Some Datapoints on Global Political Risk

By lambert strether of Corrente.

So, I was trawling the twitter earlier this evening, and I ran across mention of a large, ongoing “protest” (we’ll call it*) in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I’ve been following events in Turkey, of course, which seem to be on scale of Tahrir Square/Puerta del Sol/capitol occupations/Zucotti Park/carré rouge, but the Sao Paolo protest seemed of a similar scale, and yet I hadn’t heard anything about it in our famously free press. So I thought I would do a quick and totally unscientific survey of protests round the world to see what was up. What follows is a quote dump of protests by country; as it turns out, there are rather a lot of them! Note that most of this material comes from official media, and I’m not making any representations as to accuracy or justification; I’m just trying to get a rough idea of scale.

Brazil, Sao Paolo


Protests against bus and underground fare rises in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo have turned violent. Police fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, and detained more than 200 people. Police say they seized petrol bombs, knives and drugs. Violence has also been reported at protests in Rio de Janeiro. An estimated 5,000 protesters converged on the streets of Sao Paulo’s central area on Thursday – the fourth day of the protests.


Thousands of Brazilians have protested in several cities over the past ten days, and organizers are planning for another march in Sao Paulo on Monday night. Rising prices for public transportation was the original cause of the the protests, organized by Movimento Passe Livre. Since then, Brazilians have joined protests for various other reasons, including rising crime, income inequality, and corruption. The protests are quickly becoming a sign of a weakening public confidence for Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

More reporting from Vice; images from PolicyMic; a Tumblr for the movement.

Bulgaria, Sofia

Al Jazeera:

Police said on Sunday that about 15,000 people took part in a rally outside the government building in the capital Sofia to demand a new election. Protesters also gathered outside parliament and in other Bulgarian cities. Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski’s decision to appoint 32-year-old media mogul Delyan Peevski as chief of the powerful national security agency DANS [!!] and parliament’s rapidity in rubber stamping the nomination angered many people.

Canada, Montreal


Thousands of Montrealers snaked through the city’s downtown core on Saturday afternoon to protest against the Conservative government’s changes to employment insurance. The changes to EI, which came into effect in January, have spurred several protests this year across Eastern Canada — home to many seasonal workers affected by the new rules.


Radio Free Asia:

More than 3,000 villagers from Henan’s Xuchang county have maintained a 24-hour silent vigil for the past 12 days over the Quandian coal mine run by the Henan Shenhuo Group, which they say has devastated the ground near their homes, swallowed up a road, and left cracks in their houses.

China (Hong Kong)

USA Today:

In a show of protest against U.S. surveillance programs and in support of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, several hundred people marched Saturday to the U.S. Consulate General and the offices of the Hong Kong government despite drizzly weather. “Shame on NSA! Defend freedom of speech!” chanted marchers, who carried signs written in Chinese and English and wrapped in plastic to keep out the rain. “Protect Snowden!”

Egypt, Cairo


Has Cairo become the world’s protest capital? It would not have been tolerated before the revolution, but now numerous demonstrations are held in Cairo each week. Some estimates suggest that over 5,000 public protests were held across Egypt in the first five months of this year alone.



Greece was back in protest mode after Antonis Samaras, the centre-right prime minister, broke ranks with his coalition partners and high-handedly closed the state broadcaster on June 11th without first securing their agreement. As sacked employees of ERT (Hellenic Radio and Television) continued to occupy the Greek state broadcaster’s headquarters, streaming live coverage of their plight over the internet, scores of former colleagues peacefully set up camp in a park outside the ERT building in Agia Paraskevi, a suburb of Athens.

Hurriyet Daily News:

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras moved to defuse a political crisis over the government’s abrupt closure of state broadcaster ERT that prompted a nationwide strike on June 13 and brought thousands into the streets in protest.


DNA India:

Leaders across the political parties joined hands during a human chain on Sunday in Pune to protest against the revised development plan for the city. All the leaders and representatives of NGO’s have demanded scrapping of the DP. Pune Bachav Kruti Samiti had organised the human chain for an hour between 9 and 10 am at Lokmanya Tilak Chowk near Alka Talkies.

