Photographers' Blog

Growing up in the European Parliament

Strasbourg, France

By Vincent Kessler

To be totally honest I didn’t see Vittoria at first glance when I took pictures of her and her mother, Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli, for the first time on September 22, 2010.

The European Parliament plenary room is a giant hemicycle for the 766 MEP’s elected from the twenty-eight Member States of the enlarged European Union. It’s not easy to see in detail what’s going on with each lawmaker especially when seated in the back rows, and when your shooting position is on a 10-meter-high balcony.

But thanks to a telephone call from my friend and Reuters journalist Gilbert Reilhac, who was following the voting session on the internal TV service of the parliament, and thanks to a 400mm lens and converters, I spotted her for the first time. I did not know it at the time but she was then only a few weeks old. The pictures were widely used by newspapers and online sites.

I learned two years later after a phone call from Licia Ronzulli’s assistant, asking if I could send her pictures for her private use, that the child was called Vittoria and was then two years old. It was the sixth time that she accompanied her mother to voting sessions at the parliament and was already known as “the baby of the parliament” by the papers.

Over the last three years we have seen Vittoria nine times at the parliament. Each of her appearances was a surprise for us and was not in any way pre-arranged with Licia Ronzulli or even announced in advance to us, as someone would think. Even her teddy bear took part in the voting process: one woman, three votes?

Fighters in the ring of the law

A lawmaker (C) from opposition parties climbs onto the parliament chairman's seat as they scuffle with lawmakers (L) of the ruling Grand National Party to prevent them from passing new bills including the new year's budget bill at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

As the year winds down in Seoul, highly-educated fighters dressed in business attire gather for a dramatic showdown. A sky-blue colored dome theater is the venue, and this year, it was again prepared for the upcoming event. Chairs, tables and other office furniture are stacked up on the floor to block people from entering rooms. Police officers stand guard as they surround the domed theater to prepare for any emergency situations. There are ambulances and medics. All entrances to the theater are closed, with tight security allowing only those with prior authorization to enter.

Police officers stand guard in front of the National Assembly in Seoul December 8, 2010, while lawmakers and their aides from the ruling party and the opposition party scuffle.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A member of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) makes his way past a barricade of furniture, created by his party to block lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party and their aides, near an entrance of the main conference hall of parliament in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The match begins. Hundreds of people, who don’t look like mixed martial arts fighters, gather in front of the gate of the main event room. They are defenders. They discuss and plan their strategies. Chanting “Keep the position,” they form scrimmages. The opponent’s fighters roll up into the hall. The offenders also make a plan on how to break through defenders’ scrimmages. They stand ready to rush. Somebody from the attackers shouts “Let’s go.” All of the offenders including dozens of women make a dash. There’s pushing and shoving. The hall is filled with screams and shouts. Camera flashes are fired at them. It’s like a red carpet ceremony. Some fighters fall and collapse. One wounded person cries with pains. Immediately medics come and take her to a hospital.

Members of the ruling Grand National Party (L) scuffle with members of the main opposition Democratic Party who were blocking entry into the main conference hall of parliament, in Seoul December 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A security guard stands behind cracked glass at the main conference hall of parliament, after a clash between members of the ruling Grand National Party and members of the main opposition Democratic Party, in Seoul December 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

When the bell rings to signal half time, both sides are separated for bracing up. Broken glasses, stray shoes, split ID cards and many belongings are scattered around the hall. A huge glass door at the main entrance is unsightly broken. All done? No! It was just the first round. There is more excitement to come. Now we are moving to the main theater, also known as ‘National Assembly plenary session hall.’ From the comfortable seats in the gallery, we can watch the main event.

Gloves off for political brawl

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei July 8, 2010. Taiwan legislators threw objects, splashed water and kicked one another on Thursday, sending two to the hospital in a brawl over how fast to ratify a trade pact with China that is shaping up as a pivotal election issue.   REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Legislators throwing objects, splashing water and kicking one another inside the parliament is probably one of the most interesting yet bizarre news events I’ve covered during my stint in Taiwan. Seeing grown men in suits going at each other like children, yelling and even laughing as if it was all sport, is not something you would expect to see every day.

In fact, everybody in the Taiwan media knew that the opposition DPP were going to clash with the ruling KMT party lawmakers. It was just a matter of how and when. A fellow local photographer told me that the fighting between the parties only happens when lawmakers need to send a message to the public through the media. You could even say that lawmakers act out violence to get some publicity from the media, though some of them really do get hurt in the process.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan In Taipei July 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Nicky LohThe root reason for the fighting stems from tensions between the two biggest political parties in Taiwan – the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the ruling Nationalist (KMT) Party, which is headed by the China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. The cause of the brawl this time? Disagreements on how the recently signed Taiwan-China cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) should be reviewed.

from Russell Boyce:

Demonstrating in Indonesia – Don’t forget your tooth brush

 It's a big day in Jakarta. The parliamentary committee that has been investigating a bank bailout for months is due to present its findings, so that members of parliament can decide the fate of two of Indonesia's top reformers, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono regarding their decision to bailout small lender Bank Century. So you decide to protest at the gates of Parliament. You need to be prepared, you need to be equipped. You will face riot police, baton charges, razor wire, water canon and thrown bricks and bottles and tear gas. What will you decide to take? Packed into your bag will be a banner (with additional pole that acts as a lance), a helmet to protect your head from projectiles, of course political motivation............and don't forget your toothbrush.

teeth cleaning

A student pretends to brush his teeth as police use water cannons to disperse protesters outside the parliament building in Jakarta  March 2, 2010, where the parliamentary inquiry committee's recommendations over the Bank Century rescue is being held. A parliamentary probe failed on Tuesday to resolve bitter divisions over the fate of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boedino, two key pro-market lawmakers in Indonesia's cabinet, signalling conflict over economic reform would continue.  REUTERS/Beawiharta

 What would you take to ensure that your voice was heard at a demonstration and that you catch the eye of soaked Reuters staff photographer Bea?

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