Human Journalism – best articles from

By Mónica Hernández  / Translated by A.L.C.Teen Translators, Asturias-Spain

  • Gloria, early-retired from Iberia Airlines, keeps nine homeless men in her home with her pension and has created a business where they work.
  • She has already taken in 160 people in thirteen years.

“Gloria, the journalist is already here!”  shouts Fede, looking up as he raises his voice. He leads me to the top floor of the thrift shop where Gloria appears to be waiting for me. I see her coming round sofas, lamps, picture frames, shelves and second-hand books.

We exchange glances and she smiles at me. “Hi, Monica” Gloria is a dark-haired cheerful woman around 60 years old with tiny bright eyes. From her early retirement pension from Iberia Airlines where she was an air-hostess, now live ten people – nine men without any family ties and herself. They are her only family and she loves them as if they were true family.

She has created two second-hand thrift shops with her pension and the earnings from people’s donations of their old furniture. “Her boys” as she likes to call them, go house to house with the van gathering items that later will be restored and sold. They also do odd-jobs at a good price, like painting if necessary, moving or whatever brings money home to where they all live – the home that Gloria rents for everyone. The place where they live, eat, sleep and are treated for both their physical and emotional illnesses – the latter ones being the ones that hurt the most. They dream about the crisis ending and that someday the world will be better. At the moment, since Gloria took them into her home, it already is.

Everything began 13 years ago when Gloria, who had been a volunteer helping children of prostitutes who had cancer or Down’s Syndrome, decided to set up her own NGO – Proyecto Gloria – taking in to her home drug-dependent homeless men from the street. Leer más

By Bostjan Videmsek (Athens)

Photos Jure Erzen

Protests anti neo-Nazism 17.11.2012 Athens, Greece. (JURE ERZEN/Delo)

On November 7th, Athens was burning again. In front of the parliament, where another monstruous bargain had been struck, the special police units were hitting children and old women. The most brutal austerity package yet had just been rammed through. In the streets, molotov cocktails were crashing down, slogans were chanted, the teargas was making people weep openly. In this respect, Athens is now officially the weeping capital of Europe.

Again, all of it was probably to no avail. The vote behind the thick parliamentary walls had been fixed in advance. The public infrastructure is being dismantled back into the stone age, and these latest belt-tightening measures are only guaranteed to make things worse. The poor people in the giant laboratory called Greece have not been offered the luxury of choice. Their only option is to rant and protest. And that is so obviously not enough.

Protests anti neo-Nazism.17.11.2012 Athens, Greece (Jure Erzen / Delo)

A country without sovereignity is hardly a country. Greece is now a grotesque puppet of the global financial markets. The Greek political elite is the sub-contractor hired by foreign interests, principally by the corporation called EU. These interests’ most immediate goal is to turn the land into a pocket of Asia right here in the middle of Europe – to bring East and West a little closer, one could sardonically say. In the name of the holy grail called competiteveness, the people of Greece are being stripped of their way of life.

This, incidentally, is what the future holds in store for the rest of us. How long before the »free-enterprise zones« start sprouting around all of us as well? The »free-enterprise zone« is the production unit favoured by the disaster capitalism set loose upon the world. 400 Euros of monthly pay with no benefits and lots of unpaid overtime: this is what the European worker of tomorrow can reasonably hope to expect. If in this more modern, more competitive Europe someone revolts, fifty other eager slaves will leap up to take his place. At this moment, we might as well put a giant sticker Made In China over the entire continent. Health and education are already the privilege of the rich.

Nazism rears its ugly head

At this stage, is there anything that can stop the neo-liberal rampage? The old, impotent, arrogant, totalitarian and justly beaten ‘left’ no longer has the right to try. The new left seems bashful and without clear ideas of its own. Whom can an angry young man turn to when he wants to enter the political arena? Is there even such a thing as a political solution to this mess? Can the protesters ever transcend the level of street theatre and stand their ground for as long as it takes? Is there really no alternative to widescale bloodshed? 2012 = 1937?

