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February 22 2014

February 16 2014

August 06 2012

Team GB's Super Saturday at London 2012 Olympics

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

After a slow start at the Olympic Games in London, on Saturday 4 August, 2012, the host nation's team (popularly known as #TeamGB) achieved some of its greatest victories in a single day.

Winning six gold medals, three of those in the track and field events, it could not have been better for the capacity home crowd of 80,000 in the Olympic Stadium.

A young Team GB fan shows his support. Image by David Mbiyu, copyright Demotix (31/07/2012).

A young Team GB fan shows his support. Image by David Mbiyu, copyright Demotix (31/07/2012).

School to Scalpel blog had this to say about Team GB’s Games so far:

So the Olympics are going well, aren't they! Yesterday [Saturday] was amazing. I finally tuned in to the Olympics in time to see Greg Rutherford jump his gold-winning 8.31m and to see Jessica Ennis finish first in her 800m heat (and by quite a distance) to win the gold in the Heptathlon (also by a large distance!). I also saw the wonderful moment Mo Farah made his big push and won the 10,000m race. It was a great day for team GB indeed.

I think it's fantastic how the Olympics boost everyone's sense of patriotism and bring people together. It also really makes me want to do more sport. I'm not fooling myself - I know I'll never be an Olympian, nor will I ever win any sporting competitions but I do love taking part in sports. I'm one of those weird people who can't watch any sporting event without wanting to the sport themselves [sic].

Katie Talks blog also looked at Team GB's first week of Olympic action:

So we are just over a week into the proceedings of the London Olympics and what a fantastic week it has been. The athletes from Team GB have got us up to an amazing third place on the medals table… My favourite moment of the games so far was definitely Saturday night at the athletics. The night ended on a brilliant high with Mo Farah winning the Men's 10,000m, it was lovely to see his wife and daughter going to meet him on the track, didn't his wife look fantastic, so heavily pregnant but relaxed, calm and absolutely glowing. The best performance for me was from Jessica Ennis, what an athlete she is. I think it's great that she appreciates the crowds too, some athletes look very serious and aren't bothered what’s going on around them but she always seems to be smiling and encouraging the crowds to cheer her on.

The Musings of an Aspiring Journalist had a post aptly titled ‘Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold’:

Is it just me that has Spandau Ballet ringing through my head? What a night it has been for British athletics and what a day it has been for British sport. Two gold on the track, one in the field and three earlier in the day shared between the river at Eton and the Velodrome at the Olympic Park. Has British sport ever seen anything like it? Well, I certainly can’t remember a night like it and I’m pretty sure that I will never see a more superior day of British sporting excellence for the rest of my existence, nor would I really hope to as I don’t think I could bear it!

MyFashionConnect blog reported that the Royal Mail postal service is preparing special stamps to commemorate the British gold medal winners:

It is the glorious morning after a thrilling night before. As promised, the Royal Mail is printing the new stamps this Sunday morning to add the latest Olympic Games winners to the new range of stamps to commemorate all British Gold Medalists. The new additions this morning [Sunday] are of course those of Jessica Ennis – Women’s Heptathlon, Greg Rutherford – Men’s Long Jump and Mo Farah – Men’s 10,000m. These add to the whole list of Gold won by Team GB so far, bringing the total to an incredible 14 to date.

Royal Mail Olympics stamps.

Royal Mail Olympics stamps.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

August 05 2012

Runner Dibaba Reigns Supreme in Ethiopia/Kenya Athletics Rivalry

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

The Olympic Games has many rivalries and one of the most famous is that between the Ethiopian and Kenyan competitors. Ethiopian long-distance runner Tirunesh Dibaba has ensured that the London Games are no exception to the rule. Leading two of the Kenyans into the final lap of the women’s 10,000 metre race on Saturday 4 August, 2012, Dibaba ran away with the gold.

Here we sample some of the comments from Twitter (hashtag #Dibaba):

@llucyleo: This shows the strength of the African woman

@justAylak: “Dibaba is the best female distance runner of all time”! The #Bolt of ladies. Go Ethiopia on that one!

@iddsalim: Once we rise above colonial boundaries, we realize that #dibaba victory was a win for Africa. #oneafrica

Fellow Ethiopian long-distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele said:

@KenenisaBekele: Fit and ready to defend the 10K gold in #London2012. Inspired by yesterday’s amazing finish by teammate #tirunesh #dibaba

Bloggers had this to say about Dibaba's Olympic exploits:

Pana-TV blog:

…And the race has begun. Three Africans claimed the medals at the Women’s 10,000m. Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia retained her Olympic title and won the gold medal, leaving Kenyans, Jepkosgei Kipyego and Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot, to take the silver and bronze medals respectively

Dr. Adewusi Thinks commended her sterling performance:

 Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba held on to her Olympic 10,000m title in stunning style at the Olympic stadium tonight. The 27-year old, who won the distance double at the Beijing 2008 Games, saw off Kenya’s Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot with a final-lap burst to win by more than five seconds. Dibaba’s time was a season’s best 30:20:75 with Kipyego taking the silver in 30:26:37 and world champion Cheruiyot bronze in 30:30:44.

