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July 30 2013

Immigrants Are Much More Than an Abstract Number (Part II)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

This is the second and final part of an interview with Mexican journalist Eileen Truax. You can read the first part here.

Mexican journalist and author of Huffington Post Voces Eileen Truax [es] recently released her book ‘Dreamers: The Fight of a Generation for its American Dream.’ Migrant Journeys talked to Truax, who spoke about the responsibility of the mainstream media and their coverage of immigration issues, among other topics.

Robert Valencia: Let’s talk about the role of media, especially the English-speaking media. We always hear about stories that concern Latinos but in the sections solely dedicated to Latinos, such as NBC Latino or FOX Latino. Do you think that the fact that mainstream media have exclusive platforms for Latinos may have a counterproductive effect since the point is to share the story of immigrants with those who are not connected to this issue or who are not close to the Latino community?

Eileen Truax: I share the same inquiry, however, this doesn’t mean these alternatives should disappear. It is important that these platforms address the topics of a community. The problem is that these platforms become the only place that talk about this community. Mainstream media still see immigrants (or what they call “ethnic” groups) as foreign bodies that invade this country. When you read Los Angeles Times or The New York Times or you watch TV, the discourse is still “them”, or “the Salvadoreans” or “the Asians”, but there is never an inclusive language or something like “we as an American society.” But we, immigrants and citizens alike, share the same problems. When the housing market crashes or there’s a change in the healthcare system, it affects us all. If our education system suffers another blow, your kids and mine are being affected. That is to say we have problems not just related to Latinos or Asians, but we have issues as an American society because we’re one country. Whoever thinks that just because a person is not named Gonzalez is not affected by what occurs in the Latino community has no common sense and is not familiarized with the reality of our country. The big problem is that mainstream media are in denial, that is, they haven’t accepted that diversity is a reality in this country.

RV: Undocumented immigrants also pay taxes that have amounted to $1 billion dollars, but these stories don’t make it to the national spotlight. What should we do as journalists or communicators to take these stories get to the general public and counterattack the “amnesty” rhetoric?

ET: What we need to do is to give [these stories] a human face all the time. I think that we should stop

Eileen Truax. Photo used with permission.

Eileen Truax. Photo by René Miranda, used with permission

chasing the news that stirs controversy. Unfortunately, the rhythm in which we see ourselves immersed in as a result of the surge of the Internet, despite being positive, has forced us to become “slaves of a click button.” There are three myths since the onset of Internet for those who are involved in journalism. First, that we have to be the first in delivering news before anybody else because then we lose. The second myth is that the more clicks we receive for our story then it becomes more important, and the third one is that people don’t read in full, so we have to give information piecemeal because people don’t like to read online. I believe these three myths are ruining in-depth journalism, which precisely has the function to make reality understandable to society. We are becoming people who just announce stories and we don’t take time to understand what’s happening. Case in point: “A truck crashed. A human trafficker was detained. Four were abducted. Two were killed.” This reads like an ad, but we don’t go in depth into these stories. We don’t know who the person who went to jail was or what happened to the immigrant who just arrived or the person who went to jail. We are not seeing stories in the long term; we just care about who publishes the story on the web first and how many clicks we receive. We even forget about our own mission and we have the moral obligation to tell stories we learn about. If you’re a reporter and have the privilege to discover stories first hand, we have the obligation to tell them and find the way to do so.

RV: Do you think it’s necessary to deploy more border security officers even if immigration to the United States has decreased considerably and thus this could represent an unnecessary expenditure to taxpayers?

ET: One thing is that the bill enacts a program that will allocate human and material resources to border security, and another is that a budget will be approved for this end. We had a similar experience in 2007 with the creation of a virtual wall on the border. Recession came and there were no funds to finance what the law approved. Now, budgets are approved each year, so just because the law says we can earmark millions and millions of dollars to the border doesn’t mean each year when budgets are approved the money will be there. I don’t believe this is the most important factor, the problem is that we’re losing the focus of what immigration reform is. The very same initiative is founded on its name; it starts by determining the element of security to later talk about immigration. Determining the well-being or the recognition of rights of more than 11 million people based on how the government can successfully protect the border is purposeless. Again, from my viewpoint, the failure of it all is that we are not understanding immigration reform as a human rights and social justice matter, but rather as an issue of state security and partisanship.

RV: Anything else you’d like to add that was not discussed in this interview?

ET: We must stop thinking about immigration as a partisan matter and a negotiating prize come Election Day. We must think of people and I believe that in order to achieve this end a fundamental tool is to have a close approach to the DREAMer story. I return to the beginning of this interview, because I still believe that the DREAMer generation is the most generous face of undocumented immigration and what this country can be. These youth seek to legalize their status and give back to this country. By definition, the DREAMers are people who want to continue their higher education studies and become doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc. They are young people who will become the labor force in this country, the ones who will be paying retirement for those who are now seating in Capitol Hill and the “baby boomers” who know they don’t have a generation below them that is wide enough to sustain their social security and retirement funds. We’re not talking about just doing a favor to a handful of youth; we’re talking about keeping this country buoyant if these are the youth that will become the working force while we’re retired. So the question is, where do we want them? Do we want them to work in the shadows at a restaurant or do we want them becoming successful professionals who spur economic growth and stability? Let’s answer these questions and then we’ll understand the need for an immigration reform.

July 26 2013

Immigrants: Much More Than an Abstract Number

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

This is the first part of an interview with Mexican journalist Eileen Truax.

Mexican journalist and author of Huffington Post Voces Eileen Truax [es] recently released her book ‘Dreamers: The Fight of a Generation for its American Dream’. Migrant Journeys talked to Truax, who offered her insights on the immigration bill that the U.S. Senate recently passed, and explained why “the DREAMers” –more than 65,000 youth brought to the U.S. as children by their migrant parents, and who remain classified as “undocumented”–offer a perfect example of some of the contributions of immigrants to the United States.

Robert Valencia: Tells us more about your book Dreamers. What made you write this book?

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Eileen Truax: Because I’m an immigrant myself, I was born in Mexico City and have lived nine years in Los Angeles, where I worked for La Opinión, America’s most influential newspaper in Spanish. During my time at this newspaper I covered immigration issues, and I found compelling and moving stories, some of them related to successes, or very dramatic. In this process I learned of this pattern, especially the presence of children of immigrants, or the so-called DREAMers. In reality it wasn’t the focus of attention for those covering the news, but the DREAMers were always there. I considered that it was necessary to take a second glimpse of particular stories from these youth who have features that set them apart from the rest of the immigrants. I believe this is how we’ll pave the way for a more humane immigration system. They’re Americans, save for a document.

RV: Many times we hear the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the media. Why do you think this is?

ET: For too long, I thought it was a lack of sensitivity, but in recent years I have found that it’s the lack of an approach to this problem. We tend to talk about immigration as a whole, like a generic thing that suddenly becomes abstract: 11 million people. But what’s the singularity about this? What’s the human aspect of this? We can’t give a soul to an abstract entity. For this reason, we must tell the stories of at least one immigrant. Let’s forget about the 11 million figure, let’s talk about the person who arrived in the U.S. with no documents and no knowledge of English. How does he or she manage to survive the first day if that person doesn’t know anybody, doesn’t have a place to sleep nor has a work permit? If it’s a family, how do their kids who don’t speak English manage to go to school? This way we can see a chain of stories and the challenges these people face, as well as the efforts to conquer the “little Everests” they face every day. When a person can understand the immigrant drama, sensitivity flourishes. Lest we forget we are talking about human beings who, in the end, are the beneficiaries of an immigration reform.

RV: Janet Napolitano stepped down as Secretary of Homeland Security. During her tenure we saw important measures for the DREAMers such as deferred action, a two-year program that allows them to be eligible for work authorization. How does her resignation affect the pro-immigrant movement?

ET: We must consider two things. The first is that the level of impact will depend on who replaces Napolitano, and what continuity will be given to the Administration’s policies or whether we’ll see a change of direction.  It will also depend on the vision the team will have. My second observation is that, though Napolitano was very vocal in several themes, we witnessed the largest number of deportations in America’s recent history, that is, 400,000 deportations per year is no small number. We’re talking about hits or misses in this administration. President Barack Obama has sided with the DREAMer movement and with the immigrant movement in general, but he’s the chief of this administration that has conducted these massive deportations. We have to wait and see who will take over and whether we’ll see a change of direction in current policies.

RV: Ann Coulter, a prominent figure of the U.S. conservative movement, said that by legalizing 11 million people the future of the Republican Party will be jeopardized, implying that the beneficiaries will vote in favor of Democrats as a sign of gratitude for passing the bill. Do you think it’s prudent to pigeonhole a Latino community who clearly is not monolithic in their political preferences? What do you think about this?

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

ET: It’s perverse to talk about an immigration reform while fixing attention to the political parties. What we need to understand is the need of a fair immigration reform seen from the human rights and criminal justice perspective, not just as partisan booty or capital gain for a particular party. If we don’t change our perspective we can’t do justice. The theme of immigration must be based on respect toward human rights. If we use these 11 million people as political prize we’re not doing the right thing as a country or as society, and lawmakers are not being compliant with their duties. Immigration reform must seek to give political certainty to 11 million people who are already here and who contribute to our society, and we as a society must protect those who live in it. Comments like this steer away the reform’s objective. Besides, this concern is premature and opportunistic because it will take 13 years for a person, once the bill is approved, to become a citizen.

RV: We have seen opposition of this bill in the House of Representatives at the helm of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Can we talk about optimism given the possibility that the reform will die down on the House floor?

ET: At this very moment we can’t have any certitude, not even the very same congressmen know exactly what the perspectives are with respect to the advancement of the bill in the next couple of months. I believe it will be after the August recess that some positions toward this bill will be defined when legislators go back to their respective localities. I hope these communities remind legislators the reason they’ve been put in Capitol Hill and that we have the right to tell them the position they must adopt regarding this matter. I would not talk about optimism because the perspective is vague. What I do believe, however, is that we’re at a juncture where everybody has to do something. Despite the things we don’t like about this reform and its peculiarities, the fact that we have an immigration reform bill is an opportunity nobody should miss. It’s the duty of activists and organizations to close ranks and become one front, while it’s the duty of journalists to seek different angles of the story, reminding congressmen and society that this goes beyond the militarization at the border. Let’s not forget who in reality will benefit and the characteristics of each group: There are sections of the bill that talk about farmers, another one talks about the DREAMers, etc., and we perhaps may forget to tell these stories. There are many particular things in the 1000-page-long bill, so we can’t focus the immigration debate just on border security.

July 25 2013

Ethnic Slurs Haunt Alexey Navalny

Alexey Navalny came under harsh criticism from Russian opposition movement colleagues as soon as he was released from Kirov jail on a “podpiska,” (an agreement to stay at his current place of residence — the Russian equivalent of making bail), and as soon as it became clear that he would continue to run for mayor of Moscow throughout the appeals process for his 5-year long prison sentence.

These fair-weather enemies restrained from public disagreement while it appeared that Navalny was getting the full brunt of government persecution in a trial most view as unjust and political in nature. However, now that Navalny stands a chance to keep himself out of prison by garnering a critical mass of public support in the mayoral elections against current mayor Sergey Sobyanin, the flood-gates have opened. First, Evgenya Chirikova, environmental activist and former opposition darling with her own mayoral ambitions [GV], wrote a harsh blog post [ru] attacking Navalny for skipping the environmental policy section in his electoral platform [GV].

