Boštjan Videmšek, Athens
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
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 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.
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
Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
Text and photos: Pablo Garrigós / Translation María José Domínguez
Valencia. Act. 18 Feb.- What started as a non-violent protest of students of Lluís Vives High School in València( Spain) against educational cuts and non-payments of the Municipal Public Education Departments (Consell en la Educación Pública) is becoming a big deal for the new municipal government representative, Paula Sánchez de León.
Six people are under arrest, one of them a 20-years-old female student who had to be hospitalized of head wound. This is in addition to the ten arrested yesterday. At this moment, a hundred people are gathered in front of the Court House waiting in support of the students cause and expecting them to be released.
The gathering of the supporters was initiated through social network, as it was done the previous days, to ask for the release of the students arrested at the High school entrance. At least five hundred people meet on Xàtiva and Marqués de Sotelo streets holding slogans like “Freedom for the arrested”, “We want to srike like the Greeks” and “Less police and more education”. The confluence of people obligated traffic to be diverted.
Everything was normal until 2 p.m. when students decided to go to the Municipal Policice Office to ask for their colleagues release. The first physical conflict between Police and demostrators arise when the students passed through Colón Street. Then the demonstration went towards the police office through a nearby street and continued ahead Cádiz St. where a second police line tried to cut their way, without succeeding. At this moment of the demonstration, in the middle of Russafa neighbourhood, a small group of protesters knocked over a garbage bin but the incidents didn’t go further. Having seen that they could not stop demonstrators to reach the police office, the police escorted them to there. At this point a group of 300 people sat in front of the gate and they shouted slogans such as “they call it Democracy and it is not” or “With this wood we could make a fire” (In Spanish “wood” refers to police).
After an hour or protest, policemen surrounded students and they stopped them by blocking both sides of Zapadores st. This caused a increase of tension among demonstrators and Nacional Police. Instantly and without uttering a word, the cornered students were taken (one by one at first and then in groups of twenty) in order to be identified. Clara, LLum or Ana are some of the arrested this afternoon on Zapadores st. They relate to Human Journalism what happened to them once they were taken out from the group: “They noted our personal information and they advised us that if we were caught again in another illegal demonstration (this meeting is without permit from Government) they would arrest us”. LLum adds that in her case everything was a misunderstanding : “I didn’t do anything to be identified. I just came to the meeting to see if what was said by the media about yesterday was true, and when tension rose up I went back and I run into the police line. They did not want to let me pass. I explained them that I did not want to be there and that I wanted to go home, but they did not let me. Only when a friend of mine fainted , they let us go, carrying her.”
However, as there was not any kind of mediation, some police intervention ended up charging the demonstrators and they caused seven injured people, among them a young girl head wounded. Furthermore another young girl suffered a nerve attack when she was being identified and two more girls ha blood pressure drops.
However, students were not the only ones that went to the police office. Their parents also showed up and witnessed everything from the other side of the police line, since they could not get their children until the policemen released one by one.
Around 6 pm all the students had been identified. Most of them go back to their houses to calm themselves and to forget the trauma. Nevertheless, a lot of them went to City Court to find out how their arrested colleagues were, six of them today, accused of “disobedience to authority and public disorder”
By Patricia Simón / Translation Blanca G. Bertolaza
A few meters away from Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, one of Spain’s most popular squares, we find a place where we could easily imagine, chatting at a round table, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Poppins and the mother of the kids she took care of, suffragist Jane Banks, Dolores Ibárruri ‘La Pasionaria’, painter Remedios Varo or Egyptian activist Nawal El Saadawi. And, of course, their hostesses, booksellers Lola Pérez, her daughter Elena Lasheras and Ana Dominguez, the women responsible for Librería Mujeres and for the exquisite musical selection that is the final touch to work the miracle: a timeless place, which seems to harbor the last century of women’s History and that, at the same time, has spearheaded the liberation of the Spanish woman since it opened its doors in 1978. A time in which in this country we did not have the right to open a bank account or to rent a house without the consent of a man.
Elena Lasheras wears a purple blouse and a black beret, like Che. Her thick mane of white hair frames a broad and open smile. She has just returned from a tour promoting Mexican anthropology professor Marcela Lagarde’s latest book, Women in captivity. Mothers, wives, nuns, whores, prisoners and mad women, published in Spain by Horas y horas, the publishing house set up by Librería Mujeres. She is exultant, overwhelmed by the audience’s reception and participation. Her enthusiasm articulates the conversation, but it flares up each time she mentions the young women that make up the Madrid feminisms commission of the 15M movement, in which she plays an active role.
