Occupy Europe: How a generation went from indifferent to indignant
Occupy Europe? From Madrid to Athens, young people facing a bleak future are casting doubt on European identity.
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In the May 2010 elections in Britain, Liberal Democrats captured student hearts with promises that university tuitions would not rise. The youth turned out. For many, it was the first time they had ever voted. But by December, the ruling coalition of Tory and Lib Dems raised tuition from £3,000 to £9,000 (US$4,700 to $14,000) a year. The shock ignited a massive student march through central London. Young protesters bused in from all parts of the country to demonstrate.Skip to next paragraph
"Nations that have groomed a generation through a vast expense of higher education risk trouble if they can't deliver jobs and careers to that generation," something that dates back all the way to the French Revolution, says Jack Goldstone, professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who recently visited Athens and Cairo.
Yet unlike in the US in the 1980s, when edgy Generation Xers often blamed their granola-eating parents for their travails, Europe's youth don't fault their parents for their plight. Most see them as sympathetic and sacrificing. They point out that their parents are bewildered to find their offspring living at home at age 30 with a master's degree. (Studies show that 46 percent of Europeans under 34 live with at least one parent.)
In some ways, the proliferation of social media networks (Facebook, Twitter), YouTube, and blogs makes things more "complicated," simply because it opens so many windows on the world. Europe's cybergeneration is less trusting of traditional media. "We want the truth. I don't want to believe, I want to know," says John, a 26-year-old in Athens. "I like facts. I like proof. I'm a computer scientist. I am always online. When it comes to Greek politics and the debt crisis, I draw my own conclusions."
"We used to accept the authority of mainstream media, but we no longer do," adds Concepción Cortés Zulueta, who heads a young researchers association at a Madrid university. "Now I say look at this link, and this link, at this website, or this video. There is a lot more information, and a lot more to challenge."
One thing youth resent is when elders caricature their generation. Early in the May 15 movement, with police surrounding the square, media dubbed the youth as "Ni-Nis" (neither this nor that), which in this context meant neither workers nor students. It was a derogatory slap. The protesters, highly educated but often unemployed, shot back that, yes, they were Ni-Nis – they supported neither center-left Socialists, nor the center-right Popular Party, something akin in the US to a pox on both Democratic and Republican houses.
Later, after slurs that indignados were "lazy drinkers," the youths themselves banned alcohol on the square. Puerta del Sol was for years the site of an evening ritual called botellón, in which bottles of beer were passed around liberally as the sun went down. This ended. A banner atop a building stated: "Esto no es un botellón."
"We hear politicians describing a breakdown in youth responsibility, a moral collapse; we hear about feral children running wild, feckless youth. It is complete nonsense," says Ed Howker, coauthor of "Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth." "The description of the generation, not by their parents, but by politicians, and to some extent the mass media, is irresponsible and uninformed. We have TV shows called the 'Bank of Mom and Dad.' It's offensive," says Mr. Howker, who just turned 30. "All these different glib generalizations of youth bear no relation to the vulnerable situation they feel themselves in."