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February 21 2014

Russian Politicians Stick to Their Guns as Ukraine Burns

Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns

February 19, 2014. Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns as violence intensifies. Photo CC 3.0.

As the political situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and reports of fatalities grow, Russian politicians have been voicing their opinions on the crisis. Somewhat predictably, opinions on who is to blame for the worst political violence to grip Europe this century were sharply divided between government and opposition figures. Several members of Russia's ruling United Russia party sharply criticised the protesters and the West for the disturbances.

Deputy Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, blamed Western pressure on Ukraine's government. Referencing the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution,’ Pushkov tweeted:

With their pressure on Ukraine's authorities, and attempts to pass off chaos as democracy, the West has opened the path to radicals, and now in Kiev there's Orange anarchy.

Deputy Robert Shlegel, who has long been an outspoken critic of American policy, sarcastically tweeted [ru] about US President Barack Obama's call for the Ukrainian army to exercise “restraint.”

Obama making demands of Ukraine's army. :-O Barack Husseinovich! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, once again you're digging yourself a hole with your colonial worldview.

Another prominent United Russia deputy, Sergey Zheleznyak, went on Facebook to voice his full support [ru] for the Ukrainian government's violent crackdown.

Совершенно очевидно, что с бандитами, взявшими в руки оружие, не может быть никакого перемирия, это не политическая сила, с которой имеет смысл вести переговоры, а преступники, которых нужно срочно выявлять, арестовывать и привлекать к уголовной ответственности! При вооруженном сопротивления преступников, угрожающих жизни и здоровью – уничтожать их без сожаления!

It's perfectly obvious that there can't be any sort of reconciliation with bandits who have taken up arms. This isn't a political force, with whom there's sense in holding discussions, these are criminals who need to be identified, arrested and brought to criminal responsibility! During an armed confrontation, criminals who threaten life and limb need to be eliminated without pity!

Russia's more liberal-minded politicians were less critical of the protesters. Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the opposition party ‘A Just Russia,’ wrote rather ambivalently in his LiveJournal [ru].

я полностью поддерживаю право народа на восстание, считаю события в Киеве именно народным восстанием, но скорблю, что причиной этого восстания является манипуляция общественным мнением со стороны недобросовестных политиков со всех сторон. Преследуемая людьми цель – ложная, и люди со временем это поймут, но много позже, когда пролитой кровью воспользуются проходимцы.

I fully support the right of the people to rise up. I consider the events in Kiev such a people's uprising, but regret that the reason for this uprising is the manipulation of public opinion on the part of cynical politicians on both sides. The goal people are striving for is a lie and people in time they will get this, but only much later, only after the schemers have exploited the bloodbath.

Fellow party-member Dmitry Gudkov, one of the most outspoken oppositionists sitting in the Duma, was more openly critical of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych has to quickly announce early presidential elections and carry out constitutional reforms or prepare himself for a meeting with Gaddafi.

United Russia has thrown its full support behind Yanukovych and is unlikely to be swayed in its opinion by mountaining casualties, which it blames ultimately on a combination of Western interference and far-right elements. Similarly, for Russia's opposition politicians, the bloodshed in Ukraine is a clear example of the dangers of corruption and an unwillingness for reform. For Russia's politicians, the battle lines over Ukraine have already been drawn, and now there can be no compromise. 

February 20 2014

Searching for Blame in Deadly South Korean Building Collapse

Ten college students were killed and 105 injured in a building collapse in South Korea on February 17, 2014. In a country where the dreadful memories of the Sampoong disaster, which claimed over 500 lives, and other deadly collapses are still fresh among adults, online venues have been flooded with concerns over the repeated safety lapses and discussions on who or what to blame for incidents such as these.

The accident occurred as heavy snow caved in the roof of a building where 500 freshmen from the Pusan University of Foreign Studies were staying for two days of orientation events before embarking on their very first semester there.

Some initial media reports pointed to fingers at the student council for organizing the event [ko] without the university's supervision and specifically, for choosing that location, or at the Mother Nature. Unusually heavy snow [ko] far exceeding the region's average precipitation hit the city of Gyeongju for several consecutive days, and the sheer weight of the snow is reported to have put so much pressure on the facility's steel panels that they snapped.

However, as investigation progressed, many seemed to reach the conclusion that this may have been a preventable manmade disaster after all. The collapsed building Manua Ocean Resort was built rather hastily in only two and a half months [ko], and since construction finished in 2009, it had never had a single regular safety check-up [ko].

It is not like the building was shelled; it collapsed only because of the heaping piles of snow. The first ones to blame are the ones who built that building and who are in charge of the building's maintenance. Why do some people keep talking about how the college had a shortage of funds so the student council had to choose a cheaper location for the orientation?

How do such things keep happening, despite all the money spent [to enhance] the construction sector, and even after we had a department store and a bridge collapse? 

Collapse of the Sampoong Department StoreHwaseong Sealand disasterIncheon Bar fire [ko], Taean Seaside bootcamp disaster… All those manmade disasters, have we learnt nothing from them? This Gyeongju Mauna resort disaster – as a person who has children, I feel so miserable and also furious.

There is a similar pattern between the Gyeongju resort facility collapse and the recent mass credit card data breach: our society's “risk-taking” culture. They are all focused on starting new things, but don't pay as much attention to possible risks ahead nor give extra care to maintenance.

This is a photo from the Gyeongju Mauna Report collapse scene, shared by a net user of online community site ‘I Love Soccer'.

February 19 2014

New Rainy Season Wreaks Havoc in Peru

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted.]

The 2014 rainy season, like those of previous years, is bringing destruction and death to various parts of Peru, especially the southern Andes and the eastern Amazon.

In mid-January, the Civil Defense reported three bridges damaged, 300 hectares of crops affected, and more than 20 houses damaged by the rains in Andahuaylas [en], Apurimac, asking for a state of emergency to be declared in this area. By the end of that month, the National Service for Meteorology and Hydrology (Senamhi) warned that 16 regions of the country may be affected by the increasing rains in upcoming days.