Navalny responded to Chirikova's criticism promising to include the environment, but could not refrain from dismissively joking that her and her supporters would be distributed propaganda materials made out of “sticks, moss and tree bark. [ru]” It is partially his abrasive sense of humor and uneven tone that got Navalny in the next bit of trouble. The same day that Chirikova wrote her blog, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets Ayder Muzhdabaev wrote an open letter [ru] in his Facebook asking questions about the opposition candidate's perceived nationalist views.

Navalny has never hid his sympathies for the Russian nationalist movement — only a few weeks ago he co-authored a statement on ethnic violence in Pugachev [ru] with prominent nationalist opposition leaders. Muzhdabaev's questions, however, were much more personal. In particular, he addressed allegedly racist episodes in Navalny's biography — one in which he reportedly called a female Azerbaijani co-worker a “darkie” (“chernozhopaia,” literally “black-assed”), and another in which he referred to Georgians as “rodents” (a play on words: Gruziny (Georgians) and gryzuny (rodents)) during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

Navalny's answer wasn't gracious. He started by tweeting [ru]:

My staff demands that I answer some kind of disgusting open letter. I hate stuff like that. Total waste of time. It sickens me

With a mindset like this, it's no wonder that Navalny ended up with a letter [ru] that can be described as patronizing. After prefacing with how much he dislikes writing answers to such “pointed” [the scare-quotes are Navalny's - A.T.] questions, and how he is going to do it anyway because its his “duty,” Navalny petulantly wrote that he has already answered them 138 times (later he upped that figure to 138,000). At one point he started an answer with an exasperated “Hellloooowwww.” In fact, Navalny seemed so rude that some people drew comparisons between him and President Putin. Olga Allenova, a Kommersant journalist, wrote [ru]:

Этот хамский, снисходительный тон в ответах журналисту никого нам не напоминает? По-моему, парень – истинный преемник ВВП.

Does this boorish, condescending tone when answering a journalist remind you of anyone? I think the guy is a true successor to VVP [Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin]

Journalist Stanislav Minin made a similar connection [ru] to Putin's patented “macho” style of answering questions.

Rudeness aside, the biggest point of contention turned out to be the alleged ethnic slur against Saadat Kadyrova, who worked for the Moscow office of the opposition Yabloko party in the early 2000s together with Navalny. While in the original letter Muzhdabaev referred to statements that Kadyrova herself made about the incident (probably this Novemeber 2012 interview [ru] with Kadyrova where she says that Navalny's behavior forced her to leave the party), Navalny chose to interpret the question as referring to a blog post by a different former party colleague. He linked to a November 2011 post [ru] by Engelina Tareeva, an 88 year old woman who briefly mentioned the incident in her LiveJournal, but seems to have a generally positive view of Navalny. In this way Navalny evaded answering “Yes” or “No” to the original question, instead intimating that the incident was simply imagined by a half-senile “grandma” who only saw him a few times at the office.

This claim forced several of Navalny and Tareeva's Yablko colleagues to chime in with their own recollections. Semyon Burd, former Deputy Chairman of Moscow's Yabloko, wrote [ru]:

Вот лжет и не краснеет. Я несколько раз был свидетелем длинных разговоров Энгелины Борисовны и Алексея в 101 комнате. Она работала много на выборах 2005 года, работала на телефоне, еженедельно рассказывала Алексею о своих результатах. [...] Энгелина Борисовна была членом регионального совета, где Алексей Навальный был заместителем председателя. А теперь она стала бабушкой, видевшей его несколько раз в офисе.

He's a bold-faced liar. I have on several occasions witnessed long conversations between Engelina Borisovna and Alexey in room 101. She worked a lot during the 2005 elections, worked on the phone, and gave weekly updates to Alexey about her results. [...] Engelina Borisovna was a member of the regional party council, where Alexey Navalny was deputy chairman. And now shes suddenly a grandma, who saw him in the office a few times.

Another former Yabloko activist wrote [ru]:

рабочие места милой бабушки и Алексея Навального на первом этаже в период избирательной кампании разделяло метров десять [...]

the work spaces of the cute grandma and Alexey Navalny, on the first floor, during the election campaign, were about ten meters apart [...]

He also recalled Kadyrova, as did Alexander Gnezdilov (Alexandra Garmazhapova posted the following in a Facebook comment [ru]):

Александр Гнездилов пишет: “Когда в 2007 году Навального собирались исключать за национализм – Явлинский на бюро при десятках свидетелей напомнил Алексею об этом эпизоде и тот даже не заикнулся о том, что это ложь [...]“

Alexander Gnezdilov writes: “When in 2007 Navalny was being kicked out of the party for nationalism, during the working meeting [Party Chairman Grigory] Yavlinsky reminded Alexey about this episode in front of dozens of witnesses and he didn't even try to claim it was a lie [...]“

Tareeva herself also weighed in [ru], thinking that Navalny made a mistake:

Ему не нужно было отрицать общеизвестный факт, я имею в виду эпизод с азербайджанкой, зафиксированный в партийных документах. Лучше было сказать, что этот случай имел место, что то, что он сказал, он сказал в состоянии аффекта, а вовсе не по тому, что так думает, что он сожалеет об этом, и извинился.

He shouldn't have denied a commonly known fact, I mean the incident with the Azerbaijani girl, which was recorded in party documents. It would have been better for him to say that it did take place, but what he said he said in the heat of passion, and not because he actually thinks like that, that he is sorry for it, and has asked for forgiveness.

The preponderance of evidence seems to suggest that Navalny lied when giving his answer — in her interview, Kadyrova mentions the incident in passing, and does not appear to think that it's at all controversial:

Он вместе со мной начинал работать в «Яблоке». И когда-то я впервые услышала от Алексея Навального националистические высказывания вроде «вы — чернож…е», я рассказала об этом Григорию Алексеевичу Явлинскому.

He started working at Yabloko when I did. And when I first heard Alexey Navalny say nationalist things like “you're darkies”, I told Grigory Alexeevich Yavlinsky about it.

A scene from the cult 90s Russian movie "Brat" (Brother). A veteran of the first Chechen war, played by Danila Bagrov, returns home and finds employment as a mafia hit-man. Here we see him force two raucous North Caucasian immigrants to pay for their tram ticket at the point of a gun. Bagrov's character uses the slur "chernozhopyi" to address them as he his celebrates victory. Some accuse Navalny of exploiting the same populist anti-immigrant sentiments that made this scene popular. YouTube screenshot.

A scene from the cult 90s Russian movie “Brat” (Brother). A veteran of the first Chechen war, played by Danila Bagrov, forces two raucous North Caucasian immigrants to pay for their tram ticket at gunpoint. Bagrov's character uses the slur “chernozhopyi” to address the men. Some accuse Navalny of exploiting the anti-immigrant sentiments which made this scene popular. YouTube screenshot.

Supporters were quick to defend Navalny, whose situation is still precarious, but who at the same time stands a slight chance of changing the balance of power in Russia. Afisha's Yury Saprykin, for example, thought [ru] that it doesn't matter what Navalny really thinks or how he would act when in office — to him, the situation is akin to Pascal's wager, i.e. the worst thing that could happen is that Navalny turns into another Putin, and Russia already has a Putin, so it can only get better. (Even Saprykin, however, thought that Navalny needs to dial down his haughtiness when talking to critics.)

Some, like blogger Varvara Turova and LGBT-rights activist Maria Gessen, disagreed. Turova wrote [ru]:

Представьте, что у Путина есть брат-близнец. И он точно такой же человек. И он борется с настоящим Путиным. Будете вы за него голосовать?

Imagine that Putin has a twin brother. And he is exactly the same kind of person. And he is fighting the real Putin. Will you vote for him?

Gessen simply said [ru], referring to Navalny's ambitions of eventually running for President:

Я не хочу такого будущего, оно у нас и так есть.

I don't want a future like this, we already have one like it.

For some Navalny supporters his nationalism is a feature, not a bug. The journalist Oleg Kashin made this joke [ru] (in somewhat poor taste), for instance:

- Алексей, скажите, вы действительно назвали черножопой женщину из партии “Яблоко”?
- Да, а что?

-Alexey, tell me, did you really call a woman from the Yabloko party a darkie?
-Yes, what of it?

The publicist Dmitry Olshansky went further [ru], seeing a nationalist strategy as the only way forward for a attracting the electorate:

Если бы Навальный в сознании всех жителей РФ, кто о нем откуда-нибудь узнает, четко связался бы с идеей, назовем это так, этнокультурного замещения – 50% победы было бы в кармане. “Придет Навальный – выгонит всех этих”

If Navalny, in the mind of all the denizens of Russia who ever find out about him was clearly tied with the idea of, lets call it ethnocultural replacement – 50% of the victory would be a cinch. “Navalny will come – and kick all of these [people] out”

Perhaps he is correct — people of all walks of life seem to be sounding off about the “minority problem.” Former government adviser Alfred Koch, for example, wrote this [ru] about Muzhdabaev (an ethnic minority), who started the ball rolling with his questions:

Этот Айдер Муждабаев – банальный провокатор. Все так очевидно. Взяли нацмена и вот он задает “острые” вопросы с национальным орнаментом.

This Ayder Muzhdabaev, is simply a provocateur. It's obvious. They took a natsmen [old Soviet abbreviation from "natsional'noe menshistvo", ethnic minority, mildly derogatory/dismissive - A.T.] and now he is asking “pointed” questions with ethnic color.

With friends like this, who needs enemies? The satirical Twitter account IgorSechinEvilTwin (parodying the former deputy chief of Putin's administration, and current chairman of Rossneft) was on the same page [ru]:

Sergey Semenovich [Sobyanin], you don't need to find money for the Navalny-walloping. His own fans will do it for free.

July 21 2013

Has Alexey Navalny Really Changed Russian Politics?

Russians are waking up in a new country. Last week’s rollercoaster events—Alexey Navalny’s conviction, sentencing, arrest, and quick release, as well as a large street protest in his defense—are a watershed moment in the evolution of the Russian civil spirit. Indeed, of the Russian psyche. Yes, of all Russian politics!

In Moscow, political analyst Kirill Rogov writes [ru], “politics has inexorably returned to Russian life.” From Washington, DC, journalist Julia Ioffe proclaims that Navalny has “changed Russian politics” and showed Russians “how not to be afraid.” These grand statements come in advance of Moscow’s September 8 mayoral election, which will pit Navalny against incumbent city chief Sergey Sobyanin.

If Navalny has in fact rejuvenated Russian politics, what exactly does that look like online, where his support base is supposedly strongest? Measuring and interpreting answers to this question could go in any number of directions, but a reasonable place to start is with Navalny’s campaign platform, which he published on July 1, 2013.

Screenshot of the Navalny platform's title page.

Screenshot of the Navalny platform's title page.

