In post-war Europe, protests were everywhere. They reached all corners of the continent. From Paris to Prague, from Rome to Leipzig: wherever we look, we see people taking to the streets. Ordinary people, often of a younger generation contested social, political and cultural orders and sought to radically change them. City dwellers struggled for access to affordable and decent housing. Women campaigned for the right to abortion, and gay men for the decriminalization of homosexuality, while migrants without legal status demanded the right to remain. Hundreds of thousands of protestors participated in demonstrations against nuclear armament and what they considered the militarization of society, as well as for the protection of the environment. From 1968, when students (and in some place workers) revolted all over the continent, to 1989, when immense crowds brought down communism in Eastern Europe, these were decades defined by protest.
For A Better World (forthcoming with Penguin Press in spring 2023) traces the history of these protest movements. It explores what protestors campaigned against, but also what alternatives they tried to build, hoping to create a better world here and now. The book tells the stories of people who engaged in protests, experimented with different forms of collective living, tried, failed, and tried again to find change the world and themselves. It’s a story full of hopes, but also of deep disappointments.
Amongst the topics it covers are the protests around 1968 across the Iron Curtain; terrorist violence and humorous ways of mocking authorities; campaigns for international solidarity and the struggle against racism in Europe; peace and environmental movements; women’s movement and queer politics; theoretical critiques of modern society and attempts to change everyday life; the sounds of protesting; and the peaceful revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. It takes readers on a journey reaching from Paris to Prague, from Larzac to Wrocław, from the studies of intellectuals to the bedrooms of activists trying to develop better forms of sexuality.
The book builds on nearly a decade of research into protest movements in the post-1945 world. It expands on my previous publications which have covered some of these issues in a West German context.
More material relating to the subject – such as sources like protest songs and suggestions for further readings – will be provided on these pages in due course.