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September 28 2014

February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

February 12 2014

VIDEOS: Argentina's Melting Pot of Culinary Traditions

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

The diverse migratory flows that have reached Argentina from the 1880′s and until now contributed to the richness and variety of the typical [en] cuisine in the country.

The various ‘ferias de colectividades’ (cultural fairs) that take place throughout Argentina are good illustrations of this. In these fairs we can witness not only a display of each community's traditions, folkloric dances, beauty pageants and souvenirs but also their traditional dishes. For instance, during the Fiesta de Colectividades in the city of Rosario that takes place every year, a varied menu is offered representing the multiple communities (Latin, European and Asian) that compose the Argentinian society. In this video, we can see how typical Paraguayan food is prepared and sold during that same fair in Rosario.


On Facebook, the page Encuentro Anual de Colectividades (Annual Gathering of Communities) shows some dishes that will be sold during the 2014 program in the city of Alta Gracia [es]. The city, located in the Córdoba province, is quite famous because it is where the revolutionary Che Guevara [en] lived for 12 years.

Imagen de la página de facebook Encuentro Anual de Colectividades

Photo posted on the Facebook Page of the Encuentro Anual de Colectividades event

Every September, the Misiones province [en] also celebrates its traditional Fiesta Nacional del Inmigrante (National Feast of the Immigrant). For the occasion, the Polish community, among other migrant groups, cooks Kursak Polski na Royezaj, better known as Polish chicken.

Ingredientes
1 pollo
1 cebolla grande
2 ajo puerro
1 morrón rojo mediano
1 morrón verde mediano
200 gramos crema de leche
200 gramos champiñones
sal y pimienta

Preparación de la salsa
Picar la cebolla bien fina, rehogar con una cucharada de aceite, agregar los morrones cortados en daditos, agregar el ajo puerro picado muy fino. Revolver muy bien, agregar crema de leche y los champignones.
Cocinar durante cinco minutos, agregar sal y pimienta a gusto.
Optativo nuez moscada.
Si queda muy espesa la salsa agregar leche para suavizar. Servir acompañado con pollo a la parrilla o al horno

Ingredients

1 Chicken

1 Large Onion

2 Leeks

1 Medium Red Pepper

1 Medium Green Pepper

200 g. Cream

200 g. Mushrooms

Salt and Pepper

Preparation of the sauce

Chop the onions very finely. Fry lightly with one tbsp of oil. Add the peppers after they've been diced followed by the leeks finely cut. Stir well. Add the cream and mushrooms.

Cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some nutmeg if you wish. If sauce gets too thick, add some milk. Serve with grilled or roast chicken.

In addition there are community-specific celebrations, such as the one by the Volga Germans [en], who settled mostly in the province of Entre Ríos. The Volga Germans lived in the region of southeastern European Russia, close to the Volga river [en]. They came to Argentina in 1878 and preserved their traditions as well as their language. Cuisine is naturally at the heart of these traditions. This video produced by the Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga (Argentinian Association of the Volga Germans Descendants) demonstrates how to prepare a Kreppel:


There also many restaurants serving foreign food. The Croatian community in Argentina, for instance, keeps its culinary traditions with restaurants like Dobar Tek, offering a rich Croatian menu. This video shows the “art” of preparing an apple strudel.


The Armenian community is also quite influential in Argentina. Romina Boyadjian suggests the 5 best dishes in Armenian cuisine while pointing out that the Community in the diaspora has reinvented the typical dishes:

Algo curioso es que la comida armenia que se come en Argentina es muy distinta a la que se consume en Armenia. Esto tiene que ver con las reinvenciones que hacen los diferentes pueblos al partir de su tierra natal, las costumbres que traen consigo y lo que termina siendo valorado en la nueva comunidad. Hay comidas que acá se consideran típicas y que allá apenas se conocen.

It's quite intriguing that the Armenian cuisine we eat in Argentina is quite different from the one actually consumed in Armenia. This has to do with the reinventions done by the different populations based on their homeland, the traditions that they bring and what ends up being valued in the new community.  Some dishes are considered traditional yet they are barely known there (in Armenia).

One of the cities symbolizing the Jewish immigration to Argentina is Moisés Ville [en], established by the first immigrants who reached the country. On the YouTube account of the initiative Señal Santa Fe we can see the city and get to know how traditions are preserved through well-known dishes such as the strudel or the Knish [en] among others:


But which dish was quickly adopted by immigrants upon their arrival to the country? The asado [en] without any doubt, especially because the majority of the newcomers were peasants and meat was quite cheap. The Club Argentino de Asadores a la Estaca (Argetinian Club of Rotisseurs) has some photos for you to enjoy.

Asado a la Estaca - Imagen. Laura Schneider

Asado – Photo by Laura Schneider

January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 20 2013

COP19: Fasting For The Climate

Filipino lead negotiator Yeb Saño. Photo from Flickr user 350.org under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Filipino lead negotiator Yeb Saño. Photo from Flickr user 350.org under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yeb Saño, leader of the Philippines delegation at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Poland (COP19), has decided to stop eating until he sees real solutions from negotiators at the summit. He wants the process to bring “climate justice to the poorest countries,” and links Typhoon Haiyan, which has left more than 4,000 people dead and 4 million displaced, to climate change.

Saño started using the hashtag #FastingForTheClimate to expand his cause on the web:

Other climate negotiators, like Pablo Solón from Bolivia, used Twitter to support Saño:

Saño has also been quoting Mahatma Gandhi, relating his teachings to his personal fasting:

But the fast for the climate has gone beyond Twitter and reached the blogosphere. 

David Tong, a lawyer for international human rights from New Zealand and a fellow for the Adopt a Negotiator Project, blogged about his concerns regarding the way his government is reacting towards climate change issues. He also mentioned Saño in his text:

I’m ashamed of my government because they laughed when Russel Norman of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand linked Typhoon Haiyan to climate change.  They laughed.  They mocked him.  They yelled “shame”.  Let me say that again: when Yeb Saño was quoted in the New Zealand Parliament, people laughed. The worst typhoon ever recorded hit last weekend.  It killed over 10,000 people. 478,000 people have been displaced. Real, human, people, with families and children and lives and loves.  Philippine lead negotiator Yeb Saño is one such real person, and he pledged to fast until a deal was done for all our futures. And my elected leaders laughed.  No one here in Warsaw is laughing.  In fact, 30 or more people are joining Yeb in his fast.

