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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ukraine: New Rada, New Era

Check out my previous work on Ukraine below! Like Mind of Menyhert on Facebook

Two interviews with a student in Lviv

A guide to Ukraine's Presidential Election

A rebuttal to an article in The Nation

Yesterday, Ukrainians headed to the polls to elect a new Verkhovna Rada, or Parliament.

The country finds itself tired and bandaged since the War in the Donbas, which still sees occasional flare-ups after a ceasefire was declared on September 5th.

The election may not unite the divided country after the tumult of the EuroMaidan Revolution and the War in the Donbas, but it could substantially change the political landscape in Ukraine. Exit polls point to a much different Verkhovna Rada than the one that took office in the 2012 elections

In the east, two breakaway pro-Russian republics find themselves relatively independent of Kiev. The Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic are intact, but are unlikely to get formal recognition from the west, meaning the two republics may end up like the frozen states of Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, the products of conflicts on or near the Russian border since the fall of communism. None of these states have significant international recognition, but they are more or less de facto countries today. 

The disputed region, called "Novorossiya" (New Russia) is a far cry from its original namesake, which stretched from Odessa to Luhansk when it was part of the Russian Empire. It is small in area, but holds nearly three million people. If we add Crimea into this equation, Ukraine has effectively lost around four million people, from a previous population of about 44 million. Before the war, Donetsk was home to nearly a million people, and Luhansk about 450,000. Elections for the Verkhovna Rada will not be held in rebel-controlled areas, meaning the size of the Verkhovna Rada will be effectively decreased by 27 seats out of a previous 450.

The two states that make up "Novorossiya" are planning their own elections for the 2nd of November, and they will effectively have to start from scratch, though it's fairly likely pro-Kremlin parties will win elections since the breakaway republics are founded on being pro-Kremlin instead of pro-Europe and pro-Russia parties like the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and Fmr. President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions were popular in past elections.

Exit Polls indicate the voting in the rest of Ukraine is shaping up to look as such:  

Petro Poroshenko Bloc: 23.1%
People's Front Party: 21.2%
Self-Reliance Party: 13.4%
Opposition Bloc 7.6%
Radical Party 6.4%
Svoboda/Freedom Party: 6.3%
Fatherland Party: 5.6%

Data from Radio Svoboda. 

Meet the Parties

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc is fairly self-explanatory. The current president of Ukraine is Petro Poroshenko, a rich businessman who made millions in the chocolate industry. His pragmatic, pro-European views received widespread support from Ukrainians in May when he was elected in the first round of voting, easily beating the 2nd-place candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko. His allies include Vitaly Klitschko, the former boxer and founder of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, usually shortened to UDAR ("Strike") and present mayor of Kiev. 

The party's platform includes, as outlined on their website (in Ukrainian)

Promotion of open list elections
Decentralization of the Ukrainian state
Creating a public television network
Bringing attention to the plight of the Crimean Tatars
Ensuring language rights for Russian speakers while maintaining Ukrainian as the sole official language
Full membership of Ukraine in the European Union
Welfare and social protection for poor citizens
Law enforcement reform and creation of an independent judiciary
Ending corruption
Ensuring Ukraine's territorial integrity

Energy independence for Ukraine

Photo credit to Mikola Lazarenko of RIA Novosti. 

Photo credit to Wikipedia. 

People's Front 

The People's Front performed surprisingly well in exit polls considering previous polling data. A recent poll conducted by Gorshenin earlier this month had the party winning 7.9% of the vote. The Party won three times that according to exit polls coming in at 21.2%. This party is only a few months old, created in March by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Expect the People's Front to be part of a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc, as Yatsenyuk and Turchynov were important players during and after the February Revolution. 

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk(left, photo by Sergei Supinsky of AFP) and Fmr. President Turchynov (photo from Wikipedia)


Another surprise out of the exit polls was the success of the Self-Reliance Party, headed by L'viv mayor Andriy Sandovyi. The party was created in 2012, but this is the first time it's been seen in Ukrainian national politics. The party aims to join "Christian morality and common sense", and will likely be allied with the Poroshenko Bloc and the People's Front. Second on the party's list is Syemen Semenchenko, a native of Donetsk and the head of the volunteer Donbas Battalion which fought the separatists.  Speaking of politicians directly involved in the Donbas War...

