Pictures from the first days of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong, taken in Admiralty and Mong Kok during the last days. Nobody dares to estimate the numbers. But there are definitely more than 100,000 Hongkongers on the street.
Over the last days, I have asked several Occupy Central activists if they have ever heard of Gene Sharp. Nobody did.
The nearly 90-year-old American scholar published extensively on nonviolent struggle. It all started when he was drafted to fight in the Korean War in 1953. He refused and spent nine months in prison. Later, as he said himself, he had an “Eureka” moment while studying in Oxford, which would determine his future career.
He describes it as follows:
“If you can identify the sources of a government’s power, such as legitimacy, such as popular support, such as the institutional support, and then you know on what that dictatorship depends for its existence, and since all those sources of power are dependent upon the good will, cooperation, obedience and help of people and institutions, then your job becomes fairly simple. All you have to do is shrink that support and that legitimacy, that co-operation, that obedience, and the regime will be weakened, and if you can take those sources far away, the regime will fall.”
– Gene Sharp
Sharp kept on studying and writing about nonviolent struggle for his whole life and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price several times. His bibliography is long and academic, but Sharp’s most famous piece of work is probably the hands-on handbook From Dictatorship to Democracy (English/Chinese), which is less than 100 pages long. Sharp wrote it as a guide for the Burmese opposition under the military regime in the early 1990s. It has since then been widely translated and reprinted.
In the appendix of his little book, Sharp lists 198 methods of nonviolent action. They have been used by movements all around the world, for example the Colour Revolutions in Eastern Europe or the Arab Spring. Likewise, many elements of Occupy Central’s campaign are also found in Sharp’s book. Here are some examples:
6. Group or mass petitions: A Million Sign Hong Kong Petition
18. Display of flags and symbolic colors: March in black clothes
19. Wearing of symbols: Wear Yellow Ribbon!
24. Symbolic lights: Protesters switch on their mobile phones
28. Symbolic sounds: Protesters play the drum
38. Marches: March in black clothes
62. Student strike: Students say strike is final warning
119. Economic shutdown: HK faces financial district shutdown
122. Speeches advocating resistance: “Era of civil disobedience”
158. Self-exposure to the elements: “Protest” practice
159. Hunger strike: HK democracy activists start hunger strike
162. Sit-in: Hundreds of protesters at Chater Road sit-in
195. Seeking imprisonment: “We want to get arrested!”
The booklet is quite unique in offering a cookie-cutter approach of fighting against authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in a nonviolent way. I am always astonished how Sharp’s ideas and methods are found in so many movements around the world.
This version on Youtube has Chinese subtitles. At 19:55 he mentions and comments on the student protests on Tiananmen Square and in other cities in China in 1989.
If you want to delve into Gene Sharp’s other works, his non-profit Albert Einstein Foundation has a lot of free resources available for download.
Many considered Beijing’s recent decision on universal suffrage as bad news for Hong Kong. On Sunday afternoon, Occupy Central called for a march in black clothes to protest against the NPC’s ruling. Organisers estimated the number of attendees between 2,000 and 4,000. According to Reuters, the police said 1,860 marchers took to the streets.
The protesters carried a 500 meter long black cloth through the streets, and voiced their anger at Beijing with choruses and banners. It was designed to resemble a funeral procession.
As known from Occupy Central, everything was neatly organised and geared towards a maximum of media attention. The activists got their message across, the media listened. In search for some other voices, I asked the employees of the luxury shops the march passed about their opinion on the protest. They were leaning against their shop windows and eyed the activists suspiciously, having a break from selling expensive jewellery and luxurious Swiss watches.
“No, no, no. I don’t know anything about it.”
– Chow Tai Fook employee
– Sun Century Watches Ltd. employee
“No, no. Sorry.”
– Balco Swiss Watch employee
– Ho Fook Jade employee
“I don’t know anything.”
– 7/11 employee
At least someone at the 7/11 store should have an answer, I thought. Indeed, an elderly man queuing behind me at the 7/11 counter overheard my question and catched up with me outside the shop. “This is ridiculous,” he screamed and pointed towards the protesters, “this is ridiculous!” These people would not show any respect for leaders and want to destroy Hong Kong, he explained.