Moscow’s official population is roughly 12 million people. If you use the Yandex Blogs search engine, there are over 4,000 results for the words “Navalny” and “platform” (программа) since July 1. Searching specifically for hyperlinks to the full text of Navalny’s platform [ru], meanwhile, turns up 389 hits: it appears 175 times on Twitter and 124 times on LiveJournal, Vkontakte, and similar services (though unfortunately Yandex Blogs does not index Facebook). When Navalny unveiled his platform, he called a press conference and recorded a video of the presentation, which he then posted to YouTube (see below). That video had over 64,000 views by July 19, with about half of that traffic recorded in the first three days after publication. Since July 5, the audience has held steady at about 2,000 views a day, which—if it continues—would lead to around 165,000 total views by election day.

In the 124 times that Russians cited Navalny’s platform in full blog posts (that is, on LiveJournal and elsewhere, but not on Twitter), only a handful of bloggers truly interrogated the content of the document. (Most people just posted a link to the platform, or reposted the text of Navalny’s announcement, without adding original commentary.) Searching through those 124 cases, I was able to identify just 21 posts where individuals actually discussed any of the platform’s details—and more than half of them (11) take a negative view of Navalny’s plans for Moscow. Slightly fewer than 30% of the reactions (6) are unambiguously supportive.

There are several trends in bloggers’ criticism of Navalny’s platform. People’s concerns generally address four issues: nationalism, qualifications, older generations of Russians, and overlap with Sobyanin’s platform [ru].

On nationalism and populism

Navalny’s critics have always attacked him for harboring excessively nationalist, borderline racist views about the presence of Central Asian migrants working illegally in Russia. In his mayoral platform, Navalny lays out a five-point plan to combat illegal migration, which includes transparency efforts aiming to battle illegally low pay for public services workers, and the creation of “education centers” for the children of migrants, to promote their integration into Moscow schools and learning of the Russian language.

Artem Semin, a blogger based in Moscow, criticizes [ru] Navalny’s emphasis on transparency promotion as the “naïve” pursuit of a “panacea.” Semin reasons that increased openness would not increase wages for menial jobs significantly enough to attract native Muscovites:

Так, Навальный рассчитывает, что публикация штатных расписаний на городских предприятиях позволит частично решить проблему с нелегальной миграцией. Сейчас ситуация с его точки зрения такова: злодеи из префектур и муниципалитетов нанимают таджиков на выделенные на рабочую силу деньги, при этом присваивают какую-то часть этих средств. Мол, я найму Джамшута за десять тысяч рублей, а остальное положу себе в карман. Если же начать платить за ту же работу полную сумму, ту, которая выделена бюджетом, то на место Джамшута явится коренной москвич Иван Иванов, а таджик первым рейсом поедет домой, проливая слёзы. К сожалению, на самом деле эти надежды безосновательны. Ну будут за уборку улиц платить не десять тысяч рублей, а восемнадцать – много ли москвичей бросится на эту работу?

So Navalny expects that publishing the staff lists of city facilities will allow him partially to solve the problem of illegal migration. The situation now from his perspective is this: these villains in the prefect’s office and the municipalities are hiring Tajiks, using some of the money allocated to public projects [to pay them], but pocketing the rest. Something like: I’ll hire Dzhamshut for 10 thousand rubles, and I’ll put the rest in my pocket. [But] if we start paying the full amount allocated from the city budget to these services, then in place of Dzhamshut we’ll get native Muscovite Ivan Ivanov, and the Tajik will be on the first plane home, shedding tears. Unfortunately, these hopes are unfounded. When it comes to cleaning the streets, they’re going to pay 18 thousand rubles instead of 10 thousand. How many Muscovites will rush to sign up for such work?

Dmitri Zykov, another blogger in Moscow, complains [ru] that Navalny’s program is “rightwing populist neoliberal f**kery”:

Он хочет в Москве сеть видеокамер, чтобы следить за людьми, ЧОП патрулирующий улицы – (голубая мечта неолибералов, заменить полицию на частных охранников). Отдельные школы для детей мигрантов, чтобы изолировать их от детей москвичей. Это будут школы-гетто, типа банту-школ при апартеиде в ЮАР. Взрослых мигрантов предлагается ещё больше ограничить в правах. Для их же блага, конечно. “Создание конкуренции между учреждениями здравоохранения”, принцип “деньги следуют за пациентом” – эти замечательные предложения Навального означают коммерциализацию московской системы здравоохранения.

He wants a network of video cameras in Moscow to monitor people, [and] private security firms to patrol the streets (a dream of neoliberals, replacing the police with private guards). [He wants] separate schools for the children of migrants, in order to isolate them from the children of Muscovites. These will become school-ghettos, like the Bantu schools in South Africa under Apartheid. And he proposes even more restrictions on the rights of adult migrants. It’s for their own good, of course. “Creating competition between healthcare agencies”—the principle of “money follows the patient”—these wonderful suggestions by Navalny would mean the commercialization of Moscow’s healthcare system.

Even the nationalist website Sputnik i Pogrom knocked [ru] Navalny on the illegal immigrant issue, though its objection was that Navalny pulls his punches against the city’s non-Russian scourge:

О возможной замене иностранных граждан мигрантов гражданами российскими, о введении программ преференций по найму российским гражданам и т.п. — ни слова. «Давайте смиримся с тем, что Москва больше не русский город, и будем за наши же деньги „адаптировать“ приехавших из горных аулов диких таджиков, которые и говорят-то с трудом. Ведь нам нужны таджики!». О кавказцах же, убийствах, Манежке и стреляющих свадьбах и вовсе ни слова — такой проблемы нет.

About the possible replacement of foreigner migrants by citizens of Russia, about the introduction of a program to give hiring preferences to Russian citizens, and so on—there’s not a word. “Let’s make peace with the fact that Moscow is no longer a Russian city, and use our own money to ‘adapt’ these wild Tajiks, arrived from their mountain villages, who barely speak. After all, we need the Tajiks!” About North Caucasians, the murders, about Manezh and the trigger-happy weddings, there’s absolutely not a word. There is no such problem [according to Navalny’s platform].

On Navalny’s qualifications to be mayor

Another criticism commonly made of Navalny is that he lacks the experience necessary to hold political office. Navalny’s platform puts front and center his leadership in various anti-corruption efforts (he lists RosPil, his most prominent vehicle, as the first justification for supporting his candidacy), but some bloggers continue to question whether this is sufficient preparation to lead Russia’s capital city.

Lebedev has published an entire blog post collecting mockeries of Navalny's campaign materials (like this one), poking fun at the decision to use an unorthodox full circle above the final letter of his surname.

On July 2, Russian LiveJournal’s third most popular user, Artemy Lebedev, published a scathing attack on Navalny’s mayoral campaign, ignoring the policy details of his plans, but engaging the “fundamental goals” listed in the platform. On the subject of Navalny’s qualifications for the job, Lebedev writes [ru]:

А при чем тут мэр Москвы, епта? Иди в налоговую инспекцию, в счетную палату, в минфин, в ФАС, в СК, в прокуратуру – там люди занимаются ровно тем же самым. Предотвращай и дальше.

F**k ,what does the mayor of Moscow have to do with anything? Go into tax inspection, the chamber of accounts, the Ministry of Finance, the Anti-Monopoly Service, the Investigative Committee, [or] the prosecutor’s office—there are people there doing exactly the same thing. Go and avert [more corruption] there.

LiveJournal user Mikhail Antonovich, writing with obvious dislike for the candidate on a personal level, frets [ru] that Navalny’s fixation on corruption could distract him from the more prosaic duties of mayor:

[…] большей частью в программе идет пиар проекта “РосПил” и позиционирование Алексея как борца с коррупцией. Понятно, что коррупция – это язва на теле нашего государства, но в первую очередь Мэр города должен ведать городским хозяйством, а с коррупцией должны бороться ведомственные органы. […] Понятно, что за этим нужно следить, не допускать и карать, но все же, если только за этим и следить, то можно упустить из вида другие проблемы.

[…] for the most part, the platform is a PR project for RosPil and portrays Alexey as a warrior against corruption. Yes, corruption is a cancer on the body of our state, but the mayor should firstly be concerned with managing the city’s services and facilities. Fighting corruption falls to the various departments and agencies. […] Yes, we need to monitor, prevent, and punish [corruption], but one might lose sight of other problems, if that’s all he does.

On Moscow’s older citizens

Many of Navalny’s ideas about boosting government transparency involve putting more state information online and opening new Internet portals to allow for citizen feedback. While this has been a trend in governments worldwide, both in and outside Russia, some bloggers have expressed concerns that the digitization of municipal services leaves out in the cold older people, who are none too fond of computers or the World Wide Web.

Yuri Yakor, for instance, says [ru] that he likes the gist of Navalny’s vision for Moscow, but worries about what it would mean for his mother and grandmother:

В целом, все правильно и звучит на редкость интересно. Но, мне 27 лет и я знаю, как пользоваться компьютером. Моя мама представляет это уже с трудом, моя бабушка боится его, как дьявола. Электронная демократия отсечет их обеих от принятия важных решений (все решения будут принимать молодые компьютерно образованные люди).

In general, everything [in the platform] looks good and sounds extremely interesting, but I’m 27-years-old, and I know how to use a computer. It’s still hard for my mom, and my grandma is afraid of the thing, like it was the Devil. eDemocracy will cut off both of them from important decisionmaking. (All decisions will be made by young, computer-educated people.)

An image from Elena Sola's blog post, expressing a mix of hope and concern about Navalny's mayoral run. Text reads: “to Moscow!”

Elena Sola is another blogger who sympathizes with the basic principles of Navalny’s agenda, but she, too, argues [ru] that he fails to appeal to Moscow’s core voter group—its pensioners:

Штаб волонтёров, созданный в поддержку Алексея Навального идея замечательная, но собираются там, в основном люди до 30 лет. То есть для пенсионеров например, которые представляют сегодня за неимением « движущей силы -рабочего класса» существенную долю избирателей, нет в программе кандидата Навального ничего привлекательного. Лучше чем сегодня им не будет, а хуже вполне возможно.

The volunteer headquarters created in support of Alexey Navalny is a wonderful idea, but the people gathering there are mostly under 30-years-old. Meaning, for pensioners, who today represent a fundamental share of the electorate (thanks to the absence of the “driving force of the working class”), there’s nothing at all attractive in candidate-Navalny’s platform. It’s not going to get any better for [pensioners] than it is today, but it could get a whole lot worse.

On sharing Sobyanin’s ideas

Given the years he’s spent vociferously criticizing the Russian establishment, it is ironic that one of the criticisms now leveled at candidate-Navalny is that his platform is too similar to that of the Kremlin’s handpicked steward of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin. Indeed, even when it comes to the two contentious policy issues covered above (migrant workers and the expansion of the state’s online disclosures), Sobyanin and Navalny seem to be of one mind [ru]. Yes, there are some areas where Navalny’s ideas differ slightly from Sobyanin’s, like when it comes to restructuring the Moscow government. (Navalny proposes electing justices of the peace, introducing new local financing initiatives, and increasing the authority of the municipalities.) But Sobyanin, albeit more cautiously, favors decentralizing policies, too.

That said, maybe Sobyanin’s limited support for the decentralization of the Moscow government is too careful for many Muscovites’ tastes, when compared to Navalny’s plans. While the distinction might have been enough to set Navalny apart from Sobyanin in policy terms, Navalny’s campaign team decided not to make these issues the central motif of his platform. As an editorial [ru] in Nezavisimaia Gazeta points out, Navalny after all didn’t adorn the cover page of his platform with a radical slogan like “All power to the municipalities!”