Radical Party of Ukraine

Oleh Lyashko

The Radical Party of Ukraine, led by Oleh Lyashko, received around 6.4% of the vote in exit polling, slightly less than that of Gorshenin's estimate. It is a left-wing party that has taken a strong stance against the oligarchs that wield considerable influence in Ukraine. The party has nationalist and populist overtones to it, and Lyashko himself has been influential in establishing volunteer battalions in eastern Ukraine to fight against the pro-Russian separatists, even taking part in the fighting himself. He was a member of Batkivshchyna until 2012, but received one seat in the 2012 elections to the Rada. His party wants to restore Ukraine's nuclear status and "end the War in Donbas by force". Lyashko received 8.32% of the vote in the May presidential election, a distant third to Poroshenko, and the party's continued influence will likely depend on Lyashko himself. This may be the party Poroshenko chooses to consult when dealing with the corruption that plagues the country. 

Opposition Bloc

Led by Yuriy Boyko, this imaginatively-named party is a coalition of members of previous parties that did not endorse the Euromaidan Revolution. It received 7.6% of the vote according to exit polling, and is populated by some former members of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, including Boyko himself, who ran for president earlier in the year. The party received substantial support in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, not far from the separatist fighting, which raised some eyebrows. It will wield some influence despite the heavily pro-European parliament as its constituents are largely Eastern Ukrainians, and Poroshenko may seek its help in compromising in future deals to ensure legitimacy with voters in eastern regions. 

Svoboda/Right Sector

Oleh Tyhanybok, leader of Svoboda/Freedom. 
Picture from David Mdzinarshvili, Reuters. 

Svoboda means "freedom" in Ukrainian (and many other Slavic languages), and is Ukraine's nationalist party, led by the wild-eyed and oftentimes crass Oleh Tyhanybok, whose party is commonly accused of being fascist. 
Like the more moderate Fatherland party, Svoboda and by extension its cousin Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) lost considerable power. Svoboda won 35 seats and  slightly more than 10% of the popular vote in 2012, but only 6.3% of the vote this time around. 

Right Sector, another nationalist organization in Ukraine and a favorite target of Russian state media smear campaigns, is barely more than an afterthought at this point if we are to take the numerous polls at face value. The Gorshenin poll had Right Sector winning barely more than 1% of the vote. It's important to remember that Right Sector is against integration with Europe, an odd outlier of a revolution commonly referred to as "EuroMaidan". 


Yulia Tymoshenko, photo from Reuters.

A surprising loser in these elections, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) barely scraped past the 5% threshold. By contrast, Fatherland was the 2nd largest party to win seats in the 2012 Parliamentary election, winning more than 25% of the vote and over 100 seats in the Rada. Perhaps it is the party's outdated image and leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is partially responsible for this change. Tymoshenko made an emotional speech to Maidan protestors after President Yanukovych was ousted and her release from prison generated considerable fanfare, but some Ukrainians, as I learned in an interview (link at the top of the page) that Tymoshenko is considered excessively proud and a symbol of the old guard by some Ukrainians, despite her pro-European views. Fatherland's party platform may still enable it to join a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc and People's Front, but the party has severely declined since 2012.


"With 45.03% of electronic voting reports processed, the People's Front has 21.62% of the vote, while the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko has 21.47% of the vote in Ukraine's early parliamentary elections.
The Samopomich Union received 11.13% of the vote, the Opposition Bloc got 9.76%, Oleh Liashko's Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna All-Ukrainian Union 5.71%, according to the information board at the Central Election Commission's (CEC) press center.
The Svoboda Party is close to the 5% election threshold, having scored 4.68% of the vote at the moment."

