Japanese activist says about G8-protest
Go Hirasawa mobilizes against the G8-summit in Japan with the group „No G8! Action“.
Is the protest culture there very much different (than in Europe)? Go Hirasawa says that in Japan, open violence is not that common.
GO HIRASAWA is lecturer of film studies at the Tokyo University and a media activist. Very recently, he has coordinated the retrospective of the Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu at the international film festival Berlinale.
Taz: Mr. Hirasawa, you were in Heiligendamm during the G8-summit last year. How did you find the protests?
Go Hirawasa: There were ten people from Japan taking part at the protest. Especially, the camps were a special experience for us. There were so many people from all over the world; that was a wonderful opportunity to exchange information and to discuss.
TAZ: Were there also things which were strange to you?
Oh yes, this never-ending search for consensus. In Germany or Europe, every part of the strategy or the tactics of the protest is discussed with everybody, and that takes so long. I found it very interesting, but it did not seem very practical at all.
TAZ: How is it in Japan?
We choose respectively one or two persons for each action or protest, who then decided on behalf of a bigger group. „Commandant” may not be the right expression, but these people bare responsibility. The age of the persons in charge does not play a role; what plays a role are the experiences and the ability to make the right decisions at the right time. Once you get arrested in Japan, you can stay in police custody for 23 days. For that reason, it is very important to prepare well for actions and to plan with the group. Spontaneous actions are less suitable.
TAZ: At previous summits in Europe or the US, activists have criticized often that the police react disproportionately, and that there were assaults. Do you expect similar situations in Japan?
We expect a very similar situation during the summit like in Heiligendamm. Thus, the police in Japan operate differently than in Europe; open violence is not so common, they act rather subtly, for example, they try to intimidate political activists by visiting them at home. On the other hand, they also try to arrest organizers of protests in the run-up to the summit. And if there are no concrete grounds for the search, or if they cannot clearly name any “leaders”, they just construct something. This is a very typical procedure of the Japanese police.
TAZ: Are Japanese people critical towards the G-8 summit?
Most of the Japanese do not have even a slight doubt about the legitimacy of the G8 or the capitalist economic system. I have the impression that people in Europe are more critical about that. We hope that we can spread such a prevailing mood also in Japan, so that people do not just take things how they are but begin to put them into question and challenge them.
Until now, Europe and America play a main role in criticizing neo-liberalistic globalisation. I hope that this will change.
TAZ: Are there differences between the leftists in Japan and Germany?
Leftist groups in Germany are networked well among themselves. I was impressed that they succeeded in building up a broad coalition against the G8 summit. In Japan, the leftists are totally at odds with each other. The groups fight against each other instead of fighting together for their aims.
TAZ: Which are the main groups?
There are lots of anti-militaristic groups, and labor unions, of course. There is also the New Left-wing, although it is no longer new, because it was founded in the 60s, and comprises, e.g., the trotzkyists. Besides, there are also younger movements since the 1980’s: Movements against poverty, against homelessness or against discrimination against people with disability, and in the meantime, the May-Day movement.
TAZ: Does the anti-globalsation movement exist in Japan?
Yes. In the meantime, it is one of the largest movements in Japan. The „Battle of Seattle“ in the late 1990’s has marked a beginning point for this subject in Japan. During the G8 in Genoa, there was a demonstration to the Italian embassy, out of which an anti-globalisation group named Anti-Capitalist Action (ACA) was founded. Another important convention for the movement in East- and South-East-Asia was the WTO-Conference in 2005 in Hong Kong
This was a very good place to get to know each other and for exchange. It also strengthened mutual solidarity. It’s the island position which often isolates the movements in Asia geographically. For this reason, we very much hope that, for the protest at Lake Toya, we will obtain large support from the international activists in Japan, but also by global solidarity actions.
TAZ: Where does your group „No G8!Action“ place itself?
We define ourselves as decentralist and anti-authoritarian. No G8! Action was founded in May 2007, in the run-up to G8 in Rostock. The fundaments of our activities are the key points of the network Peoples Global Action. (www.agp.org)
TAZ: The next G8-summit takes place on the island Hokkaido. What kind of place is this?
Hokkaido is a relatively poor region and very much characterized by agriculture. Five years ago, a city went bankrupt for the first time in the Japanese history.
TAZ: How come?
Japan is an unbelievably centralized country. Companies, industry, the administration, everything is concentrated in the large cities in the center, i.e. Tokyo and Osaka. Therefore, the regions in the north and south have little income, they live on agriculture, partly with income from the military bases. So, the situation in Hokkaido is pretty much the same as in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (rural region near German G8). The people there are angry with the government, because the G8 takes place in their region and because they have the problems with the security precautions and the protests.
TAZ: Can you connect your actions to the existing local problems?
We try. Hokkaido is not just a region with economic problems. There are also Ainu. Ainu are an indigenous people; they lived in Hokkaido until Japan colonised their island. Until today, they have to fight for their rights. The group, which prepares the protests there, has also organized a meeting with the indigenous people and tries to network with them.
TAZ: Which other political subjects are currently discussed in Japan?
Especially the growing differences between the poor and the rich. The neo-liberal reform by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has worsened the difference and has led to big problems. Contrary to Germany, there are almost no social protections in Japan. Many young people live in extreme precarious situations, are homeless and live from part-time jobs. At least these young precarious workers have began to organize themselves in recent years. They play the main role in the mobilisation against the G8-summit.
TAZ: You have written in a paper, that the neo-liberalism in Japan goes hand-in-hand with neo-nationalism.
Of course, neo-liberalism in Japan comprises the same elements like elsewhere: a discourse which requires less governmental intervention but more market, the privatisation of public tasks. But to execute such a program, you need a stabilising factor, i.e. a comparison. In Japan, this factor was the nationalism. The anger caused by the neo-liberal reform shall be directed towards the outside of Japan. At the beginning, this tactic was quite successful, but – however - no longer. Unfortunately, Japan with its extremely developed capitalism still leads the way in Asia.
TAZ: The Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has pronounced that the main subjects of the G8 will be Africa and Climate Change.
Japan very much cares about its good reputation in the international society, and this attitude can be seen in the choice of these subjects. However, the Japanese government has showed recently and over and over, how little they care about actually doing something against the climate change. The sole thing it has done is to support Japanese companies to develop more efficient technologies. But until now, this turned out to be less successful: the CO2-emmissions in Japan in the last years has not decreased, but increased by 6%. At the same time, there is a certain awareness about climate change by the people.
TAZ: Does the left-wing deal with that topic?
It barely does. In Japan, environmental protection is a subject which is very strongly dominated by the economy, they talk about technology, innovation and efficiency. For the left-wing, it is not really attractive to deal with that subject. Leftist groups try to work with another understanding of environment, which is not limited to nature and climate. Environment can be understood in a more general sense, as the entourage, the world where people are living.
Interview Juliane Schumacher.
(Translation done in Berlin).
You can find the original text here.