Later, outside a sportswear store that sold MMA and boxing gear I met 20-year-old Vladimir – that is not his real name, as he did not want to be named in fear of jeopardizing his future boxing career, and so I thought he’d be happy to be named after one of the Klitschko brothers. He worked as a salesman in the very same shop and was waiting for the column to pass by. He said:
“This is about the Hong Kong government. We recently got some problems. It pisses people off. The government does not hear what the teenagers say. Everything is so expensive now. Some guys come from mainland China. The government did not have the courtesy to stop this. If I want to buy a house now, it takes me ten years. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The government is only supported by old people. Some also get 300 dollar to support it on the street. True Hong Kong people support this here!”
Vladimir seemed to sympathise with Occupy Central not because of the movement’s primary objectives, but because he was quite unhappy about the status quo in Hong Kong and yearned for change. Apparently, he saw that possible with Occupy Central.
If the movement can rally all these quiet supporters this autumn, there should be interesting times ahead. One day later, the South China Morning Post writes about public opinion on Occupy Central.
In an effective media stunt, 43 supporters of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement (which has a brand new English page, and, interestingly, also one in Norwegian) shaved their heads last Tuesday. The venue was packed, mostly with journalists and reporters. When pro-Beijing activists stormed the venue and shouted slogans against the campaign, a young woman was hurt in the following scuffle.
Some of my classmates wrote about the event and about the role of cutting your hair in Chinese culture. Cal Wong thinks Benny Tai is missing the point. Yiwei Wang writes that cutting hair is a move that symbolises determination and bravery. In several religions, people (usually men) shave their heads as a spiritual act. In Theravada Buddhism in Thailand and Laos, young men shave their heads before entering the temple in their teens or early twenties, which is expected from everyone for at least a week.
As VICE news pointed out in their latest News Capsule, the words “law” (法/法) and “hair” (发/髮) sound similar in both Mandarin and Chinese. Therefore, by cutting their hair, the activists are also suggesting that the law is vanishing in Hong Kong.
Last week, the Berne Declaration played a little prank on the agency that supervises the Swiss finance sector, FINMA. The Swiss NGO has long been campaigning for a stronger regulation of Switzerland’s commodity market – which is actually a misleading term, as no barrel of Brent crude probably ever touches Swiss soil. Companies have only set up their headquarters in the alpine republic, predominantly in the city of Geneva, to cut taxes.
Berne Declaration’s spin doctor, Oliver Classen, even won a journalism price for an extensive book about commodity trading. The idea of a “ROHMA” is the NGO’s latest coup. They pirated the FINMA logo and photoshopped it into one of a similar, fictionary institution that supervises the commodity market. Here are five pieces that shed light on the issue.
First, here is the proposition of the Berne Declaration: Swiss Commodity Market Supervisory Authority ROHMA to counter the “resource curse” and lessen Switzerland’s reputational risks. The NGO argues that there is a trend towards more transparency in this sector, in which Switzerland does not take part. By harbouring some of the world’s biggest trading companies (Vitol, Glencore , Trafigura) the country would contribute to the resource course and exploitation of developing countries.
All this is a relatiely new development, as the German weekly Der Spiegel points out. In The Attraction of Tax Breaks: Switzerland Grows into Global Commodities Hub, the paper describes how “every third barrel of crude oil sold anywhere in the world” passes through the books of a commodity trading corporation in Switzerland.
Swiss Journalist Daniel Ammann wrote a biography about Marc Rich, “who is considered the most secretive, the most powerful and the most infamous oil trader”. His story How I Met the Biggest Devil describes how he first met the lord of oil.
Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times describes the resource curse and how different countries cope with them. “How do countries have a way out of the resource curse?”, she asks in her article Avoiding the Curse of the Oil Rich Nations.
At last, have a look at Ivan Glasenberg, the current CEO of Glencore. The Daily Maverick from Zambia catches his life story quite nicely in Ivan Glasenberg, obscure billionaire no more and shows all the absurdities involed in commodity trading.
Bonus (as it’s a movie, not a written story): How Ivan Glasenberg set up camp in Rüschlikon and brought the small village additional tax revenue of 360 million Swiss Francs overnight, including some insights into Swiss Direct Democracy and the resource extraction of Glencore in Zambia.