Revolution to Censorship, our themes they are a-changin’

Revolution, the term du jour, has provoked great discussion and some mirth across the continent. The ramifications of that which started off from a UK perspective, with a rather unusual Jeremy Paxman interview, could be felt across the nation as the mainstream and student media reacted to Russell Brand’s anti-voting polemic. 

Aberystwyth’s independent student media organisation featured a rather heartfelt rebuttal to Brand’s rhetoric, highlighting the effect not voting is having on the European Union: “Next year’s European Elections will be a shock for everyone in the Union as the median turnout across the 28 member states is expected to creep under the 60% mark. Not voting doesn’t tell the politicians that the system is broken. Instead, it tells them nobody cares. My honest opinion: If you don’t vote, you’ve surrendered your right to complain about why the system doesn’t work.”

While Aberystwyth challenged Brand’s opinions, the Editor of Birmingham University’s Redbrick criticised the lack of practical purpose in the comedian’s 4800 word New Statesman piece that accompanied the interview. Although Redbrick did acknowledge the good intentions at the heart of Brand’s words, the article concluded:  “It’s a sad example of modern society’s obsession with ‘celebrity’ culture that it’s taken an outspoken comedian to elicit a response on the issues of bankers’ bonuses, the state of the environment and the growing apathy towards politicians. These are all real and pressing issues, so it’s useful that they have been brought into the public consciousness by a high-profile celebrity, but this political movement needs to be headed by someone with the desire and intent to see it through, not someone who’s just in need of publicity during his worldwide comedy tour.”

It was this ‘Brand-fever’ or ‘Russel-ution’ as it was known, that prompted us to lead our coverage with reflections from Shorouk El Hariry an Egyptian student journalist who herself had actually lived through a regime-change revolution. Her enlightening piece highlighted the potential of Brand’s words, while also the dangers implicitly involved in direct action: “While his view on voting seems quite the anarchic ones, telling people not to participate in the hilarity the UK calls democracy, I see where he’s coming from. Nevertheless, I don’t see how revolting will take anyone anywhere – not unless they have an actual and realistic plan on how to answer the “what’s next?” pitfall that Egyptians – and other Arab Spring countries – have been repeatedly tumbling upon.” The unknown quantity of ‘revolution’ is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in her description of the Egyptian revolution: “If you had to choose between what’s bad and what’s worse, what would you do? Pick the bad you’ve never tried before.”

Revolutionary activity wasn’t just restricted to various comedians’ outpourings though, as the #MillionMaskMarch took place on November 5th across the globe. Organised by the Anonymous hacktivist collective it saw large demonstrations across Europe’s major cities, in London it was coupled with the People’s Assembly’s anti-austerity demonstration, and it was there that we were able to speak directly to leading political commentator and one of the organisers of the protest, Owen Jones. Jones spoke freely on the subject of Europe and our theme of revolution: “It has to be a European movement, because this is a European offensive, what’s going on in Greece and Spain is worse than here, what we need to do is link all those movements up. After all, to coin a phrase, we’re all in this together.”

Expanding on Jones’ point, Aida Peláez looked at the protest movement in Spain, particularly the concerted effort by Students to resist the educational reforms that have left students without adequate contact hours: “For months the Spanish university students have been at the forefront of the protests against the austerity measures; and they are willing to take their actions further as they claim that this situation is not sustainable. They have even locked themselves inside of their faculties to call for attention and convince the government to change its policies.” What has become clear, is that the reaction of many governments to the economic crisis has resulted in far more unrest than had previously been imagined across Europe.

Coverage of the varying protests has highlighted the inter-connectivity and shared ideas between countries across the continent. This was undoubtedly the case when Svanlaug Arnodattir looked at the plight of Rekyjavik’s comedian turned mayor John Gnarr in light of British comic Eddie Izzard’s decision to run for London mayor in 2020. Svanlaug’s article drew attention to the failings of the political system and Gnarr’s disillusionment despite his revolutionary aims: ‘Gnarr says he’s satisfied with his contribution “I’ve reached my goals, I think I’ve managed to awaken joy, surprise and lift (civic) optimism to another level it might not have reached if I hadn’t stepped in” but he also wishes to do “something else where there is more creativity, adventures and happiness”.

Though its clear attitudes towards austerity have hardened and protests and demonstrations are far more widespread and virulent than they have been for some time, question marks remain over the potency of the revolutionary fervour in Europe. While those in the UK argue aimlessly about the rights and wrongs of wearing a poppy, people continue to need help and assistance across the world in the daily struggle to survive. The need for change can sometimes be lost in the passivity of the vast expanse of the internet. While our online social networks – the key facilitators of the discussion and organisation of ideas in our time – are changing the very fabric of our being. Are we really on the cusp of unified geopolitical change? Or are we just a Facebook post away from an isolated narcissistic dystopian future?

The questions surrounding the regulation of this future, brings us onto our new theme. As quickly as ‘revolution’ has entered our social consciousness, it seems to have been joined by ‘censorship’. From Edward Snowden to Robin Thicke, the issue of censorship has arisen throughout 2013 on a regional, national and international scale. For the next two weeks, we hope to highlight the social, cultural and political impact censorship is having across a range of issues, all through the medium of the excellent student media that continues to be produced across Europe and beyond. Our articles approach the theme from an international angle, with Cherie investigating the hand the Chinese Government plays in the Hong Kong media output. While in the UK we look at how the recent incarceration of the president of the University of London Student’s Union has been portrayed in the student media – hint, not positively – as the British government comes under more scrutiny for its surveillance measures. Later on in the week, there’s a personal insight into a disturbing act of censorship from the US while we look at the theme from a Scandinavian perspective as well.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did.

Jamie Timson

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