EthioSports.com paid glowing tribute to this distance race queen:

Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia won her third Olympic gold medal Friday at the London Games, easily defending her title in the women’s 10,000 meters. The distance race closed out the first day of track and field action at Olympic Stadium and Dibaba ended the night in style

Get, Set, Match…Egypt reported:

Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba defended her gold medal in the 10,000m race with a stunning last lap where she blew away her competition. It was a no contest really in the end and the 27-year-old has captured the first running medal of London 2012

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

August 03 2012

Funny Image of How Australian Newspaper Distinguishes Two Koreas

The 101 Great Goals site shared a scanned image showing how an Australian newspaper distinguishes two Koreas in its Olympics medal table. One was referred as ‘nice' Korea, while other was named the ‘naughty' one.

August 01 2012

Indonesia: Athlete Arrived Late for her Olympics Debut

With a population of 220 million, Indonesia is sending only 22 athletes to compete in seven sports events in the 2012 London Olympics. The small delegation was criticized when it was reported that 54 sports officials, or double the number of athletes, are attending the games too.

Diaz Kusumawardani, 16 years old, is one of the players competing in shooting the morning after the opening ceremony. She's the youngest athlete from the Indonesian contingent. Diaz grabbed the Olympics ticket after reaching the 388 limit score in the Asian Shooting Championship in Doha, Qatar last January, and she's supposed to be ready to make her Olympics debut in London. She was in fact released from the duty to march in the parade during the opening ceremony for her big time. But by the next morning her preparation suddenly fell apart.

Indonesian athlete Diaz Kusumawardani. Photo from twitter page of Diaz

She admitted it in her twitter account. Apparently, her coach told her that the race will begin at 9am. When they arrived in the venue, Royal Artillery Barracks, the race was set to begin at 8.15am and other athletes have already prepared their equipment.

She explains the morning rush in her twitter account: [Id]

@diazdkw Great ya, datang telat hasil tak maksimal.

@diazdkw: Great, arrived late and didn't reach maximal outcome.

@diazdkw Yang bilang tanding jam 9 itu siapa ya? Uhuk ga ikut TM sir

@diazdkw: Who said the race begins at 9 am? Did you attend the technical meeting?

@diazdkw Jangan sampe kesalahan tolol ini terjadi lagi ya, atlet dan pelatih harus tau tanding jam berapa. Jangan sampr misscom dan lebih profesional

@diazdkw: Next time, please avoid this stupid mistake. The athlete and the coach must know exactly what time they must be present in the venue. Avoid miscommunication and act more professionally.

Out of 56 contestants, Diaz finished second to the last. Her comments are of course a news material. The issue became a controversial topic in the mainstream and social media.

@zenrs Dg jumlah official 2 kali lipat lebih banyak dr jumlah atlet, masih ada cerita atlet datang mepet ke arena. Ngapain aja di sana official?

@zenrs: With more officials than athletes, we have situation like this, athlete arriving late in the venue. What are you doing there, officials?

@AyuWidy Diaz Kusuma satu2 nya atlit tembak Indonesia di Olimpiade telat dateng ke venue. Bener2 konsisten bawa budaya ngaret. Anda luar biasa!

@AyuWidy: Diaz Kusuma is the only Indonesia shooting athlete, but she came up late in the venue. Really consistent in bringing out our time discipline culture. You're amazing!

@ayshardzn Diaz Kusuma,1st Indonesian to compete in London (Shooting) came 1 hour late to venue. Finished 55th from 56. 1 hour late! #London2012

@khalidolit Atlet cabang nembak, Diaz Kusuma telat sejam ke venue. Karena telat adalah budaya bangsa.

@khalidolit: Diaz Kusuma, shooting athlete, arrived an hour late in the venue. Because being late is our nation's culture.

Last Monday, Diaz used her Twitter again to clarify that she didn't come late hours after the race began, but that she arrived when the race was about to begin.

@diazdkw konfirmasi ya, saya tidak telat sejam ke RAB. tolong dong jangan terlalu membesar2kan.

@diazdkw: I want to confirm, I didn't arrive an hour late to RAB [the venue]. Please don't overexpose it.

@diazdkw saya tidak pernah marah atau menyalahkan siapapun tentang hasil saya kemarin, saya minta kepada semuanya jangan membesar2kan ini.

@diazdkw: I have never been angry or blamed anyone about what I achieved yesterday, I beg people for not overexposing this.

Indonesia has collected six gold medals in Olympics history, all of them came from badminton.

July 27 2012

South/North Korean Flag Mix-Up - Worst Mistake in Olympic History?

