On July 28, 2022, the Institute for Global Governance Research (GGR) welcomed Mr. Nathan Law (Hong Kong), Ms. Kristina Kirova (Ukraine), and Mr. Jinshiro Motoyama (Japan), who despite their young age are political movement leaders in their respective countries, and hosted a webinar on the topic “Next Generation Leaders and Democracy: Youth Seeking Freedom from the Rim of Power.” The webinar was held in English with simultaneous interpretation into Japanese via Zoom. The three panelists discussed their experiences with moderator Professor Maiko Ichihara and over 70 participants consisting of Hitotsubashi University students and people from outside the university.
Mr. Law, a young activist from Hong Kong and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was one of the representatives who participated in the dialogue with the government during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. In 2016, as one of the founders of Demosistō, Mr. Law was elected the youngest ever Legislative Councilor in Hong Kong. However, his seat was revoked in July 2017 following a change in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution, and he was imprisoned for his previous participation in the Umbrella Movement. Due to the risk imposed on him by the enactment of the draconian National Security Law, he was granted asylum and is currently based in London. Ms. Kirova completed her Master’s degree at the Graduate School of Social Science, Hitotsubashi University, after already finishing her BA and MA at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. Besides working for several volunteer organizations, she was engaged as an election commissioner in the Ukrainian presidential elections in April 2019. Since 2016, she has been working for a Japanese media company and since 2020 for KPMG Tax Corporation. Mr. Motoyama graduated from the Faculty of Liberal Arts at International Christian University and completed his Master’s degree at the Graduate School of Law, Hitotsubashi University, where he is currently undertaking his doctoral research on the positioning of US military bases in Japan and Okinawa for US military operations. He is a former representative of the “Henoko” Okinawa Prefecture Referendum and staged hunger strikes in January 2019 against city mayors who announced their non-participation in the referendum, and in May 2021 in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on the occasion of the “50th anniversary” of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, demanding to abandon the construction of the new Henoko military base.
After a short opening poll for all participants, the panel session began with the discussion developing around the three questions posed by moderator Professor Ichihara. Firstly, asked about the role of young people in defending human rights, democracy and freedom, the panelists argued that young people can not only devote more time to various political movements as they, for instance, have no children to take care of, but can also be the driving force of change in politics and society thanks to their idealism, which is not obsessed with power, and their “black and white thinking” which allows them to fundamentally question the world around them.
The discussion then continued around the question of barriers that young people face in political participation and the support systems needed, both nationally and internationally, to overcome these. Barriers to political participation included difficulties for young people in traditional political participation, for instance joining a political party; the lack of easily accessible knowledge about running their own political movements such as how to obtain permissions and organize protests and events; the lack of awareness; balancing volunteer work and personal life; and the lack of funding. Additionally, the absence of education that would promote political awareness was criticized by each panelist. To overcome these barriers, the panelists demanded that the existing political parties and other organizations establish a support and education system as well as provide easily accessible small loans to young people.
After the discussion, all participants had the chance to ask their own questions to the panelists in a Q&A session. Although not all questions could be answered due to the limitation of time, discussion unfolded about the differences between the life of a young civilian and a young politician, the promotion of international cooperation between young people, the ways to raise public awareness of international issues, and the possibility of supporting political movements abroad.
Finally, the participants’ opinion was asked once again with the same questions as at the beginning of the webinar. Compared to before the webinar, the percentage of participants who think that young people can make changes in politics rose from 91% to 94%, the percentage of participants who think that young people participate in politics rose considerably from 39% to 68%, and the percentage of participants who think that people should be able to participate in politics from their teenage years rose from 63% to 74%. Thus, a change in the participants’ views as a result of the webinar was evident.
- “We (i.e., young people) must make ten times more efforts than people who are much older than us to prove ourselves. It is not fair, but if you want to change something you must work better.” (Mr. Nathan Law)
- “Especially in Japan, we do not have civic education which talks so much about the rights that people can exert, but rather about obligations that we have to follow.” (Professor Maiko Ichihara)
- “All of us are volunteers, so we have our main jobs during the day, and we do it only in our free time, so there is a management problem, and everyone is in their 20s or 30s, so there is a lack of knowledge, but it’s the passion that has triggered everything and we’re still holding on.” (Ms. Kristina Kirova)
- “Taking part in a social movement in Japan is a challenging experience. I feel that if you raise your voice in a social movement, people look at you in a strange way and many people tend to still have a violent impression from the 1960s movement. I think we need to create an atmosphere in which participating in social movements in politics is cool or just normal.” (Mr. Jinshiro Motoyama)
【Event Report prepared by】
Michał Skubisz (Master’s student, School of International and Public Policy, Hitotsubashi University)