Taiwan (2014/2015)

“Revolutions are not done in one day only”

The protest in Taipei goes into the second week. On Tuesday one week ago, the 18th of March, a group of activists stormed into the legislative Yuan, the parliament, of Taiwan. Since one week they barricade themselves in the congress. Their protest is supported by people occupying the streets around the building.  

One of the deepest desires of the protestors seems to be that their fight for justice and democracy gets international attention and support. They want to assert themselves over the dominance from China (especially since not only China does not recognize Taiwan as independent country, but also very few countries have direct diplomatic relations with Taiwan).

There's a wide (national) media coverage of the protest - but not always in the protesters' interest
There’s a wide (national) media coverage of the protest – but not always in the protesters’ interest

Since it came to for this protest unusually violent actions in the night from Sunday (23/03) to Monday (24/03) international media reports from Taipei. I was happy to notice that – and was disappointed after a short read only. The articles – mostly written by the China correspondents – get the facts straight, but they fail in capturing the outstandingly peaceful and united commitment for justice and civil rights. But this is exactly what makes the sunflower revolution special. Reading these articles gives the impression in Taipei is just another student protest as they happen all over the world lately and the police tries to stop this. Drama gives good headlines and blood sells.

The escalation of Sunday night was, as far as I can appraise without having been at the scene, a very unfortunate combination of different factors. Some protestors, frustrated about the ignorance from the government, tried to occupy yet another governmental building, the Executive Yuan. “I don’t understand how they can still ignore us!” A very upset student tells me with tears in his eyes. “We gave them time, we ask fair questions. I think it is only right that we tried to do more to get their attention.” The police outnumbered the students in this event, so the protestors failed their attempt to stay in the second building. The night ended in several arrests and with more than 100 people having minor injuries.

I am interested in the mood at the protest, especially since the media spreads horrifying news. The opinions shared in the internet vary a lot. Some argue that the police overreacted especially with the use of water cannons, others defend the officers. They only did their job and reacted to illegal actions by the protestors. Whereupon others say that the protestors themselves only reacted to the illegal act of the government. The prevailing view seems to be that everybody should follow the revolution leaders to succeed with united patience.

download-2In front of the parliament sit a lot less people than in the days before, but still enough to play to the gallery. In the very ends gather some groups. They call themselves research circles where experts discuss different aspects of the protest with students to write and publish scientifically based papers. I talk to a professor who focuses with a group of graduate students from China and Taiwan on the mutual history. This is in his opinion an aspect which does not get enough attention in the discussion. “China and Taiwan never had an equal relation. Now the relation only slowly improves – and then something like this? That can’t be right!”

Further down I meet a professor from the West of Taiwan with a group of 7 students. “We have our lecture here”, he explains. “Especially now it is important not to give up.” His students study in the department of social studies. “They learn much more here than from theories. About policy, about solidarity and about the importance of courage and the fight for one’s conviction and rights.”

“I am here, because this is an important moment to fight for my future.” A student tells who sits in front of the parliament in a bunch of sleeping bags. “China is not a good country and I don’t let them ruin my future.” She has dark shadows under her eyes, but speaks in an energetic voice. A friend adds that it is important not to generalize – the people of China are probably as unenlightened as themselves. She is as well one of those who remain at the protest to fight against undemocratic injustice. “Of course I do this for my country and my people, but most of all because we need a democratic world and we can’t expect that it is going to change from itself.”

Ohne das Engagement der vielen Freiwilligen, würde der Protest nicht funktionieren
The protest would not work without the support of many volunteers

A volunteer shows up and brings lunchboxes, they take them thankfully and hand their litter over to another who takes care of that.

It is a beautiful day today, the sun is shining and the atmosphere is relaxed and easygoing. Young men queue behind the microphones to hold long or rather short speeches and the crowd claps and yells occasionally. Some volunteers carry arms full of sunflowers and give them to the sitting protestors where they set bright and colourful highlights.

„I am only here, because I couldn’t believe the stories written in the news”, a student from Taipei explains who holds his long sunflower like a sword in front of him. “And that was good, because it is not dangerous to be here. And most of all it is not unnecessary!” He tries since days to convince his friends to come here, but they are loyal to the government and “have the president’s mind”. They believe if the president does not consider this as important, it is in fact not important. He is angry about that, but he values the freedom of choice and cannot force them.

A young woman next to us turns around. “I came here Monday. I read in the news about the escalation and I thought this would keep many people away from coming. I wanted to support the protestors, even though I was scared. Sometimes you have to overcome your fear.”

“I was as well scared”, A friend of hers admits. “But the moment I arrived here I felt good. Now I am only upset about the government and the media.”

“I am very upset!” Yet another young woman joins in. “And very sad. The president is an egotistic old man. We are great young people with great ideas. But he has too much power. That is not fair.”

Two friends sit under a big umbrella to hide from the sun. They complain about the fact that the people in power are all from an old generation who would not care about the youths’ wishes or needs. They feel to be “nothing more than naughty kids to them.” I ask about their personal opinion about the agreement. „Our president sells our country“, one of them says very firmly. Her friend nods. “Everybody here discusses the impacts on the economy and the business, because our economy is bad. But that’s only a short-term view. In long-term it is about the political site. And this is exactly why we are here. We are thinking long-term because it is our future and our world.”

The day goes by, the sun shines, the speakers alternate and in the shadow of the parliament building a group of creative students paints and draws caricatures, slogans and paintings to decorate walls and fences. Nothing really exciting happens; the reporting teams wipe their brows and stare into empty space. It is Taiwanese media. “They are waiting for more material they can use against us”, a student says furiously and curses at the government. He is here since Wednesday and only took a break for the weekend. “I thought there are enough people for the weekend. I took a good sleep to be fit for now. How long does he intend to stay, I am curious to know. He gives a shrug and makes an angry face. “I don’t know how long they want to keep us waiting. But I stay. Revolutions are not done in one day only.”

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