Friday, March 2, 2012

The New Year Brings a Global Storm

The world is standing up in displeasure with the current socio-political situation 

By Barbora Netolická

Prague, Madrid, Moscow, Warsaw, Athens, New York, Tripoli, Tunis, Damascus and many others cities are connected by a red line of protests. There is no doubt: People across the globe are taking to the streets to challenge the established political and economic order.

In the Czech Republic, thousands of people came out for protests in early January 2012. Organized by Michaela Babejová, a Charles University student and employee of the NGO Amnesty International ČR, the first actions started only a couple of days after the Czech representative in Tokyo signed the ACTA contract.

“On Thursday, January 5, the first gathering took place,” Babejová says. “It was an informative meeting of those who were concerned and wanted to do more.” 

Then, on Saturday, January 8, an estimated 3,000-4,000 people joined the biggest anti-ACTA demonstration and happening in Prague. They created a parade moving through the center of the city, finalized by a modest improvised theater play dramatizing ACTA and the Czech political scene, with a few famous Czech persons participating. The Czech media covered the story poorly, underestimating the size and significance of the gathering by claiming a “few hundred participants,” while according to the organizers, the real number was in the thousands. 

Protest at Václavské náměstí, Jan. 28
According to Babejová, those numbers were exceptionally significant. “In the Czech Republic, such protests meant the biggest demonstration rising from disagreement with decisions of the government since the Velvet Revolution,” she says. Further, the protests are far from being over: “People in Brno are continuing to gather every Saturday,” Babejová says. They intend to remind the government that the issue is not forgotten in case the contract is ratified.  

ACTA is short for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a new intellectual property enforcement treaty. It originated in an October 2007 agreement born in the United States, but encompassing also the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, and many other countries. The agreement was aimed at ownership rights and is supposed to protect legal usage of the Internet, and also scientific and medical innovations. For example, it should protect the rights of the interpreters cooperating with record companies from piracy – illegal spreading and downloading, which does not bring those interpreters or the record companies any profit. 

However moral and right such concern sounds, a surprising number of people all around the world are ready to join forces to stop legal acceptance of this pact, arguing that ACTA is violating privacy rights, and instead of protecting the legal environment of the Internet, it protects profits of multimedia magnates. 

According to Mikuláš Ferjenčík, a vice-president of the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic, which is now leading the organization Against ACTA (or STOP ACTA), the contract was
originally composed for large media corporations like record and film studios, and so it serves their needs instead of the needs of the users. In other words, the contract has purely commercial purposes. According to Ferjenčik, by accepting ACTA, the signing parties “commit to support unlawful mechanisms which can lead to corporate censorship of the users and long-term (or even permanent) disconnection from the Internet, based on an agreement of Internet providers and owners of copyright monopoly.” 

According to his colleague Ondřej Profant, also a member of the party: “The contract is supposed to set up a legal frame for this issue [ownership rights]. Unfortunately, it only sets up advice on how to persecute the citizens.” 

Moreover, they reproach ACTA for its automatic presumption of guilt of all users, which, they argue, leads to an automatic monitoring of everybody on the Internet, looking for a crime. “In metaphor, we could talk about the state assuming that all the citizens are criminals, and therefore having a right to make a house search every day looking for the inhabitants’ mistake,” Babejová explains. “Such manners are against human rights.” 

In any case, ACTA aims at greatly changing the Internet usage we have known so far. Babejová argues: “In the world according to ACTA, you could easily wake up one day without the Internet – forever. Or when you cross the border, an officer could stop you and ask you to hand over your computer in order to destroy it, all for the sake of protecting transnational media companies’ business.” 

So according to STOP ACTA, it could be a whole new world waiting for us this year, where everybody would have to play according to the new rules – those set up by commerce and profit. And that is what people are standing up to. 

Against ACTA is not the only protest movement underway. Globally, people are tired of the system we have and it is time for significant changes. Occupy Wall Street in the USA, the movement Anonymous around Europe, demonstrations in Russia, dramatic disagreements in Greece and Spain, the situation in Libya and Arab Spring are all shaking the old manners and pushing new ones forward. Suddenly, the world seems full of all kinds of displeasure and opposition. 

For Babejová, this is part of a cyclical change that is predicted by Samuel Huntington in his book The Third Wave. Every 20 years, a generation is born that changes the world. The numbers are a perfect fit for Czech society, which seems to be making a turn in a different direction every 20 years – 1948, ’68, ’89 and now 2012. The world was rocked by great changes last year. If the start of this year is any indication, more dissension, upheaval and massive protests are on the way.


  1. Julian Assange and Wikieaks helped make governments more transparent by publishing documents online. Do you think that ACTA is a method of preventing some viewers/activists of accessing these information by disabling them from accessing the internet?

  2. As a former UNYP student and a journalist I would like to say that UNYPRESS stands out for providing the contexts of the events happening around us which other publications often neglect. For example, governments and many media outlets following them would like to present the anti-ACTA protests as a separate incident by an unhappy few or a hopeless, dead end street case. However, here I read that it is a part of a larger movement sweeping large parts of the world. That is what I missed in many other news outlets and would like to say UNYPRESS thank you !