Debate: Protest at Triumphalism or Celebrate Internationalism?

Putin cryingBJL: Tens of thousands of people booed a pair of 17 year old twin sisters during the results of the recent Eurovision Grand Final. Those who took part in it and those who drew satisfaction from watching it on television (myself included) were more concerned with the embarrassment of the Russian Government than what can imagined to be the considerable dismay of the Tolmachevy Sisters themselves.

MA: Was it right when the two 17 year old twin sisters from Russia were booed for the crimes of their leaders in last week’s Eurovision? No. But are we not, as people, given the right to protest, to express our dissatisfaction when a government beats its people for their sexual orientation? Yes. When it comes to civil rights can we use them without limits? Absolutely not.

BJL: One can argue that these teenagers had no right to be castigated for actions that they themselves had no part in. But such protest is justified. There was no ill-will directed at the performers themselves. And when you make the personal choice to represent your country internationally, you must expect to be treated as such. For contestants in such competitions carry the responsibility of their flag. More importantly, these are instances in which the right to protest is paramount. They are unique opportunities to express dissatisfaction with the whole world as your audience. The booing represented a good indication of the reaction of people from a variety of different countries of Europe, to an increasingly authoritarian member of their number. The seriousness of the issue, the repression LGBTQ communities face in Russia, mandates for the most effective protest feasible.

MA: International cultural and sporting events were created to bring people together. When the Olympic Games took place back in Ancient Greece, wars stopped in the name of the Olympic spirit. During such events we leave our country, cross borders and unite with people for the sake of a good song, for the sake of a good game. During this limited time we all strive for the same thing; human excellence. Flags hang only to remind us of our identity; flags are not there to condemn us.

BJL: It is logical to protest at something that will be televised to millions of people, and especially at an event as banal as Eurovision or at an Olympic medal ceremony, in the case of the infamous booing of George Osborne. Protest has the capacity to add a little anarchic frisson to rather pompous and sometimes overtly nationalistic events. These bursts of expression are framed within a peaceful and orderly environment, a context with clearly defined, accessible borders.

MA: The global attention these events attract is not to be used for other purposes but the spectacle of friendly competition. In this case, our right to protest is put second – it is curtailed. Why? Because in a world where everything is a battlefield, there needs to be a No Man’s Land. A place where China and Japan don’t fight. A place for people to come together. At least that should be the case.

BJL: The successful impact of a protest by a single person is far less likely than that of one by thousands of people, and the reason for it is crucial. Nobody wants an apish streaker running about the football pitch interrupting play. Trenton Oldfield almost getting wacked in the face by an oar at the 2012 Boat Race did not draw much support outside the far-left. A country’s government should be more measured when protesting at such events, for example the US sending an all-LGBT delegation to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games was more nuanced than the tit-for-tat squabble over the 1980 and 1984 Olympics between it and USSR.

MA: Such ways of protests are not effective. They only increase tension during the events, enhance hostility and even end up in violence. But most significantly, they hinder real progress. They obstruct the day-to-day organic process of societies realising they want to change. They take time out of diplomatic dialogue. They allow us to entertain the ridiculous notion that we know best, we must speak up for those who can’t. But we never ask. We go ahead and bulldoze the confidence that people need to see their own power. We essentially tell them that they’re weak; weaker than us who exercise our basic civil liberties. And in the end all we do is patronise the disenfranchised. In this way, we also give ground to those talking of imperialist considerations. Those saying that our “progress” is nothing but modelling lives after our own.

BJL: Will there be a repeat this summer of the mass anti-government protests in Brazil that occurred in 2013 Confederations Cup? Probably. Should there be a protest during the 2022 Qatar World Cup if the emirate doesn’t clean up its act on the gross mistreatment of foreign construction workers? Definitely.

MA: We allowed China to host the Olympic Games. We allowed them to use their exhausted, minimally paid workers. We walked in and marvelled at what their sweat built. And then we complained, since realising that the predictable abuse of human rights had happened. And then we yelled “it isn’t fair!” But who would listen? The officials we gave free reign to? Or those whose abuse we turned a blind eye to?