Monday, April 16, 2007

Japan Times: Democracy and the Legacy of Liberation

The other day the Japan Times commented on our mess here, and the legacy of the postwar world, with impairment of democracy all around:

Taiwanese politics appears to be "boiling." Scandals involving political leaders or their relatives have "heated" the political waters. Seen from the perspectives of democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and justice -- rather than from that of what effects the turmoil might have on Japan-Taiwan relations -- it is not the political scandals themselves that are important but the way in which they are addressed and, in particular, whether there is strict adherence to judicial proceedings and how politicians take responsibility for their actions.

It is worth recalling that it took considerable time and countless trials and tribulations for democratic politics to become established in Taiwan. If democratization is the process of liberation from tyranny, authoritarianism and the legacy of feudalism, then one of the greatest trials for the people of Taiwan must surely have been the events leading up to World War II.

As the Japanese empire strengthened its assimilation policies aimed at making Imperial subjects of the Taiwanese and other peoples under its rule, Taiwanese intellectuals faced a difficult dilemma. Some fell into line with the assimilation policies, others resisted, while yet others sought refuge in poetry and music. For this reason, while Japan's defeat in World War II may on the surface have signified liberation from colonial rule, it was not necessarily clear what people were being liberated from in the true sense of the word.

Then came the rule of the Nationalists (Kuomintang). Basing its legitimacy on its resistance against Japanese rule and its anticommunism, the Kuomintang suppressed the Taiwanese democracy movement. When the Taiwanese people were finally freed from the oppression of the Kuomintang, they had to confront head-on the fundamental question of the nature of Taiwanese autonomy. The issue of "liberation" from the shackles of the past continues to linger in the minds of the Taiwanese....

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