Carlie Labaria, a development specialist from the Philippines, is also blogging for Adopt a Negotiator Project. One of her last posts describes the current situation in her home town, comparing it with her disappointment about the current resolutions from the climate talks happening in Poland:

I think about my Mom and Dad and little sister, my hometown, the people of Visayas especially Tacloban and Panay. How much more suffering do the leaders of the world need to behold before they finally realize that addressing Loss and Damage is about survival, dignity, and justice?

During the summit, hundreds of politicians discuss ways – and ideally reach agreements – on how their countries can act to prevent climate change from causing more extreme weather events. But every country has its own interests, so reaching an agreement is a slow process that takes more time than is always expected.

There are two days left before climate talks are over in Poland, and Saño is still fasting. He also started an online campaign to pressure governments to take real action at the summit.

Saño wants “a new mechanism under the UN Convention on Climate Change that allows poorer nations to reduce losses related to climate change”. At the UN process, developed countries are assumed to be largely responsible for the effects of climate change due to the large amounts of carbon that they emit year after year.

The results of these talks will be key for the success of ongoing negotiations in the next summit, which will take place in Lima, Peru, in 2014.

 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 15 2013

Polish Right-Wing Nationalists Hijack Country's Independence Day

Nationalists at Rozdroze Square, picture posted on Twitter by @PolandTalks

Nationalists at Rozdroze Square; image posted by @PolandTalks, used with permission

Poland's National Independence Day, traditionally celebrated on November 11, ended in violence this year. Young right-wing Poles torched cars, threw stones at police and even attacked and set fire to the Russian Embassy in Warsaw during a march organized by a nationalist movement. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades, then detained around a dozen individuals from a group of a few hundred mostly masked men who began the march.

Over the last few years, Warsaw's inhabitants anticipate Independence Day with mixed feelings of fear and disgust. Usually a festive day that is supposed to unite Polish citizens in a joyful celebration of independence regained in 1918 after more than 100 years of foreign rule, this one turned out to be quite the opposite. Political discourse over the issue of patriotism and ways of expressing one's national pride was dominated by the definitions and viewpoints of right-wing nationalist and neo-fascist groups.

Twitter user @p_ministra tweeted a comment from her grandmother that perfectly depicted the day:

My grandma called me today (with a teary voice): Anuszka, how did you survive this independence yesterday?!

- p_ministra (@p_ministra), November 12, 2013

This tendency has recently been highly supported by the media, which have been looking for controversial content to improve their ratings. It has become clear that only the few “true Poles” will be defining what it actually means to be a patriot. It has also become obvious that the definitions of patriotism provided by these few are tremendously narrow and based on the drastic exclusion of many groups identified as “alien elements”.

And so the spiral began towards the violent events of November 11, 2013 during a ring-wing march organized by All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska) in Warsaw. During this march, a group of masked men attacked two squats in downtown of Warsaw and set fire to artistic installation [pl, photos] “The Rainbow” – a representation supporting LGBT rights, located in the most popular nightlife area of the city – then proceeded to attack the Russian Embassy. Poland Talks, a blog that follows social struggles in Poland, tweeted:

Poland seems to be painfully helpless in this matter, not for lack of trying to find a solution though. In the past few years, some attempts to block marches like this one were quite successful, but many now believe that they just escalated the violence instead of reducing it. So a decision was made this year to, instead of banning their march, organize an alternative march on a different day for those who refuse to support the exclusive definition of belonging by these ring-wing groups and believe in a broader one. 

The meme says:

The meme says: “Poland / USA – why are we able to copy Haloween, but a shared national party – not really? picture posted on demotywatory.pl

This alternative march was organised on November 9, 2013 by a coalition of organisations dubbed Together Against Nationalism, and it had a significant turnout.

A statement by coalition organisers said:

We turn to you on the 75th anniversary Kristallnacht in Germany when hordes of Nazis, with the support of the state apparatus, intensified the persecution of the Jewish minority. Europe today is reminiscent of the times of the Great Depression. As a result of social exclusion there is increased support for the violence embedded in nationalist, racist and fascist ideas.[...]

The most effective way to combat these sick ideas is with social self-organisation. In Poland local groups of antifascists have brought about the cancellation of many events organised by the nationalists. We have also blocked the attempt by the National Movement to make inroads into the academic world. We will allow neither the tragic events of the past nor the present incidents to pass unnoticed.

Immediately after the riots started, many questioned why the city's authorities were not prepared for the expected violence. Since authorities were never very fond of the squats, it is suspected by some that the police were somehow instructed to do nothing during the attack and let the hooligans do the job that the city isn't allowed to. A statement published by the inhabitants of Squat Syrena [pl] said:

Today, on Independence Day, the police maintained constant patrol over the streets Skorupki and Wilcza where the autonomous spaces Syrena and Przychodnia are located.

About 3:30 PM, the nationalist March of Independence moved through the city center. The police troops standing guard near Skorupki street dispersed and disappeared.

Simultaneously, a several dozen-strong group of neo-Nazi demonstrators arrived. They broke the chains at the gate and entered the site. Armed with machetes, bottles, and clubs, they proceded to attack the people inside. At the moment, Syrena’s quarters held eight children aged 3 to 14, among other persons.

The greatest damage was done to Przychodnia – with cars burned and destroyed, people injured, and windowpanes knocked out. For about thirty minutes – due to the police forces’ retreating – we were forced to defend ourselves on our own. Had it not been for our firm response, the scene would have ended in tragedy: the neo-Nazi attackers were ready to kill.

This is what your ‘patriotism’ looks like today. Every single person taking part in the Independence March shares the responsibility for the attacks on homes of evicted families, of the elderly, of people with disabilities and all those who cannot afford neither their rent nor a 30-year bank loan.

This is reality in Warsaw today – those in power evict, the fascists strike.

We will endure both.

Rainbow - an artistic instalation by Julita Wójcik, built in the centre of Warsaw as a symbol of tolerance, was burnt. Picture Posted by @PolandTalks

Rainbow – an artistic installation by Julita Wójcik, built in the centre of Warsaw as a symbol of tolerance, was burnt. Photo posted by @PolandTalks

The following day, many Warsaw citizens showed their solidarity with the values under attack by decorating the burnt rainbow and creating Facebook groups demanding that the guilty parties rebuild it themselves.

