Sometimes democracy sucks. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your fellow elected representatives vote for stuff you just don’t like. Remember how infuriating it was when they tried to socialize healthcare/outlaw abortion/raise your taxes/lowered other people’s taxes/rename your post office after someone who either was or was not a treasonous, slave-owning Confederate? Sometimes it sucks so much that, in the words of the noted parliamentarian Fred Durst, you need to “break somebody’s fucking face tonight. Rolling. Rolling. Rolling.”
And that’s okay! Occasionally losing your shit in the halls of parliament and trying to bludgeon your political opponents to death is as essential to a healthy democracy as oppressing racial minorities is to successful totalitarian dictatorship. All over the world, politicians regularly put aside all the posturing and backroom manipulating that dominates their lives, and come together, as one, to have a good old fashioned parliamentary riot.
Let’s count ‘em down!
5. The 2014 Turkish Judicial Reform iPad Chuck
Like Barack Obama, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was an outsider who came in and revolutionized Turkish politics. Also, like Obama, there is a huge swathe of people in Turkey who think he’s an oppressive dictator hurtling their beloved secular republic towards the oblivion of Islamic fundamentalism. He’s imprisoned a bunch of army generals who were allegedly plotting a coup. He’s fired hundreds of police officers who were supposedly investigating him on corruption charges. He’s let women MPs wear headscarves into the Grand National Assembly.
Earlier this year, his party forced through a bill giving Erdoğan tighter control over the countries previously independent judiciary. When a member of the opposition tried to present a petition denouncing the bill as unconstitutional, Erdoğan’s supporters refused to let him speak. When he protested not being allowed to speak, the MPs not only started shoving each other and punching other, but they actually began hurling blunt objects at each other. Tablet computers, shoes, pieces of what appear to be furniture, all of it was suddenly flying through the air looking for a skull to dent.
4. The Great South Korean Manipulated Media Coverage Kerfuffle of 2009
South Korea is generally regarded as being at the pinnacle of the parliament fight art. Politics in South Korea are, in general, far more of a contact sport than in most countries. Hardly a day goes by without some group, be they liberal or conservative, right wing or left wing, holding a dramatic rally or protest somewhere with all sorts of placards and shouting and often shoving. If they don’t agree with something, by God, they let it be known.
South Korean MPs are no different. They frequently hold sit-ins, steal the parliamentary podium, and even build barricades to keep out the opposition that the opposition then smashes apart with sledgehammers. They also riot, like all the time, like so frequently that it became enough of a national embarrassment that they changed their parliamentary rules specifically to try and make rioting harder.
In July of 2009 they rioted particularly hard over a media “reform” bill that the opposition party felt would guarantee the ruling party favorable news coverage. Women punched each other. Men slapped each other like children. The opposition party tried to bar the door to the assembly with furniture. The ruling party formed a human battering ram to smash their way through that door.
3. The 2007 Taiwanese Podium Slam Jam
The only country that can possibly equal South Korea in the regularity with which its politicians riot is Taiwan. Parliamentary riots in Taiwan are such a time-honored tradition that people actually make montages of their favorites on YouTube where they set clips of MPs kicking each other, tackling each other, and jamming bills into their mouths to Chinese pop-tunes. In the comments of those compilations, you’ll even see people daring to express (in between all the racism) a touch of pride at their elected representatives duking it out.
One particular masterpiece of legislative violence was this 2007 clash that resulted from the ruling party’s use of a questionable parliamentary maneuver to delay the passing of the annual budget. The solution to this injustice? Yank out some lady’s hair.
2. The 2012 Ukrainian “Ain’t Nobody Speaking Russian in My House” Punch-Up
Tensions between Ukranian-speakers and Russian-speakers in Ukraine existed long before the present crisis in Donetsk and Luhansk. Since the formation of modern Ukraine (after the break-up of the Soviet Union) they’ve been battling over whether or not eastern Ukraine and Crimea should be able to have Russian-language schools, street signs, and even conduct their local government in Russian. It’s only recently, though, that they’ve tried to kill each other out in the streets over these issues. Traditionally they’ve merely tried to kill each other in parliament over them. While debating a bill in May of 2012 that would have given Russian equality with Ukrainian in certain parts of the country, the Rada erupted into an all-out, kill or be killed, I’m coming to get you, fucker brawl between the bill’s opponents and proponents.
1. The 1997 Indian State Assembly Flat-Out “Oh My Gosh” Civil War
Other countries may have more long-standing traditions of rioting, but no riot yet seen can match the intensity of this 1997 brawl over a no-confidence vote in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly. Not only are people hit, not only are some objects thrown, but the fight descends into the two political factions barricading themselves on either sides of the room like soldiers in trenches and then hurling metal microphone stands at each other. A shoe is one thing, an iPad another, but a microphone stand is essentially a spear! These politicians not only want to hurt each other, they want to impale each other.
How could these representatives, these chosen leaders of the people, defame the hollowed institution of democracy with such violence?
It’s because they care. Every one of these riots took place in a country where democracy is still young, where the memory of its absence, of dictatorship, of rigged ballot boxes, of clear and present political oppression is still fresh in their minds. In the United States and Western Europe, we have been voting for generations. Our democracies are old. We take them for granted. The stability of our electoral institutions allows us to hold firmly to things like decorum and procedure because we have faith that no matter what, win or lose today, democracy will still be there tomorrow. Not everyone has that luxury. The people of Ukraine, Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and India have seen their democracies overthrown and subverted before. They may yet see them stolen again if they’re not vigilant, if they don’t fight to protect every inch of them. If, when the Nazis forced through the bill that made Hitler dictator of Germany, the members of the Reichstag had rioted and smashed the podium and punched some Stormtroopers, they might not have been able to stop the bill’s passage, but they would have made it clear to Hitler and the world that the decision to kill democracy in Germany was not unanimous.
And so when the rules of democracy are broken, or when bills that would undermine that democracy are threatening to pass, the people who believe in democracy don’t just shrug it off. They roll up their sleeves and voice their opposition with their fists because they’re afraid that if they don’t, they might one day lose their voice forever.
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