The threat of civil war in Europe

Social crises in Europe face escalation this winter.

While 2022 has already seen its fair share of horror in the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War, this winter might see the further rise of a new specter: civil war. German social researcher Piotr Kocyba expects a new, violent wave of protests as the continent turns colder. Kocyba, who works at the Chemnitz University of Technology and is a member of the board of the Berlin Institute for Protest and Movement Research, claims that right-wing extremists are already heating up the mood, but the left also wants to call citizens to street demonstrations. “If the crisis lasts longer, it cannot be ruled out that terrorist groups will form, as was the case during the anti-refugee protests,” the researcher explained to German media.

Kocyba is not alone. “Europe’s wealthiest nations face rising risks of civil unrest over the winter, including street protests and demonstrations, due to high energy prices and mounting costs of living, according to a risk consultancy firm,” writes Reuters. And according to Verisk Maplecroft’s principal analyst Torbjorn Soltvedt: “Over the winter, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if some of the developed nations in Europe start to see more serious forms of civil unrest.” This was before Reuters reported that Europe might have to brace for mobile phone outages, as currently there are not enough back-up systems in many European countries to handle widespread power cuts.

The authorities are not optimistic either. Stephan Kramer, president of the domestic intelligence office for the state of Thuringia, told German broadcaster ZDF that he expects “legitimate protests will be infiltrated by extremists…and that it is likely that some will turn violent.” They will likely be worse than what has already been seen. “What we have experienced so far in the Covid pandemic in terms of partly violent confrontations on social networks, but also in the streets and squares, was probably more like a children’s birthday party in comparison,” Kramer said.

John Laughland, a visiting fellow at Hungary’s Mathias Corvinus Collegium, while skeptical of the “power of the street,” anticipates that “we are going into uncharted territory. If there are power cuts, if people are cold, if there are breakdowns in food supplies, if the mobile telephone networks break down…because they have batteries and if there are power cuts for too long, they might not work,” the results will be “unpredictable.”

These warnings might come as a surprise for those not paying attention to the social disintegration of Western Europe in the past decade. But Europe has seen a series of escalating social crises in the past ten years, from major cost-of-living increases, to mass immigration, to the pandemic lockdowns. A winter without energy might prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.