Protests anti neo-Nazism. 17.11.2012 Athens, Greece (Jure Erzen / Delo)

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By Boštjan Videmšek, Shanghai, Xian, Beijing

Author of 21st Century Conflicts: Remnants of War(s)

(Ng Han Guan/ AP Photo)


We were standing in the memorial room of the elite University for political studies. For the past few decades, this illustrious institution served as a breeding ground for top party bigwigs. A small frail student with jerky motions, a waxy complexion and a Hitleresque parting in his hair was telling us a lot about the university’s glorious past and even more about China’s invincible future. The student was nineteen. Even though he looked completely lost – in time and space as well as in translation – he was positively smouldering with conviction.

The student’s terrifying earnestness, along with the image of his exhausted colleagues staring into their computer screens at the university’s library, offered a fascinating contrast to what one could see in the streets of downtown Beijing. In the past decade, these streets have been turned into a battlefield for the sort of architects who specialise in skyscrapers, classy shopping centres and other such palaces of robotised communication. In China, shopping has been transformed into a very basic human need. Both for the locals and for the visitors, it has been rendered all but obligatory.

But what happened to communism?

Perhaps we should simply call it something else – global-commo-capitalism, for example. Whatever it is, we at the very least need to name it correctly: after all, it seems it is what the future holds in store for all of us. Here and now. Or, if I may borrow the official slogan of Shanghai, the trade capital of the Universe: The Future Is Now.

The Dictatorship of Choice

I asked Li Jiahua, the university’s deputy dean, how his school, the nursery for the hardliner’s hardliner, managed to adapt to the radical socio-economical change of the last twenty years. »Oh,« he replied: »We simply went with the flow. We have indeed been facing countless challenges. The ever-increasing progress of our country posed many questions. So we opened courses in economics and financial management, though the brunt of our curriculum still consists of social and political studies. We discovered much of our technology was outdated. We had to answer many questions as we went along. Yet I would like to stress that moral education still represents the very core of our institution.«

Students ot Tsinghua University (AP)

In the last twenty years, the basic profile of the students at this ideological nest underwent a rapid change, too. What used to be the submissive party-liner with a fetishistic bent for military uniforms is now the digital consumer type entirely subservient to the dictatorship of choice. The army shirts have been exchanged for designer clothes, or at least the ‘original fakes’ of the world’s most prestigious brands. The bitter redguard face has been replaced by the cosmetic smile. Love more! is one of the jingles being peddled in Beijing by one of Europe’s most respected automobile makers. The behemoth called China may have been dormant for centuries, but now it is turning into every free-market guru’s wet dream.

The mood in Beijing is best described by evoking some classic futuristic movie. Think Blade Runner spliced with The Minority Report. Swarms of young people are chaotically racing in the streets, always on the go, always in a hurry. This is only to be expected. While they are growing up, time here in China is ticking by faster than anywhere else in the world. As you negotiate your way through the swarms, you quickly find out about the only remaining rule of the pedestrian flows in Beijing: ‘ME FIRST!’ Yet even with all this perilous commotion, the young always find the time to glance at their cameras, their laptops and post-modern mobile phones – a formidable army of gizmos dispassionately recording every moment, every face and every act in this consumerist hell. With an intelligence corps of this magnitude, why would the State even need security services? In their hectic surgings, the streets of China’s richest cities are now more uniform than they had ever been. There are also many more slogans – only this time around they are phrased in the aggressive lingo of the advertising agencies, designed to plow straight through your frontal lobe and start whispering about unmet needs.

Love more! indeed.


Orwell’s Nightmare

The Chinese economy has been growing for the past thirty years. The obstacles fell by the roadside one by one. The period of growth has been so turbo-charged that, as it stands, only the United States are still in front of the rising kraken – and even the US can’t last that much longer. For thirty years, the genie of economic growth uprooted everything in its path, deftly taking advantage of all the perks of totalitarian communism. The party bosses have gotten used to posing as enlightened absolutists, but they have long become merely corporate executives in that sun-eclipsing mother of all corporations called The People’s Republic of China. Leer más

By Mónica G. Prieto / Translation Blanca G. Bertolaza

  • The Virtual Museum of Censorship promotes the knowledge of the cultural prohibitions in place in Lebanon to defend freedom of speech
  • The organization in charge of banning works uses a law passed at the beginning of the 20th century during the French occupation
  • “Politicians believe that declaring everything is taboo is the best way for them to remain in power”, explains Lea Baroudi, Museum manager

