Monday, December 13, 2010
Why Student Protests in Britain Matter in Indonesia
The current student protests in London are relevant to Indonesia for two reasons. The first and most important is the status that Britain has as a champion of representative democracy.
In this interconnected global village, the ideals of democracy are often ridiculed and lambasted by fascists, especially in developing countries, but particularly here among Islamists who would prefer to have religious fascism than freedom.
Some years back, when the world was hoping for America to show restraint and allow peace to flower in the Middle East and Britain’s democratic system was deliberating whether to join the forces of the US-led aggression or be a bastion of reason, the news of the massive antiwar demonstrations that was beamed around the world from London warmed the hearts of many peace-minded people everywhere.
What a disappointment it was for the supporters of democracy all over the world when Britain decided to play the role of America’s poodle, completely ignoring the wishes of the majority of its people and using lies and deceit to manipulate its Parliament into supporting a move that ran contrary to the values its artists consistently campaign for through the global cultural hegemony that Britain holds.
The way that Tony Blair’s government ignored the huge antiwar demonstrations and tricked Parliament into supporting its aggressive policy was surely a nearly fatal blow to the global movement for democracy.
The evil that Blair hatched with his lies has still not spent its life force even though he himself is now out of power, as to date the anti-democracy camps still use those events to illustrate how Western democracy is essentially a sham to dupe the masses into believing that they are being governed with their consent.
This is why the current student movement in Britain is important to Indonesia.
The movement for democracy in Indonesia would receive a strong boost if the British students were to be victorious, because that would prove that democracy works and can win even in a country with a recent history of governance through deceit and lies.
On the other hand, if the movement in Britain fails and the current government gets away with breaking its promises on university fees, the anti-democracy movement will be able to declare once more that democracy is essentially a sly mechanism that enables the elite to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
The second reason that makes the student protests relevant to Indonesia is that Indonesia has a history of very successful student movements, beginning with the campaign for an Indonesian nation initiated by students in Batavia in 1928 and continuing on to the 1945 revolution in which students took up arms and were in the vanguard of the Independence Revolution.
The third major success was the 1998 reformasi movement, in which united students toppled the dictator Suharto.
The student movement in 1966 is also an important process from which lessons must be learned, because at that time the students allied with the military but were kicked out of the political scene as soon as they achieved victory through the regime change they had initiated.
It is folly to expect social and political change from a movement that has a heavy military involvement because, naturally, the military is an institution that works through the mechanism of a chain of command, not through democratic processes.
With Indonesia’s rich experience of success and failure with regard to student movements for social and political change, it is in a position to share knowledge and experience with the current British student movement, in the hope of supporting the students to achieve victory.
One thing that Indonesia can teach Britain in this respect is that united students cannot be defeated, even by a fearsome dictator like Suharto.
Monitoring British news stories, it is worrying to see so little support for the students’ cause compared with the media’s efforts to excuse the brutality in which the British police are indulging.
It is as if mainstream news producers are intent on obscuring the root cause of the students’ discontent, which is simply the outrageous price hike in university tuition fees that the government is forcing on them, after expressly promising before elections that it would not do that.
Just how disgustingly the British police have behaved in their handling of the mostly peaceful protests is illustrated by the fate of the scores of injured students who have fallen victim to the police, whose wages are paid by their parents through their taxes.
Alfie Meadows, a 20-year-old philosophy student from Middlesex University, was beaten by a police truncheon and suffered a brain hemorrhage.
Meadows would certainly have died if the ambulance medics who whisked him to the hospital had not stood up against the demands of police officers who tried to force the hospital to refuse to treat him.
Thankfully, after three hours on an operating table, Meadows’s life is no longer in danger.
However, the plan to dramatically increase tuition fees is still there, and while more demonstrations are planned all over Britain, the police have yet to declare that they will abandon their brutal tactics.
The brutality of the British police in their handling of these demonstrations is relevant to the democracy movement in Indonesia precisely because Britain is considered to be a champion of democracy.
If police violence against lawful protesters is normal in a mature democracy, then even higher levels of violence should be expected in a young democracy like ours.
This is the reason why we should stand up against any efforts to make normal the notion that governments naturally lie to their citizens and police are naturally violent in the face of protest.
As citizens who are also victims of an untrustworthy police force and a less-than-truthful government, let us declare our solidarity with the students’ struggle for justice in Britain.
By Bramantyo Prijosusilo artist, poet and organic farmer in Ngawi, East Java (Jakarta Globe)