From The Times:
January 21, 2009 World Agenda: riots in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria are a sign of things to come Roger Boyes
Our third global political column explores the start of an age of rebellion over the financial crisis - beginning in Iceland
Icelanders all but stormed their Parliament last night. It was the first session of the chamber after what might appear to be an unusually long Christmas break.
Ordinary islanders were determined to vent their fury at the way that the political class had allowed the country to slip towards bankruptcy. The building was splattered with paint and yoghurt, the crowd yelled and banged pans, fired rockets at the windows and lit a bonfire in front of the main door. Riot police moved in.
Now in the grand sweep of the current crisis, a riot on a piece of volcanic rock in the north Atlantic may not seem to add up to much. But it is a sign of things to come: a new age of rebellion.
The financial meltdown has become part of the real economy and is now beginning to shape real politics. More and more citizens on the edge of the global crisis are taking to the streets. Bulgaria has been gripped this month by its worst riots since 1997 when street power helped to topple a Socialist government. Now Socialists are at the helm again and are having to fend off popular protests about government incompetence and corruption.
In Latvia – where growth has been in double-digit figures for years – anger is bubbling over at official mismanagement. GDP is expected to contract by 5 per cent this year; salaries will be cut; unemployment will rise. Last week, in a country where demonstrators usually just sing and then go home, 10,000 people besieged parliament.
Iceland, Bulgaria, Latvia: these are not natural protest cultures. Something is going amiss.
The LSE economist Robert Wade – addressing a protest meeting in Reykjavik’s cinema – recently warned that the world was approaching a new tipping point. Starting from March-May 2009, we can expect large-scale civil unrest, he said. “It will be caused by the rise of general awareness throughout Europe, America and Asia that hundreds of millions of people in rich and poor countries are experiencing rapidly falling consumption standards; that the crisis is getting worse not better; and that it has escaped the control of public authorities, national and international.”
Ukraine could be the next to go. The gas pricing deal agreed with Moscow could propel the country towards a serious financial crisis. Russia, too, is looking wobbly. A riot in Vladivostok may have been an omen for things to come. What will happen when the wider economic crisis translates into higher food prices? Or if Gazprom has no choice but to increase domestic gas prices?
Governments have so far managed to deflect attention from their role in the crash, their slipshod monitoring, by declaring themselves to be indispensible to the solution. This may save the skins of politicians in wealthier countries who can credibly and expensively try to prop up banks and sickly industries. But it does not work in countries that are heavily indebted, with bloated and exposed financial sectors. There, the irate crowds are already beginning to demand: why hasn’t a single politician resigned? What has happened to ministerial responsibility? Who will investigate government failure?
Good questions, it seems to me, in these unquiet times.
DOOMSTADT - Latveria has survived foreign invasions, civil war, and superhero attacks and has still endured. However, the global economic slowdown has affected the isolated and oppressive Eastern European state in a profound way, resulting in unemployment and mass liquidations. More mass liquidations than normal, anyway.
Latveria is run with an iron hand by Dr. Victor Von Doom, monarch for life, who personally oversees all aspects of the government and has appointed himself head of all public ministries, with the exception of The Ministry of Sanitation. Somebody else runs that.
The International Monetary Fund says it will be difficult for Latveria to avoid a sharp economic slowdown as the isolated country deals with a European tech sector collapse, weak consumer demand, the global credit crisis, and the aftermath of the so-called "secret invasion" of Earth by the shape-shifting Skrull, which has severely shaken investor confidence in financial institutions and governments.
"Nobody wants to do business with Skrulls," says IMF's Peter Osgood.
A combination of rising energy and food prices and increased tariffs on death rays and combat robots has led to a rapid rise in inflation, which reached 17 per cent in July 2008, the highest in Europe. With monetary policy constrained by the fixed exchange rate target, Von Doom has few means to address inflation aside from mass executions and imprisoning intellectuals, the traditional tactic of Latverian rulers for nearly all domestic issues.
Despite the rosy rhetoric coming from Doomstadt, experts agree that Latveria faces a raft of economic difficulties. Higher oil and food prices have squeezed the income of Latveria's tiny middle class. The downturn in the technology sector is hurting Latverian industry, drying up the market for the country's high-tech armaments and death-dealing robots. Purchase orders for the new generation Doombot XE have been 23% under projections.
In practical terms, many Latverians have been unaffected by the economic troubles. The majority of the Latverian population are superstitious gypsy peasants who operate in an unofficial barter economy and subsist off a diet of boiled shrubs, alpine rodents, and rock soup. Those bearing the brunt of the financial crisis are members of the Latverian aristocracy as well as government ministries, who have seen their budgets slashed by as much as 65%.
Fortunately, unemployed government workers have not been a strain on Latveria's scant entitlement programs, as most laid-off employees are liquidated and used as bio-fuel.
Von Doom has cancelled several programs, including the mysteriously named "Weather Control Satellite" and the so-called "Tunnel to Hell" public works project deep under the Latverian Alps, which analysts believe is either a geo-thermal power project or a means for invading the hellish underworld of the demonic entity Mephisto. Regardless of its true purpose, the program has been mothballed. The despotic Von Doom, who has presided over the construction of over 24 neo-Gothic castles in the past two decades, has ordered work stopped on Doomsturm, his latest multi-million euro public works project (pictured).
The masked dictator of Latveria has been uncommonly laconic regarding his country's financial condition, but during a visit to the United Nations in November 2008, Von Doom explained the root of the global financial crisis with one word: "Richards."
The Latverians seem to be willing to acknowledge that there is a crisis, a departure from their usual modus operandi. In a rare public statement, the Latverian government addressed its unique economic challenges before reporters this week at the annual meeting of the EEK (Eastern European Koalition) in Brussels, Belgium.
"Currently the sovereign nation of Latveria is reassessing its long-term economic policies and evaluating the efficacy of our institutions," said Hans Von Reichert, spokesperson for the Latverian Ministry of Economic Domination. "We realize that we are not immune to the global economic downturn and... and..."
At this point Mr. Von Reichert clutched his temples, screamed in pain, and collapsed into a twitching mass behind the podium.
"The economy of Latveria is solid, and the genius of Doom will shelter our great nation from any economic problems," said Maximillian Schechter, the new spokesperson for the Latverian Ministry of Economic Domination five minutes later.
"Hail Doom," he added hastily.