UPDATE 2: (From Interfax Ukraine)

"The results of processing 60.69% of the protocols obtained by the Central Election Commission (CEC) from elections commissions have shown People's Front winning 21.59% and Petro Poroshenko Bloc 21.41% of the votes in the parliamentary elections held last Sunday.
The Samopomich Union has mustered 11.16% of the votes, the Opposition Bloc 9.91%, the Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna 5.64% of the votes, according to information posted on an interactive display at the CEC press center.
The results so far show the remaining parties and blocs falling short of the 5% election threshold, with the Svoboda all-Ukrainian Union coming closest with 4.7% of the votes."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Somalia May be rising from the ashes (SCARR Article)

When one hears “Somalia”, people usually think of the movie “Black Hawk Down”, pirates, countless sides of violence and strife, and Islamic fundamentalism. The country still suffers from poverty and violence in other areas, but the capital of Mogadishu, once a war-torn shell of a city plagued by hatred and arbitrary blood-spilling, is starting to rise from its painful past.  Earlier this month, a new airport and seaport started construction with help and investment from Turkey. The Somali government started their first postal service in twenty years, devising a postal code system for the East African nation-the first they've ever had. 
To an outsider, this probably sounds extremely basic, almost primitive. After twenty years of religious and clan-instigated conflict, Somalia has nowhere to go but up. The Civil War and Islamic fundamentalism ravaged the already impoverished country into anarchy and utter disarray. The economy wasn’t just hurt, it was wiped out. What was left of Mogadishu was terrorized by wild-eyed groups of thugs with Kalashnikovs slung over their backs. These are basic infrastructural needs, but they are vital to functioning society, and are the first step to developing a country that desperately needs it.

Somalis that have moved elsewhere are also returning to their homeland to help, assisting new businesses and recruiting skilled laborers for further development. The national currency, the shilling, has been regaining its value, shooting up from an exchange rate of 15,000 shillings to the dollar in May of 2013 to just over 1,000 to the dollar in March of 2014. Right now it’s dipped under 800.  This is excellent news for a people desiring to invest-it will inspire confidence, and for the first time, Somalis in Mogadishu can withdraw shillings from an ATM in their capital city. Progress is being made in resolving the territorial dispute with Puntland with international observers standing by.

Some credit is definitely due to the work of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in September 2012, and promised strong anti-corruption measures. However, security isn’t perfect; only two days ago a bomb went off near a popular cafe killing six, and the UN has condemned what they described as a possible escalating crisis. Al-Shabaab is a very real threat, and the government still lacks strong authority outside the capital. The country is severely underdeveloped, with a GDP per capita of $600, and the northern section of the country considers itself independent. Somalia’s got a very long way to go. But every journey begins with one step. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tunisia Tests Democracy

In early 2011, a fruit vendor in Tunisia lit himself ablaze, provoking mass anger in the small North African state. This act of desperation started the Arab Spring, which ended the regimes of dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. In Tunisia, Former President Ben Ali is living out his days in exile. But Tunisia has a claim most of the other Arab Spring nations can attest to. They’ve weathered the storm well and seem to be on an imperfect but determined path to true representative democracy, while Libya is a lawless mess, and Egypt seems to have come full circle by electing Abdel Fateh el-Sisi
Tunisia faces an important test this year with Presidential and legislative elections quickly approaching. Scuffles between Islamists and liberals are still a very real threat and the country is still plagued by terrorist attacks and assassinations. Elections are scheduled for October and November of this year. Four parties, along with a sizable contingent of independents, make up Tunisia’s parliament. The Islamist party Ennahda is the largest party in Tunisia’s constituent assembly, but the interim president is a liberal nationalist who has worked as a human rights activist.

Islamism could be a very real threat to democracy in Tunisia, especially with the problems in next-door Libya and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Tunisia’s economy is still sputteringfrom the revolution-budget deficit that has risen sharply since the revolution. However, if Tunisia is able to have a peaceful and free election, their economy will likely get a boost. The country also has a considerable tourism industry due to the ancient city of Carthage, Roman ruins, and affordability compared to Europe. While Tunisia does depend on oil, it is far less attached to black gold than other Arab nations, which is rare. Some within Tunisia have complained that none of the present parties have a solution to the economy, but perhaps a clean election will be the boost the country needs.

On September 30, the news broke that 27 candidates will be running in Tunisia’s presidential election, and that the polls are currently led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an elderly secular candidate with background in the previous regime who wants to lead Tunisia in a step-by-step fashion. He is quoted in the New York Times, claiming the transition will be a slow one: “When someone is hungry asking for food, you only give him what he needs...You don’t give him more, or else he might die, so we offer a step-by-step approach.”