A landslide, caused by rain, blocks a stretch of roadway between Ayacucho and Apurímac.

Rains wreak havoc on the Andahuaylas-Apurímac roadway.

On February 2, the government declared a state of emergency in the Madre de Dios Region [en] upon receiving a report from the Civil Defense. The communication reported 2,800 people affected, 560 homes destroyed and 1,270 damaged, 15 kilometers of roadway destroyed, and two bridges and 782 hectares of crops damaged by the rains and flooding from rivers.

Various tourist lodges have had to close temporarily, unable to guarantee the safety of their clients. Recently, help has been provided to the native communities in the region.

Rains leave more than 6,000 people affected.

Water levels rise in the Beni, Madre de Dios, and Acre rivers; residents of Pando are concerned; the rains continue. 

Days later, a state of emergency was also declared in four areas in the Huancavelica Region [en]. Declaration of a state of emergency was also requested for parts of Pasco [en], and help was delivered to victims in the district of San Pedro de Putinapunco, Sandia, in Puno [en].

Huancavelica: The government declares a state of emergency in various districts in the region.

Sandia requests a declaration of a state of emergency for rains in Puno.

The situation in Cusco [en] is slightly more serious. By January 23, there were already 30 reported emergencies caused by the rains, mainly floods and landslides.

On January 30, it was reported that in the districts of Paucartambo and Colquepata, the rains and hail had damaged more than 170 hectares of farmland, with losses of around half a million nuevos soles ($177,525 USD). Furthermore, the district of Ocobamba was left isolated by a landslide covering part of the roadway leading to the area.

Heavy rains leave 4,000 residents of the district of Yanatile without communication.

Pregnant women at risk in the Patria-Pilcopata area; they are now in the Cusco Regional Hospital.

Heavy rains recorded in the Imperial City of Cusco. More information shortly.

On February 7, the mayor of Pilcopata, a district in Cusco, announced that due to landslides blocking the access road, 35 tourists coming from the Manú National Park [en], in Madre de Dios, were trapped in the area.

Later, on February 11, it was discovered that 51 Chilean tourists were stranded in the vicinity of Machu Picchu [en] because the rise of a river had destroyed a bridge. Later it was reported that the group, along with another group of tourists, was evacuated to Cusco by train.

More than 50 Chilean tourists were stranded in Machu Picchu.

Tourists stranded by the collapse of the Aobamba Bridge in Cusco are being transferred.

In the central jungle region, it was reported that the heavy rains led to the rise of the Rio Negro, which caused landslides to block roadways in various parts of Satipo [en], Junín, isolating up to 8 towns.

In Oxapampa, Pasco, two road workers died, buried by a landslide caused by the heavy rains. In the Ucayali region, the river of the same name was declared in red alert by the Senamhi due to high water levels.

Collapse of the roadway between Villa Rica and La Merced at the village of Pampa Encantada 2/11/14, heavy rain in the central jungle region.

The jungle of Pasco in a state of emergency… more than 40 landslides caused by the rains.

Meanwhile, in the north of Peru, the region of Piura is suffering a severe drought that is affecting agriculture and livestock. And in the south, in Arequipa, forecasts of ice storms and hailstorms were announced for the upcoming days.

Post originally published on the blog Globalizado, by Juan Arellano.

February 18 2014

“Bring All the Culprits of Ethnic Cleansing to Justice” Says a CAR Citizen of Muslim and Christian Descent

Here is Moussa Tanko–Tchaibou's take on the ethnic cleansing that is underway in his country, the Central African Republic and what should be done to stop it [fr]:

Je suis centrafricain de confession musulmane avec cette particularité illustrative de la cohésion sociale, celle d’avoir un père de confession musulmane et une mère d’origine chrétienne [..]  Alors que la maison commune est en train de bruler qu’apportent-ils comme contribution afin de mettre fin à cette situation? Rien à part se préparer pour les prochaines échéances électorales, à attiser à distance cette haine contre une certaine catégorie de population [..]  il faudrait que les choses avancent vite, car ne pas traduire les coupables de ces crimes horribles devant la cour pénale internationale laisse la porte ouverte à d’autres massacres.

I am a Central African Republic citizen who happens to be muslim. In what used to be an illustration of the social cohesion of the past in my country, my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. [..] While the house of Central Africa is now burning, what did that they (political leaders) do to put an end to this situation? Nothing but prepare for the next elections and stir up hatred against a certain group of people [..] The world needs to move quickly (in identifying the culprits), because if we doe not bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to the International Criminal Court rapidly, we will leave the door open for other massacres to occur.

Hayes Brown unpacks why it is important to better understand the two-way atrocities in the region and whether the use of the term genocide in the media is appropriate. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch states that without prompt action, the country will be emptied of its Muslim population [fr]. 

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

February 17 2014

Nepal Airlines Plane Crashes Killing All 18 On Board

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

A De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter of Nepal Airlines, similar to the aircraft involved in the accident. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Soshin Drechsler. CC BY-SA 3.0

An ill-fated Twin Otter plane crashed on 16 February 2014 killing all 18 on board in the forests of Masine in mid-western Nepal.

The wreckage of the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation plane which went missing after 1 p.m. Nepal Standard Time (NST) on Sunday and was found on Monday morning by local youths who had been there to play with the snow, reports Nepali online newspaper Setopati. The aircraft may have hit a mountain, which caused the crash.

Medico, a medical doctor from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), tweeted:

Sad news. What had to happen, got to know the same. All 18 aboard the Nepal Airlines Corporation plane died.

Journalist Bhabasagar Ghimire tweeted an earlier picture of the plane:

On 24 April 2010 the plane was to ferry a patient to Nepalgunj from Jumla airport.

The plane was 43 years old and was carrying 15 passengers and 3 crew members, blog Mysansar reported. Among them were a Danish national and a child. The aeroplane was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014.

Rajan Bhattarai from Germany tweeted:

The weather throughout the country was very bad on the day the plane crashed:

The ones who permitted to fly the plane in such weather should be jailed.

