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Some observations on state repression

category international | rights, freedoms and repression | feature author Tuesday April 27, 2010 19:14author by Gerry Nobody Report this post to the editors

featured image
State Repression (as it always has been)

Not really sure where to post this—just got thinking about repression and state power etc. and thought I would share some observations on the subject with whoever’s interested. Yes, it ended up being more of an essay than a post but what the hell—feels good to get it off my chest.

Given the events at Rossport over the last few years, the issue of how states like Ireland suppress political dissent has been on many people's minds for some time I think. I suppose I should clarify what I mean by ‘states like Ireland’ as opposed to a police state like East Germany or a military dictatorship like Myanmar. I would plumb for the term ‘parliamentary democracy’ (as opposed to a participatory democracy), in which parliament, although formally chosen by the people every five years (this is about the extent of our participation), is by and large controlled by the interests of big capital.

What started me thinking about the issue of repression in particular was something I witnessed here in Sweden, where I live. I was at one of these meetings that foreigners moving to Sweden have to attend—a sort of Introduction to Sweden course for immigrants, designed to facilitate your integration into the country I suppose. Most of the other people in the room besides me were asylum-seekers from Iraq, Iran, Palestine or Afghanistan and the teacher was talking about the political system in Sweden. He made brief mention in passing of some small political groups, such as Communists and Islamic fundamentalists, who did not accept the legitimacy of parliamentary democracy in its current form. I suppose he thought he was calming the fears of those present (many of them were probably victims of political instability in their own countries) by telling them not to worry about such people, as the secret police kept a close eye on their activities to make sure they never posed a threat to public order.

The irony of calming these people’s fears—by telling them that the secret police were keeping an eye on things—did not seem to strike the man. Sweden would not strike most of us as a particularly oppressive state. In fact it is probably one of the countries with the best balance between civil liberties and state intervention I know of. Another thing to note is at least they openly admit spying on certain defined political groups. The Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz—Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, is similarly upfront about spying on the fourth largest political party in the country Die Linke (The Left) because it falls into the category of extremist. If only all parliamentary democracies were as transparent about which groups were being spied on for political reasons, we would at least know where we stand.
Instead, what we often find is that political repression is carried out under the guise of preserving public order. History is full of examples of this, and of its consequences.

Thinking of Germany, one of the most dramatic examples that springs to mind is the student movement in the sixties. At one stage its aim was to achieve radical change in German society by peaceful means. The fact that it was large and effective enough to threaten the status-quo is attested to by the ferocity of the attacks against it by the police and capitalist media outlets. The suppression of the movement is best exemplified by the attempt to assassinate one of its chief spokesmen, Rudi Dutschke, in 1968. Faced with a system unresponsive and downright hostile to their attempts at change, many radicals chose to take their struggle underground. The Baader-Meinhof group can be seen as emerging from this desperate state of affairs. There is a scene in the Baader Meinhof Complex film where a brain-damaged Dutschke turns up at the funeral of one of the Baader-Meinhof members who has died on hunger strike years later. There is a very poignant sense of what might have been had people like Dutscke not been sidelined by the state’s suppression of peaceful protest.

Of course we don’t need to look so far afield for examples of the state suppressing legitimate political activity. Legislation in Britain, such as the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (note 1) and the amended Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (note 2) has effectively criminalised whole areas of peaceful political activism, or at least made its legality enough of a grey area so as to deter most people from getting involved. In Austria, Section 278a of the Penal Code (ostensibly intended to combat organized crime) is being used to persecute the animal rights movement which has been a little too successful for comfort (note 3). And of course, in Ireland the state’s use of the Guards, private security firms and the judiciary itself against the Shell to Sea campaign in recent years is in a similar vein. The bitterness is palpable amongst many who have followed these events. In some cases there is anger; sometimes, a frustrated sense of helplessness. I think that historically, when the state closes down all avenues of peaceful and constitutional opposition, this has had a twofold effect.

Firstly, it tends to drive a (usually small) number of people into violence. Deprived of any means of exercising their right to challenge state and capital legally, some people will not choose to simply throw in the towel but will instead be driven underground. The key here is that their numbers are usually (with certain significant exceptions of course) small enough for the state’s security forces to contain and isolate from the rest of the population. They may cause a great deal of damage to property and even loss of life, but organizations like Baader-Meinhof were never a threat to the West German state. Even the Provos, I would argue, had been pretty much contained in this sense by the late eighties. Although they might have posed a real threat to British control over the north for a time in the seventies, the Thatcher government had little-enough regard for the lives of its own citizens to be prepared to live with the security threat of the IRA for an indefinite period of time, although even the iron lady herself must have had moments of doubt, at Brighton in 1984 for example. States that employ this strategy are therefore content to trigger this kind of violent dissent, if it can be reduced to the proportions of a security threat. The Guards/Police/Stasi will ‘look after it,’ and even sacrifice their lives occasionally for the maintenance of this status quo.