Essebsi has a reputation of trying to change the old dictatorship from within but has dealt with protesters in questionable ways as interim prime minister, but one could wager that it’s not who wins, but the process of the election that matters. If Tunisia pulls these elections off fairly, cleanly, and quickly, whoever wins could gain legitimacy among the electorate even if they voted for another.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Zimmermann's no-no: A first-hand account

"How can you not get romantic about baseball?" Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane in Moneyball

On Sunday afternoon, at around 1:00 pm in row F of section 222 of Nationals Park, a Reds fan, a Yankees fan, and two Red Sox fans sat down, stadium grub in hand, to see the final game of the season between the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins. It was a sunny, breezy day in the Nation's capital, a perfect way to end the summer.
None of us were expecting what happened next.
As I stood in line to buy a lemonade in the second inning, I heard the crack of the bat, followed by that familiar hopeful "OHHHH" of 35,000 hopeful fans who knew that Ian Desmond had put good wood on the ball. I quickly ducked out of line to see the ball sail into the Marlins' bullpen. 1-0 Nationals.
A few innings passed by. As I sat there lounging in the right field nosebleeds shooting the breeze with my friends, I looked at the scoreboard.
I leaned over "Hey, J.R., Zimmermann's got a no-hitter through 5." I observed.
"Yeah, he's doing really well so far. Very efficient!" my friend replied.
Two more innings passed, and a debate broke out between us whether Zimmermann would be taken out with a no-hitter going on 6 2/3 innings.
"It's only swing of the bat and it's all over. Alvarez has pitched very well too."
"They need to rest him for the playoffs."
"I don't know man...they can have Strasburg and Gonzalez pitch, Zim can come in for Game 3..."
"His pitch count's really good, he doesn't look tired at all."
"Has he walked anyone?" "Yeah, two innings ago, and he had that wild pitch too."
Every recorded out was becoming more and more exciting. An intangible buzz could be felt among the fans.
"This has really been an awesome performance by Zimmermann..."
So began the 8th inning. Zimmermann recorded two strikes on the batter, and I noticed a few people standing and cheering. A dull roar of cheering followed. Every out it became louder and louder.
I noticed my heart was beating faster and faster.
Up stepped Ryan Yelich. No runs, no hits, no errors. Only two baserunners. Ten strikeouts for Zimmermann. All of Nationals Park on its feet, the loudest I've ever heard it.
Ball. Outside.
The next few minutes felt like an eternity. Zimmermann got the sign. Into the set. The two-one.
It looked good, and Yelich swung. Fly ball.
"OH NO". I thought. It wasn't enough for a home run but it was heading towards the gap in left-center. Steven Souza was running...running...he was close...
"Could he-"
Souza lunged.
The ball found his glove. Souza flopped to the ground, and tumbled over. But the ball stayed put. It was over.
Thirty-five thousand exhilarated fans shot their arms into the sky in victory. I promptly high-fived and hugged everyone I could reach.  I just witnessed a feat that has happened less than 300 times in Major League Baseball since the 19th Century. Live. An enormous toothy smile had formed across my face, where it stayed for the next half-hour at least.  I felt like I was in love. And with baseball, let's face it, I am definitely in love.

As far as sports go, baseball was my first love. Growing up in the Boston area probably had a lot to do with that. Over the years I did find other, hockey, soccer, even college basketball. The Olympic Games.
But through it all, baseball has been a constant. I always try to catch the playoffs, regardless if one of my teams made it. There's nothing more perfect than a hot summer day at the ballpark with a hot dog and a beer. I'll remember this game for the rest of my life, and it will become a story I'll tell and re-tell for years to come. Thanks, Nats.

Get it On, Bang a Gong, Protest in Hong Kong

Title inspired by the classic T.Rex song.

It's been a year of protest in the world. Nine months into 2014, the world has seen Ukrainians, Venezuelans, Bosnians, and Thais, among others, protest in enormous numbers against various injustices.

That protest fever has spread to the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, a financial hub and culturally distinct region of the People's Republic of China, where thousands are jamming the streets.

 Central Hong Kong during the recent protests. Photo from the NY Times.

