Monday, 17 January 2011

Jan Palach and Mohamed Bouazizi

The recent events in Tunisia were triggered by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi. Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself after being refused permission to sell vegetables from a street stall.

However, as the BBC report suggests, this was more than just a question about permission to buy and sell in a provincial town in Tunisia.
...the unrest appears to have taken almost everyone by surprise, including the government.

... it seems as though we have witnessed the breakdown of the tacit compact that has existed since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali took power in 1987. In return for slow but steady economic growth, the majority of Tunisians have accepted restricted political rights, a police state and an elite accused of corruption. ...

Large numbers of unemployed graduates, frustration with lack of freedoms, the excesses of the ruling class and anger at police brutality seem to have come together to spark an unstoppable wave of public anger.
That there might be a parallel between the death of a Tunisian street trader and a Czech student is not something that is obvious.

Yet the circumstances of the death of Jan Palach, who set fire to himself in Wenceslaus Square, do not appear that different to those of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi. Lack of freedom, political repression and the government by an elite, are perhaps the underlying features of both deaths.

The very different culturual and historical contexts of these two deaths should not hide the profound similarities between them. At heart, both deaths prompt us to think about the freedom and the natural justice that are proper to the well being of human persons wherever they live, and the absence of which engenders despair.

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