It is worth their while because of the benefits they reap from the second reaction of people to the suppression of peaceful resistance, and I believe this is the reaction of the majority of people when faced with such repression. They simply give up or don’t get involved in the first place. It is these people who are the real object of repression. The powers-that-be fear most the normally-quiescent majority who will, given the choice, opt for a quiet life unless their rights are impinged upon to an unbearable extent. We can call them apathetic if we wish, but there is a reason for this apathy and the object of all this repression is to make sure that it stays that way. The powerful see what the people power achieved in Eastern Europe in 1989 for example, and they are terrified that it could happen again. For all their talk of trying to encourage more of us to vote and get engaged in the political process, I believe this is the last thing they want.

1 under a provision of which Maya Evans, a vegan cook, was arrested in 2005 for reading out the names of casualties in Iraq within a kilometer of parliament. Sections of this act were also specifically tailored to define as threatening and illegal behaviour, almost any conceivable protest against animal-testing laboratories such as HLS
2 see
3 see

author by children_of_lirpublication date Mon Apr 26, 2010 05:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Consider Iceland as a precursor to the global economic crisis. When that country became insolvent, their currency was no longer accepted and people could not leave their island. Their Government couldn't contain the protest from the people.

Even though Ireland is under the protection of the Euro, EU member Greece has already put up a white flag of surrender and requested a bail out. As the requests for bail out widen, the divisive pressure on the EU mounts. Some member states such as Germany are already shutting their doors and barring their shutters to the Union. There are whispers that some members will drop the Euro. The British Pound has not suffered nearly as much as the Euro. In such an unstable climate, the status quo is considerably weakened. I look at the villages in rural Ireland and see how so many houses built in the last 15 years are up for sale. The "normally-quiescent majority" become more restless as they see that the security of the state is anything but secure.

author by Gerry Nobodypublication date Fri Apr 30, 2010 00:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As the person who wrote the above article, I can only speak for myself but yes, of course there has been massive abuse of authority and repression carried out by the state in the north over the years. The article was not meant to be a comprehensive list of such instances. The few examples I did give were primarily meant to illustrate how legislation ostensibly intended to combat things like organised crime, stalking, hate speech etc. are now being used to persecute political activists.

author by Tpublication date Sat May 01, 2010 19:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have noticed over the years that the state will use any law at its disposal to suppress dissent.

A good example is the way Dublin City has banned posters under the guise of litter. During the Bin Tax campaign, and the numerous anti-war marches, posters were regularly put up around Dublin to advertisse meetings and advents. The state immediately saw that by choking this avenue of public outlet for these groups they could very well stiffle them and in fact it has worked quite well for them.

In many other cases simple laws such as traffic offences have been used both in Rossport and down at Shannon in the early years of the Iraq war. Basically they just trump up these charges and they are excuses made on the spot so as to give the Garda (i.e. State), the means to remove people from a particular location there and then and it sends out a strong message to others as few want to go through such hassel.

On the flip side there are many environmental laws, but we never ever see the same enthusiam applied for implementing these laws whenever some river or lake or whatever is poisoned or destroyed in some way. But nothing much happens. Its the same everywhere.

In this way the State and they do it in probably every country, totally twist the spirit of the existing laws and in that way undermine democracy. You will find even those who are not politically engaged that people will often comment that the big people get away with it and the little people pay. Its a recognition of the status quo.

author by Democrat.publication date Sun May 02, 2010 16:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors


In Ireland the "State" is elected by a majority of the people.

author by non-voterpublication date Mon May 03, 2010 15:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The government is elected , not the state .

author by Forcefed-fool-lead.publication date Wed May 05, 2010 15:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Why's nobody speaking about this, i think a documentary would go a long way to getting this on the agenda. Obviously the Irish media have buried this topic along with the govt. We need to bring this back to the forefront of debate. It highlights just how corrupted the govt has become by big business, and how we continue to wast the precious few resources our scant public finances can('t) afford. 100 garda to protect Shell's mighty machines against ten odd fishing boats- who by the by have not been awardded the same protection even when faced with attempted murder.

C'mon Eire, defend our heritage, resist garda repression and everlasting ecologic destruction of our beautiful homeland. Boycott Shell.

author by non-voterpublication date Wed May 05, 2010 17:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Multi-nationals by their nature are not under the control of any national government .Like the financial giants , they are driven only by the need to make profits for their shareholders who could be living anywhere in the world . These huge corpotations dictate to national governments ,not the other way around . The people of Erris ,northern Mayo and Ireland as a whole were overwhelmingly opposed to on-shore locating of the Shell pipeline yet the multi-national got the protection and the people of Erris got the shaft.

Those concerned about the subvertion of democracy in Ireand ,especially the Shell to Sea campaign , should be drawing attention to last month's disaster in the US brought about by the reckless attitude to safety by another multi-national energy giant , British Petroleum .When government is constructed in such a way that it allows BP's monetary contribution to Obama's electoral campaign more consideration when it comes to policy making than the livelihoods of millions of American voters living in Louisianna and Missisipi , that isn't democracy . When people start to understand that such a democracy is fraudulent they start to get out of hand . That's when the open repression starts.

“When it first began the deep-water drilling project 15 months ago, BP gave assurances that “it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill release would occur from the proposed activities.” Even in the event of a spill, the company claimed that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.”’

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