BEIRUT.- Some movies are never shown in Lebanese cinemas, even if they are available on the black market for one dollar. Some internationally-recognized artists never land in the country because the authorities have made out a link –close or far, real or imaginary- with Israel. Graffiti artists are arrested for expressing themselves on the walls, actors taken into custody for showing their underwear, singers jailed because one of their songs might refer to a politician…

In Lebanon, which until the regional revolts prided itself for being the only Arab democracy, freedom of speech is a vague concept and censorship an everyday problem. Cartoonist Mazen Karbaj said it best when he designed the cartoon that has become the flag of the MARCH movement, focused on promoting the citizens’ rights and obligations. In the drawing, a politician, a soldier and two clerics –one Sunni and one Shiite- hug each other smiling as they chant “yes to freedom of speech”. The small print reads: “Unless you talk about the State, Allah, the prophet, Jesus Christ, the president of the Republic, good manners, the Church, the Bible, the Koran, the Martyrs, the Resistance, the Army and its chief, the Pope, the Saudi King, the prophets, national unity, the civil war, confessionalism, friend countries and brother countries, the mufti, the patriarch, the prime minister, the Government, history books, the Palestinian refugee camps, and the origin of hummus”.

“It is one of our contradictions”, Lea Baroudi, MARCH founder, smiles broadly as she shrugs. Lebanese society is made up of a variety that can only be understood through huge amounts of tolerance and coexistence. “However, taboos are one of its most noticeable characteristics”, adds Lea. Anything that might disturb the status quo –not the stability, which is always absent- is seen by its leaders as a threat. And that includes from sex or domestic abuse to religion and politics.

MARCH’s fight is based precisely on promoting freedom of speech as a means to aspire to other fundamental freedoms. And also to live in peace. “We are a plural society, with people who think differently and we need to accept what others say”, Baroudi insists. However, the way the State has of dealing with these differences is hiding them. To that end, it has the Directorate for General Security’s Media and Theater Department, better known as the censorship office. They ban artistic works that, in this organization’s opinion, “threaten the peace”. Sometimes they make use of the armed forces, and too often, even if it is just for a few days, daring artists end up in a dark prison cell.

Imagen de previsualización de YouTube Leer más

By Bostjam Videmsek

An elder man walks by riot policemen guarding the Interior Ministry in Athens on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Greece is in a fifth year of recession, with poverty and unemployment rapidly rising amid protracted harsh cutbacks implemented to secure vital international bailout loans. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

On Sunday, June 17, Antonis Samaras walked into the press centre as the winner of the repeated Greek parliamentary election. It was late at night, and the leader of the conservative New Democracy party was flanked by a gaggle of sweaty and decidedly rotund admirers. To a clued-in observer, the very girth of these men was a signal that the sordid operation jointly engineered by the international financial institutions, Bruxelles, Berlin, the world’s largest banks and the global corporate media was entering its next phase.

The ancient Greek elites that ran the country for the last forty years only to literally bring it to the brink of third-world destitution now finally handed it over to the international financial gamblers. What hurts the most is that almost a half of the Greek electorate decided to vote for them. The mandate the new government thus received is a mandate to implement the full gamut of its ‘modern economy’, a nightmarish vision certain to transcend the region in ever-gruesomer shockwaves.

(AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

Clearly collaborating with the international financial institutions, the EU had done all it could to hox the prospects of Syriza, the Greek coalition of radical leftist parties. Led by the charismatic Alexis Tsipras, Syriza is pushing for saying no to the drastic austerity measures. Its agenda is nationalising the banks, fighting to keep a strong public health-care and educational system, and positioning itself as a dam against the mad flood of privatisation threatening everything there is and ever will be.

How did the EU help the predators? One week before Greece’s election, Brussels granted Spain one hundred billion euros of aid – an action many Greek voters interpreted as the promise of a softer-cuts scenario for them as well, if only the conservative block is voted back into power. But this was only a skillful feint. Brussels, Berlin and Washington were simply nervous about Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, possibly having some sort of a back-up plan to follow the country’s pullout from the Eurozone… A back-up plan that would probably be all about forging new alliances with Moscow or Beijing.

