Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Democracy, but only for your enemies

I'm watching the British media coverage of the Hong Kong democracy protests with some fascination. I'm supportive of the protesters: China is in no way a socialist or communist state, merely an autocracy or kleptocracy which has retained the branding of communism. Any decent communist should be fervently wishing for a complete collapse of the now satirically-titled 'People's Republic'.

So that's the cause dealt with: three cheers for Occupy Central and its allies. But cursed with a little historical knowledge, I view the UK's political and media support for Occupy with a jaundiced eye. The British took Hong Kong by force in 1841 in reprisal for the Chinese forcing British drug dealers to destroy their stock (opium, in this case). They then negotiated additions to the territory at various points, with a lease that expired in 1997.

So that's 156 years without a single election for the premier, and elections to vague and useless 'advisory councils' only started in 1984, after the return of HK to Chinese rule was negotiated. It's hard not to see this late and tokenistic democratic gesture as little more than a satirical gesture designed to establish some tiny distinction between the 'free' West and 'tyrannical' China. For 156 years, decisions about Hong Kong were made 6000 miles away in London and executed by a man dressed like this:

I think this extends to the UK media coverage of Hong Kong's protests. I haven't seen a single word about the colony's political history: the silent implication is that denying HK democracy is typical Chinese or Communist behaviour. The British like to pose as democrats to the fingertips, but they've always preferred to drop it on their enemies rather than extend it to their subjects or (in postcolonial times) business partners. Yes, Saudi Arabia, I'm looking at you. When Tony Blair announced that Britain had to invade Iraq for 'democracy', I congratulated my New Labour MP and asked when the invasion of Saudi Arabia would begin. His reply was a rather huffy 'that's different'. Of course it is: Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a vile dictatorship of terror, while Saudia Arabia is a vile terroristic dictatorship which buys a lot more weapons, beheads a lot more people and makes women's lives a living hell.

I guess I'm still a political adolescent, caring about principle over realpolitik. But back to Hong Kong: let's all support the protestors not because we enjoy annoying China but because democracy is a good thing per se, while examining our own national consciences a little more closely. I can't help thinking that if the democracy protests had occurred under British rule, we'd have had a lot of furrowed-brow commentators interviewing bank CEOs worried about 'stability' and the economy, just as we have with the Scottish independence referendum.

Here, for example, is a staged ambush performed for the Pathé cameras by the British Army in Ireland, 1920 (sorry I can't embed it) and here's another in which those debonair Black and Tans keep proper British order in a devastated Ireland wrecked by rebels. Meanwhile the same arguments against Scottish Independence were being raised against Irish Home Rule in the Irish Times:
…today’s Irish Times… claimed that the cold reality of the mistake that was Home Rome was now beginning to dawn on nationalists as they looked at the detail of what was proposed.
The paper said that ‘fantastic assurances can no longer deceive intelligent nationalists. They are beginning to realize the hideous barrenness of the Promised Land.’ The paper concluded: ‘They begin to perceive that the Bill for which they have sacrificed so much spells national bankruptcy for Ireland - increased taxation, the starvation of all schemes of material improvement and social reform.'
'The Irish Parliament must find the money for all these things, and will be powerless to find it.’

There's always a framework within which the media operate - you just have to look for it. So don't expect support for the HK democracy movement to last beyond what's politically expedient. States and parties don't work like that - but we can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'Home Rome'?