Taiwan (2014/2015)

Sunflower movement: The protest continues

Auch abends bleiben die Straßen voll
The streets are crowded day and night

At the 6th day of the sunflower revolution the sun finally shows up above Taipei. The protest attracts more and more journalists, more and more onlookers – and more and more protestors. Still, they are mostly young people, high school and college students and parents with small children. They gather together in small groups at the ground, with sunflowers in their hands and slogan ribbons in their hair and listen to the messages coming from the speakers. Some write their own speeches to take a microphone when the speakers’ list gets up to their name. Volunteers hurry from place to place, take care of the donated packages they receive and make sure the protests stay as peaceful and structures as they are.

Street artists capture the scene in bright colours; others paint slogans on yellow paper and hand it to passing people. The situation is still calm, but the atmosphere is obviously politicized. Regardless of whom I ask I receive answers – sometimes emotionally strongly charged.

“All of us know by now what the agreement is about”, a student who helps in front of the parliament since Wednesday morning explains. “There are different opinions about it. Some are in favour of the agreement and others are against. And some people don’t think the agreement itself is too bad but criticise the lack of transparency and the poor legal basis of the process.” I ask about his personal opinion. “My opinion?“ He laughs. „I mean – this is about China. That isn’t such any random country and that’s why we as people of Taiwan have to be extremely sensitive about this issue. I can’t support anything with China involved if I don’t know exactly what it is about.” But the government – and this would be the biggest problem – have not told their people anything about the agreement and would not answer their questions or requests.

“Our government does not represent the people”, thinks a doctor who sits since a couple of days in front of the parliament. “Our president is born in China, his heart belongs to China. Here are Taiwanese fighting for Taiwan.” He points at the young people around him. “These people grew up in new times. They don’t identify themselves with China. At it is their future we are fighting for.“

I come in touch with a group of students who fill care-packages for the protestors inside the parliament. In the beginning they are hesitating about sharing their opinion, because they do not want to tell anything wrong, but when it comes to the question of they are scared of something, a young woman cannot hold in. “Of course we are scared. It is our future which is the main issue here. Taiwan has enormous economical problems. Our salaries fall and at the same time we have to deal with increasing costs of living. But it can’t be the solution that we let China overtake our companies and our country. This only shows that the government doesn’t care for what we need.” She would be full of confidence that something will change, because the feels the great power coming from the protestors. A young man who joined in the group compares Taiwan to Europe. “In Europe the people go on the streets and burn cars, but this is not who we are. As long as we stay peaceful, we are good.” I point at his jumper saying “Fuck the Government”. He grins. „That’s only the truth.“

image2A young woman coordinating the speakers‘ list puts emphasis on the fact that she personally does not want to give the government the chop. She only wants to see that she and her opinion are taken seriously. „This is my country and I want to live in this country. Therefore I want to feel that my country has interest in my opinion.”

“We call this revolution”, a high school student says confidently, “Because this is how it feels. We want to take our future in our own hands. We don’t accept being ignored. We take part.“

In the streets around the parliament I meet fight spirit, motivation and determination to stay until something has changed – no matter how long this will take.

Am Straßenrand sind Stände aufgebaut, die die Demonstranten mit allem versorgen, was es braucht

Still, I also meet many young men and women who cannot hide their concern. “We are Taiwan.” A high school student says. „And we try to fight China. It is great to see how we all work together, but we need support from other countries. I don’t think we can make it all on our own.”

 “We are not at the end yet”

Thanks to a worn out young woman who has not slept in two nights I finally come close to the parliament where protestors since Tuesday night surround police officers surrounding the protestors inside the parliament.

Under a pavilion is hustle and bustle – inside the parliament especially young women faint every now and then because of the amount of people inside and here medicine students and doctors provide their service.

At the parliament’s roof walk 3 young men and observe everything going on underneath them in the streets and from time to time they let down a ladder to help protestors from the streets up to the 2nd and 3rd floor of the occupied building.