Moscow blogger Aleksandr Mikhailov, for example, claims [ru] that Navalny’s platform just regurgitates Sobyanin’s program:

Все остальное – переписанные «человеческим языком» разделы программы развития Москвы, взятой с сайта мэрии столицы. Те же обещания «прорыва общественного транспорта столицы», «ликвидации стихийной застройки», «создание системы платной парковки», «создание системы электронных жалоб» и т.д. и т.п.

All the rest of it [other than the handful of differences summarized above] are sections from [Sobyanin’s] platform for the development of Moscow, copied over and [rewritten] “in a [more] human language.” It’s the same exact promises: a “breakthrough in public transport,” the “elimination of sporadic construction,” the “creation of a system of paid parking,” the “creation of a system of electronic complaints,” and so on, and so on.

Dmitri Salov, another LiveJournal user writing from Moscow, compared side-by-side [ru] Navalny’s and Sobyanin’s two platforms, concluding that Navalny’s most significant ideas are borrowed from the acting Moscow mayor, adding the familiar suggestion that Navalny would do best to remain an anti-corruption activist on the sidelines, for the time being at least:

Алексей хороший и амбициозный парень и, возможно, у него есть потенциал, но Москвой управляют профессионалы и бюрократия, от которых зависит, будут ли работать водопровод, канализация и транспорт. На данном этапе Навальный не готов взять на себя ответственность за все это. Но тем не менее, ему никто не мешает помогать контролировать все сферы деятельности в которых возможна коррупция и о всех фактах сообщать в правоохранительные органы!

Alexey is a good, ambitious guy, and maybe he has potential, but Moscow is managed by professionals and bureaucrats, who determine whether or not the plumbing, the drains, and public transport will work. At this stage, Navalny isn’t ready to take on responsibility for all this. Nevertheless, nobody is stopping him from helping monitor all spheres of activity where corruption is possible, or from conveying any information to the police!

Russian Politics Reborn

There are certainly big limitations to looking at Navalny’s impact on Russian politics in the way I have above. How many people in an election anywhere really study the candidates’ official platforms? Navalny himself, when announcing its publication, jokingly offered [ru] the YouTube summary of his platform to those “too lazy to read it.” Not everyone in the campaign, however, has been so quick to dismiss the platform’s significance. Navalny’s campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, declared [ru] on July 3 that “no political text in the last few months (or even years) has caused so much discussion.” This statement is either inaccurate or a great insult to any recent political texts.

Let’s be clear: there are certainly more than 21 people talking about Navalny’s platform. The methodology used to identify that handful of texts was only meant to grab exact citations of the platform’s URL. In an election that affects 12 million people, though, it’s nothing short of astounding that so few bloggers have engaged the document in a substantive way.

If Navalny’s base—the Russian blogosphere—is so uninterested in his specific policy ideas (indeed, many of the netizens writing about them in any detail share common reservations), one wonders what the stuff of the “new Russian politics” might be. Indications are that most of Navalny’s supporters seem captivated instead by his personality and his growing dissident credibility (which the Kremlin amplifies with every new court action against him). But if it’s mainly his personal charisma and the odiousness of his opponent that makes Navalny the public’s new darling, what really has changed in Russian politics?

July 19 2013

Experience of Being Black in China

Marketus Presswood, who previously lived in Beijing for more than eight years, wrote in Tea Leaf Nation about his experience of being black in China in late 1990s.

I overheard students speaking in Chinese about how they were paying so much money and wanted a white instructor. One student went so far as to say, “I don’t want to look at his black face all night.”

July 18 2013

Russian Nationalists Score Victory in Opposition Council

The Coordinating Council of the Opposition has released [ru] a statement on the ethnic clashes and protests taking place in the town of Pugachev [ru]. First posted to the e-democracy website democratia2.ru [ru] on July 9, the draft was republished [ru] on the Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) website on July 15. By then, it had already been signed by Alexey Navalny, as well as several known nationalist members of the Coordinating Council. The resolution was accepted on July 16, by 10 Yeas and 4 Nays (with 26 abstentions).

A note at the beginning of Ekho Moskvy’s publication of the statement said this of the text:

Некоторые уже называют его националистическим.

Some are already calling it nationalist.

Was it even possible to comment on a matter such as Pugachev without at least touching on some aspect of nationalism? While the majority of the document focuses on the inability and/or refusal on the part of authorities to respond to their constituents (whose demands are to drive the local Chechens from their town), one paragraph was called out for being particularly “nationalist”:

Попытка приравнять к «экстремизму» законный протест коренных жителей против демонстративно вызывающего поведения выходцев из других регионов, которое грубо противоречит местным традициям и моральным нормам, а также упрямое желание со стороны властей сводить происходящее к «бытовым» причинам, напоминает позицию страуса.

The attempt to equate “extremism” and legitimate protest of the local people against the deliberately provocative behavior of people from other regions [i.e. the North Caucasus], which is grossly contrary to local traditions and moral standards, and the stubborn desire on the part of the authorities to reduce what's happening to “common” causes, is reminiscent of an ostrich [hiding its head].

One user on Ekho’s website commented sarcastically:

авторы могут назвать «местные традиции и моральные нормы», которые нарушают «приезжие»?
может быть они имеют в виду повальное пьянство, мат и т.д. и т.п.?

can the authors name any “local traditions and moral standards” that the ”newcomers” violate ?
maybe they are referring to general alcoholism, swearing, etc., etc.?

Over on the Coordinating Council’s website, Professor Mikhail Gelfand voted against the statement and noted:

Требования поголовного выселения по национальному признаку, т.е. тотальных этнических чисток не являются “законным протестом”.

Demands of wholesale ejection on the basis of nationality, meaning total ethnic cleansing, are not “legitimate protest”.

An example a popular image distributed on the RuNet. Emelian Pugachev, 18th century rebel, pretender to the Russian throne, and namesake of the town of Pugachev, says of the two North Caucasians on either side of himself "I've been asleep for a long time, but I'm going to have to eject [them]." Part of the message is probably lost because this portrait of Pugachev looks much scarier than the presumed Chechen youths. Anonymous image freely distributed online.

Emelyan Pugachev, 18th century rebel, pretender to the Russian throne, and namesake of the town of Pugachev, says of the two North Caucasians on either side of himself: “I've been asleep for a long time, but I'm going to have to eject [them].” Part of the message is probably lost because this portrait of Pugachev looks much scarier than the presumably Chechen youths. Anonymous image freely distributed online.

Another Pugachev meme: "I'm sorry, but have you tried ejecting them?" Anonymous image freely distributed online.

Another Pugachev meme: “I'm sorry, but have you tried ejecting them?” Anonymous image freely distributed online.

However, some on Ekho Mosvky's website did not object to the statement at all:

Вполне взвешенный документ, ничего националистического в нем нет.

This is a balanced document, nothing nationalist about it.

Another commenter felt that the real problem was the Kremlin’s refusal to address the issues of inter-ethnic relations in Russia:

Федеральная власть должна высказаться и определиться по поводу взаимоотношения людей различной национальности. Власть должна провести совещание на высоком уровне с представителями различных республик и принять согласованное заявление о национальной политике в России. Сам КСО тоже должен определиться со своей позицией. Я против выселения, я за дружбу народов (как ни по советски это звучит). Но жители всех республик должны понять, что Конституция России действует на всей территории, что надо всем соблюдать права людей и вести себя доброжелательно по отношению друг к другу.

The Federal government should speak out and decide about the relationship between people of different nationalities. The authorities must hold a high level meeting with the representatives of the various republics and accept an agreed statement of national policy in Russia. The CCO [the Coordinating Council] itself must also define their position. I am against ejection [of ethnic minorities], I'm for the friendship of peoples (no matter how Soviet it sounds). But the residents of all of the republics should understand that the Russian Constitution applies to the entire territory, that everyone must respect the rights of all people and behave kindly toward each other.

26 members of the Coordinating Council either did not care enough to vote on the statement, or perhaps thought to distance themselves from it. Only 4 members voted against: biology professor Mikhail Gelfand, journalist and radio host Sergei Parkhomenko, professional oppositionist Ilya Yashin and human rights activist Anna Karetnikova. The 10 members who voted to adopt the statement, included Alexey Navalny, conservative philosopher Konstantin Krylov, the usually liberal journalist Oleg Kashin, and nationalist leader Vladimir Tor. The only non-nationalists to vote for the resolution were members of the so called Navalny's Bloc – Alburov, Naganov, and Sobol. All three work on Navalny's projects outside of the Coordinating Council.

July 17 2013

Russian Blood on the Asphalt, Armenian Hands on the Wheel

It’s not every day in Russia that over a dozen people die in a single traffic collision, so when an Armenian national crashed a freight truck into a bus full of passengers last weekend, killing eighteen, it caught people’s attention. The incident was even captured on amateur dashcam video (see below). Two days after the accident, on July 15, 2013, a Moscow court sanctioned the arrest [ru] of the truck driver, 46-year-old Grachia Arutiunian, whom authorities had recently awakened from an artificially induced coma, which doctors decided was unnecessary, after determining that his injuries (while significant) were not life-threatening. The Armenian driver stands accused of negligent homicide and faces up to seven years in prison.

In conversations online, Arutiunian’s case has stoked the fires of Russia’s unabating nationalist debate, which most recently flared up in the city of Pugachev, where the July 5 murder of an ethnic Russian local by a Chechen youth provoked anti-immigrant street demonstrations.

With Pugachev still fresh in the public’s mind, Russian nationalists have seized on last Saturday’s tragic crash as another government failure to protect the country from lawless immigrants. For example, Vladimir Tor complained [ru] on LiveJournal that people like Arutiunian represent a danger to the public:

Но главное – надо решительно менять ситуацию на дорогах: масса диких шахид-такси, джихад-газелей, камаз-бабаев в ужасающем техническом состоянии и с дикими шоферами за рулём – это постоянная угроза нам всем. Так жить нельзя – этому необходимо положить предел.

But the main thing is that we have to change the situation on the roads decisively: all these wild shakhid-taxis, jihad-shuttles, and truck-babevs [slurs directed at Russia’s Muslim migrant-worker drivers] are all in terrible technical condition and operated by wild drivers behind the wheel. It’s a constant threat to us all. We can’t live like this, and we must put a stop to it.

Writing on the National-Democratic Party’s website, Rostislav Antonov made a similar argument [ru], faulting federal lawmakers for allowing foreign nationals to operate motor vehicles in Russia without obtaining Russian driver licenses, which Arutiunian indeed lacked. (As it happens the government already in April 2013 adopted new legislation [ru] to close this loophole, though it doesn’t take effect until November 5, 2013.)