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

The accidental use of the South Korean flag to introduce North Korean athletes at an Olympics women's football match in Glasgow, UK, on 25 July, 2012, sparked an international media frenzy about the mix-up.

The mistake was insulting to both countries, who have a long history of conflict and tension. South Koreans played it cool in response to the London Olympic organizer's profuse apologies, whilst the North Korean team stayed in seclusion at their hotel.

The error has received harsh criticism and has even been named as one of the worst mistakes in the long history of the Olympic Games, since both Koreas are technically at war and the act could be interpreted as raising the flag of the enemy nation.

Flags of the two Koreas, the left side is the North Korean flag and the right side is the South Korean flag. Wikipedia Commons Images.

Flags of the two Koreas, the left side is the North Korean flag and the right side is the South Korean flag. Wikipedia Commons Images.

The South Korean Twittersphere responded rather calmly to the fiasco. Twitter user @__amelie wrote [ko] that although the human error is understandable, it clearly shows the organizer's lack of preparedness:

행사진행하면서 실수없이 완벽하게 진행하기란 어려운 일이지. 근데 북한선수들 경기에 태극기를 올리는건;; 이건 실수라기보다 준비부족 아닌가.

It is hard to host the event perfectly without making any single mistake. But this case of displaying the South Korean flag in a North Korean game…It is more than a mistake. I call it lack of preparedness.

Twitter user @mistyc007 commented [ko] such an act is an insensitive mistake to make:

런던올림픽 여자축구 북한경기인데 태극기가 잘못나가는 실수를.. 아직 런던이 몸이 안풀려서 ㅋㅋㅋㅋ 그래도 민감한 부분을 …

I heard that the South Korean flag appeared at the North Korean women's soccer game at the London Olympics. I could put it as ‘it shows that the organizers need some warm-ups before hosting the event, lol'. But that was such a sensitive issue to mess up.

Although international media reported franticly about the mistake, many South Koreans users did not react quite as dramatically. While @k205301 expressed discontent [ko]:

[…] 니네가 기권한다만다하는데 우리도 엄청 기분나쁘거든.

The North Korean team said they are contemplating boycotting the Olympics, but actually we feel awful too.

@voiceofmee responded with optimism [ko]:

[…] 뭐 하긴 통일되면 우리 태극기와 애국가를 사용할텐데 미리 사용하는 것도 나쁘진 않을 듯.

Well… If the two Koreas were united, then we would probably use our flag and our national anthem. It would not be that bad to use it in advance.

Many South Koreans who had already experienced Western confusion between the two Koreas before, recalled those moments. Twitter user @urbancommune wrote [ko]:

[…] 북한팀 항의로 1시간 정도 경기시작 지연. 남북한 헷갈려하던 영국인들이 연상된다. 전적으로 조직위 운영미숙

The game was delayed for about an hour because of the complaints filed by North Korean team. I can totally picture those British people who used to confuse North and South Korea. Anyway, this is totally mismanagement and an administrative flaw of the organizers.

Famous fashion designer Lee Sang-bong tweeted [ko] about a similar experience he had in Paris:

[…] 나는 1997년 아이엠 에프때 파리 전시회에서 내 부스에 북한 국기가 걸려서 놀라 주최측에 뛰어 갔던 기억이 새롭다.

In 1997, when South Korea was given help from IMF [International Monetary Fund], I held an exhibition in Paris and the North Korean flag was displayed in my booth. I can still remember it so well that I, shocked, ran to the organizers [to fix it].

Countless South Korean bloggers often share their funny and awkward moments caused by foreign nationals' confusion between the two Koreas. Famous South Korean blogger Madame Paris recently posted a story [ko] on how her French father-in-law used to ask about the health of the deceased North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, at almost their every meeting.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

July 26 2012

Ambush Marketers at the Olympics? Be Warned!

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has taken stringent measures to try to ensure no ‘ambush marketing’ tactics are used during the London 2012 Olympics. A common feature at modern major sporting events, ambush marketers try to sneak in promotions of their brands and companies in front of the crowd and, most importantly, the TV cameras. Sports law bloggers and marketers posted their opinions on ambush marketing and the London Olympics which are discussed below.

Duane Morris of Sports Law Blog says:

For event planners and corporate entities investing as sponsors of sporting events, protection of this contracted association is one of the top intellectual property issues. The United Kingdom is taking legislative steps to bar ambush marketing.  The key focus for all in this space is being clear on the rights contracted including the obligations to proactively work against ambushers. In ambush marketing there are multiple ‘victims’. First the party that paid for the official relationship with the sporting event…

He goes on to say:

London 2012 is the latest to have to deal with this challenging issue. We cannot predict what ambush type activities will take place, but it is a safe bet that there will be activity in this unsanctioned Olympic sport. British legislative activity is seeking to regulate many of the past bad acts. The legislation might even be interpreted to bar clothing at venues that are seeking to deliver an advertising message.

