The recent student protest in Taiwan turned violent on Monday morning after a week of peaceful protests. Protesters had occupied the parliament for a week, but when hundreds of demonstrators attempted to take over the cabinet building, Taipei police used batons and water cannons to evict the protester from the government offices. At least 58 were arrested and 137 were injured, reported the Associated Press.
The protests were triggered by the efforts of President Ma Ying-jeou’s governing party, the Kuomintang, or K.M.T. in short, to push through a controversial trade agreement with China that would lower barriers for the two sides to each other’s service sectors.
“The scenes of violence seem out of place — for the movement, and for modern-day Taiwan”, writes Time Magazine’s Beijing Correspondent Emily Rauhala. Since the establishment of the opposition party Democratic Progressive Party in 1986, democracy has taken root in Taiwan. Taiwan now ranks as Asia's 3rd most democratic country and number 35th in the world according to Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU's) Democracy Index. The previous protests of Occupying Parliament campaign were a great example of non-violent movements. The police and students exercised mutual respect, and the protesting students used post-it notes with short messages to express their empathy and support for the police. The demonstration took place in good order and the crowd sang the songs from the musical Les Misérables (the musical revolves around civil protests in Paris in the 19th century) at night to show support.
The disappointment in President Ma Ying-jeou’s speech on Sunday morning resulted in a radical change of approach. Police officers were injured when protesters tried to take over the government headquarters. Riot police were sent in to evict the protesters, followed by more violence. After a discussion among the protest planners one of the protesters told the Voice of America that a more extreme form of protest was preferred abandoning the pacifist protests . A go-ahead was given to get the government’s attention.
This is the dilemma every non-violent movement faces: The fast way to get attention is to go violent and push aside the pacifist means, but then it would be against the principle of non-violence and scarifies the rule of law. As Gandhi once said, “anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up”. When the goal becomes not as easy to reach as the demonstrators hoped, the negative emotions such as anger, and pride may blind them. They would forget that, especially in an anti-establishment campaign, the path that they choose should be as equally important as the goal they set. History tells us that violence is returned by more violence.
On the other hand, with much greater resources than the protesters, the government should choose their reaction extremely careful. Force against armless civilians should only be used as a measure of last resort. When the batons hit armless demonstrators, when blood is spilt, the government’s credibility will be severely damaged. In a democratic society, credibility is one of the essentials that any government needs.
Sofie Chen is a student in liberal arts. Her interests cover human rights and international politics. After China and USA she now resides in Munich, Germany.
Attribution picture: tomscy2000
Written by Sofie Chen and published on 28-March-2014