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Eastern Europe braced for a violent ‘spring of discontent’
Jason Burke, Observer (UK)
Eastern Europe is heading for a violent “spring of discontent”, according to experts in the region who fear that the global economic downturn is generating a dangerous popular backlash on the streets.
Hit increasingly hard by the financial crisis, countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states face deep political destabilisation and social strife, as well as an increase in racial tension.
… Dr Jonathan Eyal, a regional specialist at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank in London, said eastern European countries were ill-equipped to deal with the impact of the global downturn and risked “social meltdown”.
“These are often fragile economies … with brittle political structures, political parties that are not very well formed and weak institutions. They are ill-prepared for what has hit them,” Eyal said. “Last year it was the core western European countries which were shaky; now it is the weaker periphery that are getting the full blast of the crisis.”
… Tensions have been exacerbated by the gas crisis, in which Bulgaria has suffered severe heating and power shortages since Moscow turned off the taps following a dispute with Ukraine.
(18 January 2009)
Study Looks at Mortality in Post-Soviet Era
Judy Dempsey, New York Times
Rapid and widespread privatization in several former states of the Soviet Union and former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s contributed to rising mortality rates, particularly in Russia, according to a study published Thursday.
The report, in the British medical journal The Lancet, said the results varied among the countries, depending on the pace of privatization, the official response to unemployment and the level of support from social organizations.
The global financial crisis has set off a debate over the social consequences of rapid economic change that takes place without strong national institutions to support it. In Eastern Europe this week, demonstrations in Latvia and Bulgaria over the slow pace of reform turned into riots.
… The authors suggest that the existence of trade unions, churches, sports, political organizations and other social organizations played a significant role in cushioning adults’ stress during the transitions.
“In countries in which more than 45 percent of the population was a member of a social organization, mass privatization had no significant adverse association with mortality rates,” the report said.
(16 January 2009)
The implication for peak oil and other disasters: strong local community groups makes a big difference in how things play out. -BA
Military report raises concerns about social unrest fueled by globalization, urbanization
Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal
A new report from the U.S. military warns of globalization and urbanization fueling social unrest, as well as a potential collapse of the Mexican government as that country deals with violence and corruption induced by drug cartels and organized crime.
The military report also discusses concerns about global water scarcity, including in the American Southwest, and a weakened U.S. globally if there are major reductions in U.S. defense spending.
The Joint Operating Environment 2008 report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command outlines potential short- and long-term security worries, including terrorist networks obtaining nuclear and biological weapons, as well as instability and aggressiveness involving China, India, Pakistan, India and the Middle East.
… The report also says while economic globalization could bring more prosperity, disparities in wealth and increased economic expectations could lead to unrest and civil wars, which may require U.S. economic, humanitarian and military responses.
(15 January 2009)
The full report from the U.S. Joint Forces Command is at The Joint Operating Environment 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force (PDF). It is 56 pages long and was released November 28, 2008. No mention of peak oil, though there are sections devoted to Energy, Food, Water, Economics, Demographics and Globalization.
The new ecology of war (Mike Davis interview)
Mattias Hagberg, Eurozine
… Urban theorist Mike Davis talks in interview about the evolution of the neoliberal city.
… . From a pile of books, he pulls out one of his latest – Planet of Slums – and says that today one can identify four tendencies in the evolution of cities.
First, we have an urban growth that is detached from economic growth. Cities, above all in the South, tend to grow rapidly despite, in many cases, a receding economy. This growth is primarily powered by poor people from rural areas, who are drawn into the cities and their slums. Second, prevalent definitions of what a city is are beginning to lose their descriptive value. Nowadays, urban growth occurs mostly in the city peripheries, both economically and in terms of population.
“We are getting an entirely new urban landscape, a landscape which is neither city nor countryside. The rapid growth of slums outside the cities in the third world is one example. The immense areas of villa suburbs, shopping malls and workplaces here in Los Angeles, as well as other parts of the western world, is another.”
Third, we now have great city areas that are entirely disconnected from the global economy; in the third world it is the slums, in the US it is areas like Watts and Compton; in Europe it is suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois outside Paris. This development in turn forces people to make their living in informal ways, opening doors to criminality, extremism and fundamentalism, Davis suggests.
“This is a development no one has foreseen. No one saw some decades ago that such a large portion of the world’s population would live in big city areas entirely without connection to the world economy. The people of the slums are furthermore of a social class that does not fit into our prevalent description of social stratification. They lack, for instance, the social power that the working class possessed at the beginning of the twentieth century.”
“The labour movement had strength since it could halt production; industrialisation had a tendency to unite people. Yet the logic of informal economy appears to be the opposite. The informal economy drives people to exploit each other, in the worst case yielding to nihilistic violence, like the street gangs in Los Angeles.”
… What is truly interesting and horrifying is that the American military recognised this condition early on, much earlier than any one else. And it recognised this development from a very practical perspective, not a theoretical one. According to the military, these slum areas are the battlefields of the future. That is where the battle will be fought
(7 January 2009)