A post on the Olymponomics blog says:

Organizers go to great lengths to prevent businesses who are not official sponsors from associating themselves with the event. The first example of protective legislation in the Olympic context was passed for Sydney 2000 (drawing upon legislation from the Australian Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 that had provided safeguards in relation to the commercial use of symbols, words and phrases).

The post continues:

This highlight first of all that eye-catching ambush marketing ‘stunts’ are not necessary for firms to benefit from the illusion of perceived association with major events. It is also suggestive of a cognitive tendency of (some) individuals to view events such as the Olympics as necessarily related to global brands and commercialization, inhibiting the effectiveness of specific marketing and advertising campaigns – as the public struggle to distinguish between (different) messages in the face of an abundant supply of advertising and marketing promotions.

David Atkinson, in a post on Space blog adds:

For Olympic sponsors, we’re approaching the moment where their investments are coming under the greatest scrutiny, and where observers are looking to question their legacy, and whether they will be able to look back on London 2012 with pride.[..]

Despite all the means at the disposal of sponsors, including threats of litigation, this could become a battle that just can’t be won. Personally I’d like to see brands stepping away from the barrier of protection and earning recognition on their own merits. After all success at the Games won’t be measured simply in terms of eyeballs, logo views or even Facebook ‘Likes’, but through Brand Love from sporting and Olympic fans that endorses their overall contribution to the event.

In a guest post for The Sports Bloc Stephen Lownsbrough says:

Welcome to the world of ambush marketing, otherwise known as guerilla marketing, a highly controversial but undeniably smart tactic that has been utilized by small traders and corporate giants alike in order to accrue big rewards at minimal cost from major sporting events [..]

The London 2012 Games are expected to draw millions of visitors and a global television audience in the billions. As such the rewards of official sponsorship could be immense, and companies have paid up to £ 80m to become official sponsors or partners of the Games. Equally, the forthcoming Games, like any other sporting event of this magnitude should – as least in theory – provide ample opportunity for guerilla marketing to boost the financial fortunes of savvy businesses taking advantage of the related publicity.

He concludes:

So in years to come who will remember that Adidas were the official sportswear partners, indeed, does anyone remember who they were in Beijing, Sydney or even Barcelona?[..] but for those fortunate to win a medal at London 2012 and the millions around the world watching or attending the Games will have the lasting image of the medals, what they ironically represented, remembering the goddess of strength, speed and victory – Nike who can sit back with a wry smile and say, ‘Image is Everything’!

SportsAgentBlog raises the concerns of the US Olympic team in the post as follows:

The Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics will take place this Friday, July 27, 2012 in London. While athletes are making their final mental and physical preparations in their eventual quest for gold, they and their representatives are also considering how they can capture marketing and brand growth opportunities throughout the Games. Unfortunately for those athletes and their reps, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will prohibit Olympians from marketing themselves during the course of the London events. Unless, of course the athletes are marketing official Olympic sponsors.

The post continues:

The IOC prohibition is referred to as Rule 40, and as imagined, is less than popular among almost everyone other than official Olympic sponsors. The intention of the Rule is to attempt to alleviate sponsor concerns of ambush marketing, destroying the full value that official sponsors hope to gain from paying the large price for that status. Those sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s pay millions of dollars to become a part of The Olympic Partner (TOP) Programme.

Anke’s Back-up Blog also satirises the 2012 Olympics mascots in an image on its website, saying depicting them is probably illegal.

In conclusion, it seems that though the IOC and LOCOG will be seeking to secure the interests of the official sponsors, there are concerns from participating athletes and national teams who are likely to miss out on the potential sponsorships. It also remains to be seen if there will be effective policing of ambush marketers who might plague the Games and related events.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

This post was sub-edited by Jane Ellis.

July 24 2012

Kenya: Javelin Throwing Olympian Trains Using YouTube

This is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

Julius Yego, the African and Kenyan national javelin champion, broke the national record over the weekend in a field athletics meet in Finland. After using YouTube to hone his skills and techniques, Yego's record improved to 81.12 metres.

Julius Yego - Image courtesy of nation.co.ke

Julius Yego - Image courtesy of nation.co.ke

SportsKenya blog compiles Yego’s exploits:

Participating in an event which has never been a speciality for Kenya let alone Africa, he managed to hone his skill and better his technique using this (YouTube) social media platform. And true to word, his skill got better and his technique won him the first ever gold medal for a field event for Kenya in the 2011 All- Africa Games in the Mozambican capital of Maputo. This he did by breaking the national record to a then (new national) record throw of 78.34 m.

Hoping to better his throwing before the start of the July-August event, Yego will surely join the many sportsmen and women who have made Olympic folklore not just by becoming champions but also by the mere part of participating in this sporting extravaganza. And he still recognises the role that social media plays in his everyday life of ensuring he becomes a world beater in the throw sport of javelin…thanks to YouTube!