Picture posted by @</a><a href=czapskipawel, drawn by a famous blogging cartoonist AndrzejRysuje.pl. The girl says " class="size-medium wp-image-442190" height="400" src="http://globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/BY87-reCEAA5lby.jpg-large-332x400.jpeg" width="332" />

Cartoon posted by @czapskipawel, drawn by famed cartoonist AndrzejRysuje.pl. The girl says “People are decorating the burnt rainbow with flowers, on Friday there is a flash mob organised – people will be kissing under the burnt rainbow and the nationalists are supposed to pay for its reconstruction…”

“Rainbow in Poland” – satirical picture posted by @p_ministra

There were many, who highlighted the right of citizens to march under any circumstances, blaming organisational skills of the march leaders rather than the general attitude of it's participants:

It's true – the Independence March was not perfect. But it was better than a year ago. And Poland with this March is better then on without it!

- Krzysztof Bosak (@krzysztofbosak), 12 November 2013

Hanna Kozłowska, a Polish blogger writing for Foreign Policy Blog highlighted the influence of the change in political moods over the last years on the events of November 11, 2013:

While the nationalist hooligans make up a fringe group, their actions reflect a larger shift in Polish society. With the once vigorous economic growth falling from 4.5 percent in 2011 to 1.8 in 2012, the unemployment rate high at 13%, Poles are increasingly dissatisfied with their government, the European Union and their lives. Polls indicate that the main conservative party, Law and Justice which has been out of power since 2007, is now gaining support over the centrist, pro-European Civic Platform, idle and incompetent in the eyes of many.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

July 21 2013

Poland Bans Ritual Slaughter of Animals

Online magazine Commentary and many others have been discussing the decision of the Polish government to ban ritual slaughter of animals, in accordance to humane slaughter practices, which many EU countries have recently been leaning towards. For Poland however, this decision is a controversial one, in light of its history and significance to the Jewish community in the country and world-wide:

(more…)

June 14 2013

Everyone's Rights are at Stake: Global Reach of US Surveillance Programs

Last week's revelations about phone and Internet surveillance programs of the US government's National Security Agency (NSA) sent shock waves throughout the United States and the western media, but also around the globe. While in the US, many privacy-minded lawmakers and even digital rights advocates used the news as an opportunity to demand better protections for Americans’ online privacy, Internet users worldwide were left wondering how to protect their own data, short of closing their Google accounts, packing up their Facebook profiles and heading for the woods.

Documents leaked by Booze Allen employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden have now confirmed that customer call data from telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T was being passed to the NSA through a system where accountability was scarce and secrecy ruled. Reports indicate that the agency applies a vague standard of “foreignness” when determining whether or not a person's communications would be subject to surveillance under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — users who spoke with individuals in other countries, for any reason from hatching terrorist plots to catching up with relatives — could come under watch.

Image by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (CC BY-2.0)

Image by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (CC BY-2.0)

The documents also revealed details about an Internet surveillance program known as PRISM, which allows the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to obtain copious amounts of user and communication data from major Internet companies including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. While many details of the program remain murky, the news has left international digital rights advocates reeling. Advocacy groups in the UK wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, condemning US government surveillance of British citizens and demanding strong protections for digital privacy in the UK. An international coalition of advocates meanwhile is pushing the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special session to discuss the matter and develop recommendations for member states.

While some see the revelations as an opportunity to push for stronger laws at home, others fear that the US, ever-committed to “leading by example,” has set a new, very low standard for online privacy protections worldwide.

“The leaks reveal an abuse of any citizen's basic rights, no matter which country the citizen is in,” Wafa Ben Hassine, a Tunisian human rights advocate and ACLU member told Global Voices Advocacy. Ben Hassine pointed out that Tunisians are familiar with pervasive surveillance. “The Tunisian government in Ben Ali's era indulged in spying on the average citizen's digital communications for decades,” she said, arguing that this moment should be seen as an opportunity for policymakers to develop laws that would “enshrine the values of digital rights.”

Alberto Cerda, a human rights lawyer and international program director of Chilean digital rights group Derechos Digitales described how in Chile, the government has “done its homework” in this area. He explained that human rights, including the right to privacy, are well protected under Chilean law. But this, Cerda pointed out, doesn't even begin to solve the problem:

This proves that a local solution won't do, as the violation of fundamental rights has a global character. What good is it for me to be protected in Chile if it's actually the US government that's violating my rights?

His question has likely loomed large for many users since the news hit. Kasia Szymielewicz, director of Polish digital rights group Panoptykon, argued that the NSA's actions would violate the EU's data protection policies, which aim to provide stronger protections against private or corporate data collection than are afforded in the US. She told GVA:

Nobody expected that NSA and FBI have direct access to companies’ servers, which in practice means that data of Polish and European citizens can be used and abused without any legal safeguards. In the light of European data protection standards, even in the scope of law enforcement, this practice simply cannot be accepted.

Some advocates see the particulars of the PRISM program as a reason to promote Internet business at the national level. Anja Kovacs, director of the Internet Democracy project in Delhi, India, said that India's ISP association sees this as an opportunity to push for requiring multinational companies to establish servers in-country, a move that would give the Indian government greater jurisdiction and control over local users’ data and US government efforts to obtain it.

Kovacs said that the Association has correctly pointed to the “duplicity of US-based companies in denying access to information to the Indian government while making it freely available to the US government,” but cautioned that “the latter point is sometimes framed in highly nationalist terms [as] urging for solutions that would perhaps benefit the Indian state but not necessarily Indian users.” Many advocates in India argue that efforts establish servers in-country are mainly driven by government desires to achieve greater control over online speech.

Ben Hassine also commented on the need for establishing more companies outside the US.

The NSA leak should provide every country a lesson – including Tunisia – that the key to ensuring online privacy and digital rights is through the development of local platforms and content and making such tools available globally. Our reliance on US-based ‘big tech’ is an elemental part of the problem.

Advocates also speculated on how the NSA revelations might influence national-level policymaking on the issue of privacy itself. Carlos Afonso, an Internet governance expert and director of Brazilian Internet rights group Instituto Nupef, pointed to Brazil's Data Protection Law, which will be brought before Congress in the near future. Afonso urged that future debates on privacy be transparent and open to all parties affected:

[The data protection debate] needs to bring guarantees that data protection will be a policy/regulatory field where all the sectors of society are fully engaged, with spaces for the full participation of civil society.

Szymielewicz hoped that the news would trigger greater efforts to ensure data privacy within the European Union, and noted that the “PRISM affair” had already triggered a “serious debate” within EU institutions. But she also cautioned that the news could have precisely the opposite effect in many countries, including her native Poland:

There is a risk that Polish authorities and security agencies may want to follow the NSA and FBI and demand even broader access to our data for public security purposes, therefore lowering our standard of legal protection.

