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"The Catastrophe at Fukushima Has Launched a Series of Democratic Movements"

Translated Tuesday 12 April 2016, by Henry Crapo, Isabelle Métral

By special envoy, from Tokyo, an interview with Professor Eiji Oguma.

According to Eiji Oguma [1], sociologist, the nuclear accident, which caused some 20,000 deaths, revealed the depth of the social crisis, and opened up a new political space.

Huma: Would you say that the Japanese people has known a ’before-’ and an ’after-Fukushima’ in its relationship to political practice?

Eiji Oguma: The answer must be positive in terms of social movements that have succeeded one another after the disaster. Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of parliament to protest against the use of nuclear energy in 2012, against the State Secrets Act in 2013 and against the defense legislation in 2015. This reflects both anger against the process of decision making and a certain fear of the future. These last twenty years, Japan has experienced economic stagnation, a 15% reduction in its average annual income, an increase in precarious employment, which now represents 40% of all contracts today, an abysmal deficit, and lack of transparency in policy making. These factors were already a social backdrop before Fukushima, but my research leads me to believe that they exploded into the open with the mobilization of precarious workers. This is a new category of militants totally different from that traditionally mobilized.

Huma: These activists like to define themselves as "apolitical." Is it right ?

Eiji Oguma: During the summer of 2012, 200,000 people gathered outside the office of Prime Minister and Parliament every week. These events changed the nature of mobilization and of political culture in Japan. Today, a thousand people continue, every week, to occupy the pediment of the Office of the Prime Minister and Parliament. This regular mobilization has provided space for the protests against last summer’s defense legislation, which attracted tens of thousands of participants. The organizers of these demonstrations took to heart to show no political affiliation, because they know the population is skeptical. This does not prevent them from having a highly political speech. I do not think we can consider these activists as apolitical.

Huma: How to explain the two successive victories in the elections of Shinzo Abe, yet known to be a strong advocate of nuclear power? Does this mean that part of the population does not intend to mourn an all-powerful Japan?

Eiji Oguma: The electoral base of the conservatives is mainly from the traditional sectors of Japan, such as certain local community associations, religious groups, farmers, tradesmen and small construction companies. They benefited from the policy of public works and grants from the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD). The business community is another important support for Shinzo Abe’s party. It consists mainly of industrial manufacturing, a symbol of Japan in the 1980’s, and companies providing electricity, which receive government protection. The LDP lost 80% of its members since the 1990s because of neoliberalism, deregulation and lower subsidies. The right can not break away from a short-term strategic approach aimed at keeping its electoral base, even if it is reduced and ageing, at the risk of cuttting itself off from the rest of society. However, I do not think this situation will last, because the LDP is proving its inability to adapt to changes that are coursing through the society.

[1Eiji Oguma is Professor of Sociology at Tokyo’s Keio University

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