July 2001

Open debate rather than batons

Finnish MPs don't want the European Union to limit citizens' rights in order to curtail violent demonstrations during EU summits. In a recent select committee meeting, opinions were against any interference in constitutional rights such as the right to travel and the right to organise peaceful demonstrations.

Commenting on the MPs opinions, the social democratic newspaper Uutispäivä Demari (16 July 2001) says that this line is based on solid arguments.

"Instead, one might ask whether it is wise to seek solutions from water canons and pepper gas. Police authorities are prone to offer them if asked how to guarantee order and security in case of rioting. This is what the 'life style hooligans' want. Violence feeds violence. The EU must not allow itself to be provoked.

"The most important task for the EU must be to develop open discussion with citizens' organisations. This is the only way to create a citizens' Europe. At the same time, the top leaders of the EU and its various insitutions should consider their own image and the real meaningfulness of summits. Why adopt practices which are only likely to widen the gap between citizens and leaders?"

Uutispäivä Demari admits that the Gothenburg riots were a disturbing development.

"It is no wonder that inside the EU people worry about the future and consider ways to stop similar riots happening again."

Helsingin Sanomat (15 July 2001) interviewed some Finnish participants of the Gothenburg demonstrations. The philosopher and activist Thomas Wallgren emphasised the importance of the right to demonstrate. He thinks that symbolically the events in Gothenburg were important because they showed how the European political culture has changed. Wallgren also pointed out that the biggest and most important demonstration was peaceful. In his opinion, it is a great achievement that globalisation and the EU are issues people want to have a say on.

Wallgren admits that rioting is a problem for the whole movement.

"The greatest danger to Western European political system is a withering of political participation. Rioting lifts the threshold of participation and alienates people from politics."

Risto Valjakka from the Socialist League is quoted as saying that the most important work is not done in demonstrations, even if they are great spectacles.

"The real work is carried out in worklaces, schools, universities and discussions with people."

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