As new information continues to emerge around this story, lawmakers and digital rights advocates should consider the global implications of these programs and other pervasive digital surveillance efforts by governments around the world. In a digital era, where it is impossible to draw a line separating the communications of “citizens” or “residents” of a particular country and “foreigners”, governments must strive to develop policies that will not only fit this new paradigm, but truly protect the privacy and freedoms of users worldwide.

March 25 2013

Attention! Baby on Board: An Interview With a Travelling Blogger Family

An interview with The Family Without Borders: Anna and Thomas Alboth, parents, travellers and bloggers who've been around the Black Sea and around Central America with their two small daughters.

In 2010, a young couple from Berlin – Anna, a Polish journalist, and Thomas, a German photographer – decided to live on their globetrotting dream – and they decided to do it with their 6-month-old daugther Hanna on board. With a fully-packed Renault Espace they made a half-a-year-long road trip around the Black Sea, through the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea. The idea worked out so well that in 2012, already with their second daughter Mila, they travelled in Central America from Mexico down to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

From their first trip on they decided to share their unusual experiences through their blog, The Family Without Borders [en; Facebook]. The interest turned out to be so significant that in 2011 the blog was named the Best Travel Blog by the Polish edition of the National Geographic.

Global Voices (GV): Let’s imagine 25 years forward. Your daughters have their own children and want to go travelling with their babies. What is your reaction?

Mexico (yukatan), Holbox Island. Picture used with the permission of Thomas Alboth. Copyright: Thomas Alboth

Mexico (Yukatan), Holbox Island. Photo © Thomas Alboth, used with permission.

Anna (A): I hope it will be this way. Recently, we've had some discussions about parents, kids and grandkids and how it all can change. We were a bit afraid that maybe they will choose a totally other way of life than we did and that it would be hard to accept it if they would start saying things like, “I want to go to a hotel.” But on the other hand, the more they grow up the more I feel that I’m scared that something can happen to them, all these mother-ish things.

Thomas (T): I would have wanted it. But I’m also not so sure if they will like this lifestyle, I have friends who grew up in a community flat and then they turned into the opposite. I’m also pretty happy to be completely different from my parents. So maybe one day they will stay in a hotel, will have nice rolling suitcases and that’s ok.

GV: You received the National Geographic title for the Best Travel Blog in 2011. Why do you think your blog became so successful?

A: I think it was two things. First, we didn’t plan for it to be big, so we were just doing what we liked, and I think these things are always going bigger when you just do what you love. We have known all these travel bloggers who had business plans, but for us it was basically writing for the grandparents, so that they could see Hanna safe and smiling. That was the beginning. After a while we started to check the statistics and we saw that people from 20, 40, 50 countries were visiting the blog, and we were like, “wow”. There is this generation of young Europeans who are studying abroad, travelling, making international couples and they think that if they have kids it will be all over. I think when they see what we did, they see hope that it all really doesn’t have to be over.

The whole family in their flat in Berlin. Photo by Kasia Odrozek

The whole family in their flat in Berlin. Photo by Kasia Odrozek

GV: Did you have a clear work division: who is writing, who takes pictures and so on?

A: Yes, we had clear divided tasks. It happened that I made some pictures but not often, normally the camera was in his hands all the time. I was writing the posts, Thomas wrote maybe two posts in these three years. For the blog he does all the technical things and I do all the human communication work. And on the road Thomas usually drives and I usually tell him where we are going [laughing]. The whole thing works when we are doing it together. A couple of weeks ago, he was in Burma and I was in Palestine and we didn’t post anything on the blog, and it felt strange.

GV: Would your experience be different without the blog?

A: For me having the blog was very motivating to get more knowledge about everything. On the second trip, I was writing in a much more journalistic way, so I was noting many more things, asking for more context while talking to people, taking leaflets in museums and so on. I don’t know if I would do all of this without knowing that I will publish it.

T: I was a bit jealous, because writing means reprocessing, while editing pictures is not the same experience, you don’t need more knowledge, you don’t have to understand the situation to make a picture.

At Lake Sevan in Armenia. Photo © Thomas Alboth, used with permission.

At Lake Sevan in Armenia. Photo © Thomas Alboth, used with permission.

GV: What is your favorite memory when you look back at your travels?

T: More than a memory it is a feeling of being self-paced, that you decide about your own life. When you stay in one place you get into this daily rhythm, you get up, grab a coffee in the morning, you take a tram or metro and you go to your office, and 80 percent of your day is predictable. That’s what I liked about the trip, for a half of the year you decide what you want to do.

GV: Was there a moment when you thought, “This was a mistake”?

A: There was one such moment when I was scared and I thought that all these people saying that we were irresponsible parents were right. It was the night at a hotel in Guatemala where we saw three big men with guns passing by the corridor, talking angrily on the phone. We had to do something to feel better, so we asked them if they were dangerous. We didn’t speak too much Spanish but, luckily, we knew the word peligroso, dangerous. They answered “yes, but not for you and not here.” Then we learned that in Guatemala everybody has guns because they hadn’t been disarmed after the civil war.

GV: You say that your travels were about people and their stories. What was the craziest thing you heard or experienced?

T: If you come from a different world, even just the way people live their everyday lives seems interesting and sometimes strange.

The family has a hard time to say goodbye to their hosts in Guatemala, Chilasco Waterfall. Photo © Anna Alboth, used with permission.

The family has to say goodybe to their hosts in Guatemala, Chilasco waterfall. Photo © Anna Alboth, used with permission.

A: During the second trip, in Guatemala, we were hosted by a Mayan family in their small house with plastic chairs and a TV. After we talked to them, they were surprised, but not by the fact that we were travelling for so long – but that we could live without a TV for so long. Then in the evening, when I started to cut potatoes for a soup, all these small girls immediately started to help me because that’s what they do, they do everything together. When we were leaving, they were asking when we would come back and it was heartbreaking, we wanted to say that we would call but they didn’t have a phone, they wanted to write a letter but they didn’t know how to write.

GV: Any plans for the future?

A:We have to go on a trip again, of course. But before we do it, I need to finish my book on Central America, then we will go travelling again.

On March 26, 2013, The Family Without Borders will share their pictures and stories at a slideshow presentation at the Globetrotter shop in Berlin. For more details, please visit their blog or Facebook.

January 31 2013

Slovak PM's Support for 2022 Winter Olympics Bid Draws Criticism

Whereas Norway and Switzerland are planning to hold referenda before submitting their 2022 Winter Olympics bids, the fate of the Slovak-Polish joint bid already seems decided: the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has declared his support for it, without waiting for the government's approval.