Global capitalism fighting for its own survival

»This election was crucial for the survival of global capitalism,« feels Statis Gourgouris, a professor of classic literature at the Columbia university in New York. »The election demonstrated that the majority of the Greek people is refusing to accept the dismantling of its social and economic infrastructure. The people are refusing to condone the flash impoverishment across the broad strata of society, the annihilation of the next generation’s future, and the vilification of an entire way of life. Even more important, Greek society demonstrated it would not accept being used as an experiment in neoliberal economics.« Leer más

Boštjan Videmšek, Athens

(AP Photo)

On Wednesday, April 4, nine in the morning saw a 77-year-old man yelling in the middle of the teeming Syntagma square – the emotional centre of the Greek protests against the dictat(orship) imposed by the international monetary institutions. The old man was screaming at the hated parliament building, and his cries amounted to a seething denunciation of the fact that his debt will have to be repaid by his children and his grandchildren. After he’d said his peace he leaned against a tree, pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot himself in the head.

The suicide of this desperate Greek pensioner carries a heavy symbollic significance. It evokes the spirit of the Czech patriot Jan Pallach, 21, who – protesting the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia – set himself on fire on January 16, 1969. It is also strongly evocative of the self-immolation of Mouhammed al Bouazizi, the Tunisian grocer who triggered off the Arab spring. Leer más

Luna Bolívar Manaut

Byelorussia. Someone like Khalezin would never say “Byelorussia”, which means “White Russia” and smacks of colonialism. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, his country has officially been called “Republic of Belarus”. In 1991, the only vote cast against independence was by the Vice President of the Parliament: Alexander Lukashenko. Three years later, he would become the first head of the new state, and promise to fight corruption and safeguard the social advantages of communism.

Byelorussia was one of the Soviet republics with a high living standard – the “Germany of the USSR”. Its inhabitants were therefore afraid of the many abrupt changes that would follow independence. But ultimately they paid a high price to maintain stability.

“This isn’t the last dictatorship in Europe, it is the first one in the 21st century”
Between 1991 and 1994, and prior to Lukashenko’s inauguration, liberties increased somewhat in Belarus: political parties emerged, associations were founded, and even the Byelorussian language experienced a slight upswing. Lukashenko put an end to all this. Today, the president controls the machinery of power and reigns on his own, without a political party, relying solely on the secret service which is still called the KGB – the Committee for State Security, which was also the name of the Soviet Union’s former secret service.

Election after election he has managed to stay in power using manipulation whenever circumstances required it, and repression whenever it became necessary. In almost two decades he has established a system that is aesthetically post communist but politically adapted to the new age.

The country’s Soviet aesthetics mask the fact that Lukashenko is also very skilled at moving in the modern world and understands the weaknesses of Western democracies. “Just so there is no misunderstanding,” warns one White Russian activist, “this isn’t the last dictatorship in Europe; it is the first one of the 21st century.”

The most effective way to silence the opposition
On the outskirts of Minsk, in a room a little over 30 square metres that includes a stage with no podium, a grandstand with wooden benches and some cushions for sitting on the floor, Nikolai Khalezin, his wife Natalia Kaliada and the other members of the Belarus Free Theater stage their performances. “We speak of the things no one ever talks about, we allude to this country’s every taboo: the ethnic and sexual minorities, social problems and, of course, politics”, explains Kaliada.

Monica G. Prieto / Translation Blanca G. Bertolaza

Ali Othman, Jeddo, in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr. (Baba Amro News)

Ali Othman became responsible for the Baba Amr media center, the most active in Syria, and devoted himself to filming the military offensive and to promoting his own and his colleagues’ recordings so the world could see what was happening in Homs. And he was arrested as such on Wednesday the 28th in the city of Aleppo, where he had gone fleeing the capital of the Syrian revolt: according to his colleagues, “he is being put through the worst kinds of torture since his arrest”. “We, the members of the media center, call on all NGOs, as well as the Federation of Arab Journalists and the United Nations to act immediately and save the life of journalist and activist Ali Othman. We hold Assad’s regime fully responsible of any harm caused to him”, reads a press release from the Baba Amr information center.   v=bwrMk7rrG5A&feature=player_embedded

