Europe and the Specter of 1968


Europe and the Specter of 1968

France’s President Sarkozy fears a return to the youth riots of 40 years ago.

Fears are mounting in political circles within Europe that the past two weeks of riots in Greece raise the specter of copycat demonstrations in other European nations. Already demonstrations stimulated by the global financial and economic crisis are beginning to ripple across the Continent.

Young Europeans are increasingly publicly clamoring in the streets in outcry against loss of employment prospects and the lack of overt government initiatives to bail them out of rapidly rising unemployment in a faltering job market.

With unemployment rates already at between 20 and 30 percent for youth in Spain, Italy and France in addition to Greece, tensions are riding high on the streets in these countries. Already, in the wake of the riots in Greece, public protests have started in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Bordeaux. With an eye to history, the deputy editor of the Paris daily newspaper Liberationdeclared, “We would be wrong to consider what’s happening in Athens as an exotic upheaval in a setting of ancient ruins and blue sea. It’s in Europe that revolts burst out ….”

President Sarkozy of France was more explicit. Referring to the Paris riots of 1968, which led to the fall of the De Gaulle administration, he mused, “We can’t have a European May ’68 for Christmas” (Le Canard Enchaîn, December 22).

Economic hard times have a record of producing ugly public protests in Europe. Recently EU education reforms have combined with hiking unemployment to spawn a rash of street protests on the Continent. In the largest student demonstration since the riotous ’60s, hundreds of thousands of students and academics gathered in Rome on October 30 to vent their feelings against the EU reforms publicly. This mass demonstration came hard on the heels of similar protests in Paris, Finland and Croatia. In Sweden, youth have been caught up in running street battles with police recently.

A leading member of the French Socialist Party, Laurent Fabius, is quoted as observing, “The ‘Greek Syndrome’ menaces all countries today, as we find ourselves in a truly grave crisis with an explosion of social inequalities” (EUobserver, December 23).

To compound the unsettling situation in Europe, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threw a spanner in the works yesterday. In his very calculating way, fully realizing the difficulties that Europe is currently facing, Putin declared to the world, and, in particular, his major gas customer, the European Union, that the day of cheap gas was ending.

To add insult to injury, Gazprom, Europe’s main supplier of natural gas, announced on Monday that for the third consecutive winter, Europe faced interruptions to its gas supply. Alluding to a squabble with Ukraine over an alleged $2 billion of payments in arrears for Russian gas, Viktor Zubkov, who is Russian first deputy minister as well as chairman of Gazprom, said: “We cannot rule out that the position of the Ukrainian side, and certain steps, which are linked to gas transit through Ukrainian territory, could lead to a disruption of supply stability to Europe.”

Public protests, student unrest, rising unemployment, banking crisis, credit crunch, threats of no heating in winter—it all adds up to the prospect of a real season of discontent in Europe.

When politicians begin to make comparisons with 1968, you know they fear the damage that any revisiting by Europe to that terribly disruptive year could bring. This fear is severely emphasized by the fact that few pundits see 2009 as bringing any real hope of global economic recovery. To the contrary, as each month goes by, new gigantic areas of debt are revealed, pushing off even further into the future any real prospect for economic regeneration.

The developing situation in Europe has particular consequences for Germany. After years of recession following the absorption of former Communist East Germany into a reunited German nation, Germany only a year or two ago seemed to have turned the corner and appeared to be moving ahead positively with a real surge in its export-driven economy. Reality struck with a vengeance come the banking crisis of September this year.

Suddenly, at a time when it appeared Germany had paid due penance for the sins of two world wars, had shaken off mass guilt for its Nazi past by demonizing Hitler and his henchmen as the principal culprits, was dusting off its old heroes of the past, was leading Europe to economic success, and, to cap it all, had a German pope on the papal throne in Rome, the new German dream seems to be threatening to come unstuck.

German elites have a clear memory of the historic effect of such economic straits as currently threaten the German economy. Could this be one reason why, in what appeared to be rushed legislation processed by the German parliament, recently a law was passed permitting the German army to control any untoward civil behavior on the streets?

Should Germany enter 2009 in crisis, ominous shadows cast by the economic crisis of 1929 may shake the confidence of the revived, reunified Germany. Political scientist Hans Morgenthau pointed to the clear relationship between social disintegration, personal insecurity and the ferocity of nationalistic power drives as creating fertile ground for the rapid rise of German fascism.

Morgenthau pointed to the “threatened loss of social status and intellectual, moral and economic insecurity” posed by the crisis of 1929 as catalyzing a nationalistic fervor “driven to extremes in Germany by the conjunction of certain elements in the national character favoring the extremes …. National Socialism was able to identify in a truly totalitarian fashion the aspirations of the individual German with the power objectives of the German nation. Nowhere in modern history has that identification been more complete” (Politics Among Nations).

Escalating social disruption resulting from financial and economic crisis, coming as European politics is swinging to the right, points to the prospect of a volatile year ahead in the run-up to the German federal election in September.

Watch Europe this winter, and watch Germany. Watch for the reaction of European elites to the prospect of grave economic and social crisis threatening the very life of the European Union.

As you watch, remember Europe’s history. It has a history of great social disruption yielding fertile ground for the rise of demagogues. We only have to remember back 30 years prior to 1968 to see the massive disaster that could manifest itself out of Europe’s current unrest.

Indeed, it may not be a repeat of 1968 that Europe needs to fear.

It may be a repetition of events akin to 1938!

Read The United States and Britain in Prophecy for an understanding of how current world events mesh with history and prophecy in Europe.