Slovakia's Olympic expenditures were initially estimated at €200 million, but later the Minister of Finance spoke [sk] of €300 million, while some estimates amount to nearly €500 million. Slovak NGOs, such as Aliancia Fair-Play, and the opposition parties are demanding [sk] the precise cost analysis and a list of funding sources.

Economist Richard Ďurana thinks [sk] that the “organization of the Olympic Games is a very expensive, short-term boost of national pride that only very rich or very irresponsible countries can afford.”

Imrich Body, a member of the non-parliamentary 99 Percent-Civic Voice party, sees the Olympics [sk] as another attempt to “feed the Gorilla“, referring to the corruption scandal that shook Slovakia a year ago.

Blogger Matej Bórik has these questions [sk] for the Prime Minister:

How do you ensure that there will be no overcharge scenario as in London, Athens, Sochi, Vancouver and other mega-cities? What steps will you take when it will occur? Do you have enough cash in [your] personal account?

Blogger Samo Marec writes [sk]:

It should be noted that we have already been fighting for the Olympics – and even twice. [...] It is possible that I'm alone with this opinion, but I strongly believe that the sole purpose of the [Olympic bidding] is making public money private once again. Compared to [those who came up with] this plan, [Jaromír Ruda, known for the failed Deaflympics,] is a poor amateur. [...]

Blogger Karol Šebo is optimistic [sk]:

Poland, not Slovakia, will play the leading role in convincing the International Olympic Committee.

Poland, which has only recently organized EURO 2012 successfully; Poland, which has a strong lobby in a number of organizations around the world. And not to mention that Krakow has a strong brand image internationally. That's why I think that this joint candidacy has a real chance to be successful, and any success provides Slovakia with a great chance to become more visible, something that does not happen often.

Blogger Tomáš Bosák writes [sk]:

A candidate to host the Olympics now, when we are languishing [under austerity measures]? What do we need the Olympics for? [...] I am just wondering from where this or that government will have the money for this parade.

Because I remember what a show it was about [the hockey stadium in Bratislava] and how it kept growing more expensive. Now it would not be enough to build just one stadium. I don't know, it reminds me of organizing May Day celebrations. No calculations, no documentation, but let's do it, because people will have fun. And we will have a chance to show off.

Mikuláš Huba, an ecologist and a newly-elected MP, writes [sk]:

There is a threat to the nature, because the Tatras are not the Alps.

Not giving money to doctors and teachers, but giving it to officials, politicians, developers and sponsors?

The candidacy for the Olympics is such a serious decision that it cannot and should not be made by one person and in one day; it requires a serious, long-term and informed debate not just in the parliament, but in the society as a whole, following the example of Norway.

Prime Minister has openly demonstrated how serious he is about the consolidation of the public finances and also what (and who) his priorities are.

January 24 2013

Parallels Between Religious and Copyright Wars

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Pirate Party, reinterprets the wars of religion that devastated Western Europe in the XVI and XVII centuries in terms of the current struggle to control information through overbearing legislation related to copyright and freedom of expression:

The religious wars were never about religion as such. They were about who held the power of interpretation, about who controlled the knowledge and culture available to the masses. It was a war of gatekeepers of information.

November 25 2012

02mydafsoup-01

[...]

The following statistics go some way to explaining why so many Poles took to the streets in sub-zero temperatures to protests against ACTA:

92% of active [Internet] users claim to have engaged in informal circulations if their definition is expanded to include all avenues of content access (such as streaming, sharing files with friends, etc.). If we include the informal circulation of content stored on physical media (e.g. sharing and copying books or CDs and DVDs) in the aforementioned definition, then practically all of the respondents (95%) claim to have engaged in such content circulations. The survey indicates, that among people who actively use the Internet, the informal, non-market economy of cultural content is the norm.

The cultural importance of this shared content emerges from another figure:

The most commonplace attitude of active Internet users (50% of respondents) towards the informal circulations is moderate and focused on the broadening of cultural horizons. For them, the crucial factor is the ability to know more and see more, not acquire free content.

That's not to say that money isn't a factor:

75% of active internet users indicated price and a wider selection of content available on the Internet as justifications for their behavior. Two-thirds of them pointed to such factors as availability without delays (typical of formal circulations, where global content arrives in Poland often with a delay) or the selection available.

That is, much of the sharing that takes place in Poland is as a result of copyright companies failing to make their material available in a timely fashion, or pricing it inappropriately for the market there. Again, this is just what other research has found, notably the "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies" that Techdirt reported on before.

[...]
Why Was It Poland That Led The European Revolt Against ACTA? | Techdirt 2012-11-21

August 26 2012

Poland: Interview with Adam Dobrzynski, GV Translator and Heavy Metal Musician

An interview with Adam Dobrzynski, a member of the heavy metal band Wanderer and a translator for GV Poland.

He lives in Warsaw's district of Praga, will soon graduate with degrees in American Studies and philology with a focus on teaching. However, from the beginning of his studies, he was thinking of becoming a translator rather than a teacher. And even though his biggest talent is his English proficiency, for the past 10 years it has been music that remained his strongest passion.

Who is Adam Dobrzynski? A musician? A student? A translator?

Most of all, I am just myself, music is my passion, translation is something that, besides music, I want to do in life, something that I’m best at. To be honest, studying is just a professional formation. I think one could call me part translator, part musician?

Adam Dobrzynski, photo used with permission of the band Wanderer.

Is your band a good material for an article?

I think we are all fanatics of music, we are very determined to create something on our own - probably because of that we are still looking for our musical identity. We have some of our own material, we can’t complain about inspiration…just pass by one of our upcoming concerts. Despite some rotations in the band, we remain strong and tight, we want to achieve a lot in the world of music.

What are your musical inspirations?

Rock and metal most of all, in all its colours and varieties. Also, classical music, but just occasionally - sometimes I listen to Wagner. For more than 10 years I’ve been fascinated by heavy, fast tones, I think they are a perfect carrier of energy.

How did you end up in the band Wanderer?

Music is my passion, for the last 10 years I’ve been listening to a whole range of rock music, from rather light to very heavy sounds. It’s the music that has shaped my character, the way I perceive the world, et cetera. At some point, I found time to grab the guitar, I wanted to try myself out in creating music that I love and fulfill the dream of playing in a band. Despite initial trouble and a short career of my former band, I did not stop exercising and finally got rewarded. I got a chance to join Wanderer as the second guitar. From the first rehearsals and concerts I felt that this was it, that it was worth sacrificing life for playing. We’ve been playing together for more than one year now and it is, in my opinion, my biggest achievement and pride. Why? Because I live according to the rule that you have to fulfill your dreams without counting on somebody else, without waiting for financial stability, we just have one life, there is nothing to wait for.

