Miss Blu's ponder on 'democracy'I have become very jaded with political life. I wonder – is it due to my ge or generation? With childhood spent in the second ‘big freeze’ in cold war relations, 1989 was an awe-inspiring year; finally letting go of that breath that that had secretly been held since as long as I’d ever known.
But then what?
Fast-forward to 2005, and what are we left with? It’s possible to explain the world situation in the terms of global superpowers of course – the US having ‘defeated’ the USSR, and thusly ‘taking over the world’, but such sweeping political generalisations are worse than useless. Half of Europe now has ‘freedom’, where it didn’t have ‘freedom’ before. So why has such a momentous change made seemingly very little difference to the way in which globalisation functions? Have the former peoples of the USSR and surrounding states merely been added into the Westernised pot, with the net effect of a raindrop into the sea?
It was a festival of capitalism, that year. I giant ‘fuck you’ to the lumbering dinosaurs of old communism, finally the people of Eastern Europe got the goods, lifestyles and freedoms they had been taunted with over the wall for so long. So...are they just like us? And we forget all about the 40+ years of communist experience in Eastern Europe (longer, of course, in Russia)?
So the Cold War is over. And yet I still hear on the radio of ‘a majority of people’ describing animal rights activists as terrorists. Why? ‘Because they make peoples’ lives a misery.’ Terrorists = anyone who strives to change the system of power in the country - outside of voting Lib Dem, of course, which, with this mentality, is fast becoming the only form of ‘protest’ now allowed. ‘Terrorists, terrorists’, bleating out of the US government, the UK government, the military involved in Iraq, and the media. And of course, ‘terrorists, terrorists’, we bleat right back at them – pointing the accusing finger at anyone we feel might be upsetting the delicate status quo, failing completely to grasp the fundamental points that 1) the ‘status quo’ is so rigidly entrenched in the UK that it’s almost impossible to change, and 2) something they themselves may do, or say, or think, could in turn very well be considered terrorism by their neighbours. Stones and glass houses, remember?
Both points need explanation, and I believe that the explanations are both frightening and unacceptable. Let us take point 1) – the rigid status quo of the UK. ‘Ridiculous’, on might say, ‘that’s why we vote – of course we can change how the UK is run, if we really wanted to’. I refute this point. Our country is not an island. Our country is economically, militarily and politically so tied to others through agreements such as NATO, the EU, GATS etc that even differing political parties cannot change the rigid system in place if they should come to power. We watched this happen with Jorg Haider in Austria. Whilst I am eternally grateful that a man with such awful politics was harnessed by the system, there are substantial downsides to such restraints. Some countries of Europe, for example, had to stand by and watch whilst the US determined 9/11 as a NATO Sec. 5 offence – an attack on one is an attack on all. Another example could be a formerly ‘socialist’ Labour party who have arrived in power, to find that their country is the main supplier of arms to nations which regularly use such arms to maim and kill their own innocent civilians – yet such arms companies, based globally and not in one nation, bringing countless millions of pounds and jobs into the UK, cannot be challenged for the economic impact this may have, and the fear of affronting countries that keep buying the arms and thus keep the money flowing. We cannot simply walk out of trade, military or political agreements, as their global nature means that the wound of doing so to our country would be deep, and painful – and, perhaps, even felt by the people.
The people, point 2). In the midst of all the agreements above, our media are reassuringly feeding us stories of our proud, military defence of our freedom in the face of evil terrorists...how our investment in ‘third world’ countries is really helping development for those poorer...and, of course, how the latest Hollywood movie starlet has fallen out of a nightclub, drunk, with her skirt up and no knickers on! Reassured, we sit back and let the government do the governing, whilst we grow mildly titillated by pictures of semi-nude girls the same age as our daughters, and footballers fighting. The media – global businesses also – cannot tell the truth. To do so would expose global governance’s involvement in a whole host of unsavoury situations, unsurprisingly akin to the very same terrorism that we are supposed to be fighting. People wouldn’t like it. And to be frank, people wouldn’t like it, because it’s hassle. It means having to do something. It means feeling angry and actually having to do something constructive to change the situation, not leaving it for someone else to do or punching it out onto the floor after a few pints. We squawk about how we demand democracy in other countries, yet being involved in it at home is just hard work – and besides, it’s something politicians do (the same ones involved in terrorism, er, I mean ‘international diplomacy’).
Conveniently, this means that those who do attempt to change the political system and find that parliamentary politics are, for the reasons stated above, a waste of time, become ‘terrorists’. Animal rights campaigners – companies and policies are so entrenched in (and paid for by) government that parliamentary means don’t work, thus; direct action. Anti-war campaigners – government and defence policy so entwined with that of the US that parliamentary means did not work, thus; direct action. Peace campaigners, anti-student-fees campaigners, Green campaigners – all have little or no means of even having their ideas debated in an honest and adult way in parliament, as parliament is so heavily influenced by global companies and trade agreements. So what other recourse is there, than direct action? How else is there to get the message out there, when the media prefer Abi Titmuss’ tits to Human Rights?
And we have no-one to blame because, in the same way as those responsible for 9/11 were nebulous individuals and not a definitive country or group, our freedoms are circumvented by a list of various companies and politicians, all interlinked yet with no definitive power base. If this is a war against a terrorism that = Al Quaida, Islam, Arabic Countries, then is it any wonder that protesters against nuclear weapons/animal testing/arms trade will = anti-Western, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic terrorists too?
Isn’t this democracy? People making an assessment of the power situation in their country and making an honest attempt to change it? Isn’t this democracy when there are no other lines of debate open? It was democracy in Eastern Europe in 1989, when millions of people, at some time during that year, downed tools in protest, sat in the street with a candle, refused to cheer a government leader, formed their own parties and communities, had their own ideas – why is it not democracy now? Because it’s smaller-scale? Because our government gives us ‘freedom’? What freedoms does our currently functioning democracy give us, exactly? And aren’t we perfectly within our rights to try to change that?
Freedom brings responsibility, and to this end I wonder if this means that freedom cannot exist without some form of direction. However, in the current political situation, ‘freedom’ seems to be the holy grail, whilst ‘responsibility’ is a drag – left to politicians to sort out. I don’t believe we can have one without the other, therefore, are we really free, if we refuse to take responsibility for our lives, our government? Perhaps the question should be ‘do we really want to be free?’ Or would we prefer to live our lives in a nanny state that ensures we have an ample supply of consumer goods and reality tv, keeping us comfortable and with just enough scandalous news of rioting anti-government terrorists to send us to the ballot box every five years? This is hardly ‘freedom’ in the literal sense, when our freedom to choose is so circumscribed by various groups with vested interests – the media and global business being just two.
So why is protest stifled by the media, the government? Why was all of this protest in 1989 just swallowed up in a seemingly huge tide of capitalist celebration? From my Western viewpoint it’s hard to gauge. Denied our ‘freedom’ for so long, it’s unsurprising that the people of Eastern Europe demanded governments along the lines of ours in the West. There’s no denying that our style of government can work. But how quickly have we, as Western countries, seen merely investment opportunities and cheap workforces in Eastern Europe, in exactly the same way as we do with arms sales in Africa, for instance? What happened to Vaclav Havel’s ideas of the ‘third way’? Did people just forget all this when presented with strippers and Starbucks? Why, after all the upheaval and massive change that 1989 brought about, has nothing changed? Why, when I heard on the radio this morning that ‘a majority of people’ thought animal rights campaigners were terrorists, did my mind immediately begin singing the old Del Amitri song:
“Nothing ever changes
Nothing changes at all
The needle goes back to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before”