Protest and Social Movements in Contemporary History

Collaboratively written chapter for the open-access textbook The European Experience: A Multi-Perspective History of Modern Europe, 1500–2000.

Introduction: Over the course of the twentieth century, protest and social movements changed dramatically. In the first half of the century, much of the European continent was embroiled in conflict between right- and left-wing movements that sought to take power through revolutionary upheaval. By the end of the Second World War this central conflict had led to very different outcomes, which reconfigured the possibilities and aims of protest according to where it took place. In Southern Europe, right-wing dictatorships ruthlessly persecuted their leftist opponents for decades, but protests around 1968 proved formative for the democratic revolutions that would eventually take place once these regimes were weakened. In the liberal democracies of Western Europe, there was decidedly more scope for protest than there was under dictatorship and, in the 1960s, young people in particular questioned the limits that authorities imposed on both protest and on democracy itself. In Eastern Europe, uprisings against Soviet-style communist dictatorships were violently repressed, but they eventually gave way to forms of dissent and ultimately open protests that called for democracy. Developments across the continent differed greatly by region, but by the end of the twentieth century, there was a general trend that culminated in the fragmentation of political movements, blurring the lines between left and right and simultaneously leading to intense—and inconclusive—contestation over what ‘democracy’ could and should mean.

Claire Barillé, Kostis Kornetis, Erika Szívós, and Andrew Tompkins, “Protest and Social Movements in Contemporary History,” in Jan Hansen, Jochen Hung, Jaroslav Ira, Judit Klement, Sylvain Lesage, Juan Luis Simal, Andrew Tompkins (eds.),The European Experience: A Multi-Perspective History of Modern Europe, 1500–2000 (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2023), pp. 415–426. doi:10.11647/OBP.0323.39