Although being old, the plane had had only one incident of slipping on the runway of Jumla airport on 25 June 1992. The plane was also hijacked by Congress workers 40 years ago to loot the 30 lakhs of Indian rupees (about 4,800 US dollars) that the plane was carrying, reported Mysansar.

The Nepalese aviation industry has seen a huge number of accidents in the recent years, with two fatal plane crashes each year from 2010 to 2012. The European Union has banned all airlines from Nepal to fly into the 28 European nations.

Social media was awash with the news about the crash and condolence messages. Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai tweeted:

Pyasi tweeted:

[They say] a lot of courage is needed to scale Mount Everest. Seems thousand times more courage is needed to travel in a Nepali plane.

Indeed, the air journeys in Nepali skies seem more dangerous with the recent air accidents.

February 16 2014

Tourists Killed in Terrorist Attack in Sinai, Egypt

A bomb blast ripped through a bus carrying 30 tourists in Sinai, Egypt, today, killing at least two South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver. According to reports, the tourists had completed touring St Catherine's Monastery and were on their way to Israel, when the bomb exploded.

Netizens were left scrambling for information.

According to journalist Kristen McTighe:

She adds:

Firas Al-Atraqchi says:

ABC News Middle East Correspondent Alexander Marquardt has other information:

And Hamdy Kassem concludes [ar]:

Those of us who are not journalists will not know what happened in the Taba bus blast because of the contradicting information and casualty figures. It is a struggle for journalists to get information in a country which denies all information

And if this is not enough, The Big Pharaoh claims the Muslim Brotherhood Twitter account is spreading more mis-information:

Soon enough, photographs surfaced online.

Fatima Said shares this photograph of the remains of a charred bus:

Egyptian blogger and journalist Muhamed Sabry remarks on the photograph saying:

And Amro Ali shares the photograph of the Egyptian bus driver, said to be killed in the blast:

Zeinobia, on Egyptian Chronicles, is alarmed tourists are being targeted. She blogs:

We are back to the days of the 1990s where tourists were a main target. Actually we are back to the 2000s where South Sinai had its share from several terrorist attacks.
Now the attacks moved to South where tourism industry began to catch up.
I am concerned that after targeting the tourists in Taba in 2000s , the security forces unleashed hell abusing locals there affecting their relationship with the state till this day in addition to whatever happening in the North now from military campaign against the terrorist groups things will go from bad to worse to worst.

Meanwhile, Egyptian netizens are kissing their tourism industry goodbye.

Nasry Esmat bitterly tweets [ar]:

We as a nation are not effected with a number of people killed … all we care about is tourism for economic reasons

Mohamed El Dahshan notes:

Ashraf Khalil adds:

And Mona Eltahawy fumes:

February 07 2014

Change From the Ground Up in War-Torn Central African Republic

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via wikipédia Public Domain

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via Wikipedia – Public domain

Full-time volunteers from the ATD Fourth World Movement in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict there began to tear the country apart. The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by the fighting between Seleka rebels, mostly of Islamic confession, and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of Christian youth groups. The group's continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation.  

Global Voices approached the volunteers to learn their perspective on the situation and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the second part of an interview with Michel Besse, the local team leader of the ATD Fourth World Team in Bangui and his collaborators. You can read the first part of the interview here

Global Voices (GV): Which of the actions taken so far have proved to be most useful to the population? 

Michel Besse: Pendant l'année de plomb qu'à vécu le pays en 2013, une douzaine de membres du Mouvement ATD Quart Monde, sont venus de leurs quartiers et de leurs villages chaque semaine jusqu'au Centre-Ville. Ils ont procédé à l’élaboration du programme d'action du Mouvement pour 4 ans, exprimer ce qui est le plus important pour leur pays ne pas laisser se perdre l'intelligence des enfants, et rejoindre d'autres qui souffrent plus encore ! Dans un pays ou même le lendemain est incertain, ils ont persévéré et résisté : malgré la pression de l'urgence et des dangers, malgré les incertitudes du présent, pour eux penser l'avenir était important. Ils voulaient semer l'espoir maintenant pour garantir l'avenir et ils continuent.

Michel Besse: During the year of carnage that the country endured in 2013, a dozen or so members of the ATD Fourth World organization travelled every week from their neighbourhoods and villages to the town centre. The members worked on the movement's four-year action programme, identifying what matters most for their country; not allowing children's intelligence to be wasted, and joining forces with others who are suffering even more! In a country where even the next day is uncertain, they have persevered and resisted hatred; despite the pressures of the emergency situation and the dangers involved, despite the present uncertainties, it was important for them to think of the future. They wanted to sow the seeds of hope in the present to secure the future, and they are continuing to do so.


Video of children in Bangui, CAR  with schoolchildren from other countries.

GV: You say that it is crucial for communities to talk to each other and maintain dialogue to resolve problems. What conditions do you consider to be necessary for this dialogue to take place? How can the international community assist with this?

MB: Ce que le Mouvement ATD Quart Monde a appris de l'expérience, pour l'avoir vécu ailleurs aussi, c'est que partout où il y a des catastrophes, des crises, les premiers à y faire face, ce sont les gens du pays, et en particulier les gens d'en bas : les habitants des quartiers qui s'organisent sans attendre l'aide internationale, ceux dont les paroles et les actes restent encore invisibles.  La plus grande crainte, c’est que le fossé ne se creuse trop entre les communautés, et qu’il soit trop difficile ensuite d’envisager la réconciliation. Alors, chaque perte en vie humaine est une souffrance pour tous ceux qui veulent la paix. Il faut soutenir les initiatives qui vont dans le sens de la paix, aider à faire entendre les voix et voir les gestes qui portent cette aspiration profonde de fraternité et d’unité.

Les jeunes n'ont pas attendu que le recensement du camp de personnes déplacées de 100.000 soit fait à l'aéroport pour commencer des bibliothèques de rue. Chancella, Kevin et Herbert l'ont fait sans autres moyens qu'un tout petit peu de matériel, quelques crayons et leurs chansons mais surtout toute leur personne. Ils n'ont pas attendus pour se mettre au service communautaire dans les camps : aider les personnes malades à prendre leurs médicaments, aller chercher de l'eau pour les plus faibles, enterrer les morts, mais aussi les mères de familles à réorganiser leur petits commerces pour les besoins du camp et pour nourrir leur familles. Comme ces jeunes, ce que les habitants du pays espèrent, c'est d'être aidés mais en étant soutenus dans leurs initiatives.