Indonesia, Jakarta

Jakarta Post:

The Jakarta Police said at least 4,000 people would take to the streets on Monday to protest the government’s plan to raise the subsidized fuel price.

Japan, Tokyo


Around 7,500 people participated in the anti-nuclear protests in the Japanese capital, according to organizers cited by AFP. The demonstrators gathered in a park in central Tokyo, marched through the city and rallied outside the offices of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant which suffered meltdowns of three reactor cores following an earthquake and tsunami two years ago.

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Al Jazeera:

Tens of thousands of people held a rally near Malaysia’s capital against alleged electoral fraud, further raising the political temperature after divisive recent polls. The latest in a series of protest rallies over the May 5 elections – which the opposition says were won fraudulently by the 56-year-old ruling coalition – saw a large crowd gather in an open field outside Kuala Lumpur Saturday night.

Channel News Asia:

Malaysian police on Saturday arrested 15 people over a flash-mob protest held ahead of a planned June 22 opposition rally against alleged fraud in elections last month, but they were later freed. Those detained, who included opposition-aligned activists but also a 10-year-old boy, were held for disrupting public order in a busy shopping area of the capital Kuala Lumpur.


Gulf Times:

A strike called by 33 parties in Nepal to protest an election called for November shut down transport, schools and markets yesterday, the parties said in a statement.


Reuters (video):

Stones rain down on Peruvian riot police as they try to calm protests by angry university students. The city of Cusco, better known as the capital of the Inca empire, has seen several days of demonstrations against a proposed education law. Students say it could privatise universities.


The Nation:

Anti-government white-mask protesters gathered in many provinces yesterday despite opposition from red-shirt supporters of the government. In Bangkok, about 1,000 people – many wearing white Guy Fawkes masks – gathered at the CentralWorld shopping complex yesterday afternoon.



Yemeni security officials say thousands have protested in the capital against “excesses” by security forces, calling for the overthrow of the president and national security apparatus.

So, what can we conclude from this random collection of incidents? First, there’s a lot of protest out there. It’s occurred to me that one reason our global ruling elites — besides living in a “morally pathological” environment — are so paranoid is that they have real enemies; hence the global militarization of police forces, and global surveillance as well. Second, currently, although a lot of expertise in mobilization is clearly being developed, the “causes” are diverse. However, in a crisis, things correlate; it would be interesting to see if and how the local blobs of mercury come together globularly over issues like food, or water, or fuel (stuff at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy). No doubt climate change will accelerate such correlations. Third, there are some protests on this list that I probably wouldn’t support. What is interesting to me is the global scale and intensity. Finally, yes, I know globalism (for want of a better word) has so far been able to destroy or absorb anything thrown at it, but you lose until you win. So I don’t see political risk for the elites decreasing, and if they run true to form, they’ll double down on #FAIL. May you live in interesting times.

Readers, corrections? Additions? Your own experiences?

NOTE * I know “protest” isn’t prefigurative, and is in any case not the right category for Occupations which, I would argue, are more about parallel sovereignty (non-violent tactic of protest and persuasion #198) than “marches,” but “protest” is the word that Google seems to understand, and so for the purpose of this post that’s the word I’ll use.

NOTE In New York, the occupation of the Cooper Union continues.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. gonzomarx

    thanks for this.
    I would like if this became a regular or irregular feature. Maybe a weekly roundup, The week in protest?

    1. Nathanael

      It would help. This is the sort of thing which US news organizations would be doing, if we had, you know, US news organizations. I would appreciate it as well.

    2. Ryan Langemeyer

      I, also, would like to see a weekly roundup of world protests on this site. Not that I want you to have extra work, but it may help folks in the US to see beyond their shores and to get more involved.

    3. seenohearnospeakno

      100% agree. As a citizen of the world, I would like to be kept informed – something which the current US media is unwilling to do

  2. Tim Mason

    There are several places on the net offering round-ups of protests of one kind or another – such as – but by the very nature of the beast they are unlikely to be complete (as noted on that page, protest in Spain, for example, is pretty much endemic. China is also in pretty constant turmoil).

