Looking Back at 2011: From Arab Spring to Occupying Indignation and Winter of Russian Discontent

Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

It has been one tough year: tsunamis, earthquakes, nuclear calamities, not to mention suffocating economic crises across the world. Yet 2011 has also witnessed remarkable awakening of human social consciousness which seemed dormant if not atrophied after decades of dumb self-centered consumerism and prevailing political apathy.

Spring started with revolutions in several Arab countries, putting out of business long-term dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, as well as putting to shame “old” European democracies. The stereotypes of radical Islam and autocracy-leaning Muslims hostile to human rights have been shaken, while the self-proclaimed “beacons of liberty” – France, the UK and the USA – were exposed for their cozy dealings with the dictators at the expense of oppressed populations.

The effect of the Arab Spring has been so powerful that it would spill over into the West. The movement of the indignant started in Spain, catching on in other European countries; various Occupy offshoots – from Wall Street to DC to smaller communities — started in the USA; and demonstrations for social justice swept Israel.

Anti-corruption protests have also taken place in India and even in parts of China, where the affluent and increasingly vocal middle class has demanded bigger say in the countries´  affairs.

Last but not least social awakening of the year happened in Russia where allegations of blatant election fraud proved too much even for proverbially patient and politically disengaged public. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators showed daily to protest corruption and demand new elections, ultimately forcing grudging concessions – if not of the elections rerun, then at least of cleaner elections next time around.

While concrete and positive outcomes of new social movements across the globe remain to be seen, this unprecedented in recent history awakening of public social consciousness gives hope for the new 2012 year: the year when political accountability, financial transparency, social justice and human rights may be a touch closer.