11 February 2021
The ‘blue’ planet?
By Neil Tidmarsh
In Serbia last week, a pitch invasion repeatedly brought play to a halt during the soccer match between Radnicki 1923 Kragujevac and Kolubara Lazarevac. A dog kept on rushing onto the field and chasing and grabbing the ball. Eventually the referee had to resort to the ultimate sanction – out came the red card and the dog was sent off. If you can find the Sportski Zurnal in your local newsagents, check out the photo of the ref brandishing the red card and the hound dutifully leaving the pitch.
Elsewhere in the world, brave people are also showing the red card to rule-breaking bullies and cheats and their attack dogs.
Red became the colour of anti-Putin, pro-Navalny protests this week. Following his arrest last month on his return to Russia, Alexei Navalny was found guilty last Tuesday of violating the terms of a suspended sentence he was given in 2014 for what most of the world believes was a trumped-up charge. Being in a coma in a hospital bed (following what most of the world believes was a state-authorised attempt on his life) is apparently an inadequate excuse for not reporting to a probation office in Moscow. His wife Yulia attended the trial and was in tears following the sentence – two years and eight months in a penal colony. “Don’t be sad” her husband told her as he was led away. “Everything will be fine.”
Yulia Navalnya was wearing a red top in court that day. A fashion writer, Katya Federova, immediately started an online campaign, urging people to wear red as a sign of solidarity with Mr and Mrs Navalny and of protest against their treatment. Women across Russia answered the call in an Instagram flashmob, posting and sharing pictures of themselves wearing bright red clothes, hashtag “Don’t be sad, everything will be fine”. A big red card to bravely flourish in the face of the authorities who have brutally suppressed the massive and nationwide protests triggered by Navalny’s arrest. Over 10,000 people have been detained and almost 1000 arrested; police and prison cells are crowded and overflowing (no chance of social distancing there); and allegations of violence and even torture have been made against the security services.
Red has also become the colour of protest in Burma / Myanmar, in the wake of last week’s military coup which overturned the results of last November’s general election. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party (National League For Democracy) crushed the army’s party in that election, and the army (in spite of hogging an unelected 25% of the seats in parliament and three important ministries) responded by seizing power and arresting Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and the NLD’s chairman Win Htein. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets throughout the country and hundreds of thousands have mobilised on-line; the military authorities have responded with rubber bullets, curfews, hundreds of arrests, the blocking of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, and a ban on public meetings of more than five people.
Red is the colour of the NLD party. Last week’s massive demonstration in Rangoon, the country’s largest city, was a sea of red; the protesters defending the NLD’s election victory wore red shirts and red caps and many carried the party’s red peacock flag. But the colour is becoming more than the symbol of a particular political party; it’s becoming the symbol of a broader and more general cause in Myanmar – the cause of freedom and democracy and of opposition to oppression and dictatorship. Doctors and health workers and hospital staff are refusing to work under the new military regime and have taken to wearing red ribbons as a symbol of their decision. In recent years the people of Myanmar have enjoyed the benefits of a civilian government, a democratic system and the rule of law and now they’re prepared to hold up the red card as referees of those values and to order the military off the pitch.
And in the United Arab Emirates, landmarks across the country – including the world’s tallest tower, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – were lit up in red this week.
What? Political protest in the UAE? Well, sadly, no. The illuminations were a celebration marking the first Arab space mission – the Hope probe to the planet Mars. The probe has travelled 300 million miles in the last seven months and is set on entering the Red Planet’s orbit right now. This will make the UAE only the fifth nation to send a mission to Mars, but it won’t be the last; China’s Tianwen-1 is also due to enter its orbit this week, and the US rover Perseverance will actually land on the planet’s surface next week.
The Red Planet… “Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy” David Bowie sang in ‘Life on Mars?’ in 1971. ‘Lawmen’ in some countries are clearly still at it fifty years later, and this planet – Planet Earth, not Mars – will remain the Red Planet until they stop. Mars and questions about life on Mars are surely an irrelevance until life here on Earth is sorted out and humanity’s red card sends all lawless lawmen off the pitch once and for all.
Photo of Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD flag – Htoo Tay Zar (Creative Commons)