Popular Rage Grows as Global Crisis Worsens
By SPIEGEL Staff
As the global economic crisis deepens, tempers around the world are getting shorter. French and British trade unions are organizing strikes, Putin is sending troops into the streets and Beijing is trying to buy itself calm.
A rally against car import duties in Krasnoyarsk, Russia: Citizens around the world are protesting against their governments' handling of the economic crisis.
In the cabinet of French President's Nicolas Sarkozy, there was talk of a "Black Thursday," and from Sarkozy's perspective, that was exactly what Jan. 29, 2009 turned out to be. Schools were closed, and so were railroads, banks and stock markets. Theaters, radio stations and even ski lifts were shut down temporarily. Trash receptacles were set on fire in Paris once again, and a crowd gathered on the city's famed Place de l'Opéra to sing the "Internationale," the anthem of revolution.
The global financial crisis has already reached France, bringing business failures, mass layoffs for some workers and reduced working hours for others. On that infamous Thursday, it drove up to 2.5 million people into the streets, in cities from Marseilles to Brest and Bordeaux. The situation was not like in May 1968, when France was in a state of emergency. Nevertheless, the country's unions called the demonstrations "historic," characterizing them as the most important protest movement to date against the current French president.
In Russia, dismal labor statistics have driven Communists and anti-government protestors into the streets from Pskov to Volgograd in recent days, and in Moscow members of the left-wing opposition even ventured onto Red Square. They ripped up pictures of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, until police arrested and removed them.
In China, workers returned from festivities marking the spring festival to hear shocking news from their own government. Beijing announced that about 20 million migrant workers -- more than the combined populations of Denmark, Sweden and Norway -- would likely become unemployed in the coming months. The fast pace of economic growth that has lent legitimacy to the Communist Party's hold on power until now has slowed considerably. According to a government spokesman, 2009 will be the "most difficult" year since the turn of the millennium.
About 50 million jobs could be lost worldwide in the next 11 months and more than 200 million people could drift into total poverty, warns the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Guy Ryder, the group's general secretary, believes that these changes represent a "social time bomb," and that the resulting instability could become "extremely hazardous to democracy" in some countries.
In the West, the crisis could cost heads of state their jobs, as was recently the case with the prime minister of Iceland. But what does it mean for the giant countries in the East? Could the regime in Beijing falter as the country faces its greatest challenge since the beginning of market reforms? Are the Russian people terminating their political moratorium with the government, because prices are rising while the ruble falls, or could the middle class even be about to rebel?
Cabinets in London, Moscow, Beijing and Paris have been overcome by a sense of helplessness. Self-confessed workaholic Gordon Brown is trying to cope with calamity by taking constant countermeasures, while Putin sends his police officers into the street and Beijing distributes gifts to the poorest of the poor. French President Sarkozy, on the other hand, remained silent for a full seven days after the first major, large-scale demonstration....