Reviews & Articles
「現實政治」的課堂 | Lessons in Real Politics
at 5:19pm on 20th January 2020
Set alight and paint-splattered lion and graffiti outside HSBC Headquarters, Central, Hong Kong, 1 January 2020 (photo: John Batten).
(Please scroll down for English version)
Lessons in Real Politics
by John Batten
The term ‘realpolitik’ should be heard more often in Hong Kong. Adopted into the English language, the original German word has a direct-to-the-point mellifluousness about it, with a dictionary meaning absolutely relevant in today’s Hong Kong:
realpolitik [noun]: a system of politics or principles based on practical
rather than moral or ideological considerations
Whenever there is political deadlock, or when a fixed position - ideological or just stubbornness - makes negotiations difficult, reassessment is necessary. Adopting an attitude of the realpolitik is a pragmatic approach to any political impasse.
Demosisto has recently done exactly that. Since its formation, the party’s manifesto has included calling for Hong Kong’s “self-determination.” However, Demosisto was unable to open bank accounts, so necessary to smoothly operate, and had members barred from standing in recent Legislative Council and District Council elections. Any political party that cannot engage in the city’s mainstream political forums will eventually become irrelevant or of fringe interest. Demosisto has done a sensible adjustment to their manifesto, replacing “self-determination” with “promoting Hong Kong’s democratic and progressive values.” By adopting a strategic realpolitik attitude, Demosisto is asserting the boundaries of political manoeuvring to legitimately engage in mainstream politics. The party is also strengthening and cushioning itself against any government move to ban the party’s participation in future elections.
There is a marvellous book now available in Hong Kong’s bookshops in both English and Chinese that offers (realpolitik) lessons to challenge any government that attempts to control and lessen freedoms. Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny* was written, the author explains, as a response to the election of Donald Trump (without actually naming him) and as a small manual to resist his retrograde presidency. The book offers strategies, in the form of twenty lessons from history, in how to maintain freedoms that citizens already have and ensure that the foundations of a democracy are maintained and reinforced. Snyder’s book is applicable to Hong Kong.
Snyder’s Lesson 14 could have been read by Demosisto. Snyder explains that, “Totalitarianism removes the difference between private and public not just to make individuals unfree, but also to draw the whole society away from normal politics and toward conspiracy theories.” Under these circumstances, it is essential for individuals and organisations to be particularly transparent, not secretive and to ensure “to resolve any legal trouble. Tyrants seek the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.”
And, Snyder’s lessons are universal, across the political spectrum. During Hong Kong’s current anti-government protests, both sides of the political divide - the yellow and blue sides - have both engaged in targeting, labelling, abuse and finger-pointing. Snyder’s reminds us that we all must “take responsibility for the face of the world” and that “the symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.”
I don’t agree with the destruction of banks, graffitiing and fire bombing of the courts, the smashing-up of MTR stations and traffic-lights. I can understand why it is happening (see my explanation in Ming Pao Weekly, 3 January 2020), but I don’t agree with such destruction. If you destroy the ‘old’ and established institutions, then what? Synder succinctly reasons much better than me: “It is institutions that help us preserve decency. They need help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So, choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labour union – and take its side.”
*Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2017.
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 31 January 2020. Translated into Chinese by Aulina Chan.