Hong Kong stands courageous and defiant

After visiting Hong Kong, you never forget this unique, vibrant and beautiful island. I find this city, which has the most skyscrapers in the world, simply breathtaking. This is especially true when viewing the city from the Sky Terrace on the top of the mountain overlooking Victoria Bay or capturing the skyline at night.

Still, Hong Kong is much more than one of the financial business centers of the world. Last week it made the headlines as the center of political activism with large protests against a controversial law that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China. I want to join the Hong Kong people in the hope that the world will take notice. Not just take notice as in 3 min news clips but speak up for the democracy and freedom that is threatened in this part of Asia.

Hong Kong’s political future is clearly at stake. “One country, two systems” is a constitutional principle which means that there is one China but certain regions, for example, Hong Kong, have its own governmental system, legal, economic and financial affairs. When Britain transferred Hong Kong to China in 1997, the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 guaranteed these rights to Hong Kong for the next 50 years. How Hong Kong will be governed after 2047 is an open question – reintegrate with mainland China or stay under separate administration… Nobody knows what that future looks like.

It is very clear that China under the leadership/rule of Xi Jinping is becoming more and more authoritarian. Surveillance of its people like no place else; a social credit system to be fully implemented by 2020 which will monitor the behavior of all citizens¬† and rank them based on the “social credit“; a continued oppression and re-education of Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province which human rights groups describe as the largest mass incarceration in the 21st century; increased religious persecution, closing of Christian churches and jailing pastors who do not submit to the government control.

These are only few of the obvious abuses of universal human rights in the name of order and control of this vast country with large population and turbulent past. I would dare to say that in China the line between authoritarian and totalitarian rule is very fine.  The age-old idea of one strong hand (party), one ideology, one strong man (supreme leader, king, emperor) is steadily enforced and Hong Kong feels increasingly targeted and pulled by force into this authoritarian orbit.

I don’t understand all geopolitics and I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. Nevertheless I can’t shake the feeling that the democratic nations are either completely consumed with their own domestic problems or care much less about using the “soft power” of diplomacy to support democratic initiatives around the world. Recently I was discussing these issues with a Hong Kong friend. I made a remark how Western governments, including in my home country of Latvia, are suspiciously quiet on these obvious human rights abuses and erosion of any signs of democracy in China while focusing on trade wars and economics. My friend replied: ” The only place to stand up to China is Hong Kong!”

After seeing the photos of 2 million people marching on the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday, I have to agree with her. Hong Kong may be afraid about its Chinese future but people are not willing to accept it without strong resistance and letting their common voice be heard around the world. At the forefront of this political activism are young people who are no longer passive about their future prospects.

Another friend of mine who grew up in China but few years ago moved to Latvia, told me that he does not think the Westerner societies care about Chinese people (he meant the effects of authoritarianism). Those were sad words to hear and, I am afraid, mostly true. Still, I hope that this time Hong Kong people will not feel completely on their own.

 

 

 

 

Enough of reliving Columbine again. And again. And again.

Where does it stop? How much more trauma, tragedy and loss of life from shooters with powerful guns can American teenagers, children, parents, grandparents, families, teachers, pastors, churches, the whole society take? I hope and pray and wish and plead that it stops at Parkland, Florida.

I will never forget April 20 of 1999 when the shooting at Columbine High School happened. I had just spent three months in the States visiting friends and family and one person very dear to me was a high school student at the time. Minnesota is far from Colorado but schools all over the country were holding vigils and grieving. It broke my heart and it is still one of the most harrowing images I can think of. Those two guys slowly walking through their school as if they were on a hunt. And here we are 18 years later and similar horror gets repeated again and again. And again.

I grew up with drills in the school. We learned how to hide under the tables, how to run to the basement, how to find shelter and how to put on a gas-mask in the fastest way possible. In the USSR this was not a practice for ‘active shooter’. This was a practice for ‘active nuclear weapon’ coming in. (Like you could really hide from a nuclear explosion!) I know that this may be a very bad analogy but it is the closest thing I have experienced that helps me to relate to the fear it brings in children. And when this fear gets cultivated year after year, it becomes the new normal. In those days the answer to nuclear threat was more nuclear weapons. We were on this race who will have the biggest stockpile and it was never big enough. The whole world could blow itself up and everyone felt less safe.

I would have never ever believed that American children and teenagers will have to grow up with school drills for ‘active shooters’. Again, there are two little boys in Minnesota whom I dearly love and I think of the time when they start going to school. What will be their ‘normal’?! This is the post-Columbine reality. Just like post 9/11 reality for me is the airport routine of security checks. No sharp things, no liquids, take your shoes off, take your electronics out. It was enough with one incident of someone trying to use a liquid to build explosives and I cannot carry water or any drink on board.

But here are people with powerful weapons built to inflict the biggest amount of damage who are thought to pose much less threat. My water bottle is obviously more dangerous than AR15 semi-automatic rifle. (I don’t mean to be sarcastic. I am actually dumbfounded.)

I am not joining the gun debate as such. I am not a gun owner, I am not an American citizen¬† (I do pay taxes in the US, though) and I have no right to vote on those issues (some may say that I have no right to voice my opinion then) but I do believe in common sense. And right now the truth speaks from the mouths of children. Like everyone else who has watched any interview with the survivors of Parkland shooting, I have been overwhelmed and more than impressed by the maturity, intelligence, focus, determination and eloquence of these students. They are right to ask though: “Why is it us who have to fight for this issue to have gun reform? Why is it us who have to march and protest?”

Jack Haimowitz, 18, a survivor of last week’s shooting said: “Before you put your pen to paper, stop and feel something.” He blames the people “who don’t want to come together. The people who don’t want to unify and to love each other.” Listen to what Jack has to say in this short video! It will only take 1 min of your life but this teenager says more in few words than many who have spoken and written on the issue of gun violence and reform.

“We sat in the these classes ready to learn and now we are standing in front of the world ready to teach.” (J.Haimowitz, Parkland, Fl)

May we learn! May America learn!