Demonstrations around the globe show a generation demanding change - Roddy Gow

Hardly a day goes by without news of further uprisings and protests in different parts of the world. Analysing the causes and identity of those involved is made easier by the impact of social networks. Is there a pattern to these upheavals, are there conclusions to be drawn?

Many commentators believe that this is a Generation Z factor where young people who are driven by a sense of outrage at the policies and actions of their governments express their frustration through demonstrating. World Protests: A Study of Key Protest Issues in the 21st Century, issued by researchers from the German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue based at Columbia University, both add to a growing body of literature about an era of increasing protests. They concluded that, “we are living through a period of history like the years around 1848, 1917 or 1968 when large numbers of people rebelled against the way things were, demanding change”.

Now there is a much greater knowledge of global events than ever before. Separating facts from lies is critical. As Churchill said, acknowledging Mark Twain, “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”. There are key elements making up the factors at play. The percentage of those in China under 25 is very significant according to the Wilson Centre, compounding the problem that the country’s reproductive rate is too small to support its retirees. In China some Zero Covid restrictions have been lifted indicating a reaction to and concern about the level of protests. Iran has responded differently with the beginning of executions and the likelihood of many more. However, this shows that the protests are being felt.

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Despite very repressive reactions to unrest, many of those protesting have united nearly every section of society in Iran and China. The frustrations of Covid imposed lockdowns have added to the universal feeling of liberty being deprived. Some reactions in recent days suggest a slight easing of restrictions in both China and Iran although whether these turn out to be long term remains to be seen. In a context of heavy censorship, China’s protestors have shown eye-catching creativity, for instance by holding blank sheets of paper to signify discontent that they cannot voice explicitly. Carne Ross is the author of The Leaderless Revolution. He has reflected on the protest movements in China and Iran although there have been others driven by growing dissatisfaction with other autocratic governments. He suggests that each of these uprisings is very different and contingent on local circumstances and causes. But the common factor is that they are facilitated by social media – otherwise they would simply not be possible.

Roddy Gow OBE, Chairman, Asia Scotland Institute

Saif Islam of SRM, based in South Africa agrees: “There are multiple reasons for revolt, economic, political or governments relaxing laws. Protestors will want to see how matters develop and use social media to motivate and inform, as in the Arab Spring.” Victoria Schofield, author and expert on Pakistan and the Commonwealth, highlights the energy of Gen X, the younger, often unemployed, members of society who may feel invincible and are deeply frustrated by the slowness of change.

There is a sense that protest movements will evolve. Intervention in Belarus halted them for a time but even in Russia the regime will ultimately collapse if it proves incapable of change.

Roddy Gow, Chairman and Founder, The Asia Scotland Institute

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