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In November Michael Share, a professor of the University of Macau, came to Moscow to give a lecture on protests in Hong Kong. After the lecture at Higher School of Economics a journalist of Vostok Magazine has asked professor Share a few questions on the events in Hong Kong.
Many Chinese and Russian media have claimed that the protests in Hong Kong have been inspired by the US. Do you believe there are any grounds for such claims?
In a word, no. Despite claims by China and the Hong Kong Government, they have supplied no evidence to back up their claims. When asked to supply evidence, the response of the HK Chief Executive is “later”.
Some Russian and Ukrainian media have been comparing the events in Hong Kong to the Ukrainian Maidan. Do you think it is correct to draw a parallel between those two events?
Frankly as I indicated at the talk, I do not believe there are many parallels between the two. First of all, let me say I do not know a lot about the Maidan movement. But from what I do understand, the Maidan movement sought to overthrow the Ukrainian government. The Hong Kong Yellow Movement does not seek to overthrow either the HK Government, or China’s control over HK. The HK movement is mainly youth driven, the one in the Maidan is not. The Ukraine movement protests widespread corruption; HK has relatively little corruption. I think the only parallel is that both are open-ended occupations.
Is it possible to estimate for how long the protests are going to continue?
Again, as asked, no. It is still going on, and no sign of any stop. I believe the occupation will continue until the Chinese government or the HK Government offers some concessions to the occupiers, which has not occurred. As soon as the HK Government tries to use force, it only backfires and gets thousands onto the streets. I think the two governments are hoping eventually the students will go home and back to their studies.
In your lecture you have mentioned that the protests have changed Hong Kong forever. Do you have some image of the “New Hong Kong” in mind? How do you personally think it will look like? How are the protests going to affect the city?
I am not a futurologist. I can only say that the city has changed. People are not willing to put up with incompetent, unaccountable government controlled by a few hundred oligarchs anymore. Whether they get their wish and be able to fully elect their future leaders, we do not know. What is clear is that the old HK is gone, but we are not sure what will replace it, and what China will allow. But the oligarchs will not be able to dictate policy as they have.
Russian opposition has been asking itself recently if Russian people can protest like people of Hong Kong (peacefully and at the same time persistently) and, if they can't, why not. If you are familiar with Russian contemporary political issues, what do you think about that?
In December 2011 tens of thousands of Muscovites demonstrated in the streets for several days. But unlike HK they went home. I think you as a Russian living through those events can only ask why. I think perhaps the Russian police is more willing to use harsh force more than the HK police is. Hong Kong has a tradition of personal freedoms, a rule of law, and an independent judiciary, which Russia does not. While Hong Kong does not have democracy, which is what the people are seeking, it is still not an authoritarian state as Russia is. I think you need to ask yourself why after waiting for decades for freedom, which Russians received during the late 1980s and 19902 under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, did Russians so willingly give up that hard earned freedom during the Putin dictatorship.
The media usually say that the leaders of the protests are Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Benny Tai. But the HKers I've been talking to claimed there are no distinct leaders of the movement and that people are self-coordinated. Do you agree with that? If so, how does it affect the movement from your point of view?
The media is correct that Alex Chow and Joshua Wong, along with Lester Shum are the three leaders of the movement. Benny Tai, the leader of “Occupy HK” is a facilitator, not a leader. He, as a middle-aged academic, conveys the student demands to the government, and vice versa. This is a student driven movement, and is highly democratic.
How is situation in Hong Kong viewed in Macau and Taiwan?
In a word, with great interest. The Taiwan government and people support it enthusiastically. It has also rendered Beijing’s claims and hopes for Taiwan of “one country, two systems” as an empty one. Any talk of tying Taiwan to China is over, for good. Macau is unfortunately more politically apathetic, and protests here have been much smaller and more limited. That is due to the differences between HK and Macau. Still the movement in HK is watched very closely by both governments and people.
By Alexandra Urman