How time flies. It has been one year since the Sunflower movement took place.
Since then, there has been a “civil society” victory in the nine-in-one elections in November last year, the sudden emergence of several new civic groups and political parties and numerous indescribable wounds — big and small — brought about that are still embedded in the hearts of the activists and people involved. What else has the Sunflower movement left us, and what revelations has it given us?
The Sunflower movement has shifted the mindset of Taiwanese society as a whole: What was deemed unshakeable in the past no longer looks so invincible today. However, although the social atmosphere is generally optimistic and positive, the real threat has never abated. For social activists, the post-Sunflower situation is only more ambiguous and difficult.
Many problems continue to be discussed in a chaotic debate that lacks direction. There have been many important disagreements over the practical aspects and operations of social movements, but the most crucial issue is that post-Sunflower Taiwan generally lacks a collective debate with social vision and substance.
For instance, after many fellow social activists helped out in the nine-in-one elections in which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suffered huge losses, the key questions are how we go about politicizing social movements and defining the nature of the relationship between social movements and politics. This involves not only the ethics of social movements, but how we fundamentally look at the system and how it can be changed.
Furthermore, to address the core problem of the service trade agreement, we must ask what stance to take on the matter of trade. Without debating these issues, we will never be able to respond to the government’s tactics of intimidation and of hijacking these matters.
Today, we can respond to the government’s exaggeration of the impact of the free-trade agreement between China and South Korea, but will we be able tomorrow to also take a firm stance against the government’s attempts to convince us to import potentially tainted beef from the US in exchange for Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Under-the-table dealings and the same attempt to force Taiwan to compromise politically through economic means exist in a variety of free-trade games. Even if a cross-strait oversight mechanism act is passed and the service trade agreement is temporarily blocked, without the self-reflection on the professionalism and anti-democratic factors involved in free trade, we will still be unable to prevent the government and big corporations from participating in regional trade integration and free-trade competition at the expense of Taiwanese.
Post-Sunflower Taiwan has been given an unprecedented opportunity. However, contradictions — be they societal, political or economic — have surfaced since Taiwan’s democratization. In the spring of last year, through the absurdity of the review process of the service trade agreement, all sorts of issues have appeared: the constitutional crisis, unfinished transitional justice, the return of Taiwanese nationalism, distributive justice, developmentalism and so on.
The most important question of all is where, in the context of the recent craze for regional trade integration and Taiwan’s geographical and political position in East Asia, should Taiwan position itself. However, faced with these matters that are so deeply intertwined with Taiwan’s history and political and economic development, we are still unable to discuss the creation of an agenda of debate despite all the glory of the Sunflower movement.
Even after the Sunflower movement, we still have no answers to what kind of society, nation and community we want. What is even more worrying is that before we have initiated a debate about and attempted to shape the substance of what kind of society we want, the answers to these questions have been temporarily determined by the victory of civil society.
If last year’s Sunflower movement tells a story, the meaning of that story is by no means that civil society has matured or even triumphed. On the contrary, although one year has passed, it is too early to rush into an examination of how the movement has changed Taiwan or make an early judgment about its success or failure.
After all, everything has just started. New conditions and difficulties have just surfaced. All the former unknowns who emerged from this movement have only just started to find their feet.
If there is any measuire of success or failure of the Sunflower movement, it is not so much what we have won or lost over the past year, but rather how it has forced us to face the unavoidable struggles deeply embedded in Taiwan’s history and societal structure. Such struggles include: changing political ideologies, economic policies and thinking, industrial policies, nationalist politics and the styles and strategies of social movements.
It has been one year since the Sunflower movement took place. However, protests and changes have little to do with anniversaries, for the quest is an ongoing process that takes place day and night. And we are marching on.
Dennis Wei is a graduate student at National Tsing Hua University’s Institute of Sociology and a member of the Black Island National Youth Front.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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