March 24, 2014, is guaranteed to go down as one of the days permanently etched into the history of Taiwan’s democratic movement. It was a very sad, but also a great day for the nation.
In a crackdown on thousands of students and citizens who occupied the Executive Yuan compound, riot police evicted the protesters with water cannons and excessive force, injuring dozens.
On Sunday night, about 100 protesters broke off from the thousands of students who have been staging sit-ins around the legislative compound and “ambushed” the Executive Yuan. At the same time, dozens of other university students successfully occupied the Control Yuan.
In what is now known as the Sunflower Revolution, students were able to seize three of the five government branches at one point, before yielding control over the Executive Yuan and Control Yuan the next day.
The siege on government buildings did not go unquestioned, in particular the occupation of the Executive Yuan, which some people described as the wrong strategy saying the students had “gone too far.”
The students said they were not “rioters” and that they resorted to the “extreme” measure of occupying government buildings only because they had exhausted every other possible way to voice their concerns over the cross-strait service trade agreement.
They said they had received no response from the government, which had advertised the pact as one Taiwan could not do without, saying it could bypass a committee review and be sent to the legislature’s plenary session for a second reading.
Behind the students’ extreme measure is widespread public desperation that has been accumulating for more than two years, during which protests over a wide range of social issues — nuclear power, media monopolization and the government’s illegal land expropriation and development projects — have either been ignored or played down by the Ma administration.
The students resorted to civil disobedience in order to have their voices heard, well aware that they might be breaking the law, yet nevertheless prepared to suffer the consequences of their actions.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) meeting with the students on Saturday and Ma’s international press conference on Sunday extinguished the last hope for the students. Instead of showing an intention to negotiate, or offering a concession, Ma and Jiang decided to take their own extreme measure, sending in hundreds of police in riot gear and using water cannons to disperse the crowds, causing dozens of injuries.
It was sad to see the government resort to such violent measures. These are the most extreme reactions seen since 520 farmers protested in 1988 or the crackdown on protesters when Chinese official Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visited Taiwan in 2008.
In the aftermath of the crackdown, some have even compared the violent crackdown to the 228 Massacre in 1947 and the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979, saying the violence yesterday would be etched into the minds of Taiwanese in a similar manner.
However, the day is also a great day for Taiwan, as it will be remembered that the young generation are willing to stand up for what they believe in and care about the country’s future, even if bloodshed is the price to pay.
It is great to know that the future of Taiwan will be in good hands.