To shed light on this development, I have asked multiple people with connections to mainland China and to Hong Kong about the current situation. They are two fellow GW students named Kevin and Li, and a young woman named Fiona, who I met at a small protest outside the Chinese Embassy.

What is going on in Hong Kong, and why? What do the protestors want? 

Kevin: These protests come down to one thing-universal suffrage. Hong Kongers want a greater share of democracy for themselves. So now Hong Kong's business district's central streets are jammed with people demanding universal suffrage. This all started when the National People's Congress in Beijing released their procedure for the elections of the Hong Kong Chief Executive. The candidates will be personally evaluated and approved by the Election Committee, which is indirectly controlled by the government in Beijing. Hong Kongers are worried that this means that the candidacies aren't going to be open to everyone. You've probably heard the term "universal suffrage" thrown around a lot if you've been reading about what's going on. The protestors want their candidates to be able to secure a nomination without approval from mainland China. 

Fiona seemed to agree. 

"These protests are a statement. Hong Kongers are protesting in opposition to an attempt by Beijing to control Hong Kong's voting rights. We've always had a large amount of democratic practice in Hong Kong, including the freedom to elect our leaders in fair, transparent elections. Beijing's recent decision [to vet the candidates] will limit this. The pool of candidates will be limited and not truly free. It's a direct challenge to the rights we enjoy in Hong Kong. Naturally, Hong Kongers are upset. They see this as one of what could be many attempts by Beijing to chip away at our freedoms and our way of life. So thousands of young people, many college students, are out in the central streets and neighborhoods. These protests are in Admiralty, a financial district where the central government's building is located, Mong Kok, which is like Hong Kong's entertainment and shopping district, Causeway Bay-another business and shopping hot spot, and Central, the main business district.  The protesters have been extensively documenting their movement through pictures and videos. The protests have been incredibly organized and peaceful, something we're very proud of.

Li, however, had a different perspective.

"It's a pro-democracy protest, mostly college students, and chaos, directly caused by Beijing’s method of candidate nomination in what is a democratic, universal-suffrage election in 2017. The demands are pretty simple, really. The protestors want an electoral system in which everyone not only has the right to vote, but also the right to run and be elected. Keep in mind this was unheard of in the 150 years of British rule in Hong Kong. I think the deeper, underlying cause of this chaos, though, is a sense of frustration and desperation. Hong Kong used to be the financial and trade center of Asia, so some Hong Kongers have displayed a bit of arrogance and hubris towards the population on the mainland, and therefore many Hong Kongers are reluctant, even unwilling, to recognize Beijing as Hong Kong’s government. It’s also important to note that this probably wouldn’t happen without the political, financial, and personal support of western governments, ngos, and business leaders, especially those from the United States."

Earlier this year, Hong Kongers staged a large demonstration in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which occurred on the 4th of June, 1989. The bustling hub is no stranger to demonstrations. So I then asked- did these protests start as a quick reaction to the news that Beijing wanted to vet the candidates, or has discontent been brewing for longer? Once again, there was a good deal of consensus. 

"It's a bit of both. Every year there have been protests asking for more political freedom, as well as a large demonstration every June 4th to commemorate the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989. These specific protests, though, are directly triggered by the recent announcement from Beijing," Kevin explained. 

Fiona affirmed this.

"It's a gradual problem that's festered for a while. Keep in mind, the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened on June 4th, 1989, a mere eight years before the official handoff of Hong Kong to China in 1997. I think everyone's been on edge since '89. That's actually the reason my family left-if you had the means, you would travel and even move abroad, and much of that was because they didn't want to deal with whatever Beijing was going to do.  As for those who stayed-they were promised 50 years of self-government because of the "One Country, Two systems" policy. Under this policy, Hong Kong would remain a "Special Administrative Region", which means it would be able to keep its own system of government-in this case, democracy. People see Beijing's recent moves as a threat to that democracy."

Li seemed to agree.

"These protests are a culmination of festering discontent resulting in sporadic protests since the end of 2013."

Now, Hong Kong speaks a different dialect of Chinese than their mainland counterparts. Hong Kong speaks Cantonese, the mainland speaks Mandarin. Media coverage in the United States and in the west commonly alludes to Hong Kong's unique culture and customs. How is Hong Kong culturally different from mainland China?