MB: The ATD Fourth World Movement has learned from experience, having gone through it elsewhere, that wherever disasters and crises occur, the local people are the ones who have to deal with things first, especially the poorer people; the neighbourhood residents, who organize themselves without waiting for international aid, and whose words and actions remain invisible. The greatest fear is that the gap between the communities will become too wide, making reconciliation a difficult prospect. Every human life lost causes suffering for those who want peace. It is important to support peace initiatives, to help ensure the voices and actions that convey this deep desire for brotherhood and unity are heard and seen.

The young people of Bangui did not wait for the 100,000 displaced people camped at the airport to be listed before starting to set up street libraries. A few of the youngsters who volunteered to help, Chancella, Kevin and Herbert, achieved that with nothing more than a tiny scrap of material, a few pencils and their songs, but most importantly, they put themselves into it. They didn't hesitate to put themselves at the service of the community in the camps, helping the sick to take their medicine, fetching water for the weak, burying the dead, and helping mothers to rebuild their small businesses supplying the needs of the camp and to feed their families. Like these young people, the country's inhabitants wish to be helped, but by being supported in their own initiatives.

GV: How can international aid help rebuild the country, without overlooking those who are the country's driving force?  

MB: On l'a souvent vu ailleurs, l'état a été dénigré et contourné par l'aide internationale.  Il faut soutenir les initiatives des gens du pays et ne pas les écraser. Comment dire qu'on ne peut se mettre derrière ceux qui sont engagés et ont une expérience et une réflexion sur ce qu'il faut faire, nourrie par des années d'engagement ? Les responsables  d'une « maison » pour enfants vulnérables a vu des tonnes de riz distribué en rations individuelles… et les plus faibles se faire dépouiller, ou le vendre à vil prix pour avoir quelques sous. Ces responsables auraient su comment procéder avec ses collègues pour qu'il serve à tous les enfants, plus équitablement.

MB: We've seen it happen elsewhere, the state being denigrated and bypassed by international aid. The initiatives of the country's people have to be supported, not crushed. Why refuse to support those who are involved and have experience and an appreciation for what needs to be done, gained through years of involvement? The people in charge of a “home” for vulnerable children have seen tonnes of rice distributed in individual portions… and the weakest ones having it stolen from them, or it is sold at a low price just to have a few cents. The people in charge of these homes would know how to work with these colleagues to ensure that the rice was used to help all the children more fairly.

GV: How should we go about gathering the people's views and ideas and engaging with them as partners?

MB: Alors qu'elle était Maire de Bangui, l'actuelle Chef de l’État de la transition avait expliqué lors d'une table ronde des organismes humanitaires cet enjeu central : « des chefs de quartier peuvent sembler de vieux messieurs, des instituteurs sans travail depuis des mois ou des responsables d'associations de jeunes dont les locaux sont détruits depuis des années peuvent ne pas ressembler à des interlocuteurs habituels pour ces ONG, mais c'est pourtant avec eux qu'une action passe et peut être acceptée par les habitants ». C’est vital, et c’est d’ailleurs le principe de respect des peuples et un sens profond de la solidarité qui garantie la paix et le vrai progrès avec tous.

MB: While she was Mayor of Bangui, the current transitional Head of State explained the key issue at a round table for humanitarian organizations: “It may seem that some community leaders are old men, teachers who have been out of work for months, leaders of youth associations whose premises were destroyed years ago, and they may not seem to be the kind of people these NGOs are used to liaising with, but it is through them that measures are achieved that are acceptable to residents”. It is vitally important, as it involves the principle of respect for the people and a profound sense of solidarity, which ensures peace and progress for everybody.

February 03 2014

Lessons of Peace from the Central African Republic's Most Disadvantaged

Une école à Bangui, Centrafrique via wikipédia - license  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A school in Bangui, Central African Republic via Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Full-time volunteers from the organization ATD Fourth World in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict began to tear the country apart in early 2013.

The Central African conflict between the government and Seleka rebels has worsened alarmingly for the past year. The initially political conflict has now evolved into a religious conflict between Seleka Rebels, mostly of Islamic confession and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of christian youth groups. ATD Fourth World's mission in CAR is to support the more disenfranchised civilians living in extreme poverty by providing shelters for the neediest and some schooling for a few children.  

The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by fratricidal fighting. Their continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation. 

Global Voices approached the volunteers to find out how they see things and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the first part of a lengthy interview with Michel Besse and the ADT Fourth World team in Bangui.

Global Voices (GV): What are the most  pressing issues for the Central African Republic right now?  How could they be resolved?  

Michel Besse (MB): Pour nous, ce dont le pays a besoin pour reconstruire,  c'est de tenir compte de ceux qui ont résisté, et compter avec eux, s’appuyer sur leur expérience et leur savoir. Des familles, des personnes qu'on considère pour rien, isolées de tous et sans appuis chez les « kotazo » (les puissants, en sango langue nationale), ont maintenu malgré tout un lien de paix et de survie, au cœur des conflits. C'est ce lien dont le pays a besoin pour se rassembler après toutes ces distensions brutales. En revanche ceux qui sont restés comme des « blocs » par l'usage de la force (les milices armées) ou par l'usage de la ruse pour la survie de leurs intérêts politiques ou autres, n'ont pas cette vision de résistance et de reconstruction. Nous souhaitons que cette sagesse de paix des très pauvres puisse être connue de ceux qui sont dans leurs sécurités, ceux qui peuvent se protéger, ou ceux qui sont à l'abri. 

