In a demonstration, the most intense and decisive moment, which the press never talks about, is the moment before when nothing is played out, and where everyone wonders if the mobilization will be there, uncertainty multiplied when the freedom to demonstrate is threatened. This Thursday evening in Hong Kong, until the last minute, this suspense was at its height for the vigil commemorating the massacre at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, when thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were brutally murdered by the Chinese army. This annual meeting is essential for the Hong Kong democratic camp, which had supported from the start, then exfiltrated the survivors of the bloody repression in Beijing.
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Under the pretext of measures to fight the epidemic, and while the Communist Party undertakes a radical reform calling into question the autonomy and the freedoms of the former British colony, the Hong Kong authorities have prohibited the gathering, a first in thirty years . Appearing to have given up, the organizers of the vigil had therefore simply called for candles to be lit all over the city, rather than at Victoria Park, where the event had taken place since the 1990s.
The museum of June 4
In the days before, uncertain Hong Kongers exchanged messages on the discussion groups of supporters of the democratic movement. Mini-evenings were announced in all the districts, in the electric streets of popular Mong Kok, on the seafront of Whampoa, until in the distant suburbs of Tai Po or Tsuen Wan, and even on the “hippie” island of Lamma. In order not to sit idly by or to give themselves courage, visitors crowded the afternoon of D-Day at the tiny museum on June 4, the only place of memory in China for the events of 1989, the simple mention of which is strictly prohibited and systematically censored everywhere other than Hong Kong.
There, the permanent exhibition parallels the “Beijing Spring” of 1989 and the Hong Kong protests of the 2010s. The photographs on the walls follow “Tankman”, the man who challenged the tanks on June 5, 1989, and those of clashes with the Hong Kong police and the triads in the summer of 2019. The biography of Li Wangyang makes the link: this survivor of Tiananmen Square, tortured and imprisoned for 20 years, was mysteriously murdered in 2012 after daring speak to the Hong Kong press. “The most shocking thing in the windows is the student affairs abandoned in the square after the massacre,” frightened Lily, 21, who came here to commemorate in one way or another, not knowing if she would dare to go to Victoria Park this year.
“The China of the demonstrations of 1989 is a China of which I would be proud,” comments Victoria, 20, a student in international relations. “There was a passion that inspires us. These young visitors, who committed themselves to the 2019 “revolution”, today hesitate to take to the streets, fearing arbitrary arrests and especially the imminent establishment of central government security services announced in the new law on the national security, which should be finalized by the end of June.
The China of the protests of 1989 is a China of which I would be proud
Finally, some set out for Victoria Park, on the island of Hong Kong. Leaving Causeway Bay station, surprise, pro-democracy activists erected stands and banners along the sidewalks leading to the park, and some, perched on stepladders, harangue passers-by, distribute leaflets and candles, chant slogans . Naturally, the crowd goes towards the forbidden place, that in the morning the police barricaded locked padlocks to prevent any gathering there.
“Hong Kong, a nation! “
The police are there, but, unusual in recent months, they do not wear riot gear, but the traditional blue uniform of the officers of the HKPF (Hongkong Police Force), a distant memory of the time when they were loved and respected by all, considered to be the “best in Asia”. And no roadblocks, threats, or shots from rubber bullets or tear gas, they do nothing to stop the mass rushing into the entrance to Victoria Park. Somewhere, in high places, rather in the central government than in the local authorities, it was decided not to provoke confrontations, so as not to make the ban on this vigil a symbol.
It is 7 o’clock in the evening and the crowd floods the sports fields in the center of Victoria Park, climbing, overturning, tearing up, trampling on the iron barriers supposed to block their path. But this challenge to authority is not an excuse for all excesses: the watchmen sit in small groups, distant a few meters from each other, to respect the rules of social distancing. “Gatherings of more than eight people are prohibited,” also repeats in a loop, as if in vain, a voice from an anonymous authority coming out of the park’s loudspeakers. “The offenders will be prosecuted. “
They are all there. Organizers of the vigil, the tenors of the Hong Kong Alliance in support of the democratic patriotic movements of China, stand shoulder to shoulder at the bottom, surrounded by cameras – its president, the trade unionist Lee Cheuk Yan, Leung Kwok-hung, says “Long hair”, which takes the candle pose in hand … The mothers of the victims of Tian’anmen who distribute candles. Joshua Wong, the very young star of the umbrella movement of 2014, gives interviews to major agencies and televisions. The simple democratic sympathizers who just want universal suffrage and safeguard the autonomy of the city, taking up the slogans of 2019. Finally, the young pro-independence, always more numerous, who try to cover the other watchwords with their hobby horse : “Hongkong, a nation! “
“I come every year since 1990”
But it was 8:09 p.m. and suddenly everyone was silent for a minute of silence. As far as the eye can see, the park sparkles with thousands of flames and smartphone torches, and everyone remembers the thousands of Chinese democrats who were silent forever 31 years ago, exterminated under the tracks of tanks, shot, beaten up, deportees, whose very memory has been erased on the continent. In the middle of the crowd, Brian Lee, in his fifties, came alone: ”I’ve been coming every year since 1990″, he tells us, the burning wax of his candle running down his imperturbable fingers.
“I was finishing college. What I saw on television made me very angry with the Chinese government. I was very concerned about our future, because we were supposed to be reunited with China seven years later. We hoped that China would democratize, but we already saw that it would only get worse. Faithful among the faithful, he knew the lean years, when the vigil gathered only a few followers, and the great vintages, like the previous vigil, which saw 180,000 participants. “It got the movement against the extradition law off the ground. Without June 4, 2019, there would not have been the following demonstrations with millions of people. “
Pandemic, national security law, fatigue of the movement of 2019, ever more numerous arrests of the last demonstrations, the winds of 2020 are contrary, not to say hostile, but Brian has seen others. “I’m ready to be arrested by the police,” he says, pointing to his huge backpack. “I took lots of things in case I spent several days in prison. And I told my wife that if I don’t come home tonight, she should start looking for me at the police stations. Even the future law does not scare him. “I was born in Hong Kong, it is my home. I will never leave. I am afraid, I will be afraid until the last second, but I will not leave and will not abandon it to the Communist Party for it to take control. “