Summer is usually a well-deserved blissful period of the year to slip on a pair of Havaianas and hit the beach – however, this year it seems to be the time to pick up political placards and hit the streets with high hopes of making changes.
Bulgarian protests have entered their second week. The spark this time was the new Socialist-backed government’s decision earlier in the month to appoint Delyan Peevski, a media mogul with questionable political integrity, to head the State Agency for National Security. For protesters, this shows that the new administration, only in office as of the end of May, has been playing along with the same old business interests.
And if this time around the demonstrations in Bulgaria seem to be rather good-natured compared to the doom and gloom in February, south of the border in Turkey a more violent picture is being painted with at least four people killed and 7,500 injured in the riots. What started off as a calm environmental sit-down has quickly turned into a violent nationwide expression of discontent with prime minister Erdogan's government.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, about one million anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets in Rio, São Paulo and other large cities across the country, protesting against high transport prices and relentless government spending in the run up to the World Cup in 2014.
But while there are thousands marching on the streets, online rioters – or, as some have referred to them recently, the “hashtag revolutionaries” – are sat behind laptop screens. This is a powerful new generation of strongly opinionated high-brow preachers quick to mobilise crowds. Most of them are too caught up in the social-media bubble to leave the comfort of their sofas and hit the streets themselves; some (including me) are in a land far, far away, so their primary contribution is logistically limited to the online world.
In Bulgaria, plenty were voicing their anger via blogs and Facebook pages. However, most seemed busier (and undoubtedly more amused) making fun of Peevski’s unflattering appearance than questioning his politics. In Brazil, social-media tools were blamed for the violent turn of the protests, the largest the country has seen for the last two decades.
In among all of this there is a point that the majority seem to be missing: when protests take place in any country, the world is watching, listening and taking notes, be it with regards to holiday plans or to assess the political agenda. Bulgaria is earning the disapproval of the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso for yet again not living up to the EU’s standards; the international community is widely questioning the state of human rights and freedoms in Turkey, which ultimately jeopardises the country’s negotiations for EU membership. As for Brazil, though the riots started due to resentment over government investment in hosting the next World Cup, now the world is wondering how many more reais will be needed to recover once the riots are over.
The painful truth is that if protests last for a week or two and have a debatable outcome, it can take months or even years for a country to re-establish its diplomatic standing in the international community and rebuild what’s been destroyed. It’s also highly likely that the same people who hit the streets will later be working towards that recovery – while the online revolutionaries are busy elaborating their next hashtags.
Nelly Gocheva is Monocle’s Toronto bureau chief.