Michel Besse (MB): For us, what the country needs in order to rebuild itself is to take into account the views of those who are fighting the hatred, and trust them, rely on their experience and their knowledge. Families and people who are being left stranded now, isolated from their loved ones and without any influence over the “kotazo” (the powerful ones, in the national Sango lauguage) have, despite it all, managed to maintain peaceful social relationships in the midst of conflict. It is these kind of links that the country needs in order to come together after all of these brutal flare-ups. On the other hand, those who remained in their fighting stances like “blocks of violence” (the armed militia) or by ruse in order to preserve their own interest or political agendas, these people do not hold the vision of resistance to hatred and reconstruction. We hope that the wisdom for peace held by the poorest can be felt by those who are in more privileged positions, those able to protect themselves, or those who are sheltered. 

GV: What is the current situation in the area where you are?  Are their refugees, and if so, where are they coming from?

MB: On peut dire que depuis le 24 décembre, toutes les maisons dans notre quartier ont accueilli des familles déplacées fuyant les quartiers devenus dangereux ; nous-mêmes, à la Maison Quart Monde, nous accueillons désormais une vingtaine de personnes, des membres du Mouvement venant de quartiers proches. Par ailleurs, un site de déplacés existe à quelques rues de chez nous, avec 19.000 personnes déplacées.
Des jeunes de ces familles déplacées sont souvent envoyés pour essayer de passer une nuit dans les maisons familiales, mais au bout de quelques essais ils retournent à nouveau dans des quartiers plus sûrs, à cause de regain de violences et de scènes de tueries qui ont eu lieu dans les zones d'affrontement. La situation, d'après ce que nous entendons de leur part, ainsi que par d'autres amis du Mouvement ATD, l'instabilité d'un jour sur l'autre est la marque de cette insécurité. Elle empêche de pouvoir se réinstaller durablement chez soi.
Beaucoup de ceux avec qui nous sommes en lien, entre autres des jeunes qui viennent prendre des matériaux d'animation pour les Bibliothèques de Rues dans leurs sites, et qui nous racontent leur vie quotidienne dans ces camps dont le plus grand à l'aéroport compte 100.000 personnes, nous le disent : « Ça fait très mal quand je vois ma famille sur cet aéroport. Quand je fais l'animation avec les enfants, la douleur est enlevée, j'ai moins de soucis ni de tracas, pas de douleur ».

Quand il y a de l'électricité, nous pouvons rester en lien avec des membres du mouvement, donner et recevoir de nouvelles des uns et des autres. Comme les déplacements sont limités, ces liens se font par téléphone mobile, surtout avec des familles qui sont dans zones de combats, avec un SMS, un appel de quelques secondes, parfois ces familles répondent en murmurant, de peur d’être entendues par les groupes armés qui passent, dans les ruelles près de leurs maisons. Nous faisons tout le possible pour que les nouvelles circulent : nous savons que c'est vital pour ne pas se sentir seuls.

Nous avions un projet de faire découvrir aux enfants et aux animateurs de Bibliothèque de rue et d’action Tapori dans sept zones de la capitale un DVD de chansons Tapori . C’était prévu pour Fin 2013, début 2014 : malheureusement, la flambée du 5 décembre nous a empêché de vivre ce projet : « C'est reporté, pas annulé », disait un de ces animateurs. « Dans le pays, un jour le calme viendra, alors ça sera possible ». Mais en attendant, les animateurs ne restent pas les bras croisés. Ils ont rejoints les enfants dans différents camps de déplacés. A l’aéroport, ils les réunissent plusieurs fois par semaines autour des livres, des chansons, du dessin. C’est ainsi que les enfants de la BDR du Camp de Mpoko, ont réalisé des coloriages, et ont choisi de les offrir à l’hôpital-mobile de MSF [ Doctors Without Borders] lors de l'inauguration , et avec leur fameux DVD en prime ! En recevant ce cadeau, la Directrice de l’hôpital, une MSF qui avait travaillé dans bien d'autres pays, disait sa joie de voir pour la première fois de sa carrière, que la force des enfants à travers leurs paroles et leurs chansons des enfants pour la joie d'autres enfants était mise en avant.

MB: I can tell you that since 24 December all of the houses in our part of town have taken in displaced families fleeing those other parts which have become danger zones. At the ATD Fourth World HQ, we are also hosting 20 people from surrounding neighbourhoods. A refugee site for displaced people is set only a few streets away from us and it holds 19,000 displaced people.

Youngsters from the displaced families are often sent to try and spend the night in the family's homes, but after a few failed attempts, they return to safer neighbourhoods due to the increased violence and the killings which have taken place in the trouble spots. The situation, according to what they tell us, as well as what other friends of the ADT Movement say, is one of day-to-day volatility. It prevents people from going back home for good.

Many of those who we are in contact with, including the youngsters who come to get materials for use in activities at the street libraries, a collection of children’s artwork to decorate hospitals in Bangui on their sites, tell us about their day-to-day lives in these camps, the biggest of which is at the airport and holds 100,000 people. They say that “it makes us feel really bad to see our families at the airport. When we lead activities with the children, their pain is alleviated and they have fewer worries, less pain”.

When there is electricity, we can stay in contact with members of the movement, exchange news. As travel is limited, these exchanges are made by mobile phone, especially with families who are in the combat zones, by text message or a call lasting only a few seconds. Sometimes these families answer with only a whisper, scared of being heard by armed groups who pass by near their houses. We are doing everything we can to make sure news gets round: We know it is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation.  

We had a project to introduce a DVD of Tapori [a worldwide network of young members of the ATD Movement] songs to children and facilitators at the Street Library and Tapori action in seven zones around the capital. It was planned for the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, the flare-up on 5 December prevented us from carrying out the project: “It is postponed, not cancelled” said one of the facilitators. “One day, calm will come back in the country, that's when it will be possible”.  But in the meantime, the facilitators are not just sitting around. They have travelled to the children in the various displacement camps. At the airport, they bring them together several times a week around books, songs and drawing. This is how the children of the Street Library in the Mpoko camp produced their colouring picture book, and decided to give them to the MSF mobile hospital during it's inauguration. On receiving the gift, the hospital's director, who has worked with MSF in many other countries, expressed her joy at seeing for the first time in her career that the strength of these children, coming from their words and their songs for the joy of other children, was being showcased.

