A parade in Kaohsiung on Saturday is to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Formosa Incident, also known as the Kaohsiung Incident, a pivotal moment in Taiwan’s fight for democracy and freedom.
The incident is today more significant than ever, and should receive more attention in light of next month’s elections in Taiwan and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Taiwanese have enjoyed three decades of democracy and freedom of speech, so it might be easy to forget why Hong Kongers are risking their lives for the same values.
It is also easy to overlook China’s incessant and increasing meddling in Taiwan’s affairs, especially its attempts to influence elections.
China needs to be seen clearly for what it is: “the enemy of democracy,” as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) put it plainly last week.
Yet, some individuals and organizations in Taiwan still pander to Beijing and accept its empty promises of prosperity and business opportunities, apparently forgetting the sacrifices Taiwanese have made to achieve democracy.
Taiwan held its first direct presidential election only 23 years ago, yet many seem to take free elections for granted, asking why Hong Kongers are fighting a desperate battle for universal suffrage.
What was Taiwan like on Dec. 10, 1979, when Formosa Magazine held a rally to mark Human Rights Day? Opposition parties were banned, but non-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politicians were allowed to run in elections as independent candidates. Former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) had died four years earlier, and the KMT’s iron grip was loosening.
The nation had been rocked two years earlier over allegations that the KMT had been interfering with elections to prevent opposition politicians from winning, the “Jhongli Incident.”
People had already expressed their anger in 1975, when about 20,000 people surrounded the Yilan County Government building after finding evidence of vote-rigging.
The Jhongli Incident quickly turned violent as protesters clashed with police and torched a police station — the first large-scale disturbance since the 228 Incident.
While the Jhongli Incident supposedly curbed election interference, the government suspended all central elections in 1978 after the US announced that it would break diplomatic ties with Taiwan for China.
Tensions between the government and opposition politicians simmered, finally culminating in the Dec. 10, 1979, rally, which turned chaotic, resulting in mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists.
The irony is that at the time, the KMT government claimed to be a beacon of freedom and democracy in Asia, while Taiwanese did not even have the freedom of speech.
The nation has come a long way since then, and became a true beacon for freedom, democracy and human rights in Asia, legalizing same-sex marriage and hosting many human rights events and organizations, such as Reporters Without Borders and the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Although the Chinese threat looms large and the chaos continues in Hong Kong, Taiwanese are free.
However, it is important not to forget the Formosa Incident, and try to better understand its background.
Taiwanese should cherish their freedom and protect their hard-won democracy at all costs — especially at a time when it is being increasingly threatened.
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