"For one, Hong Kong is one of the only two regions in China that was entirely colonized by foreign countries for more than a century. China had no say in Hong Kong's local politics during that time. Promise of economic prosperity in order to quell uprising never works in Hong Kong as it is far more developed than the rest of the China."

Whereas Kevin focused on history, Fiona focused on the mentality of the people of Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong has a much more western mentality-you could even call it American in some ways. Think of the difference between the United States and that of China. In the United States, we receive a huge wealth of information, from many different perspectives. On the mainland, Chinese kids are raised with selective information. Many of them don't even know about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and that's just insane. It's like Germans who don't know about the Holocaust or Japanese who don't know about World War II and the atomic bombs. Information is incredibly limited on the Mainland. Thus, a lot of mainland Chinese grow up with this selective mindset that the government in Beijing wants them to have. 

Li believed the difference to be rooted in mentality, not culture.

"I would not say the culture is much different. What is different is people’s mindset, as the Hong Kong population see themselves as generally more “Western” or even “superior” to the mainland population, as they have been under British rule and have enjoyed a higher economic standard due to being the financial and trading gateway of a closed China."

Hong Kong is hardly the only region of China that has strained or peculiar relations with Beijing. Our conversation turned to Taiwan-a small island to the east of Hong Kong. After the communists took power on the mainland, the Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-Shek fled to the island then known as Formosa, and set their government up there. The authoritarian regime of the Kuomintang gradually became democratic, and still considers itself the "true" government of China. The nation is known as Taiwan in the west, Chinese Taipei on the Mainland, and the Republic of China formally.

Will these protests have an effect on Taiwan/Chinese Taipei? 

Kevin explained the situation: 

Taiwan is an interesting case. It operates as its own country, but it's also stuck in recognition limbo-only about twenty or so countries recognize Taiwan as its own country. If these protests continue, though, it could accelerate the independence movement in Taiwan. Taiwanese supporters of full independence (hawks) could cite "a deterioration of human rights" in Hong Kong since the reunification in 1997 as its main argument for independence.

Li summed it up quickly and decisively.
"These protests could feed a further sense of opposition and distaste of Beijing for Chinese Taipei."

Fiona, excitement in her voice, was happy to discuss Taiwan.

Taiwanese people have been very supportive, as have Taiwanese-Americans. It's a very similar fight they have on their hands in Taiwan, so they are easily driven to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong.

The shadow of 1989 still hangs heavy, as I learned. On the fourth of June, 1989, the People's Liberation Army crushed a large demonstration in Beijing's central square, killing hundreds. The incident remains covered up by Beijing. 

Protests on Tiananmen Square, a few days before June 4th. 
Photo from CNN. 

Both of these movements are student-led, and both are categorized by the Central Government as movements driven by foreign influence and people who dreamt about western democracy”. 

"Both started as democratic protest with deeper economic cause," Li said.

Tiananmen in 1989 had its Goddess of Democracy statue. Hong Kong has a similar symbol-the umbrella. 

A protestor holds an umbrella amidst tear gas. 
Photo from the International Business Times. 

"It's a symbol, but it's also practical. It's been raining and people bring umbrellas for practical reason. And people found that the umbrellas are great to deter pepper spray."

Fiona delved into detail. "Hong Kong is famous for its peaceful demonstrations. People aren't afraid to speak their minds, but very rarely are they driven to violence. I think the umbrellas started as just a way to shield from the sun, as that's a fairly common practice in Hong Kong, but when the police started using tear gas and pepper spray (which came as a shock to many) the umbrellas became a defense mechanism. Also, there's something to be said for the visual camaraderie, seeing thousands holding umbrellas together.  

Li caught my attention when I asked him whether he knew anyone in Hong Kong, being from Beijing. 

"I have many friends in Hong Kong, but they are not involved in the protests. From my discussion with them, I understand that this is because that as the middle to upper class of the Hong Kong demographic, they are less likely to be instigated by political agendas and slogans, and they recognize better than the average population, that Hong Kong’s development relies on a healthy and constructive relationship with mainland China as its ruler."

While reading about these events, I noticed a name that kept coming up: C.Y. Leung. 