GV: The day-to-day situation is truly worrying. How do you manage the uncertainty? What are the most pressing needs at present?

MB: Nous voyons que pour les familles qui sont déplacées, l'important est de pouvoir continuer à gagner de quoi vivre. Pour deux mères de familles qui sont avec nous, il s'agit de vendre de la farine de maïs : pour cela il faut aller acheter le grain en vrac, puis le mettre à tremper une nuit, le sécher et aller trouver dans le marché Lakouanga à deux kms un moulin qui fasse la farine à bon prix, et enfin organiser la vente au détail dans l'un ou l'autre marché « spontané » qui est né du déplacement de la moitié de la ville. Toute cette activité de survie donne à la famille toute entière une raison de se lever, de se battre, d'espérer.
L'incertitude, c'est de vendre suffisamment pour pouvoir acheter de quoi manger à la famille ; c'est aussi d'avoir à traverser des quartiers où les conditions de sécurité sont tellement changeantes : celui qui a moulu mon grain aujourd'hui sera-t-il encore vivant demain ? C'est par exemple sur ce trajet de fabrication de la farine de maïs qu'une des mamans a été témoin devant ses yeux du lynchage d'un homme par la foule. C'est aussi l'incertitude de pouvoir rentrer avant le couvre-feu et la tombée de jour à 18 heures, alors que des bandes commencent à sortir pour aller piller des maisons désertées. L’autre souci des parents, c’est l’éducation des enfants, ils ne veulent pas que les enfants soient témoins de scènes de violence. depuis le début des tensions, les animateurs disaient : « il nous faut continuer nos Bibliothèque de rue pour désarmer l’esprit des enfants ». c’est aussi pour cela que nous allons soutenir l’initiative de l’école qui se trouve proche de la Maison Quart Monde. elle accueille depuis quelques jours plus de 1000 enfants et proposent des activités ludiques.

Depuis le jeudi 20 janvier 2014 et la prestation de serment de la Présidente de la transition, les radios nationales donnent des communiqués sur les réalités de violence qui continuent de toucher le pays : cela fait que les déplacés qui vivent avec nous, et d'autres qui passent nous voir, se posent beaucoup de questions pour le devenir de leur pays. Si malgré un deuxième gouvernement de transition les choses en restent à la violence, alors qu'est-ce qu'on va devenir?

La situation est très compliquée, c'est vrai. Mais on ne peut pas dire que tout le monde est ennemi. On ne peut pas sous-estimer les risques que prennent certains pour sauver d'autres qui ne sont pas de leur communauté. Par exemple, telle maman musulmane qui un midi voit passer une jeune fille chrétienne, ployant sous le poids du sac de grain qu'elle est allée moudre, et s'avance dans une rue ou des exactions viennent d'avoir lieu : « Viens ma fille »,dit-elle pour faire croire qu'elle est une parente, « je t'aide à porter »… et elle lui montre une ruelle pour éviter le quartier ! Dans ce même quartier, 17 lieux de culte chrétiens ont étés protégés par des groupes de jeunes musulmans qui ont voulu que l'honneur de leur voisinage soit respecté. Un autre exemple, un jeune chrétien a sauvé un homme poursuivi par une foule qui le soupçonnait d’être un ex rebelle. Lorsqu’on lui a dit : « mais pourquoi tu as sauvé ce rebelle ? » il a répondu : « j’ai sauvé un homme ».

En parlant de l'avenir du pays, un éducateur spécialisé dit : « Qu'on en finisse avec la haine. C'est une catastrophe. Les centrafricains veulent quelqu'un qui peut assurer cette transition, faire grandir un esprit qui bannit la haine et la jalousie. Qui favorise que l'un accepte l'autre. Un esprit de pardon pour assurer la paix, quelles que soient les origines de l'un et de l'autre. Les politiques doivent accepter que les gens veulent vivre en paix. Les gens réfléchissent : des dirigeants créeront-ils encore des divisions ? Car depuis si longtemps nous arrivions à vivre sans tenir compte de l'appartenance religieuse».

MB: We can see that for the displaced families, the most important thing is to continue to be able to earn enough to live on. For two of the mothers who are with us, it's a question of selling maize flour: to do that, they have to go and buy the grain in bulk, then leave it to soak overnight, dry it and then go to the market at Lakouanga, two kilometres away, to find a miller who will mill the flower at a decent price, before arranging to retail the flour at one or other of the “pop-up” markets which have been born out of the displacement of half the town. Any survival activity gives the family a reason to get up, to fight, to hope.

Uncertainty comes from whether enough flour will be sold to be able to buy the family something to eat; it is also about being able to cross neighbourhoods where the security situation is very changeable. Will the person who milled my grain today still be alive tomorrow? It was, for example, via the production of maize flour that one of the mothers came to witness the mob lynching if a man. Uncertainty also comes from not knowing whether you'll be able to return before the 6 p.m. curfew when gangs begin to appear looking to loot the deserted houses. Another worry for parents is their children's education; they don't want their children to witness scenes of violence. Since the beginning of the troubles, the facilitators have said, “We need to continue on with our street library in order to take away violence from the children's spirits”. This is also why we are going to support the initiative of the schools. For the past few days, the schools have entertained more than 1,000 children and offered fun activities.

Since Thursday, 20 January 20, 2014 and the swearing into office of the transitional president, the national radio stations have been broadcasting bulletins on the reality of the violence that continues to affect the country. This has lead to the displaced people who are living with us, and others who stop by to see us, to ask a lot of questions about the future of their country. If, despite a second transitional government, the violence continues, what will their future hold?

It is true that this is a very complicated situation. But it cannot be said that everyone has suddenly become an enemy The risks which some are willing to take in order to protect others not from their own communities shouldn't be underestimated. For example, a Muslim mother saw a young Christian girl passing by one midday, buckling under the weight of a sack of grain she was taking to be milled and heading for a street where scenes of violence had recently played out. “Come on, my darling girl”, she said to indicate that she was the girl's parent, “I'll help you carry it,” and she showed her a side street to bypass the neighbourhood! In this same neighbourhood, 17 places of Christian worship have been protected by groups of young Muslims who want to ensure the honour of their neighbours is respected. In another example, a young Christian saved a man who was being pursued by a crowd who suspected him of being a former rebel. When he was asked, “But why did you save this rebel?” he replied, “I saved a man.”