Many Russian bloggers have also taken issue [ru] with the Armenian community (both its diaspora in Russia, which provided Arutiunian with two defense lawyers, and Armenian bloggers [ar]) for its outpouring of support for the now incarcerated driver. In truth, several dozen Armenians did stage a rally [ru] outside Russia’s embassy in Yerevan on April 16, demanding an end to Arutiunian’s degrading treatment while in custody. Bloggers, too, have reacted sharply to photos of Arutiunian in court, where he appeared on July 15 in a women’s hospital robe and rubber slippers. Covering his tear-strewn face and relying on a translator to understand the court’s Russian-language proceedings (a necessity despite his living in Russia for a decade, nationalists are eager to point out), Arutiunian did appear to be a man thoroughly humiliated.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.26.45 PM

Grachia Arutiunian in court, 15 July 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

LiveJournal user maggel offered his own deeply unsympathetic suggestion [ru] for “rehabilitating” the man:

1. Халат снять.
2. Выдать белые тапки.
3. Отвезти в Подольск на тот самый перекресток.
4. Положить обиженного под вот это-

5. Дать порулить агрегатом родственникам погибших.

1. Remove the robe.
2. Issue him some white slippers.
3. Take him to Podolsk, to the same intersection [where the crash occurred].
4. Place the offended [Arutiunian] under this thing:
[an image of a steamroller]
5. Let the victims’ relatives steer the steamroller.

Another LJ user, pavell, attacked expressions of compassion for Arutiunian, but admitted a certain envy for the community’s solidarity. Posting excerpts of a letter [ru] from Armenia’s human rights ombudsman to his Russian counterpart that condemned Arutiunian’s treatment, pavell called [ru] the text arrogant, but wondered aloud which if any state officials were working as devotedly for the protection of Russians:

И всё же, несмотря на плевки в лицо Лукину, завидно. Армянина, убившего в России 18 человек, есть кому защищать. А кто защитит русского? Я не говорю в Армении, а просто в России?

And, yet, despite the [Armenian official] spitting in the face of Lukin [his Russian counterpart], I’m jealous. An Armenian who’s killed 18 people in Russia has someone to defend him. But who would defend a Russian? I’m not even talking about in Armenia—what about just in Russia?

Even if the Moscow court convicts Arutiunian and sentences him to several years in prison, the decision isn’t likely to calm fears that ethnic Russians are a persecuted majority. The prominence of criminal groups tied to certain ethnicities and the ongoing tensions between Russia’s native population and migrant workforce—two of the most significant root causes of the country’s nationalist fervor—aren’t going anywhere. Whether Arutiunian is given back his clothes or executed under a cement truck, Russia’s troubles with race and assimilation haven’t claimed their last victim.

With Russian Netizens Like These, Who Needs Trolls?

The Russian Internet, much like the Internet at large, runs on short cycles of outrage. Bloggers get incensed over a current event, be it a murder in a provincial city [GV] or LGBT rights [GV], but in the span of a week switch their attention to a new thing that angers them. Although sometimes these news cycles repeat, or are recycled, it is still rare for the same event to create two different waves of outrage within the span of a month. Yet, this is essentially what happened this July when Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's ombudsman, yet again blithely mentioned [ru] the possibility of sending Russian orphans to the North Caucasus for adoption.

Astakhov's earlier, May 30, 2013, statements to that effect (he dubbed the possibility an interesting “experiment”) weren't well received [GV], to say the least. This time, however, Astakhov was more specific — naming Chechnya as an example of a Russian region where orphans are immediately adopted and well taken care of, and promising to chat with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov about the possibility of establishing a process for cross-regional adoption. It appears that his suggestion was particularly tone-deaf given recent ethnic violence between Russians and Chechens [GV] in the town of Pugachev.

Pavel Astakhov gearing up for a day's work. Image remixed by author using "Pavel Atakhov" by Dmitry Rozhkov, 25 November 2011, CC 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

Pavel Astakhov gearing up for a day's work. Image remixed by author using “Pavel Astakhov” by Dmitry Rozhkov, 25 November 2011, CC 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

The main gist of the RuNet commentary was predictable — Russian orphans would be sold to white slavery and forced to grow up to become suicide bombers. In fact, it was curious to see how similar the arguments were, although this time RuNet nationalists were perhaps even harsher in their criticisms. LiveJournal user mouglley, for example, hearkened back [ru] to the time when Russian principalities were forced to pay tribute to the Mongolians:

Астахов предложил платить дань еще и детьми, отсылая русских сирот в Чечню, чтобы из них делали чеченцев — самих чеченцев пока еще слишком мало, чтобы установить прямой контроль над Россией.

Astakhov has offered to pay tribute with children, sending Russian orphans to Chechnya, so that they make Chechens out of them — as of now there aren't enough Chechens to establish direct control over Russia.

A different netizen tweeted [ru]:

Всё думаю, вот Астахов хочет чтобы наших сирот воспитывали в Чечне-так как убийцу в Пугачёве? Ах да, зато русские будут резать русских-так?

I keep thinking, does Astakhov want our orphans to be brought up in Chechnya — just like the murderer in Pugachev? Oh yeah, but this way Russians will be killing Russians, right?

Another wondered [ru]:

На органы, в рабство или как?

[Will they harvest them] for organs, enslave them, or what?

To round out the collection, one user of a city forum in the Siberian town of Prokopievsk was quite sure [ru] about the Manchurian Candidate angle:

Лично я уверен, что через несколько лет результаты чеченского воспитания дадут о себе знать в виде светловолосых шахидов …

Personally, I am convinced that in a few years the results of a Chechen upbringing will let themselves be known through blonde suicide bombers …

Unlike the last wave of outrage about orphan slaves, this time even ostensible liberals were incensed. Dmitry Olshansky (a liberal, cosmopolitan publicist with some nationalist tendencies) wrote [ru] in his Facebook:

Это невыносимая по своей гнусности новость. Просто невыносимая.

This news is unbearable in its odiousness. Simply unbearable.

Andrey Malgin, a liberal blogger opposed to the Kremlin, went a different route — he simply made a reference [ru] to a novella by Anatoly Pristavkin [en], which is set in post-Word War II Chechnya (after the Chechen deportation), and follows two Russian orphans, one of whom meets gruesome death by disemboweling at the hands of local Chechens. Malgin left his readers draw their own conclusions.

Of course, it turns out that Astakhov's comments were taken out of context and blown out of proportion. One blogger [ru] contacted Astakhov's press secretary, who explained that Astakhov had only mentioned Chechnya as one region among several others, including Krasnodarsky Krai, which also has good adoption statistics. But that doesn't seem to matter — this particular story no longer incites outrage on RuNet, and will be all but forgotten by the time someone else says something about orphans in the near future.

July 10 2013

July 09 2013

Vigilante Justice & Race Riots in Provincial Russia

A bar fight that broke out last weekend between two young men in a small town of Pugachev in Russia’s central Saratov region, ended with racial violence. The victim, 21-year-old Ruslan Marzhanov, a town local of Tatar extraction, died of knife wounds in the hospital on Saturday, July 6. The suspect, 16-year-old Chechen Ali Nazirov, was later detained for the murder.

What should have been a tragic, but routine case, quickly morphed into something else. The murder underscored long-standing ethnic tensions between the native Russian population and the town's North Caucasian diaspora. After the funeral, which was held the day after Marzhanov died, hundreds of locals marched into a Chechen neighborhood, demanding that the Chechens “leave.” Several people were reportedly injured in the brawl that ensued, although the police maintain [ru] that they were able to prevent the violence.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the victim was reportedly friends with local Chechens. Azamat Mitsaev, a Moscow resident involved with youth city government, reported [ru] on his Facebook that Marzhanov's Chechen friends were the ones who took him to the hospital, and were also apparently the ones to find Ali Nazirov and turn him over to the police, having first “beaten him up.”

The acting Governor of Saratov Oblast, Valery Radaev, urged the people to remain calm, saying [ru]:

Неконтролируемая стихия может повлечь за собой цепную реакцию, в результате чего не исключены новые невинные жертвы. Мы не имеем права такого допустить! [...] кровная месть и национальная ненависть – не способ решения проблем, а бомба замедленного действия”

An uncontrolled force of nature [like a popular uprising] can lead to a chain reaction, resulting in new innocent victims. We cannot allow this! [...] blood feuds and national hatred are not a way to solve problems, but a ticking time bomb.”

His entreaties fell on deaf ears — when Pugachev Mayor Stanislav Sidorov walked out to speak with the crowd that congregated in the town square Monday, he was heckled, reports [ru] Twitter user Liudmila Rossenko:

Главу облили водой. Народ ликует #Пугачев

The Head [of Administration] got water poured all over him. The people are happy #Pugachev

Pugachev Head of Administration addressing the crowd moments before getting a bottle of water poured on his head. YouTube screenshot.

Pugachev Head of Administration addressing the crowd moments before getting a bottle of water poured on his head. YouTube screenshot.

According to locals this was not the first time the Chechens had caused problems. The BBC’s Russian Service quoted [ru] the chairman of the regional branch of the opposition RPR-PARNAS party:

У меня родственники там живут в Пугачеве. Не первый раз у них, четыре или пять убийств уже было. Дагестанцы, чеченцы облюбовали город Пугачев. Эти конфликты у них происходят последние два года все серьезнее и серьезнее. И встает вопрос, почему власть в это до сих пор не вмешивалась?

I have relatives living in Pugachev. This is not the first incident, they've had four or five murders already. Dagestanis, Chechens have taken a fancy to the city of Pugachev. These conflicts have, over the past 2 years become more and more serious.  And the question arises, why don’t the powers that be intervene?

Marzhanov's mother emphasized this point [ru]:

Я не имею претензий к чеченцам, у меня претензии к власти, которая допускает и потворствуют их беспределу.

I have no complaints about the Chechens, I have complaints about the government, which allows and indulges their lawlessness.

Marzhanov's mother addressing the crowd and speaking about her son's military service. YouTube screenshot.

Marzhanov's mother addressing the crowd and speaking about her son's military service. YouTube screenshot.

The Kommersant [ru] newspaper reports that in the meantime, residents of Pugachev have come together in a working group, which will establish “people's patrols” to patrol the town streets along with the police. The people have “lost faith” in the regional government, and seem ready to resort to “vigilante justice.”

The situation is exacerbated by episodes of mass hysteria. For example, a video posted on YouTube [ru] Monday alleged that the authorities had sent armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Pugachev because of the escalating protests. The video, which now has over 200 thousand views, turned out to be a fake, shot last month during local military exercises. This did not prevent it from fooling many bloggers, including the popular opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who used the apparent establishment of martial law as an excuse to sarcastically blog “this is what ‘stability’ looks like.” [ru] Navalny later removed the video from his blog.

Meanwhile, in response to appeals from the local government, the Investigative Committee (Russia's federal investigative agency) agreed [ru] to launch an inquiry into events in Pugachev. This seems to indicate that the federal government is concerned that the situation could still spin out of control. But, perhaps, this is a case of too little, too late. Vigilante justice may still prevail.

Global Voices Launches Partnership with North American Congress on Latin America

Global Voices and the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) have launched a new partnership that will combine Global Voices’ focus on citizen media and NACLA’s analysis and expertise to bring our readers original, in-depth coverage about the region.

NACLA, founded in 1966, is an independent, nonprofit organization that seeks to “foster knowledge beyond borders” by providing information and analysis on Latin America and its complex relationship with the United States:

“We believe that knowledge is essential for change, so we use a unique combination of information/media activism and popular education to provide people the tools they need to understand the world in order to change it”

NACLA logo

Every month, GV and NACLA authors will work together to provide content related to a specific topic. A podcast with interviews, analysis, and additional reporting on the issues analyzed in the posts will be available at the end of the month.

