Steve Browne

The news on Monday morning is that Hong Kong is quiet. Streets and shops are said to be closed and deserted after Sunday’s attack on demonstrators by white-clad counter protestors wielding sticks and iron rods.

The identity of the attackers is not known for certain but they are thought to have been members of the Triad societies, the “Chinese mafia” doing a favor for the government.

The demonstrations started at the beginning of July over a law that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to China for people charged with certain offenses.

But it’s probably not just that, it never is.

Hong Kong operates under a system with their own laws, border, and rights of free speech and assembly guaranteed by the 1997 agreement that returned the crown colony to China under the “one country-two systems” policy.

They rightly fear any modification of the agreement marks the start of China absorbing Hong Kong into the mainland. And how ironic that the citizens of the city are fighting to preserve the legacy of the British Empire.

Police have been using tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds after they stormed the parliament building and defaced the symbol of the Chinese government.

And last Saturday Moscow saw demonstrations protesting city officials refusal to allow opposition candidates to run in city council elections.

This followed a demonstration last month protesting the arrest and detention of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on what were thought to be trumped-up drug charges.

Putin’s government has been pretty brazen about killing journalists and dissidents critical of his regime. But this time they backed down, released Golunov and fired some of the cops involved with the scheme.

And earlier in April thousands demonstrated in the Serbian capital of Belgrade demanding the resignation of President Aleksandar Vucic, accused of bringing back authoritarian rule.

The protests have moved me to tears and overwhelmed me with nostalgia. Because I was living in Belgrade during the later phase of the demonstrations in 1997, from January to March. Demonstrations protesting the overturning of local elections by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

I was living and working there as an English teacher, but I went on behalf of the International Society for Individual Liberty (now Liberty International) to support Serbian dissident Tomas Krsmanovic.

The theory was if I was seen with him enough they wouldn’t want to murder him in front of a foreign witness.

We were so hopeful then!

Communism had collapsed everywhere. Parliamentary democracy had been restored throughout Central Europe and even Russia seemed to be taking faltering steps towards consensual government and recognition of the rights of man. China was quietly moving towards a more market-oriented economy and we thought political freedom would follow inevitably.

But progress in many places stalled and even reversed. Russia still has local elections but subject to the veto of Putin, Czar of Russia in all but name.

What can be done?

In the days of communism we had Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America. I knew people in Poland who had taught themselves English from broadcast lessons.

But now those institutions are shadows of their former selves, overwhelmed by Western political correctness. Then cannot explain the principles of political liberty, because they don’t know them.

According to a Russian dissident in the ‘60s, what sustained them in those dark times was simply the knowledge that elsewhere in the world, someone knew they were being wronged.

Bear witness. Remember them.

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