Sunday, May 01, 2005

Left out in the cold as protesters come to town

Jakarta Post
Sunday, June 1, 2003

By T. D. Nguyen

If you are scheduled to visit Geneva this weekend, then it is a case of bad timing.
Demonstrations against the G-8 Summit, to take place in neighboring Evian from Sunday through Tuesday, have begun to cause their own reverberations. This quiet, tiny city (yes, everything here is small, except for the numbers on the bills) has turned into one of those ghost towns that you see in movies.

Out of the fear that demonstrators will also come for a “visit” and go on the rampage, many shops, restaurants, and other establishments have closed or been boarded up.

And Geneva residents have taken flight rather than face the consequences if the protesters get out of hands.

Roads leading out of town are jammed, and orders for taxies (you must phone for them here) will not be processed unless they are placed at least 30 minutes before the pickup time.
What about those who stay in town this weekend?

They still see the town as a pleasant, safe place, I suppose.

But how different is life in this now dead-quiet town from the fate of someone who is quarantined with a suspected case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)?

It’s not unreasonable to say that the demonstrations will curtail the freedom of residents of Evian and surrounding areas.

It is just like someone who runs into a building full of people and screams “fire” when there is no fire at all. The former may argue that it is his right to do so, an expression of freedom of speech, even though it causes unnecessary panic among the building’s residents.

If you think about it, the “benefits” of the demonstrations – such as the number of demonstrators that will be pleased at getting a chance to express themselves – do not seem to justify the “costs”, especially in the loss of movement of city residents and, if the protests do turn violent, the damages to public facilities.

English philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham said that actions were right if they tended to “produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” He wrote that 200 years ago, but it’s still relevant today.

The demonstrations this weekend are only making the demonstrators themselves happy.
Democracy is like a coin: There are two sides to it, one nice and one ugly. The same goes for freedom of speech.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against democracy and all the civil liberties that it affords people.
What disturbs me is the fact that freedom of speech is abused by the anarchists.

Instead of demonstrating peacefully, which is a right to which an individual should be entitled, the anarchists become destructive and damage either public facilities, which are for the public good, or private properties, the protection of which is a right the owners are entitled to.

Look closer at anti-globalisation protestors and their activities, and you will probably start to question the real motive behind their demonstrations.

How many are demonstrating for what they think is wrong in the world today, or are they just taking the opportunity to travel the world, let out some aggression, party a bit, and get their faces on a CNN and BBC report?

And who is going to pay for all the damages caused by these global professional protestors?
Thus far, the city authorities are said to have deployed 10,000 soldiers and police officers around the city and its many border checkpoints with France, which is ringing up a huge bill.
It remains to be seen if the city will end up paying for damages done to shops and private property, but the insurance companies must be biting their nails.

The world has enough problems as it is. If we can’t help make it a better place, it is fine, but that does not mean that we have to be another burden on our own societies and communities.

So, if you are not a participant in the summit, I advise you to keep your distance. But if you do insist on coming to this neck of the woods, and think you will be in for an interesting time, then I have a piece of advice for you.

Try spelling the name of the summit host city backwards!


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7:33 PM  

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