Migrant Journeys

We begin our partnership with the theme “Migrant Journeys.” In July we will be covering a wide range of issues related to migration: from the immigration bill that is currently being discussed in the United States Congress, to the human stories behind migrants’ dangerous trek north through Central America and Mexico.

Decisive Moment for Pro-Immigration Movement in the United States

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

It has been almost 30 years since the U.S. pro-immigration movement has gotten so close to witnessing the passage of comprehensive legislation. The immigration bill that has been circling the Senate since the start of 2013 cleared a hurdle when the border security amendment passed with a vote of 67-27 on June 24.

On June 27, a vote of 68-32 in the Senate backed immigration reform, a level of support that has not been seen since the 1986 law that legalized three million people. Now, the House of Representatives must decide whether it supports the Senate’s decision.

The 2013 immigration bill seeks to create a roadmap for citizenship while strengthening border security and raising the cap on visas for high-skilled workers. It also intends to establish a new visa program for low-skilled workers on America's farms and elsewhere.

Pro-immigration rally. Photo by Anuska Sampedro (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pro-immigration rally. Photo by Anuska Sampedro (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan signed an immigration law that very much resembles that of the “Gang of Eight's”: tighter security border, strict rules over hiring undocumented workers, and the opportunity for those who entered the country without authorization to legalize their status.

A major difference between the two immigration proposals is that President Reagan considered the 1986 measure an “amnesty” to millions of undocumented people. Twenty-seven years later, “amnesty” is the term immigration advocates want to avoid at all costs, given the negative connotation Republicans have given the word. Rather, the word “legalization” seems to be accepted.

Nevertheless, one of the most controversial parts of the immigration bill also managed to be passed on June 26, when the Senate agreed to double the number of officers on the United States’ border with Mexico, despite the fact that the flow of immigrants to the United States has dropped considerably as a result of economic problems that the country has faced since the recession of 2008.

In fact, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH) has promised that the immigration issue will not be resolved quickly and explained that said reform could be prolonged until next year.

InmigranteTV [es] says that despite the obstacle that the House of Representatives could present, it does not downplay the Senate’s approval:

No es que el voto del Senado carezca de importancia. Para empezar, con su aprobación por 68 votos a favor y 32 en contra, la propuesta del “Grupo de los Ocho” -cuatro senadores republicanos y cuatro demócratas- logró ya llegar más lejos en el intrincado camino legislativo que ninguna iniciativa migratoria desde la que lograra convertir en ley Ronald Reagan en 1986.Y lo hizo además con un nada desdeñable apoyo republicano: 14 senadores conservadores que con su voto favorable enviaron un importante mensaje de bipartidismo a sus compañeros de bancada en la Cámara Baja

It is not that the Senate vote lacks importance. For starters, as it passed with a vote of 68 in favor and 32 against, the Group of 8—four Republican and four Democratic senators—proposal managed to go further down the intricate legislative path than any immigration initiative since the one that Ronald Reagan turned to law in 1986. And he did it, furthermore, with far from negligible Republican support: 14 conservative senators who, with their vote in favor, sent an important bipartisan message to their legislator colleagues in the Lower House.

For immigrants, the week of June 27 was full of important moments. Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to send the case of Fisher v. University of Texas back to the Fifth Circuit Court for further review. The case had challenged affirmative action in acceptance policies that allow universities to consider racial and ethnic diversity as one factor for admission. While the court did encourage further scrutiny of these policies, their decision does maintain these programs for increasing diversity in higher education.

On Twitter, members of Congress as well as ordinary people and media personalities share their opinions before Washington’s decision.

Florida Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) said the following

@RosLehtinen: Nuestro sistema de inmigracion no funciona. La #reforma apoyará a las familias y traerá empleos. http://1.usa.gov/14duCQo

@RosLehtinen [es]: Our immigration system does not work. The #reform will support families and create jobs.http://1.usa.gov/14duCQo

Still, some are skeptical of the Republicans’ intentions to improve immigration reform, like Alonso Credes (@alcredes), who responded to Ros-Lehtinen with the following tweet:

@alcredes: @RosLehtinen pues convenza a los miembros de su partido no a los demas…

@alcredes [es]: @RosLehtinen then convince the members of your party not everyone else…

According to an article published in Politico, Representative Filemon Vela (D-TX) resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 2 in an apparent protest over the coalition’s embrace of the Senate’s immigration bill, which includes an unprecedented increase in security measures, including about 20,000 in new agents to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. A day later, he wrote the following in his Twitter account:

@RepFilemonVela: I am committed to immigration reform. I believe it is the primary domestic issue facing this nation http://tl.gd/n_1rl5gno

Representative Vela linked to his statement on the reform bill in which he outlines his opposition to the legislation. He explains that the border security measures only increase the environment of fear between nations, and is an irresponsible use of government funds, especially following sequestrations that have cut so many valuable services.

Finally, Luis Carlos Vélez (@lcvelez) claimed that the law opens the path to legalization:

@lcvelez: Senado de #EEUU aprueba cambio de leyes de inmigración lo que abre la puerta a la ciudadanía para millones de inmigrantes indocumentados

@lcvelez: The #US Senate approves change to immigration laws, which opens the door to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants

Undoubtedly, the pro-immigration movement has come very far to bring a broken immigration system to the glaring national spotlight while calling on legislators to overhaul it. Despite clearing a hurdle on the Senate floor, it is likely that the bill will die on the House of Representatives at the hands of Republicans. This, in turn, will predict an ongoing fight to legalize millions of  immigrants who want to call America home.

Marianna Breytman contributed with the translation of this post.

Immigrants on U.S Immigration Reform

As usual, the one thing the media aren’t covering is what the immigrants themselves think about immigration reform.

In Upside Down World, David L. Wilson writes about a meeting held in New York where activists -some from Mexico and Central America- discussed “the forces that drive people out of their own countries and the suffering they experience both during their flight to the United States and once they arrive here.”

July 08 2013

China’s Post-90s Migrant Workers

Sina Photo[zh] takes a look at the lives of China's Post-90s migrant workers who aspire to an urban lifestyle. Offbeat China has translated the stories into English.

July 06 2013

Fishermen Organize First Migrant Workers’ Union in Taiwan

Eighty-nine Philippine fishermen in Taiwan's Yilan County have formed the island's first migrant workers’ union, three years after an amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed giving migrant workers the right to organize their own labor unions.

The fishermen union was formed on May 25, 2013, but represents only a fraction of the migrant fishermen legally hired in Taiwain — currently, there are more than 6,000 [zh]. Among them, Indonesians are the majority, and the rest are mainly from Vietnam and the Philippines. The majority haven't been unionized and face serious exploitation from employers.

The meeting. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The meeting. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中) from coolloud.org. CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media Pots.com reported [zh] the common unfair employment practices for these migrant fishermen:

Jose Toquero說,契約上寫8小時,但若漁船故障需等到隔天,往往從晚上11點開始連續工作14個小時,而遠洋一次出海就需三、四天的作業,也很難明確劃分工作與休息。「我們沒有真正的休假,雖然滿月時不會出海,一個月本來規定有五天休假,但如果還需要補網子、做其他的工作,常常整個月都沒有休假,而且能不能休假也要看雇主,有的雇主完全不讓你休息。」

Jose Toquero said that although the working hours should be eight hours based on their contract, if the fishing boat has any trouble, they need to wait for another day until they can disembark the boat. They usually work for 14 hours from 11 p.m. In addition, if they are on a fishing vessel for pelagic fishery, a single trip usually takes three to four days. In that case, it is difficult to define working hours and resting hours. Jose said, “we do not have real holidays. Based on our contract, we do not go fishing when it is a full moon and we should have five holidays in a month. However, if we need to do other work like mending the nets on those days, there is no real holiday for us. Having a holiday or not depends on the employers. Some employers do not let you take any rest.”

Rolando說,剛來台時曾經連續十八個月都只拿到8000元薪水,光仲介費就需扣掉一萬多。談話時,我注意到他眼睛裡有不尋常的泛紅血絲,一問之下,他才說那是因為工作內容不只漁船作業,全部的事情都必須做,他的眼睛就是因為被老闆叫去做焊接時,因為沒有足夠的安全措施而導致眼睛被火花噴濺受傷。

Rolando (Mahinay) said that he only received 8,000 new Taiwan dollars [266 US dollars] as monthly salary for his first 18 months because the commission fee was deducted from his salary, which is more than 10,000 new Taiwan dollars [333 US dollars] per month. When I talked to him, I noticed that his eyes were red. He said that he is requested to do all kinds of work other than fishery by his employer. His eyes were hurt when he did welding without proper protection.
The fishery boat. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishing boat. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), from Coolloud.org CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media outlet coolloud.org described [zh] the vision of this newly formed migrant workers’ union:

工會監事會召集人何希(Jose Toquero)表示,來台前與雇主之約定通常也是每日工作8小時,但海上狀況多,幾乎不可能按時下班,不只是加班費該給而未給、工時過高是一大問題,未來希望能透過工會與雇主協調並解決。

Jose Toquero, the convenor of the board of supervisors, said that the migrant fishermen would like to discuss with employers through the union to solve the problems of long working hours and unpaid overtime work. Before they came to Taiwan, their contract signed by their employers said that the working hours should be eight hours. However, it is difficult for them to get off duty if they have any kind of troubles on the fishing boats.

由於工會組織最早的人際網絡是菲律賓Ilonggo的在台同鄉會,所以目前加入工會的都是菲律賓籍,不過Jose強調,希望工會能持續擴大,未來能不只服務菲律賓人,要讓更多印尼漁工也一起加入…現場也有來自漁業興盛的高雄、屏東等地的移民團體前來「取經」,盼能讓移工組織工會的風氣持續擴散。

Because the members of this union are mainly from the Ilonggo Seafarers Organization, most of its members are from the Philippines. However, Jose emphasized that they want to expand the size of the union. In the future, they want to serve the Indonesian fishermen as well as the Philippine fishermen…Several migrant worker associations from Kaoksiung and Pingtung, which are also famous for their fishery industry, came to their meeting to learn how to form a migrant workers’ union.
The fishermen. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishermen. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), Coolloud.org. CC: NC

Coolloud also interviewed [zh] Lee Lee-huan (李麗華), a staff member from the Haoran Foundation, who helped establish this union, about the difficulties in organizing the migrant fishermen in Taiwan:

雖然《工會法》在2年前就修正開放外籍人士加入工會,但還欠缺許多配套,例如語言就是重要問題,多數移工不諳中文,就連要了解相關法令的內容都相當困難,此外,船上工作工時不固定、臨時狀況多,四散在不同船家的漁工們,要湊在一起開會,也實屬不易。

Although the amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed two years ago so the migrant workers should be able to form their own unions, there are not sufficient supplementary measures. For example, language is a big problem. Most migrant workers do not understand Chinese, so they have difficulties in understanding the details of the Act. In addition, their job on the boats does not have regular working hours because a lot of things can happen on the fishing boats. It is very difficult to organize a meeting for all the fishermen working on different boats to gather together.

