Hunger strikes are not a new policy tactic. They have been used by suffragettes in the UK and US to get the right to vote in the 1900s, to protest for immigrants rights’ in San Francisco in the 2000s, and so much more. However, hunger strikes hurt the protestor, with them, ‘[relying] on the moral force of their actions, or the publicity value, to achieve something.” A smaller, but still important case, recently gained some publicity value.
For those who attend the London School of Economics, you may have heard of the seven-day hunger strike (and accompanying petition) recently held by MSc Economics student Davit Svandize, who was protesting LSE’s postgraduate exam deferral policy. Davit and, he estimates, around 30 of his cohort mates, were affected by the said policy, which says those postgraduates who miss January exams cannot sit until the next January. (A policy that is set to change next year. ) The problem is many LSE master’s programs are only a year-long, thus this policy can delay graduation. The PSJ sat down with Davit for an interview. (This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity).
Anne Lieber: Why the hunger strike?
Davit Svandize: No one wants to start with a hunger strike. We were writing emails, made signs, the students union had been lobbying them, [the Economics] department. Many other students were sending emails. You can write emails, you can talk to them as much as you want. [The question was] what can I do to show them how much I suffer under these conditions? It shows this problem is urgent…To do this hunger strike, it’s difficult anyway, but to do it in winter. At least in the first couple days, and part of the third day, I was standing, which takes so much energy. It was definitely an experience. But I hope I can [get the results] I want for me and other students.”
AL: What gave you inspiration for the hunger strike? Why not something else? Did your choice of location mean anything?
DS: “I did not want to paralyze anyone with my protest. I wanted it to be peaceful. I also wanted to show this problem is urgent. There were many factors that made me think a hunger strike was the right type of protest….Everyone knows if you are doing a hunger strike…I like the location by the globe because it’s open. I’ve heard many times from LSE that we shape the world…it was funny for me because we are saying shape the world but we cannot even change some trivial policies. This globe is a symbol of the world which we want to shape in the future.”
AL: What do you think the importance of strikes/protest in a democracy is?
DS: “I started this strike because of this feeling of powerlessness. It needs to be improved, you need solutions….In many situations, it’s pretty similar. There are some problems [that] must be solved.”
AL: How do you feel the hunger strike has changed the perception of this issue?
DS: “It’s difficult for me to say 100% what it did. I’ve heard this prioritized this change once more. They are a little bit more careful about what they are saying about this policy. [But] people are…pessimistic they will find a solution even for this year. We know it’s difficult to change complete policy this year. We are in discussion, so we will see in [the] next days and weeks if this really changed something.”
AL: What do you think of hunger strikes as a method of protest now?
DS: “The first point is effectiveness. If we can find a policy change. The other point is when people cannot understand how much you’re suffering. It will definitely change your perception, your understanding of this problem. Now they can see it’s a serious problem. … If I went home and ate and slept, they would not see how much I suffer[ed]. The second point [is] about expression. You need something to express how difficult it is for me and for others…I think hunger strikes are pretty different. It’s mostly or so conducted in prisons. It’s a very different thing than here. Finally…[they are] for people who are powerless, [who] want to show others how they feel.”
As of the interview, over 570 people have signed the petition.