Around the world, young people are fighting for freedom

Around the world, young people are fighting for freedom.

Hong Kong makes the most headlines. The youth of the Special Administrative Region are the core front-line protestors who are rallying, demonstrating and being imprisoned en masse in the fight against China’s encroachment on their civil liberties. Hong Kong’s freedom fighters have captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide, forced the extradition bill which sparked the initial protests to be suspended, and ignited a real debate about the future of a bastion of liberalism at the doorstep of the Chinese Communist Party.

But the youth of Hong Kong aren’t alone. From Lebanon to Cuba, Chile to Algeria, young people are calling for greater personal freedoms, greater opportunity, and against governments who are entrenching inequality and blocking democratic reform. 

The issues which spark mass movements are varied. They range from taxes on WhatsApp to LGBT rights, oppressive military rule, and corruption at the heart of government. 

What is clear, however, is that the young people at the heart of global movements are marching for liberty. Whilst protests and demonstrations in Chile began as simmering resentment towards a government which planned to hike metro fares, they have grown into a behemoth forcing an end to a repressive government – which initially showed no sign of compromise. At the time of writing, 2,600 arrests have been made in Santiago in what have been, for the most part, non-violent protests. 

Mass protests for civilian rule and democratic reforms have resumed in Sudan after a brutal crackdown from the military regime saw more than 100 people murdered. Popular musicians like Rihanna and Wyclef Jean have adopted the cause of liberty in Sudan.

The phenomenon of student leaders battling for individual freedoms against repressive regimes is hardly new. In Cuba, a country in which LGBT+ people were infamously incarcerated for the bulk of dictator Fidel Castro’s rule, there’s now a vibrant LGBT+ scene. The gay clubs of Havana are thriving – and the capital celebrates Pride annually. Whilst poverty is rife, and Cuba can hardly be held up as a liberal utopia to be followed – the Malecon is a far cry from the 60s and 70s, where police rounded up and imprisoned gay men and forced them into ‘re-education camps’ at the behest of the hyper-masculine revolutionary regime. 

At the start of Summer, the Cuban government announced that the Union of Jurists was to begin working on the new ‘family code’ to address same-sex marriage. 

Youth rebellion worldwide is rejecting the old-style socialism their countries have been stuck with, and fighting to cast it off in favour of a new order which embraces the liberal tenets of bodily autonomy, equality of opportunity, gender equality and democracy. Socialism in Venezuela and the authoritarian communist state in China may seem entrenched – but there are revolutions bubbling away. 

Britain, and British people, can, and should, do more to help youth movements to emerge from the shadows of oppressive regimes, and support human rights movements worldwide. Our soft power reach – in music, sport, art and more – being what it is, there’s no reason that more can’t be done to provide an outlet for movements to express their wishes to the global community. In the age of political advertising and ‘the campaigning corporation’ it’s absolutely legitimate, and should be applauded, for British brands to embrace marginalised spokespeople from countries at a crossroads; for TV presenters to bring iconic figures into newsrooms. More can be done in the form of sports diplomacy – whilst boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia would have been overkill and wildly unpopular, more could have been done to highlight human rights abuses – . The Russian government was given a free pass to present an image to the world which all-but whitewashed the various state-sponsored crimes against LGBT+ people. Not only Britain, but the liberal global community can do more.

Britain, for some time at the top of the soft power charts – is beginning to slip. The annual Soft Power 30 report – run by the Digital Diplomacy Hub – had the UK slip into 2nd behind France. Whilst obviously still a heavy-hitter, the uncertainty around Brexit, according to the report, is harming our soft power interests and allowing others to extend their reach. Post-Brexit, the UK needs to recognise the need and opportunity to help support international movements for democracy and individual rights – not only to rebuild our soft power capabilities, but because it’s the right thing to do. 

Much comes down to individuals. When it comes to liberal movements – particularly in areas such as free expression – Rihanna can hold more sway than Dominic Raab. But there is scope for British politicians to highlight abuses and encourage activism in the general public as well. By welcoming foreign artists, musicians and sportspeople – and celebrating them – the UK can provide an open door for liberal countries to extend a hand to those battling for a future free of repression. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
Matt Gillow

Matt is the Communications & Events Manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.