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... And They Call It Democracy
[Opinion] In the 쏝attle of Hong Kong, WTO protesters helped to tip the balance
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-21 11:17 (KST)   
North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying f**k
About the people in misery

-- Bruce Cockburn -- "Call it Democracy"
It's never a victory for anyone but a nihilist when civil society degenerates into violence, when clashes break out between people who bear no responsibility for the conflict at hand.

So it was last week in Hong Kong at the WTO's "Doha Round" of talks. As with war, it was those behind the frontlines who sent off others to do their bidding. As a result, the undemocratically elected elite of trade representatives that make up the WTO forced the nervous young police officer I saw into the fray to defend a process he had no part in making by smashing up against a farmer from South Korea.

So it was for the Indonesian fisherman who left behind his family to come to Hong Kong to appeal for the survival of his livelihood. Why he needed to travel thousands of kilometers to do so is just one of the obscenities accepted by the current WTO process.

So it was for the local TV reporter who was ridiculed on air for wearing a helmet that her superiors ordered her to put on. Whether it was for genuine safety concerns or simply pandering to sensationalism may never be known. What is known, however, is that due to the demands of the WTO, image over substance wins the ratings at the end of the day.

When the Unaccountable Wield Power

Violence is built into the very fabric of the current WTO process. Like the IMF, it resembles a marauding gang that brings mayhem and despair wherever it goes. The protesters are not to blame, nor are the police. Rather, it's the unaccountability of a global organization that's to blame for wielding power it never earned over millions of people.

So they resist. Contrary to some reports, there wasn't any "riot" or "mob rule" in Hong Kong on Dec. 17, nor was the district of Wan Chai under siege by a violent mass of Koreans. Those who were in "The Battle of Seattle" for the WTO conference in 1999 or Genoa for the G8 Summit in 2001, where one protester was shot dead, know what a riot is.

Hong Kong Police Unprepared

What happened in Hong Kong started as a heated scuffle. It escalated when the police proved ill-prepared to handle a genuine demonstration, not the domesticated kind that Hong Kong is used to. The authorities were caught off guard. Water cannons were useless; tear gas unnecessary. If over 2,000 police dressed in full riot gear, armed with protective shields and buckets of pepper spray couldn't subdue a few hundred protesters, the fault lies squarely with the Hong Kong authorities.

Instead, the media blasted the ridiculous rhetoric of Police Commissioner Dick Lee who claimed the officers were "under attack" without reflecting that the more severely a confrontation is represented, the better the police look. It serves their interest to bandy about the terms "riot" and "mob rule" to justify their exaggerated and irresponsible actions.

Detainees Rights Abused

What is becoming increasingly certain, however, is that protesters suffered human rights violations. According to Hong Kong reporter Ravina Shamdasani, Amnesty International is demanding an independent investigation into their abuse claims. Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun said, "As a Hong Kong person, I feel ashamed. I want to apologize to the Korean farmers. What the Hong Kong police leaders have done is not appropriate."

So the people resist. Not only the WTO, but the misrepresentations of a media beholden to interests that should be subject to inquiry. They resist with the quiet dignity of the women migrant workers who paraded through Hong Kong's streets demanding a living wage for their labor, or with the ferocity of the South Korean farmers who threw their bodies on the gears of the WTO machine to bring it to a halt, winning over public opinion in the process.

The protesters displayed their power yet again and it was recognized by their fellow global citizens in Hong Kong. The mayhem that usually accompanies the WTO beyond the barricades has now overtaken the process itself.

Tipping the Balance

So, that's what this week was about -- shifting the balance of power. As with a community still awaiting democracy, Hong Kongers know justice delayed is justice denied. The illegitimacy of the WTO has been slowly unraveling, and like the old fool pulling the levers behind the curtain in the "Wizard of Oz," without any accountability it's a farce. The pathetic "agreement" announced late Sunday night was nothing more than a face saving gesture designed to preserve the positions of those within the conference venue, not for the poorest of the poor, as was the conference's mandate.

Through all the smoking tear gas and steel plated glass, the iconic Hong Kong Convention Center resembled a gigantic metallic edifice perched on the edge of a dark abyss late Saturday evening. The contours of an illegitimate organization have emerged. In the "Battle of Hong Kong," the protesters may have succeeded in tipping the balance towards a legitimate, inclusive and fair global trade process. Let's hope another battle remains as elusive as a fair trade deal under the current WTO process.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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