Do organisers of June 4 vigil hear the people?

Albert Cheng says to remain relevant, the organisers must heed the aspirations of the younger participants to uphold our core values

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 5:35am

The annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park to commemorate the June 4 massacre is around the corner. Whenever we get to this time of year, the pro-establishment camp will always come out to discredit the commemorative activity, saying history will be the judge.

They will also try to divert attention from this traumatic piece of history by stressing that China needs to continue its economic development and hence we must all set our sights on the future instead of harking back to the past. This is all meant to discourage people from attending an event that makes the central government immensely uncomfortable.

Youngsters taking part are not motivated by a desire to carry on the flame of remembrance

Things are different this year. Those who have come out in force to discourage people from participating in June 4 events are some home-grown voices. A prominent one is pro-autonomy activist Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan, who has published a book advocating "city-state" status for Hong Kong.

These newly emerged local forces have criticised the new slogan set by the organisers of the annual event, "Love the country, Love the people, That's the Hong Kong spirit", saying it amounted to a betrayal of the people. Critics said the organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, is trying to replace local ideologies with patriotism, which implies it is trying to embrace Chinese communism.

The alliance's response - that loving the country does not equate to loving the ruling party - was rather weak and unimpressive. It obviously wants to take back control to show that patriotism is not something that can be monopolised by the pro-Beijing camp.

Unfortunately, the senior echelons of the alliance seem to have avoided tackling the difference between patriotism and nativism. They have also neglected the fact that participants of this year's June 4 activities will be motivated by an array of reasons and do not necessarily agree with the alliance's slogan, or even with the alliance itself.

Younger people take part in the commemorative activities because they want to defend our core values. We can also say they are motivated by a kind of nativism as a way to reject Chinese communism.

Times have changed and those commemorating June 4 do not necessarily all hold the same ideology. The alliance should move with times.

It's painful to recall history, but we dare not forget. The alliance doesn't seem to understand that the June 4 activities have evolved into a kind of people's movement.

In any people's movement, the organiser must interact with the people, respond to their wishes and understand and respect their demands. So, if people have doubts over its slogan, the alliance should be wise enough to withdraw it.

Some question whether the alliance may be trying to appear patriotic in order to be more agreeable with the central government's requirement that the future chief executive must be patriotic. Critics say the alliance is paving its way towards participation in the next chief executive election.

In fact, the alliance has over the years detached itself from political realities, both here and on the mainland.

Democrats including the late Szeto Wah have called for vindication of the June 4 movement. But whether or not it happens is meaningless because it will be a decision made by those in power based on political necessity. It doesn't mean it would lead to any political reform or democratisation. To harbour hopes that building a democratic mainland society could help Hong Kong to realise its democratic dreams is unrealistic.

In recent years, an increasing number of youngsters have been taking part in the June 4 activities. They are not motivated by a desire to carry on the flame of remembrance; they want to preserve the Hong Kong way and its core values. They have seen the erosion of "one country, two systems" and fear that the convergence of the mainland and Hong Kong will continue to weaken the uniqueness of the city. They do not necessarily share the alliance's purpose or beliefs.

To protect our core values, the people of Hong Kong must also support the human rights movement in mainland China. We are two peas in a pod and share the same fate.

And to avoid becoming even more irrelevant, the alliance should not try to replace nativism with patriotism. It should respect the people's wishes and optimise this rising passion stemming from the June 4 commemorative events. It should channel this energy into safeguarding our core values, as well as fighting for democratisation and social improvement for us all.

The people will always remember June 4. So let's put aside our differences, stop bickering and pay our respects to those who sacrificed their lives for a better democratic future for us all.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.