The night of countervailing power

On 23 November Vice Versa, together with ActionAid, Both Ends, Partos, De Nieuwe Liefde and Pax, organised De Nacht van de Tegenmacht (The night of countervailing power), dedicated to peaceful resistance of courageous citizens all over the world. The event brought together musicians, activists, politicians and journalists from Netherlands, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Suriname. The program was very intense: featuring speakers, a talk show, columns, music, interactive sessions (Power to the People! Civic power in the global South; Populism café and Journalism & Civic Power), as well as exhibitions of organisations and short movies.

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Perceptions of resistance

According to one of the keynote speakers, Danielle Hirsch (Director of the Dutch NGO Both ENDS) , countervailing power is something that happens outside the official structures, but also something personal. Resistance is different than voting against something. As women rights activist Farah Kabir from Bangladesh (Country Director at ActionAid Bangladesh), added from her own experience and perception: democracy is not inclusive in Bangladesh, but unfortunately there is no alternative. Democracy is levelled down to participating in elections, while in fact it entails a wider participation and being heard. The definition of the space to protest has changed in Bangladesh: but if it’s not allowed to organize gatherings – there is Facebook and WhatsApp. Currently democracy came down to tolerance and impunity at a global level. International community accepts dictators because of their business partnerships. Farah observes that the political space at all levels is shrinking due to, among other, tolerated pressure against human rights defenders.

Current issues inciting resistance

Kno’Ledge Cesare, a blogger and activist from Rotterdam who participated in the recent demonstration against Zwarte Piet, is convinced that racism in the Netherlands is institutionalised and takes place not in the streets, but the Dutch parliament. Jan Pronk (amongst others, former minister for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands) drew attention to the issue of refugees in Europe. He said that only 1 per cent of the EU population are refugees and its Member States are already complaining that this is beyond their capacity, whereas in Jordan and Lebanon refugees comprise 25-30 per cent of the total population. Geresu Tufa (Oromo activist in Ethiopia) told that 1.500 people have been killed in Ethiopia during the protests within the last year. Multinational companies like Shell and Heineken are exploiting people in Ethiopia and the government evicts local farmers in order to grant their land to these companies. At the same time, the media is covering only what happens to the companies. Ethiopians are silenced by the government: in 2009 civil society organisations have been banned.

Closing

With so many different topics to discuss there was not enough time to pay due attention to the issues in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Suriname and the venue owners gave the priority to finishing on time. So, as Liset Meddens said, the resistance starts with each of us?

Photos: Yana Ballod

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