Conservative Geneva turns out to be livelier in the middle of the night than it is at 10 am. The Swiss city is so famously quiet there’s a Facebook meme comparing the weekend here to life after the apocalypse. But a walk home from factory-turned-club l’Usine early Sunday morning led past the after-effects of a protest on Rue de Coutance: “Burn the banks” spray-painted on the bank branches, “Free drugs” on the pharmacy, an Anarchist A on Starbucks and a “Yiihaa” whoop on Manor, one of the city’s two staid department stores.
A few luxury shop windows were cracked. According to the Tribune de Genève, about 500 protestors took to the streets with paint cans. Anti-austerity protests have marked the rest of Europe, but not Geneva, not till now.
“Smash the banks” in Geneva, the city that lives on banking? It reminded me of a surprising recent talk at the Graduate Institute by a former Barclays’ bank chief. He began by waxing nostalgic over the heyday of Reagan, Thatcher and the IMF in the 1980s and 90s. But then he became scathing over the failure of EU leadership to manage the refugee crisis, and then took a sharp left turn with a ringing call for restructuring debt for Greece and other struggling economies. “Every institution is being questioned,” he warned, and suggested that critics of global greed might have an unexpected sympathizer. “The main risk to the global economy today is not financial, it is political.”