It must have been tough for Jimmy Lai to openly criticize the student leaders of last year’s protests for being “arrogant” and “foolish”.
The media maverick, who stood in the frontline of the pro-democracy movement, said the students ignored their elders in the Occupy Central movement when the latter called for a retreat two months after the street occupation began.
“The way they treated the Occupy Central founders could not be worse,” Lai said.
He was reflecting on the movement in an interview with his own weekly magazine ahead of the anniversary of the protests.
He compared the students to people who finish a messy meal and leave everyone else to clean up after them.
“They were late for meetings, not just two minutes but an hour or more,” he said.
“When they called a meeting, they wanted us to be there right away. But they came only when everyone else had arrived.”
Lai’s frank revelations were carried by pro-establishment newspapers which earlier accused him of shirking responsibility for his role as a financier of the 79-day movement.
They also highlighted a deepening generational conflict — post 1950s activists against their post 1990s counterparts.
The difference in strategy between Occupy Central on one hand and the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and Scholarism on the other emerged in November when the former tried to persuade the latter to withdraw from the streets and save their energy for the next phase of the movement.
But the students wanted more radical measures, knowing they had the support of the wider population.
At one point, the students pressed lawmaker Albert Ho to quit in order to trigger a by-election and proxy referendum on political reform.
Ho announced he was going to resign in January but the move fizzled after it got a cold shoulder from the public.
Lai described it as “crazy, foolish and irresponsible”.
He was no less unforgiving toward student leaders Alex Chow and Joshua Wong, whom he condemned for not having respect for veterans like him and others.
Chow disappeared from the limelight after the protests ended, yielding to Nathan Law as HKFS secretary general.
Wong, Time magazine’s No. 3 candidate for 2014 Person of the Year, has an active media presence, especially in Lai’s publications.
It was not the first time Lai had been critical of the student leaders.
He seriously disagreed with their decision to hold out until they got concessions from the government which never came.
To be fair, the students had run out of energy and their inability to show up on time at important appointments should not be taken too seriously.
It’s no secret that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is no fan of Joshua Wong, who often publicly embarrassed her without giving her a chance to reply.
But Lam showed her soft power by appearing to win over Alex Chow in their first and only meeting during the protests.
I’m sure there will be more details when people come out with their own version of events.
We think Lai’s grumbling is only the beginning.
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