No doubt there is reason to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet empire. (BTW, the BBC has a great interactive timeline map of the fall of the Iron Curtain.)
I was impressed that along with the Berlin anniversary stories, the BBC linked the reunification of Germany with the reunification hopes of the Koreas. The angle was good. One country unified. One looking to reunification.
But in Asia there is another land that claims to be divided. Taiwan and China both claim Taiwan is part of China and officially both call for unification. Albeit each has a different view of what kind of government the reunified China should have.
I am sure that the Chinese leaders in 1989 looked at the events taking place in Europe and then congratulated themselves for their barbaric actions in Tiananmen Square. After all, they preserved their rule and the communist governments in Europe were beginning to fall as East Germans first poured into Hungary and then through the Wall.
At the same time, the dictatorship in Taiwan saw a different lesson: Change or die.
Slowly the ruling Kuomingtang Party loosened its stranglehold on the Taiwanese people.
By 1991 the opposition Democratic Progressive Party could hold a massive march for democracy and not have the demonstration disrupted by the police. It was the largest non-KMT authorized demonstration held in Taiwan at that time. It was peaceful and significant.
And it was ignored by the Western media.
I was a freelance journalist in Taiwan at the time. I worked at the English language radio station (ICRT) at the time and anchored news reports from around Taipei about the demonstration.
All of us in the news room were expecting violence. Either the demonstrators would get carried away and take out their frustrations against the state or the police would over-react to the massive demonstration and start banging heads. (There were enough recent examples of both for this to be reasonable expectations.)
Yet none of that happened. The police blocked off the streets for the legal march and demonstration and kept traffic under control (as if Taipei traffic can be controlled). And the demonstrators stayed to the route agreed to and stayed peaceful.
This was a major step forward in Taiwan’s march to democracy.
I thought it was significant. Here was proof that Taiwan would peacefully move from dictatorship to democracy. I called a number of editors in the States.
“Would you like a story about the demonstration and its implications for a democratic Taiwan?”
The universal response was, “No.”
Some said if the event was important enough the AP would have it. Others said no one cared about Taiwan.
And yet in 1996 Taiwan held the first free and open election in a Chinese speaking territory.
Four years later in another election power was peacefully transferred from to another party.
And in 2008 power once again shifted in a free and fair election.
And still, the Western media ignores the dramatic democratic growth in Taiwan, except for the corruption stories.
Process stories and stories about the life and economy of Taiwan are rare as hens’ teeth.
Why is this all important to journalists and journalism?
Taiwan — and Hong Kong — are the only Chinese speaking places that have free and independent media. And yet thanks to the maneuverings of Beijing Taiwanese journalists are banned from covering key international organizations. No Taiwan-based news organization or Taiwanese journalist can get credentials to cover the World Health Organization or the United Nations because these bodies bow to China’s pressure.
Journalism groups around the world have stood up to support Taiwanese media access to the international bodies but to no avail.
So while we celebrate the fall of the Wall and the (real) democratic liberation of Eastern Europe, let us not forget that at the same time a major revolution also took place on the other side of the globe but it went under reported (and often ignored).
Too bad we haven’t learned much in 20 years.