It all depends on who gets to name them.
Between November and December 2010 more than 50,000 students protested in London. Many were arrested and they denounced police brutality and repression.
Less than one year later, in August 2011, protests and riots broke all around London.
According to the BBC, by August 15th, 2011, about 3,100 people had been arrested, of whom more than 1,000 had been charged. There were accounted a total 3,443 crimes across London linked to the disorder. Emergency calls on Monday night saw a 300% increase, from 5,400 normally to 20,800. There were some deaths, and many more injured as a direct result of related violent acts. An estimated £200 million worth of property damage was incurred, and local economic activity was significantly compromised.
In both cases the rapid and violent social movement was lit and promoted through social media. Civil unrest finds efficient contagion and mass movement dynamics thanks to the enabling technologies.
The general way in which these whole episodes were described by the British government, along with most western media was about ‘terrorists, hooligans, people clearly overstepping their right to protest’. The Daily Telegraph, a mainstream British newspaper, even described Twitter as being an outlet for promoting gang violence…
The repressive action by the state was swift, and certainly the numbers of arrests attest to a zero tolerance approach to reestablishing order in the City. Why let a minority of 50 thousand people take over London and paralyze everyone else?
Cut to Caracas, Venezuela, 2014.
Violent protests take on the streets for several consecutive days. The number of violent protesters surely does not even reach 50,000. They build trash and fire barricades to block streets stopping the free transit of the 6 million inhabitants of the city. They even install barbed wire above the streets between trees. They go as far as to tweet that it should be done at the right height to ‘stop’ motorcycles. A few motorcycle drivers, oblivious to the almost invisible guillotine, drive into a horrible beheading.
These violent protests seem to have no aim, and no demands. Some opposition leaders and especially radical groups piggy back on them and start to request president Maduro to resign, and to step down for violating Human Rights.
In this case, most western governments and most western media side with the group of rioters (demonstrators?). In western media, it is widely assumed that the Government in Venezuela is indeed violating human rights, and that the “oppressed majority” has just spilled out in the streets to demand freedom and regime change. This is not only fair, it is a sort of ‘Venezuelan Spring’.
Nothing is further from the truth. The narrative in western media is a fantasy.
It is true that Venezuela is a politically polarized environment where certainly there is a sizable and relevant portion of the population that opposes the government of Maduro. There is also a relevant and sizeable portion of the population that supports the government of Maduro. An election just a few months ago, gave the government more than 56% of the popular vote nationwide. Historically, since Maduro won the presidency in April 2013 all pollsters have measured his approval ratings between 45% and 60%. So even if he was right now at the lowest level ever, he would be significantly above say, Obama’s current approval rating.
Shall we then condone if a little group representing a minority (or even if it represented a majority) of people go out in the streets of Washington DC and demand regime change? “Obama go home?”
Of course not.
So how come we, the progressive world, condone it for other countries?
What would Washington do if the hypothetical DC riots, not only demanded Obama to step down, with say 50 thousand violent demonstrators, plus the “moral authority” of Obama’s approval being currently below 42%? What if in addition the NSA had intercepted communications from a foreign government and some foreign multinational that was funding the rioters… (as Venezuela claims the riots are being funded)?
The answer is obvious, and it should be obvious for any government around the world, be it Turkey or the United states, be it Ukraine or the UK, be it Venezuela or China. It should also be obvious to the self-righteous western media that has self-appointed itself as the guardians of democracy. They shall defend constitutionally elected governments, and should definitely support regime change in the only way that democracy permits it: through constitutional methods, like in the next general election.
Why is it that we don’t think about ousting unpopular governments via violent protests in the G8? This seems, after all, to be the method of choice for the rest of the world; especially if the leader in question is not one of the ‘good guys’ as per the mainstream media characterization?
Who is calling for regime change in Saudi Arabia, in spite of the fact that that is a clear dictatorship of many decades? No one -because they are with the ‘good guys’.
But if it is president Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, then, lets kick him out of power. Democracy can go to hell there. He is pro-Russian and worst, a friend of Putin, a very clear and unforgivable crime. So let’s support a coup and get him out of power.
The difference between rioters and peaceful demonstrators seems to be in the eye of the beholder. But we all knew that already. What we in the West seem to forget is that we should apply the same standards to all countries. Invading Iraq, supporting a coup in Egypt, or pushing for regime change of a constitutionally elected Government is not an act of democracy. It will not contribute to peace, and it will only tarnish the reputation of Europe, the US and their media in the rest of the world. This, in turn, could be used by extremists to justify new 9/11 style attacks on the west, and the vicious circle will start to roll again.
* Josh R. Nelson, Irish, is a freelance journalist based in Caracas.