July 03 2013

Eastern Europeans to Boost UK IT Industry

As of January 1, 2014, the UK labour movement restrictions placed several years ago to prevent migrants from Romania and Bulgaria from moving permanently and seeking employment in the UK will be lifted. Some predict large migrations of workers from these two countries, among the poorest in the European Union, while others say that migrations will be so small they will barely be felt and many emphasize the fact that Romania has a growing, innovative IT industry that will also benefit the British IT industry. Other Eastern European countries have also helped boost the UK's thriving IT industry in the recent past, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and more. The Independent covers several sides of the developing story, with quotes from Eastern European immigrant IT entrepreneurs in the UK:

(more…)

June 14 2013

Anger Over Attacks Against Myanmar Migrants in Malaysia

The ethnic violence in Myanmar seems to be spreading in nearby countries.

Some Myanmar Buddhist migrants in Malaysia have been attacked in recent weeks which many people believe are related to the ongoing ethnic and religious tension in Myanmar. According to Eleven Media, 6 died and 12 were hospitalized with injuries during the violent attacks against Myanmar nationals in Malaysia from May 30 to June 8.

Myanmar's Embassy in Malaysia initially dismissed the news which angered many Burmese netizens. Ye Htut, Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Ministry of Information clarified[my] the report:

(We) read the news on the Internet about the clashes near a Myanmar monastery at KamPung and Selayang and that some Myanmar nationals died. (We) immediately asked the Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia about this issue at 5 pm and again at 8 pm via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador said the news was false. [...]

A Myanmar national put 11 red roses at Malaysia Embassy Yangon for Myanmar nationals killed at Malaysia.

A Myanmar national put 11 red roses in front of Malaysia's Embassy in Yangon in honor of Myanmar migrants killed in Malaysia. Photo – Ye Moe's Facebook.

Wai Lin Oo expressed[my] his frustration with the Embassy's response:

It's actually happening! If you want to approve Embassy's words, just prepare a flight in Myanmar to carry the dead bodies back.

Fang Ran asserted[my] a similar point.

People are suffering. They are just simply liars who don't even go outside the Embassy. And they charge us extreme taxes. I can't even mention in words how they often reprimand ( citizens who are seeking refuge in the Embassy). [...] When can we depend on Myanmar government? It's really discouraging. Where is respect for human rights of Myanmar nationals?[...]

Myo Set compared[my] how the governments of other countries are behaving when faced with a similar situation:

When a Japanese was killed in 2007 in Myanmar, a Japan Minister came at once. When Myanmar workers had issues with a Korean factory owner, the Korean Embassy suddenly became involved in the case. North Korea cleared away the books about Kim Jong Ill from book shops in Myanmar. What a shame! US came down to Myanmar once there were issues of Yettaw.

Our turn?

In Malaysia, the Ambassador's mouth got a stroke. Ministry of Information is crippled and Myanmar government is paralyzed.

We are Burmese, a community page of Myanmar citizens around the world questioned the silence of NGOs and media regarding the abuses suffered by Buddhists in Malaysia: 

When riots in Meikhtilar Township in Myanmar happened, (the global) media and international organizations (like the) UN, Human Rights Watch (reported) about it and some even exaggerated the (situation), labeling it ethnic cleansing, genocide, Muslims in Myanmar are being brutally massacred, or something like that….But why are they silent than normal about the current massacre in Malaysia targeting Myanmar Buddhists? How many lives must the Burmese Buddhists sacrifice further to put the (situation) on pages and screens? Please show the so-called RIGHTS you all repeatedly use whenever you get every chance to make the Burmese Buddhists dishonorable in every page and every screen worldwide.

On June 4, when voices became louder and attacks became more serious, the Myanmar government issued an Aide Memoire to Malaysia's Ambassador in Myanmar urging the Malaysian government to investigate the issue immediately and take legal actions against responsible persons. On June 6, Malaysia reported that 900 Myanmar nationals were detained during a security sweep. Myanmar government is preparing[my] to send a team of special representatives to Malaysia.

Since some of the injured Myanmar migrants cannot afford the hospital bills, the Malaysia Kampung Free Funeral Service Social Team (Kampung FFSS) gave donation to the victims. U Aung Ko Win, President of the Kanbawza Bank who also runs Myanmar Airways International (MAI) donated[my] $50,000 US dollars and cut the MAI air ticket fees of the Malaysia-Myanmar route by 50% for the convenience of migrants who wish to go back to Myanmar. Another well-known wealthy personnel, U Zaw Zaw, who is President of Myanmar Football Federation announced[my] that he will donate 1,000 air tickets for those who want to go back to Myanmar, plus additional $20,000 US dollars donation to Kampung FFSS.

Many netizens on Facebook changed their profile pictures to black to grieve the deaths of Myanmar citizens in Malaysia.

June 10 2013

Australia: Security Storm Surrounds Convicted Egyptian Asylum Seeker

Accusations of ‘jihadist terrorism’ against an Egyptian asylum seeker have fuelled political brawling in the lead up to Australia’s election on 14 September 2013. Sayed Abdellatif was kept in low security detention for nearly a year despite an Interpol red alert for convictions during the Mubarak regime in 1999.

The Opposition parties’ election promises include turning back refugee boats and increasing funding to the intelligence and security agencies. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has responded by setting up an internal inquiry into the apparent security failure.

Stories abound about alleged terrorist Sayed Ahmed Maksoud Abdellatif. Some involve accusations of involvement with al-Qaida funding.

Others present a more positive side. On 14 February 2012 IRIN a non-profit news service funded by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs painted a much more heroic portrait of the refugee. He was in Indonesia preparing to take a dangerous boat trip:

Egyptian asylum-seeker Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif, married with six children, says he is ready to risk everything to reach Australia – even his family.

…for 41-year-old Abdellatif, who faces possible extradition and a 15-year prison sentence of hard labour in Egypt for his religious affiliations, the risk is worth it.

Australia/Pacific Correspondent for Reuters Rob Taylor tweeted:

‏@ReutersTaylor: Egypt's Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif was so “dangerous” that his story was profiled by the UN as a hard luck story! http://www.irinnews.org/report/94852/i

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney also disputes the case against Abdellatif:

A refugee advocate has called for the Opposition Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison to end his “terrorism” witch-hunt, and for the government to investigate the leaking of information by the Australian Federal Police.

Claims that ‘a convicted murderer’ has been held in low security immigration facilities are simply not true. This asylum seeker has never been convicted of murder or any specific terrorism charges.

Scott Morrison’s vendetta against ASIO and the Labor government is leading to a ‘trial by media’ of an Egyptian asylum seeker whose claims for protection have still not been considered by the Immigration Department.

On the other hand, Vietnam veteran Kev Gillett’s blog has an ex-soldier’s warning that we need to defend our borders:

Anyone with skin in the game or an interest in Australia’s security have been warning all and sundry that to let people into the country when they come via boats, having destroyed identity papers en route, is dangerous. These boat people are not all they make themselves out to be.

The Oz twitterverse has taken up the challenge. After reading Doubts about convictions of Egyptian asylum seeker at heart of political storm by the new Guardian Australia on 7 June, Andrew Watson accused the leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and his Liberal Party:

‏@Andy_Downunda: #auspol It's reasonable to believe that Sayed Abdellatif is a Hosni Mubarak #patsy [victim]. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/conviction-egyptian-asylum-seeker?CMP=twt_gu@TonyAbbottMHR #myliberal

Todd Kirby was unimpressed with this attack:

‏@toddkirby: oh my god why are all the lefties jizzing over this Guardian article about Sayed Abdellatif? http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/conviction-egyptian-asylum-seeker?CMP=twt_gu

Meanwhile a no-win situation faces successful asylum seekers in Australia who do not get a security clearance from ASIO (the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation).

Amnesty International explained in 2012:

…they must pass an ASIO security assessment – but this process is problematic. ASIO is notoriously secretive about their findings, and refugees with a negative security assessment have no ability to challenge a negative assessment.

What happens to those not granted security clearance?

Quite simply, they are stuck in detention – possibly forever. The Australian government cannot return them home due to their refugee status, nor can they enter Australia.

As AI reported, there is now an independent review process but if that fails, refugees are held in security detention indefinitely.

Rally to support refugees

Rally to support refugees
Photo: courtesy Indymedia CC BY-NC-SA licence

The inevitable lack of transparency that shrouds the work of intelligence and security agencies applies to the new review by a former Federal court judge. Takver joined the continuing criticism on Indymedia in April 2013:

55 asylum seekers have refugee status but are in immigration limbo as they have adverse security assessments from ASIO with no right of appeal or ability to question ASIO's sources.

May 27 2013

From Guinea to Italy to France and Back: An Interview with Blogger Abdoulaye Bah

Global Voices author and translator Abdoulaye Bah, originally from Guinea, is a retired Italian citizen who has worked for the United Nations. He splits his time between Rome and Nice and has collaborated [fr] with GV since December 2008, having contributed to thousands of written posts and translation in French as well as a considerable number of posts [it] for the Italian group and some more in English.

Bah also runs his own blog, the Konakry Express, where he writes about Italian and African politics. His latest post unfortunately details [fr] his recent encounter with racism in an Italian restaurant in Nice in which a man roughly shoved him out the door of a restaurant, an incident he is speaking to anti-racist NGO SOS Racisme for help.

Before that terrible incident, we had the opportunity to speak with Bah about his life, from his experience hiding in a bathroom to enter Italy without the proper papers, to his marriage in the Vatican, from his foray into cinema to his multi-belief family.

Global Voices (GV): You are originally from Guinea Conakry. When did you arrive in Italy? How would you describe your experience of arriving clandestinely in the country?

Abdoulaye Bah (AB): Precisely last April it was 50 years since I first arrived in Italy, in Florence, to study. However, it wasn't then that I arrived clandestinely in the country. Nevertheless, shortly after my arrival, my documents expired and I was faced with the experience of being “sans-papier”. The life of a student without a scholarship is difficult, however the Italian police didn't employ all the xenophobic measures that they use today.

Despite the help I received from many friends, I experienced hunger to the point where I sat my first university exam in a state of dizziness. Luckily, the Archbishop of Florence, H.E. Ermenegildo Florit, under the recommendation of Mayor Giorgio La Pira, offered me the possibility to eat at the charity Caritas’ canteen and sleep at the homeless shelter [it].

GV: So when did you illegally enter Italy?

AB: It happened after the end of my studies in Florence, in 1967, just after obtaining my diploma in statistics. I continued with a specialisation course, then I went to Paris where I wanted to work and save up to buy a ticket to return to my country. When my father found out, he came to find me and advise me against returning to Guinea because the dictatorship had become more merciless, with tens of thousands of arrests and massacres of innocent people, particularly among the academics of our ethnicity.

Not having any documents, it was not easy to obtain a visa to return to Italy. I took the train from Paris to Rome the day after Che Guevara's death, 9 October, 1967. Arriving on the border at Ventimiglia, I instantly felt the police controls, I went into the bathroom leaving the door open and clung to the partition above the toilet cubicle. When the police agents entered they looked around without noticing me and closed the door. And that's how I managed to re-enter Italy.

A priest who had just founded UCSEI [it, Ufficio centrale studenti esteri Central Office for Foreign Students] took me on as a writer for 20,000 lire a month, with which I could pay the rent. I also managed to find extra activities to earn a little more. I summarised and translated scientists’ biographies, in particular for the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze [Papal Academy of Science], and later I worked for the IRI [Institute for Industrial Reconstruction] as a public relations consultant in their office for international co-operation.