And what was your path to GV?

A friend showed me this website in May. I thought: “Why not? To do something I like, something that is meaningful and to gain some experience? Good bargain.” I’ve always wanted to translate and work according to these kind of rules, so I took a look at the offer, I filled out the form… and here I am.

Do you think that GV should write more about music?

Of course, this is something that moves the whole world, that connects millions of people. I think that many people would like to read information, news (or maybe stories?) from the world of music.

Members of the band Wanderer, photo used with permission of the band.

Are you active in social media? Do you have a blog?

No, I’m a bit asocial. And besides that, I don’t even have enough time to start this kind of activity.

What is the role of new technology in your life?

I don’t like changes at all, I’m still using my old Nokia and the only “new technologies” I’m investing in are an iPod and a multi-effect for my guitar.

Are you a bit of an activist? Did you take part in the winter protests against ACTA?

I don’t consider myself an activist, I’m not a part of any group… but I did go to the protest against ACTA. I also remember our first concert in Warsaw, we dedicated it to the fight against ACTA, we have sacrificed our old T-shirts to make protest banners against this bill. We have expressed our “endorsement” for ACTA in the song “Drill” that we played for the first time at this concert [unfortunately, the song is not recorded yet].

Do you think that young people in Poland should get more engaged in “internet politics”?

Sure, Internet is nowadays probably the kind of media that young people feel the closest connection with. Where, if not there, to express your opinions and fight for a better tomorrow? And young people have to get involved in politics - they fight for their future.

In your opinion, how will the world of media look like in 10 years and what will be the role of citizen media?

I think everything will speed up even more, the flow of information will be even bigger, Internet will be king among the mass media. Social media will be the main point of discussion, self-expression and opinion-forming, a platform to exchange opinions.

Would you like to add anything?

I feel proud translating posts for GV. Why? I’m doing something meaningful, I bring the events and stories from the world closer to the Polish public. It’s very important.

 

You can find the music of the band Wanderer on MySpace, and the GV profile of Adam here.

June 18 2012

Poland, Ukraine: A Euro 2012 Roundup

Notes and musings on issues related to the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine: at Polandian - here, here, and here; at Memory at War - here; at Raf Uzar - here; at Politics, Economy, Society - here; at The Pipeline - here.

June 13 2012

Poland: Football Fans Clash Ahead of Poland-Russia Game

Over 180 people were detained due to clashes that broke out between rival Russian and Polish football fans in Warsaw on June 12. Unrest started during the march organised to mark the Russian National Day, attended by thousands of visiting Russian fans ahead of the Poland-Russia Euro 2012 game at the National Stadium.

Concern about possible tensions had been expressed by several newspapers and public figures prior to the march, given the troubled history of the two countries. Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the Mayor of Warsaw, recognised the problem, but stated that “the Russian fans' delegation promised that there wouldn't be any political exclamations on their part.”

Gronkiewicz-Waltz called the day of the march “the main challenge for the city during the Euro 2012 championship.”

Clashes in the centre of Warsaw. Photo by Nikodem Szymański, used with permission.

Clashes in the centre of Warsaw. Photo by Nikodem Szymański, used with permission.

The idea of holding the march had also caused quite some buzz among the Polish netizens. A few days before the march, Salon24 user szkielkooko wrote [pl]:

Clashes during the Euro are inevitable. […] Polish hooligans will definitely oppose the march, and organise some spectacular fights to “repay the Russians” for the years of communism, partitions and the bloody supressions of the Polish uprisings in the 19th century. This kind of behaviour is almost openly encouraged by the right-wing journalists.

Salon24 user rybitzky also pointed out [pl] the stance that the mainstream media took in this situation:

The mainstream media suddenly started to act as if they were completely crazy. Maybe the journalists got so sucked into the atmosphere of the Euro that they forgot their usual strategy of promoting the Polish-Russian reconciliation?

@polococto wrote [pl]:

If the Mayor allowed a march of two rival Polish football teams through the city center, would anyone be surprised by the clashes?

@jakmarcin called for the reasonable evaluation of the unrest [pl]:

The German media describe the clashes objectively, as a minor outburst of aggression on the both sides

Clashes in the centre of Warsaw. Photo by Nikodem Szymański, used with permission.

Clashes in the centre of Warsaw. Photo by Nikodem Szymański, used with permission.

Some people are interpreting the riots as part of the political game between the ruling party and the opposition.

@DziadekWaldemar wrote [pl]:

There is only one political party in Poland that can gain from those clashes, and it's the right-wing [PIS] and its supporters, they have links with the hooligans […]

Salon24 user mojsiewicz wrote [pl]:

The ruling party is ready to burn down half of Warsaw only to stay in power. These clashes are the only thing that can draw attention of the public away from almost 3 million Poles living in poverty.

Some people point out that the hooligan clashes in Warsaw gained much more attention in the interational press than the “March of the Millions” - a massive protest rally organised on the same day in Moscow by the opposition.

@OlgaAlehno wrote:

WELL DONE PUTIN! A march of 200,000 opposing him, held in Moscow, was outdone by some minor clashes in Warsaw. […]

April 05 2012

Video: Nonprofits Show Their Work Through Award Winning Videos

Winners for the 6th Annual doGooder Non Profit Video Awards were announced on 5 April, 2012. Following, the winning videos for the 4 different categories: small, medium and large organizations and best storytelling, and the 4 winning films in the fearless category.

For the wmall organization award, the winner was Protect the Defenders, an organization that honors, supports, and gives voice to people serving in the US military services who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members.

For the medium organization award, the prize went to Solid Women, a video made by Fonkoze, Haiti's largest microfinancing organization which shows the impact the organization's programs has had on 5 different women.

The large organization award went to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's video on a new medication to treat CF which is benefiting some patients, although efforts are still needed to find treatments for other patients.

Best video storytelling was to the World Memory Project's video on how information is helping Holocaust survivors get some closure as they are able to discover what happened to their loved ones during the World War II. In the video, Sol discovers what happened to his father after they separated the day before the liberation.

Four separate grant money awards went to the most fearless videos in the contest. Real Stories of Addiction and Recovery, The Story of Cholera, Not Acceptable R-word PSA and the story of Robert, a homeless man.




March 14 2012

Europe: Will ACTA Treaty Pass After Protests?

[All links forward to French articles unless stated otherwise.]

