courtesy of Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/64742792@N05/6026530372/