Ali’s name was changed to Eyyed in the article The eyes of the revolution to protect his true identity– like the other Syrian activists, he did not want to give his true name fearing arrest. This 34 year old fruit salesman, born in Baba Amr, married and with five small children, decided to stay in Homs’ martyr neighborhood even when the troops of the Syrian Army’s 4th Division entered the neighborhood in February, after almost a month of constant bombings. He turned down the escape routes used by his colleagues as well as a significant part of the civilian population and the Free Syrian Army fighters due to his convictions. “How can I go when there are people who cannot leave the neighborhood? If they stay, I stay. Somebody needs to witness what is happening”, he argued during the last conversation we had, via Skype, hours before the fall of the neighborhood. Leer más

José Luis Gordillo and Mónica Hernández

Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza

Mural painting of the faces of the 90 survivors of the Armenian genocide. (Herbert Bagdasaryan/AP)

The persistence of the insurgent guerrilla in Chechnya is just the most abrupt exponent of what is still happening in the rest of the Caucasus. Even along the Georgian and Armenian borders, two countries that belong to the Council of Europe, gun shots and the capturing of prisoners cause dozens of victims every year. Almost two decades after the cease fire of their respective conflicts, the latent violence has not been appeased. On the contrary, their armies have rearmed and, according to the latest surveys, rejection among different ethnic groups is growing, based on religious or territorial rivalries and stirred up by mutual accusations by governments whose democratic legitimacy is sometimes questioned.

In the Caucasus, historically a land of conflicts due to its role as natural border between Asia and Europe, the usual course of action is for the dozens of ethnic groups that live there not to coexist, but instead to remain mostly segregated, even when they share the same territory. That involves obvious risks in a region as impoverished and lacking in democratic tradition as this one. In Armenia’s case, the war against Azerbaijan for the control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region ended with a cease fire in 1994, but definitive peace has not yet been achieved, and there are sporadic shootouts along the border.

Between November 19th and 26th two Armenian Karabakh soldiers were shot and killed by snipers, and seven Azeri soldiers were killed in retaliation. According to reports by the High Karabakh security forces, this week the cease fire was violated 270 times. Last fall, the exhibitions of military might, in the form of parades on one side and the other, have led many to think about the possibility of a new war.

The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan keep the tension along the borders high, but there is also a home front, among the civil population.

Ashot Parsyan, director of the Hispanic Center in the Armenian capital

The data provided by Ashot Parsyán, director of the Erevan Hispanic Center, is chilling. According to the official surveys he handles, only 28% of Armenians approve of friendly relations with Azerbaijanis, but this figure falls down to barely 1% in the neighboring country. That is to say that virtually the whole of the Azerbaijani population flatly rejects any relationship with Armenia.

“They hate us deeply”, admits Ashot, whose personal experience is a good example of the social violence of this conflict. Despite his Armenian ethnic origin, he was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, back when both countries were soviet republics, part of the USSR. Azerbaijanis, mostly Muslim, and Armenians, of ancient Christian beliefs, lived in peace during the 80s, but with the disintegration of the Soviet regime came also the territorial disputes and

the ethnic grudges. Ashot’s family first had to stop speaking Armenian in public and finally had to flee Azerbaijan, fearing for their lives.

In fact, that conflict ended with 15,000 people dead and more than a million displaced. However, Ashot does not fell like a refugee. On the contrary, to him it was like returning home, and remembers his younger sister’s happiness two decades ago, when she got off the plane and yelled out that she could finally speak in her mother tongue again. That does not stop him from regretting the current escalating tension as his country does not manage to overcome extreme poverty and the highest younger generations can aspire to is emigration.

Armenia’s Permanent Representation to the UN has denounced several times that Azerbaijan “for years has been developing and carrying out a big-scale propaganda campaign to instill racial hate and intolerance towards Armenians”. That is why more than 70% of Azerbaijani citizens are against the task of the Minsk Group in charge of the peace negotiations between the two countries. Not even Russia, who looks after the oil interests in the area, manages to smooth the way.

