February 19, 2007

Gun-shy or something else?

By Dr John Cameron
Special to Intelligentsiya

This is the photograph (right) which reduced Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, and countless others to runny-nosed tears, in the case of the Prime Minister on national television. Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the name commonly given an anonymous man, who became internationally famous, when he was videotaped and photographed during the Tiananmen Square protests on 5 June 1989. Several photographs were taken of the man, who is seen to positioning himself in front of a column of Chinese tanks, preventing their advance. Video footage taken by the BBC and CNN was also shown world-wide. It shows the lead tank attempting to go around the man, who moved sideways in order to block its forward movement, before climbing onto the tank, and speaking to a person presumed to be the tank commander. He then climbed down, and was hustled away by persons, who could have been ordinary bystanders, or equally likely plain-clothed security personnel. Some accounts have him executed by firing-squad, others still in hiding in mainland China. In April 1998, the United States magazine TIME included the "Unknown Rebel" in its 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

In the West, pictures of the Tank Man were presented as a symbol of the Chinese democracy movement; a Chinese youth risking his life to oppose a military juggernaut seemed a fitting representation of students bravely and spontaneously protesting against the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Government. The image resonated within democracies as a symbol of an individual's power to halt government and force a change in direction.

In the China, on the other hand, the image was used as a symbol of the care of the soldiers in protecting the Chinese people: despite orders to advance, the driver of the tank refused to do so if it meant injuring a single citizen. Tank Man was presented as a social delinquent, a symbol of irresponsible opportunist rioters during the Tiananmen Square protests, and as a possible agent provocateur of Western governments. As with most matters related to the 1989 protests, the Tank Man topic later became, and still remains, a political taboo in mainland China and unknown to most Chinese.

Recent events in Fiji have not produced a Tank Man, and are unlikely to do so. When questioned about the underlying reason for their passivity in the face of the unlawful assertion of power, most citizens refer to the guns held by the RFMF. However, the power of the image of the Tank Man tends to mask the common decency of the commander of the lead tank. He did not run the Tank Man down, as others were to do in following days in Tiananmen Square. He was prepared to lose face rather than take a life. Do citizens here really believe that ordinary members of the RFMF are lacking that same decency and would fire on an organized demonstration? Is it that which prevents the public protests, which would no doubt occur in other countries if democracy was ousted by force, or is it something else?

In his book Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity, United States scholar and economist, Francis Fukuyama examines the impact of culture on economic life, society, and success in the new global economy. He argues that the most pervasive cultural characteristic, influencing a nation's prosperity and ability to compete, is the level in that society of trust or cooperative behaviour based upon shared norms. In comparison with low-trust societies (China, France, Italy, Korea), which need to negotiate, and often litigate rules and regulations, high-trust societies like those in Germany and Japan are able to develop innovative organizations, and hold down the cost of doing business. Fukuyama argues that the United States, like Japan and Germany, has been a high-trust society historically, but that this status has eroded in recent years.

Whether the cause can be traced back to colonial policies of “Divide and rule”, or to even more longstanding tribal rivalries in indigenous communities, it seems undeniable that in Fiji a high level of the trust referred to by Fukuyama is absent, not only within communities, churches, social and professional organizations, but even within families, and Fiji is paying a high economic price for the deficiency, not only in terms of economic development, but more recently in the failure to oppose in an effective and reasoned way the recent assertion of military force in a manner which has caused, and will continue to cause economic hardship to its people. Attributed to 18th Century politician, Edmund Burke, and probably wrongly, is the much and variously-quoted maxim: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’. So long as the good men, and women of Fiji, cannot trust each other, it is unlikely that anyone will have the courage to do anything. The absence of a Tank Man is not a function of the absence of tanks, but of the absence of trust.

  • The author, Dr John Cameron is a lawyer who has visited, worked in, observed, and otherwise enjoyed Fiji for in excess of forty years.


Anonymous said...