Heart, Soul & Mind makes it clear who they will be rooting for:

We will compete in the 4×400m men relay and have a representation in the field games with Julius Yego embracing his javelin (a first for us). In the ring Ben Gicharu and Elizabeth Andiego will carry the flag. I will certainly be watching the Olympics this season, rooting for Team Kenya and enjoying the strength and lessons that sport always brings out.

Highligting Yego’s lessons, Kenyatech shows what Kenyans online can use YouTube for:

Some people even look to it for direction in learning or perfecting their techniques in sports, hobbies or art – even javelin gold medallist Julius Yego turned to YouTube for guidance. YouTube plans to garner partnerships with local communities, producers, individuals and companies to foster and support this pattern of “edutainment”, aspiring to not only make videos stream faster, but also provide all of this through a local interface that provides pertinent information for Kenyans

In an unprecedented move, YouTube plans to live stream Olympic content:

Yep, the 2012 Olympics will be streamed live on The International Olympic Committee’s YouTube channel in 64 countries world-wide. NBC, aka the official broadcaster of the Olympics, is teaming up with YouTube to provide a constant stream of Olympic competition. This is the first year that every single Olympic game will be available to viewers, whether they are at the beach, outside drinking sangria or enjoying the summer from the comfort of their own work cubicle! So while some may be opening tabs at bars to watch the Olympics, others…will be opening up their own tabs and charging them straight to YouTube!

This is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

July 23 2012

South Sudanese Marathoner to Compete Under Olympic Flag

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012.

Guor Marial, an athlete from South Sudan, will be participating in the London 2012 Olympics, but not under his country's flag. Marial will be competing in the longest race of the Games – the men’s marathon – as an independent.

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. It formally declared independence on 9 July, 2011 and has not been recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as yet.

Martina Nicolls wrote about Guor on Feast or Famine blog:

“Guor Marial will run as an independent athlete in clothing without a country flag or identification. He will race under the Olympic flag. The 28-year old will compete in the marathon which takes place on August 12. Marial’s country of birth South Sudan, gained independence a year ago and is yet to form a national Olympic committee. His country of current destination is (United States of ) America. Marial, a permanent resident in America, is in the process of gaining American citizenship. However he is not yet a US citizen and cannot therefore run under the United States flag.”

Guor Marial will be in London for the men's marathon. Image courtesy of www.RunBlogRun.com

The IOC initially urged Marial to compete on behalf of Sudan, but Marial refused to represent the country he fled when he was 15 years old. Rajib Sen wrote:

Guor Marial was born in Southern Sudan at the start of the long-drawn conflict in that country which resulted in the creation of the world’s newest country, South Sudan, only last year. Thus, it has not yet established a National Olympic Committee, so it cannot send a team to the Games which open (this) week, which leaves Marial unable to represent his own country. The IOC has suggested that he runs for Sudan, which has invited him to join their team but Marial who lost 28 members of his family in the war has refused. “I lost my family and relatives and in South Sudan two million people died,” he said by telephone from Flagstaff, Arizona, USA where he lives. “For me to just go and represent Sudan is a betrayal of my country first of all and is disrespecting my people who died for freedom.

There are two other athletes who will compete under the Olympic flag:

As many as 204 countries will be participating at the London Olympic Games opening next week. But Philipine van Aanhotl and Reginald de Windt will not be part of any of their contingents. They will compete (as) Independent Olympic participants only because they will represent no nation. They were citizens of the Netherlands Antilles of the Caribbean Islands, a country that was dissolved on 10th October 2010. Accordingly, the Netherlands Antilles Olympic Committee withdrew its membership of the IOC. That’s how two Olympic-standard athletes were left stranded without a country to represent.

Nick Weldon of Runner’s World blog interviewed Marial:

If I get permission, all I can do is go there and be open-minded. You never know. But right now it’s important for me to just be there, to show the world and South Sudanese people. I am here. You are here. You are a country. You are here. Which means, next time, 2016, it’s not going to be me there alone. There are a couple of kids, when they see me this year; it’s going to motivate them. It’s going to make me happy if I can see that kind of thing happen.

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012.

October 28 2011

Global Voices Russian Partners With Neweurasia.net

We are pleased to announce partnership of Global Voices in Russian with Neweurasia.net, one of the most prominent citizen media platforms in Central Asia and about Central Asia, which has a large Russian and English speaking audience.

Neweurasia focuses on news and analysis generated by young people from the ground. The site casts light upon under-reported issues and provides a space for young, bright minds to make themselves heard. It was created back in 2005, when several online activists joined forces to develop a platform for blogs with low editing needs and quick, direct publishing.

