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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Is direct action the new democracy?

The violent protests in Prague are just one example of a phenomenon that has dominated the political scene in Europe in recent weeks: direct action.

Fuel protests by farmers and truckers have swept the continent, forcing concessions from many European governments.

Protesters argue that this is often the only way to make their voices heard against 'out of touch' governments or 'unrepresentative' global institutions.

But is direct action - which often tramples on the rights of innocent bystanders - justified.

Is it the only way in which the powerless can make their voices heard in the era of big business and globalisation?

Is this the new democracy or does it risk damaging the rule of law on which the fabric of our societies are built?

In our Europewide debate, Europe Today's Johannes Dell brought together from Paris the French journalist Catherine Guilyardi and in London the British political columnist Mary Riddell.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

John Stuart Mill said, "actions should reflect the greatest number of people". However,the IMF/ World Bank has not and never will represent "we the people". Need I remind people that the IMF/ World Bank are non-elected officials engaging in a Wall Street scam to line the pockets of the rich with gold instead of wool. I champion people over profits and I plan to continue protesting for a true democracy.
Anne Block, USA

What is so democratic about the World Bank/ IMF?

Kieran, Wales
What is so democratic about the World Bank/ IMF both of which are controlled by a handful of rich governments under the one dollar one vote system? Did the people of Namada whose livelihoods will be destroyed by the dam built with WB money ever get a vote?
Kieran, Wales

There is nothing "new" about direct action. And calling it "democratic" is relative.
Edward, UK

The people who undertake direct action have not been democratically elected to speak on our behalf. They should desist from unruly protests.
H. Bhadeshia, UK

Politicians complain all the time that people don't bother to go out and vote any more. The reason is that people feel voting doesn't change anything. And are they so wrong? All the mainstream parties are in favour of the World Bank and the IMF. The Czech police defend them as they once defended Husak. Parliamentary politics is in the pocket of the big corporations. Where do you expect the protest to go?
Tim Vanhoof, Germany

If we want peaceful protests to continue - we have to start noticing them

Mike, UK
Peaceful protests used to be noticed. Now they are simply ignored without comment or media coverage (until they turn nasty). If we want peaceful protests to continue - we have to start noticing them, otherwise Direct Action is the only way to for protesters to get their message heard.
Mike, UK

"New democracy?" One well-publicised protest doesn't create a "new" anything nor does it much threaten the rule of law - the government has the guns after all and if they choose not to engage the protestors then even violent protest does little permanent damage.
Of course the protestors are trying to get headlines (and the attendant empty-headed commentary) while the government must balance the value of liberty against the profits of big business. I thought the protestors were right in that fuel tax is much too high but I certainly can't fault the UK government for their restraint. It looks to me like this issue is a good example of democracy working well.
Mickey Pallen, USA

Direct action is a consequence of the electorate feeling that politicians do not listen to them through the normal democratic channels and resorting to the only means left available to them.
Gavin Pearson, USA

I wish the media would not give these individuals a forum on which to display their parochial views

Reginald Cormier, USA
I disagree with such direct action. I wish the media would not give these individuals a forum on which to display their parochial views. Clearly, these individuals are out of the mainstream. Their disenchantment with government should not be the blame for the best system the world has known. Should we return to the days of global separatism and the type economic competition that causes war? Globalisation has its problems. Give us a better system.
Reginald Cormier, USA

I took part in the demonstrations in Prague

Masked Direct Actioner, Praha
I took part in the demonstrations in Prague which much of the world press has reported as out-of-control violence. Our direct action was both confrontational and focused. We blockaded an institution but ultimately wanted to hold our own conference on the end of capitalism from inside the conference centre. However (and not surprisingly) the police sought to prevent us from speaking out for all of the peoples throughout the world who are subject to economic violence every day, which sometimes materialises in the form of such violence facing Columbia and Central Africa. When people throughout the world face social and humanitarian destruction on the scale of today you have to take a stand against the corporations and bodies that seek to exploit this for financial gain. Even if this stand entails what the media calls violence, it is justified.
Masked Direct Actioner, Praha

The protests we see are a manifestation of frustration with a western political leadership which is ruled not by citizens, but by money. In a time when our politicians are bought and sold by multinational corporations, protest is the only means by which an average person can be heard by their leadership. My thanks to those in Prague and other places who speak for all the people, not just the moneyed aristocracy.
Dave Shamla, USA