As of the end of the month of February 2012, the mobilization efforts of Internet users against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) [en] were still going strong. In fact, they may have begun to bear fruit.

By including infringements against the author's rights in its scope, this international treaty, which addresses intellectual property rights, also affects Internet content.

The ratification debates which were placed on the European Parliament's agenda on February 29, were put on hold in expectation of the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The issue of the treaty's conformity with European Community law was brought before the court on 22 February by the European Commission.

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Taurillon, the “magazine of young Europeans -France” describes “Europe's about-face on ACTA“:

Si l’avis est négatif, l’ACTA n’a plus aucune chance en Europe. Mais en cas d’avis positif, le recours à la CJUE représente le double avantage de redonner au traité une certaine crédibilité, et de repousser son adoption à une époque suffisamment lointaine pour que la polémique se soit tassée et que l’opinion publique regarde ailleurs.

If the opinion is negative, ACTA no longer stands a chance in Europe. However, if there is a positive opinion, appealing to the ECJ would mean a double advantage by giving the treaty a certain credibility, and also pushing back implementation to a time that is far enough away when public debate has settled down and the public's attention is focused elsewhere.

Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for la Quadrature du Net urges on the European deputies:

Les eurodéputés doivent résister à la stratégie de la Commission européenne, qui cherche à gagner du temps et à transformer le débat en une simple discussion juridique, et pour cela continuer à travailler au rejet d’ACTA. ACTA vise à imposer une tendance pour une politique globale du droit d’auteur qui est toxique pour l’Internet libre et pour les libertés. Le Parlement européen est le dernier rempart : il doit agir et adopter une position claire et forte, faute de quoi il laissera le champ libre à la Commission pour imposer une répression inacceptable.

The Eurodeputies must resist the European Commission's strategy of attempting to gain time and turning the debate into a simple legal discussion, thereby continuing to work towards ACTA's rejection. ACTA aims to impose a tendency for a global policy of author's rights that is toxic for the free Internet and for freedom. The European Parliament is the last line of defense: it must act and adopt a firm and clear position, otherwise it will leave the field wide open for the commission to impose an unacceptable repression.

For trucbuntu, there is no question of remaining passive while waiting for the Court to adjudicate:

Les citoyens de toute l’Europe peuvent contacter leurs représentants dans les commissions Commerce International (INTA) et Industrie (ITRE), qui se réunissent cette semaine pour discuter d’ACTA, et leur demander de continuer à travailler au sein de leur commission pour le rejet d’ACTA.

Citizens of all of Europe were able to contact their representatives in the International Trade (INTA) and Industry (ITRE) Committees, who met on February 29 to discuss ACTA. Many citizens requested their representatives to reject the proposal.

The website of the European Parliament explains the procedure and the issues of the treaty [en] that are under scrutiny, and has published ‘What you should know about ACTA‘ [en], a page of questions and answers. The ACTA workshop of the European Parliament has been the object of a storify [en] made by the Parliamentary services (link via Global Voices contributor Asteris Masouras [en]).

The organization AVAAZ submitted a petition to the European Parliament on 29 February with 2.4 million signatures against ACTA. The petition is still open:

Nous sommes vraiment proches de la victoire — notre pétition forte de 2,4 millions de signatures a ébranlé les responsables politiques partout en Europe et stoppé les censeurs. La Commission européenne est à présent en position de faiblesse et espère que la Cour de justice donnera son feu vert au traité ACTA en lui soumettant une question juridique très limitée qui recevra certainement une réponse positive.Mais si nous faisons résonner nos voix aujourd'hui, nous pouvons faire en sorte que la Cour examine tous les impacts légaux du traité ACTA et publie un avis qui fera toute la lumière sur cette attaque contre nos droits qu'est ACTA.

We are really close to victory — our petition, with 2.4 million signatures has shaken up those politicians in charge throughout Europe and stopped their censors. The European Commission is currently in a position of weakness and is hoping the Court of justice will green light the ACTA treaty by bringing before the court a very limited legal question, that will without doubt receive a positive response. But if we make our voices heard today, we will be able to get the court to examine all the legal implications of ACTA and publish an opinion that will bring to light the real attack against our rights that is ACTA.
No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Anti-ACTA parties continue to  strengthen their resources. New protests were set for 10 March, and torrentnews gives a list, with this appeal:

La liste n’est pas exhaustive, n’hésitez pas à nous contacter pour la compléter ;)

si certains se sentent l’âme d’un reporter- photographe en herbe, nous recherchons également des personnes pour faire un petit article photo du déroulement de la manif, rien de bien compliqué, comme fait ici pour Nice, Marseille,Bordeaux et Strasbourg.

The list is not exhaustive, do not hesitate to contact us to complete it ;)

If any individuals see themselves as budding photojournalists we are also looking for people to do a small photo story on how the protest unfolds, nothing too complicated, as it happens in Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg.

For details on the elements of the debate, see also these linked articles from the Tribune on February 29, and Myeurop, on March 3. On Global Voices, see the laws SOPA/PIPA that set a precedent in the USA, here [en] and here [en]. Since the beginning of the protests, ACTA seems to have lost a lot of political momentum.

The title of this post is inspired by the end of the article “La liberté sur Internet : le filtrage de la discorde” which was published by the Institute of Research and Legal and Information studies and Communication (I.R.E.D.I.C.). It puts into perspective Internet blocking and debates the adoption of ACTA.

The original article in French was published on March 4. For background on the ACTA proposal, more articles can be found here [en].

March 10 2012

Poland: Szczekociny Train Crash, Yet Another Tragedy

Polandian writes about the reactions to the March 3 deadly train crash in Szczekociny, Poland: “When the comments were gathered from the prominent politicians, one that stood out was [PM] Donald Tusk saying something like ‘…This is the worst disaster since… the last such tragedy'.”

February 15 2012

Poland and ACTA: Gossip Portal Accuses Mainstream Media of Ignorance

“In what kind of country are we living and how pathetic are the media here, if an article like this had to be written by an internet portal with a poodle in their logo? - in these humble words a popular Polish gossip portal “Pudelek” decided [pl] to join the ACTA discussion with a post on February 10, accusing the Polish mainstream media and the local celebrities of missing the point and of ignorance in the debate about the controversial legislation. Meanwhile, on February 11, ACTA protesters took the streets in many European countries, including Poland.

It has been almost three weeks since January 24, when Polish netizens started their protest - which soon turned Europe-wide - against the international agreement that, according to them, presents a threat to internet freedom. Numerous internet initiatives [pl] and massive live protests on the streets of many Polish cities induced a debate [pl] about the “generation acta” and their motivations.

