European anti-austerity and pro-democracy protests in the wake of the global financial crisis

Cristina Flesher Fominaya

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European anti-austerity and pro-democracy movements form part of a global wave of protests following the global financial crisis. Despite continuity of actors and a double critique of global capitalism and democratic deficits from the previous Global Justice Movement, the centrality of the nation as target and focus of mobilization is a significant difference in this wave. The economic impact of the crisis and austerity policies is insufficient to explain variation in mobilization across countries hardest hit. In order to transform economic/material grievances into collective resistance, grievances need to be channelled against specific targets, and interpretive frameworks of meaning tied to a collective identity need to be mobilized. In Europe, anti-austerity protests were initiated by two sets of actors, Institutional Left and autonomous actors. Autonomous actors linked anti-austerity claims to interpretive system of meanings framed around the crisis of legitimacy of representative democracy; targeted primarily national political and economic oligarchies; and mobilized newcomers through an inclusive collective identity constructed around the ‘ordinary citizen’ as political subject. Democratic regeneration emerges as a significant demand, but is uneven in its resonance. It finds its clearest and most emblematic expression in the ‘movements of the squares’. To the extent that the ‘twin’ crises (financial/democratic) are framed synergistically, they can be seen as counter-hegemonic, as they seek to rupture the consensus of the ‘post-political’. The presence or absence of a strong pro-democracy narrative that connects actors across sectorial and organizational differences could help explain variation between cases. Transnational diffusion processes have been crucial but have not (yet) led to a transnational movement. Given the significant role of the Troika in the bail-outs, debt renegotiations and austerity policies of those countries hardest hit, the low visibility of ‘Europe’ in the mobilizations is surprising.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number1
Early online date21 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship [grant number 326712].


  • anti-austerity
  • democracy
  • Europe
  • financial crisis
  • indignados
  • legitimisation crisis
  • mobilization
  • occupy


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