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By Chris Patten

Chris Patten, external affairs commissioner of the European Union, was the last governor of Hong Kong. His comments are adapted from a conversation with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels in late July.

Nobody should fudge the difference between peaceful demonstration and violence. There is a huge gap between those that go to these international conferences in Prague, Gothenberg and Genoa as members of non-governmental organizations with a legitimate concern about the environment or poverty and those with clubs and helmets who are determined to find an excuse to throw Molotov cocktails and smash in the windows at McDonald's.

These violent demonstrators should be dealt with forcefully. Everyone regrets the death in Genoa. But if the demonstrations had been peaceful, that would not have happened.

The problem with the dialogue with the peaceful demonstrators is that there isn't one focus, but a disparate number of causes. And, in any event, anti-globalization is an absurd proposition. You cannot be for or against a process that is underway. You can have views about how to deal with the problem and promises it creates. There are ways to produce bigger and better opportunities for people to benefit from globalization. But you can't be against it. It is happening beyond the control of anyone and not at the instigation of any one country, like America.

In order to deal with the problems and realize the promises, what is needed is international cooperation. What is needed is precisely the kinds of organizations the demonstrators are campaigning against.

At the European Council meeting in Gothenberg, where, alas, demonstrators were also shot, we were debating "sustainable development.'' Frankly, we were making more progress toward sustainable development in the hall and was being made by those outside.

I'm all for having a dialogue. But it is quite difficult when some people don't want to listen. What I am absolutely certain about is that those who are demonstrating in a well-meaning way against freer trade, for example, are in practice advocating policies that will make poor people poorer and further degrade the global environment.

At the same time there are serious issues we need to address -- like the billion people living on less than $1 a day, like the AIDs pandemic in Africa and parts of Asia, like malaria and TB, like the international drug trade.

Finally, as these demonstrations are bound to continue, democratic societies will be forced to face the issue of legitimacy of these protest groups. What gives self-appointed activists the right to try to shut down the meetings of democratically elected leaders? Who has chosen them to speak in their name?

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 8/7/01)