Presented by Julia Rone

The talk will be based on Julia’s recently published book in which she explores how protests against austerity and free trade spread across the EU in the 2010s. While claims for democratic deepening and an end to corruption resonated from Spain and Portugal to Romania and Bulgaria, anti-austerity economic claims hardly featured in Eastern European protests at all (despite harsh austerity measures in these countries). Why was this the case? The book analyses protests in EU’s East and West together in order to find the reasons for the persistent divide between Western and Eastern European activists.

Secondly, the book argues we need to study not only the East and West, but also austerity and to free trade together. The two types of policies not only had the same anti-democratic logic in most of the EU but they also reinforced each other – countries such as Greece were subjected to harsh austerity measures not least to increase their export competitiveness. Trade (both within the EU and with third countries, e.g. the US and Canada) was seen as the main driving force of recovery after the crisis.

Third and most importantly, the book argues that if we want to understand how protests diffuse, we should look not only at activists using digital media – the big fascination of the 2010s – but to explore how a multiplicity of actors – trade unions, intellectuals, political parties, NGOs, etc, – strove to diffuse protest using a variety of media – TV shows, newspapers, but also good old books. Far from being an automatic spontaneous process, protest diffusion is highly complex and political. Understanding better how it works is a key condition for activists to be able to reach out and spread their ideas and practices more successfully.

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