PROTESTS

World's middle class rise up in protest

Across the world and for a variety of reasons, ordinary people are expressing their anger and demanding change

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

As protests raged in Turkey and were set to explode in distant Brazil, Asen Genov sat in his office in Bulgaria's capital on the cloudy morning of June 14, about to strike the computer key that would spark a Bulgarian spring.

Only months earlier, public outrage over high electricity bills in the country had brought down a previous government, but Genov saw more reason for anger when the new administration tapped a shadowy media mogul to head the national security service. Furious, Genov posted a Facebook event calling for a protest in Sofia, the nation's capital.

"We made bets on how many would come. I thought maybe 500," said Genov, a 44-year- old who helps run a fact-checking website.

But as he arrived in Sofia's Independence Square, they were streaming in by the thousands, as they have every day since, with the snowballing protests aiming to topple the government.

"We are all linked together, Bulgaria, Turkey, Brazil. We are tweeting in English so we can understand each other, and supporting each other on other social media," said Iveta Cherneva, a 29-year-old author in Sofia, who was one of the many people protesting for the first time. "We are fighting for different reasons, but we all want our governments to finally work for us. We are inspiring each other."

Around the globe, this is the summer of middle-class discontent, particularly in the developing world. In Hong Kong, protesters are planning an "Occupy Central" movement to show their displeasure at the lack of a satisfactory plan to implement universal suffrage.

From Istanbul to Rio de Janeiro, from Bulgaria to Bosnia, the pent-up frustrations of an engaged citizenry are being triggered by a series of seemingly disparate events.

Government development of a park in Turkey has erupted into broad unrest over freedom of expression in a society that, under a devout and increasingly authoritarian leader, is witnessing the encroaching power of Islam. A rise in bus fares in Brazil, meanwhile, has touched off an uproar over official waste, corruption and police brutality. But what do they have in common? One small incident has ignited the fuse in societies that, linked by social media and years of improved living standards across the developing world, are now demanding more from their democracies and governments.

In the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, thousands of furious residents across ethnic lines united on the streets this month, at one point blockading lawmakers inside parliament for 14 hours, to protest government ineptitude in clearing a massive backlog of unregistered newborns. Public anger erupted after a Facebook posting - about a three-month-old baby whose trip to Germany for a life-saving transplant had been delayed by the backlog - went viral.

Thousands of protestors are expected in Cairo's Tarhrir Square today, where many Egyptians now see a new government unwilling or unable to fix a corrupt bureaucracy and inefficient economy.

Indeed, on the heels of the Arab spring, Spain's "indignados" and the US Occupy movement, some observers see a new class of protest emerging among the global citizenry. If the 1960s were about breaking cultural norms and protesting foreign wars, and the 1990s about railing against globalisation, then the 2010s are about a clamor for responsive government, as well as social and economic freedom.

Cecilia Siqueira de Oliveira, a 33-year-old design student living in the teeming Brazilian metropolis of Sao Paulo, had never seen herself as a street protester. Yet she found herself gripped by news this month of the uprising in Turkey.

She was touched by a photo she'd seen from faraway Istanbul, of a man calmly playing the piano amid a huge throng of agitated demonstrators.

Posting the photo on her Facebook page, she wrote, "Wouldn't it be good if Brazilians did that?" A few days later, Brazil was on its feet.