Talking about the future of the country, an educational specialist said, “The hate needs to stop. It's a catastrophe. Central Africans want someone who can ensure a transition, engender a spirit which banishes hate and jealousy. One which encourages acceptance of one another. A spirit of forgiveness in order to ensure peace, whatever each others origins. Politicians need to accept that people want to live in peace. People are thinking, will our leaders create further division? Because for a long time we managed to live without religious affiliation being an issue.”

The second part of this interview on how the Central Africans can be helped will be published in a follow-up post. 

February 01 2014

Philippine Typhoon Haiyan Victims Join ‘People Surge’ Protest

'People Surge' protest gathering in a public university in Leyte. Photo from Tudla

‘People Surge’ protest gathering in a public university in Leyte. Photo from Tudla

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

More than 10,000 typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) victims in the Philippines joined a protest dubbed ‘People Surge’ to condemn the slow arrival of relief and rehabilitation efforts in their communities. The ‘People Surge’ is also an alliance of typhoon Haiyan victims mainly from the provinces of Leyte and Samar.

Haiyan, the world’s strongest storm of 2013, battered the Visayas islands of the Philippines last November 8 which killed more than 6,000 people. Thousands more were left homeless after a tsunami-like storm surge devastated several towns in the region.

Participants of the ‘People Surge’ are complaining about the lack of government assistance in restoring the homes and livelihoods of typhoon victims. They are also opposing the ‘No Build Zone’ policy which they claim will lead to the displacement of thousands of residents in coastal areas.

The ‘People Surge’ first assembled in a public university before marching around the city of Tacloban, the ground zero of the Haiyan disaster.

A Catholic nun, convenor of the People Surge, introduces the objectives of the action. Photo from Tudla

A Catholic nun, convenor of the People Surge, introduces the objectives of the action. Photo from Tudla

'People Surge' assembly in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

‘People Surge’ assembly in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

Residents hold improvised placards declaring their opposition to the 'No Build Zone' policy. Photo from Tudla

Residents hold improvised placards declaring their opposition to the ‘No Build Zone’ policy. Photo from Tudla

Residents, both young and old, are calling for the scrapping of the 'No Build Zone' policy. Photo from Tudla.

Residents, both young and old, are calling for the scrapping of the ‘No Build Zone’ policy. Photo from Tudla.

A typhoon victim voices out her concern to some aspects of the government's rehabilitation program. Photo from People Surge

A typhoon victim voices out her concern to some aspects of the government's rehabilitation program. Photo from People Surge

A participant of the rally calls for immediate rehabilitation of typhoon-affected villages instead of militarization. Photo from Tudla

A participant of the rally calls for immediate rehabilitation of typhoon-affected villages instead of militarization. Photo from Tudla

Protesters warn against land grabbing in favor of big business. Photo from Facebook of Elle Freem

Protesters warn against land grabbing in favor of big business. Photo from Facebook of Elle Freem

The event used the Twitter hashtag #PeopleSurge. Angel de Guzman† thinks the ‘People Surge’ was one of the biggest rallies in the region in recent years:

Leon Dulce, an environmentalist, explained why residents are against the ‘No Build Zone’ policy:

Compounding the survivors’ woes is the no-build zone policy that government imposed over the devastated coastal areas, which supposedly removed settlements away from the hazards presented by storm surges, but divorced the fisher folk and other coastal communities from shelter and livelihoods in the process.

Amando Doronila, a veteran journalist, warned the government not to undermine the anger of the poor victims:

After enduring for more than two months deprivations in food, shelter and medicines, more than 12,000 residents of Leyte and Samar converged on devastated Tacloban to express their indignation against the agonizing inaction of the national government, whose relief workers were still recovering decomposing corpses from the ruins at the rate of three a day, so the relatives of the dead can give the remains a decent burial. Under Filipino custom, nothing can be more sacrilegious and profane than leaving the dead unburied, especially by a negligent state

Elle Freem, a volunteer worker, observed how the organized campaign unfolded in Tacloban:

The Eastern Visayas region is probably the epitome if resilience, the people are ready to rise up in face of not only the material and psychological hardship of the super storm but also in face of an apathetic government who is profiteering on the aid pouring in. Tens of thousands of people made their way to the university of eastern visayas to voice their perspective on how to rehabilitate their homes and region. The communities here are organized and have a clear plan on how they want to proceed but will the government listen?

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

January 28 2014

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Trip to the Dying Aral Sea

The Aral Sea lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was once one of the world's four largest lakes. Over the last five decades, however, the sea has lost over 90 percent of its original size, mainly as a result of disastrous irrigation projects which diverted rivers feeding it. On the Caravanistan travel blog, Aziz Murtazaev presents a photo report about his recent trip to the “dying sea”. A more detailed report by the blogger, in Russian, can be accessed here and here.

January 21 2014

Philippine Typhoon Haiyan Victims Complain of Slow Relief and Substandard Shelters

Dead bodies are still being retrieved in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Tudla.

Dead bodies are still being retrieved in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Tudla.

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

More than two months have passed since super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the central part of the Philippines but many survivors are still complaining about the slow arrival of government relief in their communities. In one village in Palo, Leyte, dead bodies are still being retrieved:

In Brgy. San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte, more than 2 months after typhoon Yolanda, bodies are still being retrieved in a swampy area of the village. According to retrieval operations volunteers in the village, they did not receive support from government like equipment and manpower for the retrieval of dead bodies. Volunteers are having difficulty in retrieving the bodies because of the inaccessibility of the area and lack of equipment.

Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people (the government is not yet finished counting the dead) when it caused a four-storey storm surge in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. It was the world’s strongest and deadliest storm of 2013.

