Residents of the Kosovan capital Prishtine have been taking to their balconies and banging pots and pans, just as people have been doing in India. But while in India the cacophony is a noisy vote of thanks to the country’s hard-pressed health workers, in Kosovo the din is a sign of protest. It has symbolized public resentment of a government which is widely believed to have mishandled the Coronavirus outbreak.
Last night the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti was forced to resign, making it the first government in Europe to be toppled by Coronavirus. Although there is no evidence that the country’s president, Hashim Thaci, ever took to his balcony with pots and pans, it was very clear from the President’s comments earlier this week that he fully sided with the aggrieved citizens.
The use of kitchenware to create a racket is a technique that has been deployed ever since the invention of the frying pan. In the Russian Empire, and more widely, the banging of pots and pans was seen as an effective way of driving away a swarm of locusts. When a British ship captain, Edmund Spencer, arrived in Odessa around 1850, he recorded:
“On our arrival, we found a fearful battle raging between the inhabitants and the ruthless enemies of vegetation. Every noisy weapon, from a pistol to a mortar, from a kettle-drum to a tin casserole, was rattling like thunder in the hands of the horrified citizens, for the purpose of defending their little domains, while the locusts fought quite as bravely to obtain possession of the luxuriant meal promised by the gardens and neat little shrubberies.”
The popular deployment of pots and pans as a communal vote of thanks, as we have seen in India over the past days, seems to be exceptional. Generally, it’s a din that signals discontent. And Icelanders were certainly fed up during the financial crisis that started with the near-collapse of the country’s three major banks in late 2008. They too took to their casserole dishes and the 2009 protests were dubbed Búsáhaldabyltingin – “the kitchenware revolution”.
There were certainly plenty of pots and pans protests in 19th-century France, but it is in South America that the cacerolazo – as it’s known in Spanish – has become a sophisticated political art form. From Argentina to Venezuela, pots and pans have been deployed in noisy choirs of protest against monetary policy, power cuts and political corruption. And last week we saw the balcony protests across Spain, timed to coincide with a TV address by King Felipe VI, as citizens deployed their pots and pans to great effect. Spaniards are particularly aggrieved that their royal family has been taking large kickbacks from Saudi Arabia – funds which, not unreasonably, the Spanish public believe should be given to their hard-pressured health service.
Never underestimate the power of the saucepan or frying pan.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)