This alleged propagation of ethnic hate, a technique used by the political power to manipulate the population, might seem common in a country such as Azerbaijan, where accusations of fraud pile up each time elections are held. Different human rights organizations, especially Amnesty International, have been denouncing the disproportionate repression of the recent protests, inspired by the Arab Spring, against the authoritarianism and alleged corruption of the Azerbaijani regime. However, this popular opposition is harder to explain in Armenia, a country that seems to be free from such anti-democratic suspicions.

“Intolerance and ethnic hate exist in Armenia too”, according to veteran Armenian journalist Onnik Krikorian. To illustrate his statement he recalls something that happened recently in Erevan, where no venue was able to house a film festival about Azerbaijan, due to the threats they received. Ashot believes that it is not just a question of religion, but that it also has to do with territorial issues, much like in Israel.

Thousands of Armenians and sons of Armenians born in exile at a rally commemorating the genocide at the hands of Turkey. (Eddy Tamerian/AP)

Young Armenians hold a rally commemorating the genocide that took the lives of more than 1.5 million people. Thousands of people took part in this annual event in April 2011. (Vahan Stepanyan/AP)

Armenia, which was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion, keeps closed its borders not just with Azerbaijan but also with Turkey. The only Muslim-majority country with which it keeps them open is Iran, and very reluctantly. On January 23rd the French Senate passed the law reform that penalizes the denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkish authorities in 1915, which caused such a huge exodus that right now 9 million people of Armenian origin live abroad and only 3 million live in that country. From now on, denying the Armenian genocide in France has the same penalty as denying the Jewish holocaust. Turkey has threatened France with taking it to the Human Rights Court over this decision, straining diplomatic relations.

The Armenian Diaspora fleeing genocide. (AP)

Mass grave of the Armenian genocide (AP)

century later, Turkey’s refusal to admit the fact that that collective tragedy constituted genocide keeps wounds open and borders closed. Herminia is part of the new Armenian Diaspora, emigrating to flee poverty. She came to Spain almost a decade ago with her husband and her son, and not only does she manage to hang on here in spite of the crisis, but she has also brought over her mother and her brother. However, Herminia recalls that massacre as if she had experienced it first-hand. The details are exposed at the Erevan Genocide Museum,where each day fresh flowers are placed around the eternal flame that honors the victims, overlooking Mount Ararat, Armenia’s national symbol, which, however, has been located in Turkish territory for a long time. Herminia is able to not think about her pressing work and family troubles for a while to look from one Diaspora to the other and emotionally state: “it was organized genocide”.

The streets of Tiflis show clear signs of the last wars (Mónica Hernández)

That is what their Georgian neighbors think, but of Russia in their case, which they see as the continuation of the Soviet regime. Since the brief war that took place in August 2008 between Georgia and Russia, the Russian Army occupies the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose secession already provoked and armed conflict in 1995 in which almost 10,000 people died. Nowadays 150,000 people are affected by the clashes and there are 90,000 refugees who live on international aid, according to the European Commission’s Humanitarian Office. They are the tangible result of the intolerance and ethnic cleansing on both sides of the borders in this region.

Fresh flowers are placed every day next to the everlasting flame in honor of the victims of the Armenian genocide, in Erevan. (M.H.)

Amnesty International includes in its 2011 report references to the fact that the civil population still suffers “harassment and insecurity” in areas of Abkhazia, where there were even “reports about shootouts, homicides and arson fires”. And regarding the war refugees, many organizations have spoken out about the illegality of the forced evictions that government authorities have been imposing in Tiflis. And about the recently built settlements for the displaced, “access to water, drainage and other basic services is insufficient”, Amnesty insists.

The other consequences: closed and heavily-armed borders, skirmishes, reports of human rights violations, an impoverishment that is obvious in the very streets of the capital, Tiflis, and an intense national exaltation propaganda against “enemies” from Russia and other ethnic groups by the Georgian government. President Mikhail Saakashvili has been getting reelected since 2004 in spite of opposition protests alleging electoral fraud. The repression of the last protests, in last May, ended with two people dead and dozens injured.