Millions were left homeless after Haiyan completely devastated large areas in the region. The ground zero of the disaster is Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province. A drone flight by the Thijs Bertels Videoproducties clearly documents the extent of destruction left by Haiyan in the city.

Adding to the burden of refugees is the reported construction of overpriced and substandard temporary shelters by the government. This latest scandal has enraged many people who accused politicians of stealing from the rehabilitation funds.

But Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman assures the public that the government has been continuously providing all forms of assistance to typhoon victims:

Tudla, a multimedia group, reported that some of these overpriced bunkhouses have remained unoccupied:

More than two months after typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines, until now these temporary shelters or bunkhouses in Bliss, Tacloban City have no occupants.

No occupants for these controversial bunkhouses.  Photo from Tudla

No occupants for these controversial bunkhouses. Photo from Tudla

Eric Aseo writes about how to improve the reconstruction process:

While victims of Yolanda endure the monsoon rains inside flooded tents and leaking houses, it’s urgent that the government and international partners prioritize plugging up these leaks and leaks of all sorts so that effective reconstruction efforts can move forward.

Despite the relief pledge of many countries, funds have not yet reached the Philippines according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad:

What we heard them say at the height of the Yolanda relief operations versus what you see them now delivering by way of cash, there's a big disparity.

Meanwhile, concerned citizens belonging to Kusog Tacloban have created an online petition asking foreign governments to make a complete accounting of the funds they gave to the Philippine government in order to monitor the utilization of the global aid:

Full transparency from you, the governments providing the aid, will enable us, watchdog groups, and concerned citizens, to hold government and private contractors to account in the difficult and long task of rehabilitation and rebuilding after Super Typhoon Yolanda. So we hope you, the foreign governments, continue to help us—please help us to monitor the rebuilding of our home.

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

January 18 2014

Blogger and Commando Argue Russian Terrorism

Anti-establishment  journalist Kungurov (left) vs. special forces blogger hardingush (right). Image remixed by author.

Anti-establishment journalist Kungurov (left) vs. anonymous special forces blogger hardingush (right). Image remixed by author.

The twin explosions in Volgograd [Global Voices report], which killed dozens of people in late December 2013, still remain an important topic of conversation on the RuNet. Out of the multitude of opinion, analysis, and commentary, one polemic is particularly interesting — an online argument between two popular bloggers, the anti-establishment journalist Alexey Kungurov and the anonymous special forces commando operating in Ingushetia, hardingush [Global Voices report].

After the first December blast in the Volgograd train station, Kungurov, who boasts 11,000 followers on LiveJournal and is ranked 66th in LiveJournal's blogger rankings, made a provocative statement in a blog post [ru]:

В очередной раз говорю очевидное: никакого теракта в Волгограде не было.

I will once again say something obvious: there was no terrorist attack in Volgograd.

Kungurov's logic is, according to him, straightforward. The Russian criminal code defines an act of terror as “An explosion, arson, or other actions aimed at intimidating the population, harming humans, or property [...], with the goal of influencing decisions made by the authorities or international organizations [...].” Since the parties responsible for the Volgograd bombs did not make any demands of the authorities, since there were no threats or attempts to influence anyone, since no one took responsibility for the attacks, and since no one appears to be using them as a way of promoting their ideology, Kungurov says, the explosions were simply:

«убийство двух или более лиц, совершенное общественно опасным способом» (ч.2 ст. 105 УК РФ). Квалифицирующего признака теракта в упор не вижу.

“a murder of two or more persons, perpetrated by publicly dangerous means” (Part 2, Article 105, Russian Criminal Code). I point-blank don't see any qualifying signs of terrorism.

Kungurov could be suspected of being facetious — the concept of an “act of terror” is near universal, i.e. most people would agree that blowing up a train station and killing dozens of people isn't simply “murder,” regardless of demands made or not made by the perpetrators, or how terror is defined in criminal codes. He goes further, however, claiming that all suicide bombings committed in Russia are in fact done at the behest of Russian “special agencies” and the silovikiwho stand to gain from an inflated security state and frightened population:

Выгоду  от «теракта» при любом раскладе извлекает государство, точнее отдельные лица, государство приватизировавшие.

Under any circumstances the state stands to benefit from an act of terror, more specifically, persons who have privatized the state.

Kungurov's post made somewhat of a stir on the RuNet, making it to many of the top lists of popular posts, and gathering 2,281 comments, many of which agreed with his arguments. The response [ru] came two weeks later from a LiveJournal blog that is subtitled “Combating terrorism. A view from the inside.” The special forces commando behind the blog hardingush [ru] (13,600 followers, ranked 23rd on LiveJournal) has made a name for himself on the RuNet describing anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus in vivid, gory detail.

hardingush takes issue with the labeling of a terrorist attack “murder,” and with the idea that demands are necessary for a crime to be classified as “terrorism.” Interestingly, just as Kungurov, he quotes from the official definition of a terrorist act (see above). Only, he concentrates on the “intimidating the population” part. According to hardingush, it's a “mistake” to view each suicide bombing separately. In fact the terrorists are running a protracted campaign. They don't have any specific demands (which they know won't be met in any case), but they do have the aim of “frightening” the Russian voters. These voters will then say:

“Нет, нам Кавказ не нужен, давайте отделим”. Нужно быть полным кретином, чтобы требовать отделения территории от руководства страны с помощью терактов. Но можно воздействовать на население, которое возьмет да и проголосует за придурка, который пообещает отделить Кавказ.

“No, we don't need the Caucasus, lets cut it loose.” You have to be a complete moron to make separatist demands from a government using acts of terror. But you can influence the populace, which will then go and vote for the idiot that promises to cut the Caucasus loose.

Meanwhile, Kungurov has published a series [ru] of posts [ru] that call hardingush out as a government PR project and a liar, part of the machine that creates demand for “acts of terror” and keeps Russians docile. hardingush has not responded to the accusations. As the Sochi Olympics approach, and as the Russian government looks to toughen up on anti-terrorist measures [ru], such online conflicts will probably heat up. Here's hoping they will stay online.