It is worth mentioning of course, that one of the platform founders was also Global Voices author Ben Paarman. Today, the site has an extensive network of bloggers from five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), who all share amazing stories of lives, achievements and challenges in their countries.

Taking all this into account, the partnership of Global Voices and Neweurasia.net is a logical step, given the activities of the two communities and their similar goals. We are very excited to start our cooperation with one of the most amazing and popular citizen media platforms about Central Asian region.

We started with exchanging our logos. You might have already seen the Neweurasia logo on the Global Voices Russian site and our logo is placed on the Russian version of Neweurasia, which means that Global Voices will be more accessible for a Russian speaking audience. Both sides are open-minded and do not exclude other forms of partnership in the future.

We are grateful to the people who worked hard to make the cooperation possible. So, we owe a big “thank you” to Oliver Dams, project manager and technical manager of Neweurasia.net and one of the founders of the site, and Yelena Jetpyspaeva, social media officer of Neweurasia.net, for being receptive and open to new ideas.

Also, we would like to thank the team of Global Voices in Russian, authors and translators alike, for producing content and making the site interesting for Russian speakers.

October 18 2011

Malawi: A Growing City and its Pay-to-Cross Footbridges

Samuel Mbewe and Kayen Kayanka with friend

At work on a Lilongwe river bridge, Samuel Mbewe and Kayen Kayanka with friend. By Steve Sharra (CC-BY)

As the world's population reaches 7 billion at the end of October, one sign that Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, is growing rapidly are the numbers of people that flock to the city's markets. Two of such markets are on opposite sides of the Lilongwe River in this city of just over 1 million. One market sells vegetables and farm produce, the other clothing. Four years ago, going from one market to the other meant taking a circuitous path along the riverbank, crossing the Lilongwe Bridge, and then walking back on the other side. Today, there are bridges connecting the two markets, but they are not conventional bridges. They have been constructed by hand using locally-sourced wood.

A new 5-star hotel

Evidence of urbanization - a new 5-star hotel construction in Lilongwe. By Steve Sharra (CC-BY)

The proceeds of the day go into the pocket of whoever is on shift. From his earnings, Mbewe told me he had opened a grocery store.

Their constructors collect tolls, currently at K10.00 (US$0.06) per person crossing.

The bridge pictured on the right was constructed by a team of seven young men, and it now provides them with a livelihood. They take turns manning the bridge, from as early as 6am to as late as 7pm when darkness falls and the markets close.

A local solution to joblessness and urbanization

On Sunday October 2, 2011 I found Samuel Mbewe and Kayen Kayanka, standing guard at their bridge. In the three years they have owned the bridge they have never counted how many people cross the bridge per day. But Samuel told me their earnings range from MK9,000 (US$54) on a slow day, to MK25,000 (US$150) on a good day. At MK10 person, that's between 900 and 2,500 people crossing the bridge every day. But it's only an estimate, since he says some people pay only K5, while others don't pay anything at all, such as friends and colleagues.

A hand-made bridge connecting two markets across the Lilongwe river

A hand-made bridge connecting two markets across the Lilongwe river. By Steve Sharra (CC-BY)

The bridges are not for the lightheaded, or someone with vertigo. First timers take slow steps, while experienced crossers walk as if they were in Air Jordan basketball sneakers. A Swiss blogger, Janique Racine, wrote in 2007 about being frightened to death upon crossing a swaying bridge. She said:

Of course you don’t want to look down but you have to because your foot might get stuck in the empty spaces!

There are other hazards as well. The Lilongwe River overflows during the rainy season. The bridges get damaged in the floods, but they are rebuilt once the rainy season is over. In January this year a man drowned trying to cross. In July this year, the young men (there are no women thus far) organized themselves into a “bridges union”. They agreed each bridge should contribute K200 (US$1.20) per day to a shared pool. That translates into MK803,000 (US$4,808) per year. The aim of the union is to support members in times of death or bereavement. I asked about future investment plans with the savings, but they had none, as yet.

June 16 2011

Russia: Ministry's Online Blunders

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has recently started to mobilise on the Internet and in the past weeks two important events have taken place online to draw attention to the Ministry's activities.

The VKontakte group

On May 18, 2011, the MVD announced the creation of an the department's official group [ru] on the popular social network VKontakte, a site similar to Facebook.

The moderator of this community goes by the name of Uncle Styopa, a character whose image, thanks to Soviet cartoons and books, is a positive one for many generations of Russian citizens. The aim of the group, as stated by the page's profile is to “unite those who have a connection to the police, the interior forces and other units of the MVD of the Russian Federation or anyone else who is interested in their activities.”

Image from the official MVD group on the site "Vkontakte". Top caption reads: "In Service of the Law. We Serve the People", and lower caption: "The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation".

Image from the official MVD group on the site "Vkontakte". Top caption reads: "In Service of the Law. We Serve the People", and lower caption: "The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation".

