Since the outburst of the current crisis the countries of Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) are facing rather unprecedented social, political and economic transformations. The geographical divergences of the crisis can be explained in terms of locally as well as internationally based factors. Countries of Southern Europe constitute, to a great extent, a marginal European periphery, despite their own particularities. Most notably, they have fairly similar historical, socio-political and cultural backgrounds, including welfare structures based on family support and informal networks, similar processes of urbanization and are relatively “new” modern democracies with significant institutional problems. Since the beginning of the current crisis, inequalities have multiplied affirming and reproducing previous patterns of uneven geographical development. Moreover, disparities among European peripheries became sharper, renewing the discourse about the problems of the European structure and politics, and questioning the much anticipated “convergence”.
However, the crisis itself can also be perceived as a common context. Although it broke out differently in each country, its causes, consequences and policies adopted in order to address it seem to follow similar patterns. Following a long period of neoliberal reforms that mostly led to today’s crisis, further aggressive adjustments are imposed, both from international and domestic actors and interests. The imposed austerity programmes include, amongst others, the elimination of labour rights, the minimization of social welfare, and massive privatization programs; all portrayed as an inevitable solution. Under a “state of emergency”, more authoritarian policies are adopted, often violating or abolishing human, political and social rights and leading to social and economic collapse.
In this context, cities once more become the main places to accommodate both the discontent and the struggles. In conditions of increasing poverty and minimisation of already inefficient welfare provisions, a wide range of urban social movements is emerging. These movements are trying to address the pressing needs not only of the “urban outcasts”, but also of broader social groups, including the middle classes. As a response to the crisis, new survival strategies, solidarity practices and social networks are being created locally, regionally and nationally. These movements and practices acquire multiple forms and organizational structures and, although they are territorially based, their claims relate to all scales of decision-making. Their claims and actions challenge the current conditions of exclusion and inequality and introduce new collective forms of organizing everyday life in the city, such as collective “kitchens’, exchange networks, time-banks, free courses, social medical centres, community gardening, cultural collectives, housing and reclaimed spaces, fiscal disobedience and ‘won’t pay’ movements. In this context, the response of South European urban social movements to the current crisis raises new challenging questions in the field of radical geography.