Protests worldwide: Why and where it's kicking off

Unconnected riots and demonstrations are tearing through Brazil, Bangkok, France and Kiev. Here's why

Published January 27, 2014 4:42PM (EST)

As I write, militant protests are taking place around the world. In Brazil -- especially in Sao Paulo -- over 2,000 demonstrators took to the street, buoyed by anti-capitalist sentiment,  to protest the forthcoming soccer World Cup; in France, 17,000 people rallied in Paris to show anger at President Francois Hollande; in Ukraine, ongoing anti-government protests fill Kiev's major squares and a dead man was found mysteriously hanging from a protest symbol; in Thailand, a contentious election has prompted bloody clashes.

There is no one thread connecting this moment of global dissent. The valences of anti-government and anti-state actions are different in every region noted above. I have little patience for grand theorists proposing that a string of protests around the globe points to capitalism's inevitable collapse under its own contradictions -- we have little evidence for any such vulgar Marxism at play at present. Here I simply want to sketch out the terrain of dissent in areas rarely made the focus of U.S. news.


The anti-government protests in Ukraine, sparked by anger that President Viktor Yanukovych was driving the country toward closer ties (especially trade-wise) with Russia as opposed to Europe, have spread and escalated to a state of near-national emergency. The protests, which began in November, have spread out from Ukraine's capital of Kiev and have brought tens of thousands into the streets; two people have died.

Mysteriously, a 55-year-old man was found hanging this weekend inside a makeshift structure, symbolic of the protests, in one of Kiev's major squares. The cause of death is not yet fully known.

Yanukovych and his supporters argue that his political opposition have spurred protesters on to occupy government buildings, claiming that the optics of a popular uprising in fact mask a centrally directed coup. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Berkut riot police have been typically violent and fierce, regularly caught brutally beating protesters.


The situation in Brazil right now is an important reflection of anger against the spread of neoliberalism through vectors like the World Cup and the Olympics. These sporting events are never apolitical and reliably force the reshaping of host cities to serve tourists and tournament attendees, with scant regard for displaced, priced-out locals.

Following a protest that involved more than 2,000 demonstrators in Sao Paulo Saturday, one university student explained, "We are against the millions and millions of dollars being spent for the Cup. It is money that should be invested in better health and education services and better transportation and housing."

Late last year, protests successfully shut down the daily flows and municipal operations of Sao Paulo on a number of occasions. We can expect continued militancy ahead of the planned June World Cup.


After hundreds of thousands of protesters in Thailand blocked polling stations over the weekend, the country's election commission stated that the contentious vote should be postponed until next month.

As Reuters summed up the protests' context:

The protests are the latest chapter in a political conflict that has gripped the country for eight years. It pits the middle class of Bangkok and protesters from the south against the mainly poorer supporters, in the north and east, of [embattled prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra] and her brother, the former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.

The latest violence is likely to add to Thailand's deepening political divide, with increasing fears of civil war and military intervention.


Two hundred and fifty people were arrested during protests against the leadership of French President Francois Hollande. Seventeen thousand protesters, many affiliated with far-right groups, marched through the streets in protest of policies including high taxation.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Activism Bangkok Brazil France Francois Hollande Kiev Paris Protests Riots Thailand Ukraine Unrest World Cup