However, in comments made to the Itar-Tass news agency a representative of the MVD stated [ru], that the group's aim was to “organise new channels of information and communication which will allow for contact to be established with those who practically bypass traditional channels such as television, radio, and print news and who prefer to receive new information and socialize via their favourite social network.”

Twelve thousand people have already joined the group in just a short period of time. So far the group's increasing numbers are not particularly interesting: the group's official news feed on the MVD's activities has been republished in the form of quotes taken from the original site or news agencies, in other words without any adaptation of its officious language to a younger audience. For example:The Realisation of Composite [Investigative] Measures”; this language is not of great value when communicating with an Internet audience, and even less so with the young users of Vkontakte.

Unfortunately, the absence of unique content is unlikely to be able to retain the audience which has been gathered so far, nor will it capture the interest of newer members.

However, the MVD's representative states the contrary: “The selection of the social resource which lies at the basis of the groups creation was no accident. Using young rhetoric, common phrases and expressions and vibrant personalities, the ministry purposefully obtained the support of the youngest and most active part of the country's population since, after all, the average age of the users of “Vkontakte” is 18 to 25 years.”

Search conducted at police-russia.ru creator's office

On the same day, May 18, two events took place that had a connection with both the Internet and the MVD. The MVD's Internal Security Service led a search of the office of a senior inspector of the Department for the Coordination of Government Spending of the Russian MVD, a Russian police major named Dmitri Vorobyev.

Vorobyev, according to the commander of the Department of Internal Security MVD (see here for the official order on the carrying out of the search), “had created a site called police-rassian.ru, in order to counter the official site of the Russian MVD” where, according to Draguntsov, “false or slanderous data was knowingly hosted regarding the employees of the Central Apparatus of the Russian MVD. The site explained the specific activities of the different subdivisions of the Russian MVD, which are not to be published in readily accessible sources of information, and in an insulting form criticized the Ministry's work.”

These arguments formed the basis for the decision to carry out the search in Dmitri Vorobyev's work office, which, to all appearances, was carried out in order to find additional ‘evidence' for the case about his criminal doings.

Within the limits of the search the police were assigned the task of “inspection, studying and removal of articles”, including electronic media, documents concerning illegal activities, which in practice means removal of the computer's hard disk, all other disks, flash drives and other media as well as piles of paper and even books, which more often than not bear no relation to the case. [I speak from the experience of many of my friends who have had searches carried out in cases of so-called political extremism].

An extract from the police order. Screenshot from the website Police-Russia.ru.

An extract from the police order. Screenshot from the website Police-Russia.ru.

The most interesting thing is that the site that is being talked about in conjunction with this decision does not actually exist under the domain police-rassian.ru.

Dmitri Vorobyev, in actual fact, is the creator of the police forum police-russia.com [ru], which is also available at the domains police-russia.ru, police-russia.com, militia-russia.ru.

Whoever wrote what appeared in the decision-making process for the search could not even correctly indicate the site's name. Yet another question which has been brought up is the spelling of the country's name - the second mistake afforded by the document.

The forum police-russia.com has existed for a long time and is a popular place for MVD and other security service employees to discuss and exchange opinions. Often normal citizens join in discussions, such as those following the Dissenters' March in 2006 and 2007, which ended in a strong crackdown on demonstrators.

On the forum there was a big discussion between the workers of the Special Purposes Police Unit (OMON) and the marchers who tried to discuss why there is always a crackdown, however law abiding they are and however properly the employees of the Security Services act during the crackdown. This discussion (which has now unfortunately been removed from the forum [ru]) was very important and showed that the demonstrators had a direct conversation with those who were ordered to hit them.

It is interesting that this forum became a place where allegations of corruption and acts of law breaking within the MVD were published. In this respect, on April 22, 2011, the thread “Corruption in the MVD's Support Division” was published, with a reference to the appeals [ru] from the workers of the Support Division to the country's leadership with discussions regarding the billions embezzled through government purchase contracts for MVD needs.

Public relations ‘vertical' vs bottom-up initiatives

This is a comment [ru] from a current MVD employee and a participant in the forum, about the order to conduct the search and the attempt to bring a criminal case against the creator of the forum:

The creation of the forum to counterbalance the official MVD site does not contradict the existing legal system. The forum's aim was not to spread lies or offensive data in relation to the Central Apparatus of the MVD. The individuals who spread such data bear the responsibility regardless of whatever site it was distributed on. Therefore, the site's creators cannot be responsible for any offensive language or slander written by one of the site's users. Find those who spread it. An explanation of the specific procedures of the MVD subdivisions can be accessed openly in textbooks on legal procedure, criminal investigation, the MVD's administrative work etc. In the forum secret government data was not expanded upon and had appeared accidentally before being quickly removed by the administration.

