Pro-Democracy Protests in Hong Kong
After several months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the unrest shows no sign of stopping. What started as a movement against a controversial law has expanded into something much bigger. Protesters are now demanding greater democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality during past demonstrations. And as unrest intensifies, Beijing's tone is becoming increasingly heated. Arthur Kharytonov, main coordinator of Free Hong Kong Center, has more
After several months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the unrest shows no sign of stopping. What started as a movement against a controversial law has expanded into something much bigger. Protesters are now demanding greater democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality during the past demonstrations. And as unrest intensifies, Beijing’s tone is becoming increasingly heated.
To talk more about the current situation in Hong Kong, we invited to our studio Arthur Kharytonov, main coordinator of Free Hong Kong Center.
Thank you so much for joining us. I’m going to dive right in and say: there’s been a lot of protests in the past six months. We had the French Yellow vests, we had the Moscow protests about the Moscow Duma elections, we had unrest in Kashmir, and the whole time Hong Kong has also been in the background. Is there a common denominator, then, in these protests?
I think yes, because the tendency in this year is very, very unique and, actually, they are joking that 2019 is a kind of new 2014 because a lot of parties are there. But, if you looked at Hong Kong closely, you would see that it’s more about the outcome of the Umbrella Revolution. Maybe not just about Umbrella Revolution, but more about what didn’t happen at the time. Because of what people are saying in Hong Kong – Umbrella Revolution was great, but, unfortunately, its rise and defeat weren’t so successful, as it was in Ukraine, for example.
It’s interesting that you mentioned 2014 because it was going to be my next question. We’ve seen pictures of the protests in Hong Kong with Ukrainian flags popping up. We know that earlier last month they had a public showing of Winter on Fire, and the protesters seem to be identifying very strongly with Ukraine’s situation in 2014. Tell me more about that.
Yes, it’s true. Actually, even during the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, there was a very big influence of Ukraine, and we could see different parts of our Revolution of Dignity there. But right now it’s absolutely obvious that the people of Hong Kong take a lot of inspiration from Ukraine, first of all, because they are watching Winter on Fire documentary, and secondly, we have very good contact right now.
So, what I’m saying is that Ukrainians really could understand what is going on in Hong Kong, could understand the feelings of people, because if we would compare the fight of Ukraine against the Soviet Union and Russia, we would see that in the fight of Hong Kong people, who are actually very European minded, against pro-Communistic minded mainland China.
So tell me a little bit about the contact, because the protests in Hong Kong, apparently, have no leadership structure, much like the Yellow vests in France. Who are you talking with, who is your organization talking with?
Well, I could say that it’s a really huge number of organizations, which are right now taking part in the protest. But, of course, we have a few leaders. I mean leaders from previous revolution, the Umbrella Movement, and current young people, who are involved in the process. I mean, of course, we are in contact with Joshua Wong, with Demosistō Party, we are in contact with the aspiration party, but it’s very hard to say that it’s something about organizational staff, it’s more about this very big movement and specific tactics.
I mean “be water”, because, of course, when there are different spots in the city and different maidans. I mean not just one large square, where you could be and fight for freedom, but you’re on an average street, and you know how to be like water. So, it’s actually very interesting. But, of course, we are contacting a lot with these parties, and, of course, with classical Democratic Party of Hong Kong, because I think that the influence of these parties is very important too, and what we could see from the perspective of, for example, Martin Lee or Emily Lau, of course, they are doing a really great job, but it was all political stuff, classical one. But why the world is so looking at Hong Kong, because of the movement, I mean the previous one and this one, is led by very young people, very, very young people. And it’s really great, I could say because it’s a movement of an absolutely new generation.
Now you’re talking about the idea of being like water, like to expand a little bit to communicate how the water should flow, the protesters are mostly using social media. Now we say that in Kashmir there has been a special social media shutdown. Has China not shut down social media in Hong Kong yet?
-Yes, they are trying, of course, to ban VPN and other stuff. But, of course, Hong Kong is not China in the sense of law and, of course, they have their own basic law, ownership rights and, of course, it’s very hard to ban in the way how China did it. Because there are no big Chinese firewall and, of course, people are using outer messenger social media.
But what we could see right now is that people started not to use a lot, for example, Facebook or WhatsUp, because previously we have seen outer hack attacks on these resources. But what is interesting is that Hong Kongers are using Telegram a lot, really a lot. And even compared with Ukraine, even with Russia, we could see that in our region Telegram is the most popular social media when VKontakte was banned by the Ukrainian government. So it’s very interesting to see that we even in Telegram could find much more points and all Ukrainians are following special Hong Kong protest channels, where people are writing a lot of use in English, and Ukrainians could read it and understand what is going on there.
