Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Protest Today

Reading the various commemorative pieces on the twenty year anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin wall, I am struck by a curious thing: the numbers. From The Observer, "In early November, a mighty Berlin demonstration drew half a million to thunder calls for change ... on the night of 9 November, 50,000 East Berliners rushed to the Wall." Half a million people, 50, 000 people... No small change by anyone's standards. But then, a little under fifteen years later, on the 15th of February, 2003, over a million people protested against the Iraq War. The effect? None whatsoever. So, in East Germany, a supposedly totalitarian state, half a million people can bring about regime change - in the UK, a supposedly liberal-democratic nation, twice the amount of people are nonetheless totally impotent. A little later in the same article, we read that the rumoured death of one student at the hands of the police in Prague on November 17th was enough to bring half a million people to the streets and ultimately kick start the Velvet Revolution. It later turned out that the rumour was in fact false. On the 2nd of April this year, after kettling in several thousand protestors, the police are caught on video beating a newspaper salesman, Ian Tomlinson, to death. The consequences? One officer is interviewed on suspicion of manslaughter. Now, what, ultimately, were the demonstrations across eastern Europe in 1989 about? What did they want? Well, supposedly, democracy, liberal freedom, the right to dissent. In other words, they were protesting for the right to protest. Evidently, this was a freedom they basically already had, and we no longer do.