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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.
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.
There is nothing "new" about direct action.
And calling it "democratic" is relative.
The people who undertake direct action have not been democratically elected to speak on our behalf. They should desist from unruly protests.
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?
"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.
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.
Reginald Cormier, USA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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