While major information services published political analyses and focused on the events that shaped the debate (e.g., Anonymous attacks [pl] and deputies of a certain party wearing [pl] Guy Fawkes masks in the parliament), the most popular Polish gossip portal decided to speak up [pl] on the “real motives of the raging young people” in an article called, “ACTA: How celebrities lost contact with reality.”

The biggest Polish gossip portal decided to speak up for young people. Screenshot of http://pudelek.pl

So let's write about what is not being spoken out - about what is the real reason for the protest and anger that suddenly surprises everybody now: the Internet “piracy” for private use is today the only way for millions of young Poles to live at least a bit like their collegues from Western Europe. To have access to culture, entertainment, to be able to watch a movie on the computer with the girlfriend. This is actually not only a Polish problem. This is a problem of the whole young population in Europe that doesn't have any chance to do a career like their parents did and buy the same apartments they once bought. Everyone who went lately to Italy, Spain, Portugal or even France or Great Britain and took a look at something more than monuments, knows that. In Poland, where almost everything is more expensive than in the West and salaries are three times lower, it is especially visible, like looking through a magnifying glass. But for some people it is apparently not clear enough, even after massive demonstrations with -10°C cold.

The portal criticises some celebrities for their statements about the protests and for defending radical copyright and calling file-sharing a “theft” - while being so well off with money. The authors also ask [pl] why the media coverage of the movement isn't big enough considering such a massive scale of the protests:

Why aren't TV stations shouting about it? 30,000 people chanting, jumping on frost in Krakow! What happened in the last years that, according to them, was more important than this?

The portal recalls [pl] a couple of YouTube videos showing the recent protests, stressing that these are just a few examples out of many, many more. Here is an example showing 30,000 protesters in Krakow, uploaded on YouTube by skitowiec on January 26, 2012:

These are just a couple of videos. Do they make you reflect? If somebody doesn't appreciate this, belittles it, it means that he's completely not up-to-date and doesn't understand what actually happened here. What does this civilisation offer to young people if it takes cheap culture and entertainment away from them? Does it offer a good job? Perspectives? You got to be kidding me.

The reaction to the post was enormous: the article has reached nearly 7,000 supporting comments and 8,000 shares on Facebook. The compelling post caused also an immediate reaction from the mainstream media. A journalist of Gazeta.pl [pl], Pawel Wronski, published a mocking article titled, “On the barricades with a poodle” [pl], in which he stressed the tabloid character of the medium and its attempt to comment on a serious matter. The reaction of the readers in the newspaper's forum was devastating [pl] for the journalist. Also Pudelek itself answered [pl] with another post:

It's hard to accept the truth, especially when it comes from a pink gossip portal. But what does it have to do with anything? It's just about millions of people who can read it now. Because it's not our own opinions we wrote down here. We wrote down what you [readers] have been sending to us in thousands of emails. […] The problem is that we wrote the very thing that you [the media] were afraid to write […]. How can you be sure that you're expressing somebody's voice, that you can look down on millions of our readers with distaste and that you are an authority for anybody? Do you think that smart people don't read gossip?

Aleksandra Jabloonska supports [pl] Pudelek's post on Facebook and talks about her experience:

I'm impressed that somebody finally had the courage to write it - it's just a pity (no offense) that it had to be the editors of “Pudelek” and not “the free TV and facts for people.” I will give a real-life example: I'm studiyng film and theater. We are required to know all the film history. If I had to watch legally all these movies that they need me to know, I would have to spend [too much money]. But that's not a problem for the state or the university as long as I have internet access - because they assume that I can afford it. I wonder how they imagine such education after implementing ACTA, if the university is not able to make these materials available and the state doesn't give a damn. It's sad, really sad.

Young Poles protest against ACTA but also against the everyday reality. Image by Alexey Sidorenko, used with permission.

Karolina, for whom the article was the first she read on a gossip portal, comments [pl] under the post:

For the first time I've read an article on “Pudelek.” A wise and balanced text. A text describing the world of celebrities whose only contact with poverty is limited to attending a charity gala. It's a weird country, Poland.

Martyna Tina comments [pl] on Facebook:

I was very happy to see that you took our opinions under consideration and wrote about the ACTA problem. Because although this doesn't concern only young people, the older didn't make the effort to read even a bit. They watch TV and there of course the cameramen film in a way to show the least people (seriously!) and they don't say: Poles went on the streets - but they say: somehow not so many people showed up for the protest. They marginalise the problem, labelling it to youth, to the internet, to pirates, to thieves. Thieves are the big corporations, bankers and dishonest politicians.

Blogger niekontent doesn't believe in charitable intentions of the gossip portal and reminds [pl] them that the mainsteram media actually provided a pretty big coverage on ACTA:

Here is the news: with all my respect for the talented editors, but “Pudelek” doesn't touch upon such topics as ACTA unless they become relevant (meaning “interesting,” meaning “clickable”) for the street. This is the logic behind a service that achieved a huge success based on this simple mechanism.

A truth hard to deny, but still, the immense reaction to the post on a portal that normally writes about movie stars' break-ups and best Grammy outfits, should make the media reflect on their overall condition. Are they mirroring the voice of the young generation, are they able to listen? To some extent, young Poles consider the protest an occassion to express their anger against the political elites and the reality they have to live in day by day.

Blogger niekontent finds [pl] the discussion somewhat sad:

It's sad how much Gazeta Wyborcza, one of the most important representatives of the so-called “old media,” stopped to understand the young generations of Poles, those who grew up with the internet. What is worse, sometimes I'm afraid that Gazeta Wyborcza (generally speaking, not individual people) stopped to understand what internet is about. […] It's sad that one of the most aggresive and uncompromising tabloids, which “Pudelek” is, became an authority for a mass of young Poles. […] What is also sad is that the voice of “Pudelek” in this debate sounds just stronger, more honest.

February 08 2012

Slovakia: Stop ACTA Protest

An anti-ACTA rally took place in Bratislava on Feb. 4. On the protest's Facebook page [sk], nearly 7,500 people wrote they would attend, and over 3,800 wrote they'd “maybe” attend. The weather was cold and windy; the recent news from Poland, which has postponed the ratification of ACTA, was good; and it's unlikely that anything will be approved before the Slovak early elections in March. As a result, only 500 people or so showed up for the rally [sk; photos; video]. This week, a number of Slovak and Czech politicians announced they were in favor of postponing the ratification of the controversial treaty.

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