‘The protester’ might have been elected ‘a person of the year’ by the Time magazine, but it’s a rather gloomy end to the hope of people’s power in which we believed at the wake of the 2011. I wish this year could be remembered as the year when humanity spoke up against the oppression and people’s voice became more powerful than the arms of the dictators. As it slowly comes to the end it’s hard not to feel slightly disillusioned. The only hope that still remains is that it will be remembered not as the year in which the realpolitik killed the grassroot idealism that spread out accross the world.
This year has brought amazing changes to the region that was ‘expected to’ behave and remain locked up and prone to any uncontrolled change of the game. Yet, despite the initial disbelieve about the scope of possible revolutions, the bottom – up people’s protests did spread out across the region and managed to bring down couple of most cruel dictators on the planet. From the streets of Sidi in Tunisia where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, to the voices on Tahrir Square screaming ‘down with Mubarak’ this year saw the greatest and the bravest resistance against the oppression in North Africa and Middle East and the most radical cry for political change.Yet, as the year comes to the end we hear more and more from the troubled cities of Homs and Homa in Syria, where the people are tortured daily in fight for their dignity. And when we see how the ‘people’s revolution’ in Egipt is being hijacked by military and the violence spreads on the streets of the Cairo its hard not to feel powerless and resigned.
Meanwhile, not trying to draw any parallels in terms of cause or compare the level of bravery, the bitter – sweet 2011 saw people of the “rich” and “democratic” world standing up to the way in which the West is framed today: to the rising inequalities, to the current abuse of the capitalism, to the political institutions that no longer speak in their name. Most of these protests have been terribly misrepresented. The July “riots” in London ended up being framed as the ‘protest of spoiled kids wanting better TV sets‘. The Occupy movement has been defined as the ‘incoherent’ cry of the generation that will never have better life than their parents and fall into ‘brand Marks’ having lost their chance to work ‚like everybody else’ and shut up. When I see how much the politicians, media and the elites have conveniently preferred to dismiss the protests and how much the bankers got away yet with their Christmas bouses once again and how much Merkel and Sarkozy remain the ‘survivors’ of Europe with their little steps policy – it’s hard not feel powerless. And resigned.
Yet, there are few sparkles which clear my gloominess.
I believe that the events of 2011 – from Tahrir Square to Zucotti Park to even Blotny Square in Moscow show the emerging new power in the politics. And yes, I am talking about people’s power – unorganized, not institutionalized, grassroots wave of people courage, bravery and desire to change the world they inhibit. All these movements have certainly been very different – with different causes, different motivations and different stories. And yes, many of them have been ignited by the basic lack of means to live a dignified life and not necessarily by the cry for ‘western- like’ democracy. But all of them are united in the fact that they emerge from complete dispersion and operate beyond and across the existing institutions – of power, media and representation. It is not the organized opposition parties that that lead the Arab Spring revolts (like it happend in the late 80 ties in Eastern Europe). It is not the trade unions that speak for the protesters in the West. And it is not traditional media that represent their causes.
We see the rise of the new structures that are pushing slowly the emergence of new world order with new institutions and new actors that enter the world scene.
As much the old and traditional structures of power and privilege remain unshaken in the end of 2011, we see the rise of the new structures that are pushing slowly the emergence of new world order with new institutions and new actors that enter the world scene. With the rise of the spontaneous grassroots local and global activism we see the potential for a new institutional order – both in politics – though the waves of people bottom – up activism, and in society – though the massive rise of new media and new journalism that have been instrumental in giving the voice back to the people – helping them to get get together, get organized and to speak up. These new institutions have very loose structures and almost no hierarchy. Yes, they are vague, dispersed and perhaps still better in pointing failures and pulling down dictators that proposing new solutions for saving the euro. Its difficult to navigate them, but so it is to control them by traditional structures of power. Yes, they might not be tied together for good and forever. But they have amazing power to be flexible and to motivate thousands of people that need nothing to join in, put the pressure on the government and spread the message. And they have amazing power to represent the voices that had remained unheard and silenced cause they were not a good enough story for ‘big press’. These new institutions easily can operate within and across societies, ethnic groups and religions. They are based not on the structure of power and hierarchy, but on the model of openness and inclusivity and interdependence. Sharing is their new currency.
Sharing is their new currency.
So, while people’ s revolutions might be loosing at the end of the 2011 and the picture is gloomy for now it’s perhaps not the last word. Vaclav Havel, the great hero of the Eastern European revolutions and great Czech intellectual, who passed away on Sunday, was writing, back in the late 70- ties, in the essay called ‘The power of the powerless’ that any oppression works only as long as people are willing to live with the lie. When individuals dare to overcome the fear and speak – up and break breaking the rules of the game, the whole system based shakes. Havel was writing of the importance of the maintaing personal sense of freedom, dignity and responsibility that allow to resist oppression despite the overwhelming inhumanity. The events of these year give really new meaning to his words. 2011 has indeed been a year of the power of the powerless. And this is perhaps Havel’s greatest legacy and the hope for future.
2011 has indeed been a year of the power of the powerless. And this is perhaps Havel’s greatest legacy and the hope for future
Photo by: Kemal Yayali, (CC)