That’s interesting too because they are communicating a great deal in English, so the outside world knows what is going on.
It’s very important. And what is good is that in the case of umbrella movements not so much contact in English, but currently we could see that people are doing a really great job to share emotions with all the world. That’s why we could find a lot of information very, very urgently and share it.
Because, actually, I think we could talk today about Extradition law, of course. But, you know that it’s isn’t a secret that Carrie Lam told that she’s ready to withdraw it. But all the world started to talk that oh, finally, this is what Hong Kong people want, but actually not, because as they told me, that this lawsuit was dead before it. And we couldn’t see that it’s something real. Because Hong Kongers are talking about five demands not about extradition law.
No, it’s going about fight demands.
It’s just one point but all of them understood that previously this lawsuit has no way, because even establishment groups in Hong Kong were against it. Because they clearly understood if this lawsuit would be passed and all would be okay with it, it will be very, very bad for establishment group from a business because everybody, you, me, all of us could be sent to China to prison. And nobody wants to do it if they want to provide business.
Now, someone in your situation. What is your responsibility? If we are making a comparison between global protest movements. 2014 in Ukraine, the fall of the Berlin Wall that ended positively. Tiananmen Square and what might happen in Hong Kong, they have dire repercussions, for someone in your position, do you have cautions about giving advice, because the nature of the beast is different when we are dealing with China.
From one hand, yes, from another hand, no, because China is actually the same as Russia but with another context. And what they are doing is they use a lot of the same tools how to punch people and all this text, and so on. Other Hong Kongers are actually in social media asking hey, guys, what do you see, what to do and which kinds of tools we could use to secure ourselves from this abuse from the police side.
So, of course, it’s very important today this experience but you’re right that Hong Kong situation is not about Ukraine in the sense of, like our sovereignty. Because Ukraine is an independent country and in 2014-2016 there was fighting against Yanukovych. It was a simple dictator. But in the Hong Kong context, there was fighting for absolutely another kind of relations because it’s international relations. But from other hand, Hong Kong has a very specific status. And according to the Joint Declaration between China and Britain till 2047 it will be absolutely autonomic special region.
So let’s say what they are trying to do. It’s, first of all, is to make China recognize international law. Of course, people are thinking about something more than just fight demand. But, of course, politicians and activists just understand that the main goal of that is to secure their right to be autonomic from China. And, of course, secondly, to take this universal suffrage. And maybe after 2047 or in 2047 to make referendum, and ask people what to do next because nobody asked Hong Kong in previous years what to do. It was an object between China and Britain. But we have millions of people, European-minded people who are absolutely different from Chinese in psychology, in the legal sphere and so on. That’s why people are fighting for absolutely simple stuff for democratic countries, I mean universal suffrage.
We’ve been watching this for a quite some time. Tell me a little bit about your organization.
I am President of Liberal Democratic League of Ukraine that is quite active organization not just in Ukraine, but all over the world. We have a special branch in our organization that is called Free Hong Kong Center. Firstly, we share information about Hong Kong to Ukrainians. And secondly, we are trying to send a message to Hong Kong that it’s not alone.
Because my first impression was that the line, the bridge between Ukraine and Hong Kong is not real, but we could understand that it is a very good line because a lot of Ukrainians are following our social media pages and Hong Long also following it. They keep in touch and they always exchange different bits of knowledge. And it’s very great. Certainly, it is more about media contact, because, you know, in 2017 after a chief-executive election like the fake election in Hong Kong. At that day I was in Hong Kong. And when I came to Ukraine and I have seen everything that is going on in Hong Kong.
And I understood that it was my mission as a person, as an activist to share more about Hong Kong situation with Ukraine. But a lot of media told me that it is not interesting, we are not ready to follow Hong Kong situation because it is far away. And three years, I could say, I have fought to break this vow and make this information to be heard by Ukrainians. And we’ve done it actually because I think the majority of main media right now is following the situation and actually take a lot of interviews with Hong Kong activists.
Even yesterday Joshua Wong met Volodymyr Klychko in Berlin. So, we could talk a lot about Volodymyr Klychko personality in Ukrainian politics. But what is interesting that currently Ukraine and Hong Kong are very connected and day by day we will be more and more connected. So, it’s just a point of the time, but would be. But what I could add to it.
That we are really, really into push forward our government. To make Hong Kong issue global for Ukraine, we really want to see an official position of Ukraine, because it was first one hundred days of President has been elected and we got a new Parliament. So, let’s ask them to start to work on the field. Because of my personal position, that our current government, and our new President, and our democracy in Ukraine are possible just because of the Revolution of Dignity. And let’s respect it and let’s say it to people who fight it, as well as we fought it a few years ago that they are not alone. And we have very strong principles.