I'd prefer to state that i believe that part of the problem with fijian society , is it's blind faith in it's Chiefs . A title , doesn't alone make you a leader . I'd seriously have to question whether or not there has been any great leadership at all amongst the chiefs . But the blind loyalty Fijians have toward men that were simply born into thier titles , to me , is really bizare ! We question our kings , queens and politicians , yet Fijians almost bow down before their Chiefs . I'm not saying that some of them aren't great leaders and i'm not disrespecting your culture , but a point in time has come where Fijians , not outsiders , should be questioning the relevance of the Chiefs in Fijian society now , in any capacity . It seems to me to be an idea whose time has past !
Surely the recent appointment of the vice president has proved that , Hasn't it ?

Anonymous said...

Do not generalize. Not all subjects of Queen Elizabeth II question her. In the same way, not all Fijians bow blindly to our chiefs.
Why do we always bring things down to be an issue of race?
No one race IS always about a particular trait or habit and no one race ISN'T.
We must endeavor to see the merit of issues on a case by case basis.
Chiefs are very relevant in Fijian society, its part and parcel of the traditional heritage of the indigenous culture, as the caste system is part and parcel of Indian culture.
What we should endeavour to question is the injustices of any culture - based on that - the pros and cons of said practices.
Its wrong and it almost seems racist to think that the chiefly system in a culture must be done away with because of the SOME chiefs who arent noble.

Anonymous said...

It is a different situation compared to 1987 and 200. Most Fijians are taking their time as this is a "Fijian" vs Fijian" coup. Most Fijians are split at the moment because of the unpopular elites who were running government during December 2006. On the streets I hear more and more Fijians are beginning to realise that their status is being threatened. We are still assesing and watching this regime. If the present regimes continues with the present pace, I think it will not be one but hundreds of Tank Mans who will come out and say, enough of this madness. The military council realized very quickly that to do away with the Affirmative action would really make thousands of Fijians angry. Now there is another Affirmative Action being put together by the interim government which they say "caters for all races".
If there are too many cases coming up like Momi Indian School, the military should really be prepared for the response form the Tank Men waiting patiently around the corner. We can only hope that matters don't revert back to 2000!

filos said...

I quote:
Anonymous said...
It is a different situation compared to 1987 and 200. Most Fijians are taking their time as this is a "Fijian" vs Fijian" coup. Most Fijians are split at the moment because of the unpopular elites who were running government during December 2006.

I beg to differ, in a lot of ways it has always been Fijian v Fijian. A Fijian PM, albeit leading an Indian dominated party was overthrown in 1987. In 2000, granted it was an Indian PM, but there were Fijian interests involved as well. This latest one is the only obvious Fijian v Fijian case. Indians are not blameless, but too often they are the easiest scapegoats to blame for the instability, disharmony etc. Our issue is primarily with each other (perceived good v evil, perceived honest v corrupt, province v province etc), unless and until this is resolved, we will continue to be at each others throats. Those Indians who play a hand, merely know how to play us off against each other for their gain.

Is this administration going (or did any before it go) about solving this problem the right way? That is a question for the ages...

Anonymous said...

Filos said"I beg to differ, in a ....in 1987" Good to know people can agree to dissagree, albeit anonymously for safety reasons. Point is Filos I was a young man who had just started on his first real job in 1987. As a young Fijian, I was starting to hear the rumblings from the average Fijian who was feeling threatened by the Indian dominated party called Labour. I actually encouraged my father though to vote for Labour as we were fed up the corrupt Alliance government. But when the second coup happened in 1987(My feeling was 1977 was the first), the majority of Fijians supported it. It did not help when Indians were driving around Suva and Lautoka yelling racist remarks at Fijians. Anyway my point is Fijians are studying this coup and thinking about their next move. There is a lot of anger and fraustration against the SDL, but at the same time the atmosphere is not the same as the previos coups. Also majority of the population just want to get on with life. But if more and more Fijians feel that Frank is a liability, well you know the story. Right now the Interim Government is doing some good work in cleaning up the NLTB, so we'll just wait and see. I think most Fijians now realize it's not a race thing anymore, maybe we've become wiser.