C.Y. Leung. Photo from Wikipedia. 

"C.Y. Leung is the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong, like a mayor or city governor. He is seen as a puppet of the central government by the protesters. He ordered the law enforcement personnel to use pepper spray and tear gas. He might receive the order from Beijing, but I highly doubt that."

Li's opinion was a bit different. 

"C.Y. Leung is is the chief executive officer of Hong Kong-he works with both Beijing and Hong Kong as a coordinator.  Because of this he is really stuck in the middle in this confrontational situation.

Hong Kong is a seemingly endless parade of soaring office buildings, being a financial hub for China and all Asia.  Have these protests had any impact on the financial industry of Hong Kong?

Kevin: Hard to say. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (Hang Seng Index) dropped 1.28% on 9/30. We will have to wait and see the long term impact.

Li: "There's been serious traffic disruption, temporary closure of schools and banks, and a slump in the Hang Seng index." 

China recently celebrated their National Day (October 1), similar to the 4th of July in the United States, where the communist government's takeover is celebrated. Did this have an effect on the protests? 

People's Liberation Army soldiers raise the Chinese flag as the national anthem, March of the Volunteers, plays, on October 1, 2009. 

Photo from the Chinese Government's official portal site,

Kevin seemed to see it as a convenient distraction. 

News coverage will focus on the holiday celebration, which is a great diversion. Protesters are actually really calm and organized. There have been organized groups that were formed in order to prevent to more radical groups to interrupt the official celebration in Hong Kong. 

Fiona looked at the holiday as a foreign concept. 

"When I left Hong Kong in 1994, we didn't celebrate the October 1st holiday. That must have come after 1997.  The original protests, which were dubbed "#OccupyCentral" were originally going to take place on October 1st because it's China's National Day, but since Beijing made the announcement to personally vet the candidates, Hong Kongers decided to start early, so to speak, and get out in the streets before October 1."

Li seemed to believe that it was an extra ounce of symbolism to continue protesting on the 1st. 

"Yes, I think the protestors intended to intensify their disruption on the 1st of October to send a message of their disobedience and resistance."

Mainland China has been infamous for its censorship tactics, especially concerning the internet. Have the people of Hong Kong been able to spread their protests' message to the mainland, or has Beijing's internet censorship been effective in keeping it out?

"Censorship is pretty strong on the mainland, Kevin said. For one, Instagram is blocked in mainland for the first time. The only news mainland gets is that the protesters are blocking road and delaying emergency vehicles to arrive on scene on time. Beijing is cultivating support by blaming Hong Kong's protesters. 

Fiona agreed. "I think it's a bit of both, at least that's the idea I get when I talk to people." Fiona replied. "I know that the social media site Instagram was shut down from the Mainland, but I've seen a good deal of commentary from mainland Chinese regarding these protests, so they know something about it, and it's something they have opinions about."

Li went a bit further in his answer.

"The state censorship has not been very effective because only mainstream state-controlled media has successfully kept the Hong Kong news out. On social media such as the Chinese versions of twitter and facebook, you can find a lot of coverage of what's happening in Hong Kong."*

China has many homegrown social media sites like Weibo, QQ, and Renren. 

And Hong Kong's crusade may be resonant with the people in different locations around the large nation. Tibet's status has been in some sort of dispute for a long time, and Uyghurs in the autonomous province of Xinjiang have been the subject of unrest in the far west. Could it spread? 

Kevin was unsure.

Highly unlikely, Beijing has a tight control on these two regions. Whenever there is an uprising in Xinjiang, police there shoot first and then arrest whoever left. Only two months ago, ethnic violence left nearly 100 dead, and Urumqi was rocked by rioting in 2009, that killed nearly 200. As far as Tibet, I'm not sure, but there are rumors that Dalai Lama has been negotiating his return to China in the near future. This might hinder the talk as Dalai Lama might fear for his life.

Fiona agreed, as did Li.

Tibet's such a sensitive area, I'm not sure, but there have been protests in the past. Beijing keeps a much tighter grip on Tibet in particular, but I know the protests in the past have ended very badly, even worse than what we've seen in Hong Kong. 

" Yes, they could, but during times like this the security will be ramped up, especially in traditionally sensitive areas."

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