I think that the IMF protests and oil crisis are symptomatic of deeper problems with the current world political and economic systems. As long as there are communities that feel they are being exploited by the present system, there will at best be an uneasy peace. I think that developed countries are going to be increasingly challenged for taking a disproportionate share of the profits from world trade. The way forward is for large capital flows to move from developed countries into infrastructure and human development in developing countries.
Garth, Zimbabwe

I believe in law and order. There is never any justification for violence, except for self-defence. Many people are frustrated by what they see as non-representative government. The best solution is to vote for people who are not bought by special interests, whether these interests are foreign or domestic. But patriotic candidates, honestly concerned with their constituents' welfare, are very hard to find.
Richard, USA

In the midst of great turbulence in the late 1960s in the United States, Richard Nixon appealed to a "silent majority." He believed that the vocal protestors were a minority and that the majority were not supporting these vocal demonstrations. He was correct and he won the 1968 election. I think that the same is true today. One should not assume that these protestors speak for everyone and very often their views are extreme.
Chris Cagle, USA

This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy

James Simpson, Czech Republic
For more than six months now, the local media and government have been preparing for the IMF conference in their own way. A great deal of hand wringing over the certainty of violent protests has flooded the various media priming the public for bloodshed. The mayor himself catalogued the many precautions he'd taken. Local leaders even sent 'informative' flyers to every address about how residents shouldn't go to their doctors on those days and how best to insure themselves and their property. Naturally, this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media and government, in panicking beforehand about such violence, have truly given the minority of protesters license to be violent.
James Simpson, Czech Republic

They are two different things. The anti-capitalist campaigners in Prague are a misguided and minuscule minority. However, the fuel-tax protestors represent the majority view of the countries involved, who should be listened to.
David Moran, Scotland

I think the recent rise in civil disobedience is a worrying trend. We really don't want to have a situation similar to the French. The recent fuel protests were an absolute mockery of our democratic system. Peaceful protest will always have a place in society, but infringing on the lives of others is the point people shouldn't cross. The Government needs to prevent this kind of disorder and clamp down on the militant few.
Alex White, UK

Those who undertake direct action may be those who are truly well informed and who see the massive upheaval that is globalisation in which the average citizen is excluded from the decision-making process. They are in some ways the voices for the voiceless and the outward expression of what many in society are feeling but have no outlet.
Pete D, Canada

Only in Europe, a region mired in socialism and the culture of entitlement could someone suggest that the actions of a lawless mob were democratic in nature. Where do you find these people?
Phillip J. Hubbell, USA

I really find it strange that protesters in Prague are trying to force questions on the agenda of the meeting which have been discussed by the World Bank and the IMF during the last few years. Furthermore, they don't seem to accept any other point of view voiced at such forums. Violent protest and rampage on the streets is not exactly a constructive way of contributing to solving any problem. Protesters should rather concentrate on offering a realistic alternative to the World Bank and IMF policies they object to.
Nick, Bulgaria

Issues like pollution, poverty and the undemocratic nature of corporate power are far more important than a tax on petrol

Neil, UK
Unfortunately television and print media offers little insight into the real issues behind protests such as those in Seattle, London and Prague. It seems that without violence, or the threat of it, most people would be unaware that this is going on. Fortunately forums such as this give us the potential for public debate. Issues like pollution, poverty and the undemocratic nature of corporate power are far more important than a tax on petrol.
Neil, UK

The media does a wonderful job of advertising these protests as riots. So is it any wonder that some rioters show up? It only takes one person to throw a brick. The media should not let this minority be portrayed as a majority. Most people are scared of trouble. That includes those who are brave enough to go to protests.
Duncan Drury, UK

You just need to lift your head out of the sand and open your eyes!

Gary Dale, England
If you want to see what happens when the government doesn't listen to the people just look around the world, present and past. You don't have to be a genius. You just need to lift your head out of the sand and open your eyes!
Gary Dale, England

Considering government and corporations are basically in bed with each other, direct action seems to remind both who are really in power. Without the co-operation of the people, neither government or corporation can maintain the status quo, which puts so much money into their pockets.
Morgan O'Conner, USA

Governments seem to be cut off from the people

Peter Waters, Netherlands
There are anarchists who would go to any protest just in order to commit violent acts. Unfortunately the violence gets more publicity and detracts attention from the peaceful minority. Some violence is committed out of pure frustration and I can understand why some people do this. Unless someone has suffered through government action they will not understand. Governments seem to be cut off from the people.
Peter Waters, Netherlands

Direct action can be the only recourse, when government and big business get together to trample on the environment and the oppressed. You certainly can't rely on corrupt spineless politicians to support your cause.
Dylan Jackson, UK

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