I clandestini di oggi,

Today's clandestines, “I'm in Italy, I'll become rich!!”, by Gianluca Costantini (2005) under licence CC 3.0

GV: Your nation is, from a religious point of view, predominately Muslim. What can you tell us about marrying in the Vatican and can you explain how it came about?

ABIn Guinea, religion is practised in a tolerant manner. From a young age I experienced a lot through contact with my grandfather, who was an important religious leader and died at Mecca. I followed many of his sermons, full of compassion. After secondary school my father paid for my studies at a school run by priests, the best in Guinea. Given the environment in which my personality developed, different religions have never been a problem for me.

In 1969, when I met my soulmate and we decided to marry, I couldn't obtain any documentation from my country. I was living illegally in Italy. I couldn't supply complete documentation to ask for a civil marriage. Father Remigio Musaragno [it], the director of UCSEI, made the proposal of marrying in the Vatican. The instruction on mixed marriages issued on the 18th March 1966 [it] solicited a few guarantees from me – relevant also in my country -, the respect of my wife's religion, the commitment to not obstruct the religious education of our children, and the understanding of the indissoluble nature of marriage contracted in church.

By and large I've kept to my commitments, we are still married and I have not obstructed the Catholic education of our children. Our eldest has even become a Franciscan Tertiary, on this past 7 April, while our second-born is agnostic. I've become a member of the Radical Party.

GV: Would you like to tell us something about your son's experience who became a Franciscan Tertiary?

AB: In all the countries I have visited, my wife and my three children have always practised the Catholic religion. Furthermore, in our house we have always received priests as much as in Addis Abeba, my first place of work for the United Nations, and in Vienna, where we lived for a longer time.

In Vienna we tried to teach our children about the Muslim religion as well, in order to allow them to choose between Islam and Catholicism. However, teaching Islam is difficult in a European environment because one should learn to read and write Arabic. So we asked some North African students who studied in Vienna to explain the foundations to them.

When our children decided to be baptised, Ahmed, the eldest, didn't want to do it and leave me being the only Muslim follower in the family. We had already explained to him that it wasn't the case because I didn't practise any religion. Only then did he too get baptised. Returning to Rome, to carry out work, he started to attend a Franciscan community and work voluntarily for Caritas, discovering his vocation.

GV: Your relationship with the Catholic Church also includes a small role in Nanni Moretti's film “Habemus Papam“: How did that come about and what role did you have?

AB: That participation was pure coincidence. When the director set about making the film, he needed immigrants of a certain age from all over the world. Unfortunately when filming started I was ill and I only took part in a few scenes. I was close to Michel Piccoli, to his left. I was the Cardinal of Zambia. I've never dreamed of working in film even though I had the fortune of participating in films by famous directors such as Federico Fellini and Gillo Pontecorvo in the 1960′s in the Cinecittà and De Laurentiis studios.

Abdoulaye Bah

Abdoulaye Bah

GV: How did you get involved with Global Voices? And the blog Konakry Express [fr]?

AB: One evening in December 2008, by then I had retired, to avoid arguing with my wife about what to watch on TV, I started to search on the Internet for a voluntary activity I could undertake. Among the sites I came across was Global Voices. I read a few posts and liked them. Immediately, I contacted Claire Ulrich, the person in charge of the French group and I started to partake.

I didn't have any blogging experience beforehand. I didn't even know what Facebook, Twitter, netizen, citizen media, blogs or posts were. My only previous activity had been the creation of a forum for the victims of the dictatorship in my country. I became a blogger thanks to the patience of Claire Ulrich, who helped me create Konakry Express [fr], a blog designed to broadcast information of the grave violations of human rights that occurred in Guinea on the 28th September 2009.

GV: What relationship is there between your activity as a blogger and your involvement in politics with the Radical Party?

AB: I experienced the 1968 protests in Italy, I followed or took part in many of the youth protests for the decolonisation in Africa, the fight against Apartheid, condemnation of the Vietnam War, the fight against segregation in the USA. The topics which were at the forefront for the Radical Party in Italy could not but engage me: the fight for the rights for abortion and divorce and against world hunger. It is also thanks to the radical initiatives which arose in the 1990′s with the creation of the International Criminal Court, with the discussions about suspension of capitol punishment worldwide or the successes against female genital mutilation.

My sensitivity towards human rights is the fruit of the experience faced in my country and during the peace missions in which I participated, in places where these rights were being violated, such as Cambodia, Haiti and Rwanda. In my blogs, I try to write or translate posts on these topics which are in my heart.

GV: Speaking of which, what is your opinion of the situation in Guinea Conakry today?

AB: In 2010, Alpha Condé, a former academic professor of rights at Sorbona, was elected as president. Many citizens expected improvements but, unfortunately, he is the worst president the country could have had so far due to the rifts his politics are creating among ethnic groups. In his government, there are people accused of crimes against humanity, not only by international NGO's or the UN, but also by Guinean justice, and yet they maintain the same positions of responsibility which they occupied when they committed these acts or they have even been promoted. They should have been able to have elections a few months after the presidential elections but there is no common ground of understanding between the government and the opposition. The future doesn't look promising. [Read this previous interview [it] with Abdoulaye for more on this topic.]

 

Brazilian Amazon Struggles to Keep Up with Power Plant Population Growth

This story by Ana Aranha was originally titled Vidas em Trânsito (Lives in Transit) and is part of Brazilian investigative journalism agency Pública's special coverage #AmazôniaPública, which reports on the impact of mega-construction projects in the Amazon along the Madeira river in the state of Rondônia, Brazil. The story will be published in a series of five posts on Global Voices Online.

Previous post: Displaced Residents Accuse Brazilian Power Plant of False Promises
Next post: Uprooted by Brazilian Power Plant, River Residents Try to Rebuild

In the first post of this series delved into how the Brazilian fishing village of Jaci Paraná has been affected by the construction of the Jirau hydroelectric power station in Madeira, Rondônia. Social chaos affecting the area is directly linked to the population explosion in the region.

To carry out a project of such magnitude like the Jirau hydroelectric station – which is valued in 15 billion Brazilian reais (nearly 7,5 billions US dollars)  – companies must invest in social services. The idea is that they build public service infrastructure such as schools, health service units, and police stations in order to meet increasing demands. Those are called “social compensation deeds”.

Like the Jirau dam, the Santo Antonio hydroelectric station [en], a dam also constructed by the Madeira River, has similar obligations. The difference is that Santo Antônio dam attracted more people to the capital of the federal state, Porto Velho, and its region. In the Jaci Paraná village, the Santo Antônio dam forced the eviction of river dwellers who lived in the wetland neighbourhoods. In this case, the hydroelectric station either built houses in other neighborhoods or gave compensation to the residents.

To absorb the population growth in the area of the Jirau dam, the Jaci Paraná village should have received at least 20 million reais (nearly 10 million US dollars) from the Energia Sustentável do Brasil [en]  – a company in charge of Jirau dam, which has the French multinational GDP Suez as its greatest shareholder. With that amount of money, the promise was to build schools, a health service unit, an environmental police unit, a water collection treatment, and supply system as well as basic services such as street pavement.

Famílias de pescadores de Jaci vivem sem infraestrutura entre os trilhos da antiga estrada de ferro Madeira-Mamoré Foto: Marcelo Min

Fishing families in Jaci Paraná live without infraestructure between the old Madeira-Mamoré railway. Photo: Marcelo Min

Those services should have been ready before the arrival thousand of workers. But, while they work extra hours in order to speed up the dam construction which might go online in early 2013, the “social compensation deeds” have rarely been completed. All that the company has delivered to the people of Jaci Paraná were two miles of paved roads, gullies, and repairs to two schools. They also financed temporary campaigns to prevent malaria and fight child sexual exploitation.

Angela Fortes, child service advisor for Porto Velho, the municipality in charge of Jaci Paraná village management, asserts that these actions are far from meeting the demand created:

Quando as usinas foram anunciadas, prometeram novas escolas e hospitais. Criaram aquela expectativa no povo. Depois que as usinas chegaram, temos escolas com salas lotadas e centenas de crianças sem matrícula.

When the construction of the dams was announced, they promised new schools and hospitals. They built up the expectations of people. Now that the dam projects are here, we have schools with overcrowded classrooms and hundreds of unregistered students.

Between 2007 and 2008, the demand for new school enrollments in the city of Porto Velho increased from 1,500 to 4,000. Angela estimates that nowadays there are nearly 100 unregistered students in Jaci and some other villages.

The government of the federal state of Rondônia and the city hall of Porto Velho are partly responsible for the late use of the money. According to the plan signed with the company, they are responsible for indicating how investments on public services should be carried out. The city hall of Porto Velho managed 65 million reais (32 million US dollars) for Santo Antônio and 91 million reais (45 million US dollars) for Jirau. The state government had 75 million reais (37 million US dollars) for Santo Antônio and 67 million reais (33 million US dollars) for Jirau.

However, the current city hall of Porto Velho did not prioritize meeting the demands created by the construction of the dam. “I always opposed building new schools in Jaci. They always wanted them and I never allowed them,” asserted city hall secretary Pedro Beber, head of the Extraordinary Secretary of Special Programs, which is in charge of managing those funds:

Os trabalhadores estão indo embora, e ficaríamos com um elefante branco.

Workers are leaving (the village) and we would be with a white elephant.

Beber asserts the best for Jaci village is to wait for the dust to settle and focus on building for the people who are going to stay in the village after the dam construction is over. He minimizes the fact related to unregistered students this year and in 2011:

Em um ou dois anos, tudo vai se acomodar

Everything is going back to normal in one or two years

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewal Natural Resources (IBAMA) is the organization in charge of monitoring the plan as whole. In theory, if the agreed investment plan with the company is not followed, the organization can put environmental permits on hold for the new stage of the construction work. However, in practice, these environmental permits are approved even when technicians detect serious problems, mostly problems with benefits for the local population.

It was what happened with a basic health service unit (called ‘Unidade de Pronto Atendimento’ in the country) that should be created to meet emergency demands in Jaci. Locals hoped for this project the most, since 15,000 inhabitants only have one health unit. This construction should be built with Jirau's resources in an agreement with city government. In November 2011 during an inspection of the “social compensation deeds” completed by the Santo Antônio project, IBAMA technicians found that the construction of the unit were abandoned. This fact was communicated to Brasília in a report (pt) recommending a notice of infraction against the company Energia Sustentável.

Nearly a year later in October 2012, the company received permission to start operating its turbines. Although the basic health service unit construction has started again, there is no date set for its expected completion.

Project Amazônia Pública is composed by three teams of Agência Pública de Reportagem e Jornalismo Investigativo reporters who travelled to three Amazon areas from July to October 2012 – among which the hydroelectric plants along the Madeira river, in state of Rondônia. All stories aim to explore the complexity of current local investments in the Amazon, including negotiations and political articulations, and to listen to all agents involved – governments, enterprises, civil society – in order to frame the context in which these projects have been developed. The key perspective of such stories, as well as Pública's entire production, is the public interest: how do actions and political and economic negotiations impact people's lives.
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