    Living in France, I partake of a protest culture – on both sides of the fence (the CRS have been giving lessons in how to beat up protesters to police forces around the world since the 1960s). It doesn’t seem to have held back the neolib tides. Perhaps more inventive forms will have some effect: yarnbombing, anyone?

    1. Tim Mason

      … and here’s another place to keep up with the turmoil : StrikeInformer : Minimising Inconvenience for Travellers 24/7. Capitalism works!

      (BTW, Colin Brace could check out their Peru page: quite a lot going on).

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Thanks for the links. I think it’s a wonderful world where we’re tracking strikes becuase of the inconvenience they may cause traveler’s — your globalization dollars at work. That said, I’d rather have the links than not.

        Not sure how much value add there is to a summary that’s just a list with no analytical tools. I’d have to think about how to do that.

  3. Colin Brace

    Interesting that link to Peru. That country continues to buck the anti-neoliberal pink tide which has swept many of the other countries of the region. Peru has a really deep-rooted anti-leftism which is one of the most insidious legacies of the Shining Path era.

  4. Sleeper

    Yes, the MSM here in the US consists mainly of sports coverage, the latest celebrity wardrobe malfunction, and more sports.

    No coverage or minimal coverage of the Moral Mondays in Raleign, NC

  5. Larry Goldsmith

    Student protests against the privatization of education are continuing in Chile–and so is their violent repression by the government.

  6. The Heretic

    That is interesting, to build a country and global index of protest to measure potential political instability. Mind you, this index would have to be displayed in context; one needs a sense of historical and cultural perspective relevant to each nation. I.e. people protest all the time in france, a country that respects(more or less) their people individual rights, and in a country where protest is socially acceptable. But protest in China, where individual rights of the ordinary people exist at the whims of the state, and the general culture values conformity and respect for authority, a large sustained protest is significant measure of either local or national distress.
    A protest of 5000 people in Brazil, is a single Samba line at Carnivale, and they are a spirited people…not that spectacular… converseley similar protest in staid Toronto, Ontario Canada, that would mean something else…

  7. middle seaman

    Stating the obvious for sake of emphasis, not all protests are similar. While Turkey, Egypt and Yemen see protest against extreme Islamic and and dictatorial regimes, Greece, Canada and Brazil see economic and social protests.

    It seems that rulers the world over, democratic or not, have reach an unheralded consensus. they utterly dismiss their population needs, wills and freedom.

    Although there are no protest in the US currently, we are a now a bona fide oligarchy, meaning we lost our democracy to the banks elite.

    1. Ulysses

      If by “no protest,” you mean no enormous protests that are so huge that they can’t be ignored by mainstream media, you are correct. Yet if you count relatively small events like the rally I attended last Thursday in the Bronx, demanding justice for the murdered Ramarley Graham, then there are hundres of protests all across the U.S., every single day.

    2. Nathanael

      “It seems that rulers the world over, democratic or not, have reach an unheralded consensus. they utterly dismiss their population needs, wills and freedom.”

      The thing that frightens me is that this is guaranteed to #FAIL.

      Governmental legitimacy derives from the consent of the people; that’s just a fact, not a theory. There are any number of ways to engineer that consent, but it depends in every case on paying attention to the population’s needs and wants. This is stuff which was understood by the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt (a very stable society). But it is not understood by the people in power in most countries in the world right now.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      Yes, I tried to qualify the post to make the points that you’re making; to be anything more than a device for crudely measuring scale, I’d have to have some notion of ground truth and a classification scheme for the tactics. It is enough for me to see clearly that the reason the elites are worried is that they have reason to be.

      As far as no protests in the US, well, no. There’s a small but very interesting one going on right now at Cooper Union. Examples could be multiplied, I am sure, especially at key supply chain nexuses like fracking sites, pipelines, retail, and so forth.

  8. Nathanael

    “So I don’t see political risk for the elites decreasing, and if they run true to form, they’ll double down on #FAIL.”