“It is cool to be inside the parliament” a guy who controls everybody getting in and out tells me. “Some hope to get some fame because they were there. That makes it a bit complicated to coordinate everything.”

A young woman shows up at the edge of the roof. She comments this morning’s press conference where the president talked a lot – without making reference to the protest. She asks the masses not to give up. “We won’t give up” comes from the people.

„We will leave the parliament when we are done here“, she shouts. “But we are not at the end yet!”

A student who since Wednesday supports the organization team takes some time to talk with me. He studies Mechanical Engineering and smiles guiltily. “That doesn’t have to do anything with politics, but that doesn’t mean I am not interested in politics. This is about my rights and I am here to change something.” Like so many of my acquaintances from the last days he is thankful that I as German show interest in the protests. “I am a bit scared”, he admits, “that our government ignores us until we give up, because this is what they intend. At the moment the people are still here, but I fear that they soon will loose their motivation.”

 

There is a sudden outbreak of chaos, some young men and women scream, the group shouts “away with the police”. People push each other, reporter burst with their bulky cameras in the crowd and for a short moment the situation seems to escalate. A group of young men linked their arms to form a human chain in front of the police men inside the parliament which keeps the forward pushing people from getting inside the building. They raise their voices to calm the group (which is probably 70 percent reporters) down, sweat appears on their foreheads and I can see some fear sparkling in their eyes. After only a couple of minutes two young men whose faces are known as leader of the revolution show up and raise their hands to soothe the mob. “We won’t get anything if we start being violent.”

“We won’t get anything if we just sit around here”, a woman shouts in anger. People around her calm her down.

“The occupation of the parliament is only one side of the protest”, one of the young men explains with a quiet but powerful voice. “We need the united power from all of you on the streets to secure us and to show that we are not on our own. We need to resist even though it might be difficult.”

The situation relaxes quickly and the reporters step back, disappointed that they could not see more drama. “Most of the media is influenced by China”, explains a young student. “They want to see something they can use against us. They are bored of being here.” Her boyfriend nods. „Same with the protestors. They are sitting here since 5 days and loose the motivation. They have a lot of emotions and maybe also aggressions inside them. And they want actions. But that’s not how it works here.”

The frustration about the government’s determination to fulfil their plans regarding the trade pact and the feeling of helplessness might be the reason leading to escalation in the night from Sunday to Monday. Under new leaders storms a group of students and activists another governmental building, the Executive Yuan. Witnesses of the scene tell me how it comes first to pushing between protesting people and police, changing relatively quick into real aggression until the police uses water cannons and brings the outnumbered activists one by one out of the building. The situation ends in several arrests and with approximately 70 participants injured.

The Engineering Student shows concern about those who feel to waste their time just sitting around. “We always experience that people want to do things and begin to push or shout, yesterday one suddenly came out with a knife. But they are only few, the majority is peaceful and listens to the leaders.”

We are sitting at a short distance to the protestors, in between a chaos of cables, packaged and blankets, a young man passed out at a bench and overtired volunteers speak into radio sets.

“We slowly run out of energy. We still want to fight, but we are exhausted”, he explains. “I was here all Wednesday and then I went home and spent the next day sleeping. We have many volunteers helping, but none of us has infinite power and also have to manage our daily life. The government knows that. But we still don’t give up.“

I don’t want to keep him away from his work any longer, so I ask my last question.

At the outbreak of the protest nobody planned on it becoming such a big thing. It was not more than some outraged students until the news of them storming the parliament at night spread like wildfire via the internet. And suddenly he is together with so many others part of this enormous protest, the revolution. How does this feel?

He gives a shrug, but smiles confidently. “It feels right. And I have to admit, I am proud. Not directly proud of my country, but proud of my generation. I am 22 and I see all the people of my age how they come here to protest united for great things. I think that tells a lot about us. And that is why I think we are going to be successful. Because we know what we stand for and because we are ready to give everything to make this change happen.”

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