Periodismo Humano. How and why does your vocation to be booksellers start?
Elena Lasheras. At that time, 1978, bringing culture to the people and setting up a book shop in a working class neighborhood was completely revolutionary. So we opened one in the La Ventilla neighborhood, very poor, where the city dump was, but also very combative –they were very proud of having said no to Franco’s two referendums-. There was always a book about sexual education in the shop window and we turned a page each day. So the kids, when
they got out of school, ran over there to continue reading it. It was a wonderful experience, but the neighborhood was very poor culturally and economically, so we had to close.
Also in 78, sociology professor Jimena Alonso had opened the Mujeres Bookshop along with 200 other women who had each invested 25,000 pesetas, as in a co-op. They met secretly in the basement and they were constantly vandalized, which is why they had police protection in the 80s. Finally they closed the same year as us and three years later, in 1988, after reaching a deal with the publishers to pay the debt, we reopened it. Ana and I had six children in total, so my mother joined us so someone could open the library if all of them decided to get chicken pox at the same time. Leer más
- Sixth and last chapter of the “Syrian Chronicles”, written this Christmas in the besieged city of Homs, in Syria.
- It is easy to see why Nur generates an aura of respect around her.
- She is the one behind the protests, its slogans and signs, the distribution of videos and the social organization in Homs that prevents the city, 1.5 million people besieged and attacked by their own Army since months ago, crumbles down due to the lack of supplies.
The most respected woman in Homs goes completely unnoticed. Petite, her shyness becomes evident due to a voice that only emerges as a whisper and is confirmed by a flushed smile each time anyone brings up the role she is having in this revolution. “She is our heroine”, they say, and she looks down blushing. But earning the general and unconditional admiration of Arab men is something very few women can achieve, and Nur al Homsi is one of them. Leer más
By Mónica G. Prieto (Homs, Syria)
Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
- Fifth chapter of the “Syrian Chronicles”, written this Christmas in the besieged city of Homs, in Syria.
- Standing on top of a platform, Mohamed al Dalaub, 23 year old construction worker, begins to sing a song. Men, women and children are his choir and start dancing as if it were a party. Except that this party, like in all of Syria, can end drenched in blood.
- “When freedom knocks on your door, fear disappears”. That is Al Dalaub’s explanation for the continuation of the protests.
Standing on top of a platform, Mohamed al Dalaub, 23 year old construction worker, starts a songs that the hundreds who almost daily attend the demonstrations in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs have already learnt by heart. “Come on, Bashar, what you are doing is wrong. Leave and leave Syria alone”. Men, women and children are his choir, dancing to the rhythm of the drum played by Mohamed Darmush, 23 year old painter, and start dancing as if they were attending a party. Except that this party, like in all the rest of Syria, can end up drenched in blood because the Security Forces, for the last nine months, have been trying to silence the cries that demand freedom with their weapons.
Protests in Homs begin with songs and usually end with shots. Each neighborhood in this city, which has been under siege for five months, holds rallies against the regime every night. They are not as marked by improvisation as in the beginning, and the main example is that each one has its own revolutionary singer-songwriter, such as Al Dalaub or Zakiah Ahmad, a 22 year old construction worker who spend their days writing and rehearsing in a humble home with Darmoush the songs they will sing by night. Leer más
By Mónica G. Prieto (Homs, Syria)
Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
- Fourth chapter of the “Syrian Chronicles”, written this Christmas in the besieged city of Homs, in Syria.
- The only source of images from Syria are the recordings made by citizens who use the Internet to broadcast them to the rest of the world.
- Neighbors such as Bilal, Hussein, Eyyed, Abu Saleh and many others learned that no one would believe them without witness evidence. This is their story.
The images that opened the Al Jazeera Arabic news last Monday night were extremely harsh. Several civilians lay in a narrow street in Baba Amr that had just been attacked by a tank, all of them dead. One of them had his head split open, another one had died curled up against a wall, yet another lay on a huge pool of blood. Later, the scenes of tanks shooting through the city gave a clear idea of the range of the repression and, a few seconds afterwards, the images of this neighborhood’s field hospital disheartened Arab spectators.
The author of this article, journalist Mónica G. Prieto, and a citizen of Homs dodge shots fired by Assad’s army while trying to cross a street battered by snipers and soldiers. This video was filmed this Christmas 2011 by one of the civilian cameras in the Baba Amr neighborhood.