However, by the summer the disturbances had quieted down and a striking permanent display was inaugurated in the Georgian National Museum, dedicated to the “soviet occupation”. Upon entering the building, the security guard proudly informs the still scarce tourists who visit Tiflis that this exhibition has just been inaugurated on the fourth floor. It does not show up on the museum signs yet. As one enters the first room, there is a life-size image of a train wagon riddled with bullet holes fired from a machine gun that is lying right there. Next to this scene, pictures of corpses and long lists of the victims of the first attacks of the Red Army, in 1921, take up entire walls. The calm of the room is shattered by a thundering video projected on a large screen. It shows images of refugees, dead and wounded people, and bombings during the last war, in 2008, along with statements from former Russian President Vladimir Putin. The whole creates a dramatic but also unsettling effect. That same museum highlights the country’s deep religious roots.

Georgia was the second country in the world to adopt Christianity, after Armenia, and both have their own Church, which vindicates its remote origins with strict rituals celebrated daily in the ancient monasteries spread across the country. A national institution, a symbol that plays a big role in the cohesion of the country under ethnic trademarks. Just like their unique

alphabet, which has completely replaced the Cyrillic alphabet imported by the Russians, which cannot be found anymore on any public buildings.

A Georgina priest displays fervor and patriotism to the pilgrims that go to the Zvari Monastery (Mónica Hernández)

But Abkhaz and Ossetia are not Georgia’s only territorial problems. Its westernmost region, of Turkish majority, is still under Turkish protectorate. On the eastern end, Azerbaijanis call for autonomy and identify mostly with Azerbaijan, while there is a majority of Armenian population in its southernmost region that also threatens with separatist movements. In Southern Caucasus, the temporary halt of armed conflicts, far from stimulating coexistence, has consolidated segregation among the different ethnic groups. Shootouts along the borders are only the symptom.

By Patricia Simón / Translation Blanca G. Bertolaza

  • For his proyect “Essay on mockery”, painter Toño Velasco began to portray anonymous citizens sticking out their tongues and making faces at the camera
  • Research and current events led him to portray the ones he considers responsible for this crisis

“The research process for Essay on mockery led me to ask myself who I would like to mock, who are the ones in charge of this big joke we are going through”. And the first one he did, “just in pink, white and blue colors, because I wanted it to be an absolutely cold face”, was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obviously, the second portrait, two meters tall and two meters wide, is dedicated to the face of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Among his next “models” are some Goldman Sachs CEOs, “the ones truly responsible for what we are going through. They are laughing at us and it is our turn to laugh at them, to stand before them and be able to feel a lot of the things we are going through because of them, without forgetting that we are also responsible”.
Toño Velasco has many years of experience as a painter, but also teaching graphic design in the Superior Art School of Avilés, in interior design and other activities. We talk to him about art in Spain, how he uses the Internet to manage his works, and other subjects such as the crisis or the 15M movement.

Translation of the interview

My project is a big bid. It starts with me taking pictures of my friends and the people around me and there are always people who, are intimidated by the fact that you approach them with a camera and their reaction is to stick out their tongue. So I realized that I had a lot of pictures or friends and loved ones sticking out their tongue and making faces in my photo archive. So I began to ask myself why people make that face, the moment in which they might feel observed by a camera, they make that face, or maybe when they are in the dentist’s waiting room and a kid is staring at them and they break that silence making faces. So I began to develop that idea and asked my friends to send me pictures. At first it was a local thing, for me to see images that I wanted to reinterpret, to paint over putting in plasticity, putting in my own technique. In the end “Essay on mockery” is a series of pictorial portraits, but always based on photo portraits which I have either taken myself or that people send me on a website. Mockery exudes other things, it exudes a bit of rebelliousness, it exudes optimism. When you go up to someone with a camera and you want to mock them, people a lot of times feel intimidated, stick out their tongue, it is like getting undressed, as if you were undressing them. People don’t mind making ugly faces, in fact they make ugly faces on purpose, so that way they start to peel off layers of the mask we wear every day when we go to work, when we live our daily routine. And very interesting things come out. When someone distorts their face they are opening a door I walk through, and I reinterpret that expression my own way in my paintings. Almost two years have gone since this project started, and it feels great because it is turning into a global action. I set up a website where I invited people to send me these pictures and I’m receiving photos from all over the world. I’ve realized that this is a very positive action, it is a liberating action, it means for each person who takes part in this to laugh at themselves. Leer más