In recent weeks, Hungary has again made international headlines. This time, it was a popular movement born out of resistance to the latest rewriting of the labor code—which the ruling Fidesz party had already modified in 2011 to the benefit of employers—that made the news. On 12 December, amid chaotic scenes in the National Assembly (where opposition MPs sought to obstruct the voting procedure), Fidesz passed a law that raises the maximum amount of overtime employees can work from 250 to 400 hours a year, and gives employers the freedom to delay payment for overtime work by up to three years. A similar amendment had already been proposed last year but was quickly withdrawn after the government realized the unpopular measure could dent Fidesz’s popularity in the run-up to this spring’s parliamentary election. Off-the-cuff comments made by Fidesz representatives have revealed that the law was reintroduced to satisfy German carmakers who are facing an increasingly acute labor shortage in a low-wage economy that a sizeable segment of the labor force has left behind to take up better-paid work in Austria, Germany, and other Western European countries.
“Do we have the same level of outrage when a young black person gets killed as we do when a window gets broken? And if not, then why is that?”
—Alicia Garza, co-founder of #blacklivesmatter
In Berkeley, California, on a warm night in mid-December 2014, I stood in stalled traffic and watched as protestors smashed the windows of the Trader Joe’s grocery store on University Avenue—part of the ongoing protests in the aftermath of the NYPD’s murder of Eric Garner and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
To appreciate the role of aesthetics in politics, we might look to the recent resurgence of popular anti-corruption movements in India. In 2011 and 2012, mass protests by supporters of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement focused around spectacular fasts by the social activist Anna Hazare. Hazare’s projection of moral authority draws upon a well-established Indian idiom of non-party “saintly politics” (Morris-Jones 1963). The ascetic aesthetic of this approach, in Hazare’s case, is projected through the adoption of simple, hand-woven khadi cotton clothes and practices of abstinence (Pinney 2014; Webb 2014). More recently, a new political formation, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or the Common Man Party, headed by Hazare’s erstwhile IAC colleague Arvind Kejriwal has been promoting an ethical and anti-corruption alternative in electoral politics.
Since the summer of 2014, there have been sustained protests across the United States surrounding issues of police violence, systematic racism, and the devaluation of Black life. What started as protests over the non-indictment of the white police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, respectively, quickly grew into a nationwide uprising that employed highly disruptive direct action tactics. These protests are expressions of collective outrage, anger, and grief that have forced a much needed, nationwide conversation about race, racism, and the value of Black life in America. They have also become important sites of political education and experimentation as people joined together, night after night, in demonstrations of collective power and rage to “shut shit down.”
On 20 December 2014, Romania got its new president: Klaus Iohannis. The processes surrounding this election deserve mention and anthropological scrutiny. Almost exactly twenty-five years after the execution of the Ceausescu couple on Christmas Day 1989, Romania is celebrating a brand new sort of President: a “Santa Klaus.”
In autumn of 2013, Romania witnessed some of the biggest post-1989 protests. From September to early December, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in major cities. People were furious about the government making a deal with a Canadian mining multinational for an opencast mine in Roșia Montana, a small mining town located in the Apuseni Mountains. In the making for almost 16 years, the project had been mired in controversy from the outset (e.g., see Kalb 2006). First, its very existence and the lack of transparency about what the deal included raised suspicions of complicity between local politicians of all stripes and the Canadian mining firm behind the project. Allegations of conflicts of interest, illicit lobbying, and top-level corruption were abundant. Long-term journalist investigations gave credence to many such views, documenting a vast network of business and political interests, both local and global, undergirding the project (Gotiu 2013).