    That’s what I hate about this.

    If we had sane elites, they would do like Emperor Augustus. They would still destroy their powerful political opponents — but the plebians would be given food and jobs and aqueducts.

    Now, in some of these countries, the elite may actually be *unable* to provide the food and jobs. Too many droughts, too many people, too little access to technology, etc. In those countries, unrest will continue indefinitely. It can continue for hundreds of years.

    But in many of these countries, the elite is perfectly able to provide the food and jobs, but chooses not to. Those elites are just being stupid.

    Why are they being stupid? Because at the head of these elites are people who are psychologically defective, in the ways described in _Theory of the Leisure Class_. Defective people who just can’t get enough, who get their jollies from stealing stuff from other people, who can’t be happy unless someone else is suffering.

    Those people are ruining the system which made them rich and powerful. Lots of people liked the system; it was pretty comfortable. It’s being ruined, and once it stops doing its job, people are eventually going to overthrow it.

    But we have no way of guaranteeing what will replace it. Franco didn’t make this kind of mistake of excessive greed — unfortunately a brutal and repressive (but food+jobs) Franco-style dictatorship might replace our current broken, ruined system, and a Franco-style dictatorship is very stable. We must try to get something better.

    One of the few scenarios where the existing elites don’t get destroyed quickly: perhaps this is like 1848 in Europe. Then, the existing elites clamped down, and it was successful for a generation. Those elites then believed, mistakenly, that they could solve everything by clamping down — and they mostly died in World War I, along with their families, and in many cases their entire countries vanished. I think that scenario is unlikely as it depends on rising standards of living due to technology.

    The real worst case scenario: we go into a sequence of revolving coups, where each unsatisfactory government is replaced by the next, such as the history of Mexico for 100 years before the Diaz dictatorship, or most of the history of Bolivia.

    Most of the other scenarios are better than that but still nasty.

    The best-case scenario is that the current elites are ousted in honest, open, peaceful elections, *and* replaced with competent people who believe in civil rights. But what chance of that? We should try for it, but in recent years the only country which has come close to pulling it off is Iceland. This is not looking likely.

    1. Ulysses

      “The best-case scenario is that the current elites are ousted in honest, open, peaceful elections, *and* replaced with competent people who believe in civil rights. But what chance of that?”

      Great question!!

      We need an honest-to-god populist movement, untainted with complicity in the crimes of the two corporatist parties, to be the “new broom that sweeps clean.”

      The ideal leaders for such a new movement would be folks who have never been on T.V., gave interviews to NPR etc. They might have graduated with honors from SUNY Binghamton, but any connection to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton would be the kiss of death.

      The American public has rightly given up on the technocratic elites to do the right thing. They might accept the good will of a decent person with inherited wealth, but Teddy Kennedy is gone, and no one else in the 1% has even his (relatively modest) credibility with the 99%.

      The ideal candidates for such a new, anti-elitist movement will have come up as union organizers, comunity activists, or even as government or corporate whistleblowers victimized by the corrupt powers that be for their honest, courageous actions.

    2. Synopticist

      The actions of the elite make plenty of sense if you think in terms of Russia.

      That is, global oligarchs have decided that Russia is the model for them- massive looting, on a scale that puts old-school western plutocrats in the shade, a quasi democratic govt, and the promise of state violence if things get out of hand.

      They’ve come to realise that they don’t really need to share anymore, that having a middle-class isn’t necessary, and free markets are only for little people.

      Western elites want their societies to become more like Russia, basically.

  9. Kurt Sperry

    If gauging “Global Political Risks”, is there some sort of quantitative metric so that volatility can scored or rated over time? In other words, does this list of anecdotal examples represent a high point, a quiet point, a rise or a fall in volatility/risk as a correlation to reported protests?

    Probably making such an analytic to-do would then involve doing some kind further of quantitative analysis on the protests based on smaller criteria ad nesting mamushka dolls. Then you’re quickly off in the weeds trying to curve fit the data to your wacky models with the economists, social scientists and theoretical physicists.

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