Transparency, as a principle of the work of our government, is one stipulated by our Constitution and by the law on government service. The suppression of transparency is a direct encroachment on the legal foundation of the country where you live. Your decision is unlawful. We would like to forewarn you that the regular participants in the forum are not only MVD employees but simple citizens, the mass media and deputies of the Duma who serve the government of the Russian Federation and its Constitution. Unlawful attempts to close the forum or persecute their creators could incite people to turn to the General Prosecutor's body, the State Duma, the President of the Russian Federation, international organisations, including group and mass acts of protests. I call on you to prevent unlawful actions. Your challenge to propose a way of leading negotiations has been set.

The reaction of the activists on the forum at the attempt to close it down and put pressure on its creators was interesting. By a way of a counter action the particpants began discussing registering the forum as a non-profit organisation and including former employees of the MVD. One of the participants of the forum, Plastun wrote [ru]:

With a such resistance movement it would be more efficient to oppose [the attempts of closure], since such associations would be able to defend members' rights by representing their interests in law-enforcement bodies whatever their level and to defend the rights of those who still work, simply by receiving information about rights infringements and making a claim on their behalf.

In reply to this, the creator of the forum clarifies [ru] ”This idea is already in motion I would say”.

And so what will we get as a result? An uninteresting, boring group on the social network Vkontakte, created by official MVD structures and an attempt to shut down and pressure the lively and interesting forum of MVD employees. Alas, this is a widespread bureaucratic practice, as one of the participants, Begemot, noted [ru]:

There is a police PR department. It is a powerful organization of several thousand employees, with salaries and full expenses which has, at least, twenty to thirty experienced specialists who occupy themselves with backing the online image of the MVD. […] At one point in time a lieutenant colonel [Vorobiev] […] creates a site which gathers a group of like-minded people, with only a pitiful budget (in ministry terms) and the site becomes the COUNTERBALANCE for the whole bulky official MVD site, which cost… but yes we're not talking about money and neither is it the question at hand. The question is a person. And  a professional. […] A first class professional who had established, almost single-handedly and almost without a budget, the competition to the whole MVD department!

June 02 2011

Russia: Social Networks and Civic Mobilisation

A few days ago, I participated in a seminar organised by the Liberal Party of Sweden on the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia.

The section of the seminar in which I was a speaker was devoted to the question of how the Internet and social networks can help to promote democratic values in Russia. It pleased and heartened me greatly that the issue of the Internet's influence on politics has ceased to be a ‘trivial' topic, considered until now by very many people a passing fad without any substantial influence on political and public life. Evidently, recent events in the countries of North Africa have forced politicians and public figures to examine more closely the influence that the Internet and social networks have on the formation of public opinion and on civic mobilisation.

Reconnecting society

Member of the Blue Buckets Society, a civic society movement organized via Internet, photo by Flickr user quirischa

Member of the Blue Buckets Society, a civil society movement organized via Internet, photo by Flickr user quirischa

Indeed, society unified by social networks and online communities is starting to operate in a more organised and effective fashion. People find others who are like-minded on social networks, start to think of themselves as members of a particular, organised community, take part in collective activities and invite their friends. Social networks, without exception, help society to feel like a political actor. In Russia's case, networks also help citizens to overcome the post-Soviet trauma that led to disconnection and atomisation within Russian society.

At the same time, we must not consider social networks a universal determinant of civic action. It is a mistake to think that the growth of social networks necessarily leads to revolutionary events such as those in Egypt. The new-found social connectivity of people through networks is important, but only one of the conditions is necessary for social transformation.

I would like to recount briefly below my speech at this seminar in Stockholm. Since my main task was to respond to the question of how exactly civic mobilisation can be helped and supported through social networks, I structured my speech as answers to five key questions:  ”What?”, “How?”, “Who?”, “When?” and, finally, “What is to be done?” What is the status of social networks in Russia today? How do they affect political and public life? Who exerts influence over and acts through the Internet? When can the growth of social networks and connections produce an effect on society? Finally, what is to be done to help the process of public mobilisation via networks?

What?

According to the  statistics of the Public Opinion Fund [ru], the monthly Internet audience Russia during winter 2011 was 50.3 million people, or 43% of the population over eighteen years of age.

Численность интернет-пользователей в динамике. Данные Фонда "Общественое мнение"

The growth in the number of internet users. Statistics: "Public Opinion" fund.

Apart from that, the growth dynamic remains consistent, insofar as the number of users continues to grow each year.

Russian interest in social media is also at a consistently high level. According to the findings of the international project TNS Digital Life 2010 (an online survey of Internet users in 45 countries), 85% of Russian Internet users visit social networks at least once per week.

By comparison, roughly just as great a percentage of the Chinese and Brazilian populations (87% and 85% respectively) are frequent visitors to social networks. In Germany and the U.S.A., this figure is considerably lower: 61% and 70% of the population respectively.

How?

In discussing the influence of social networks on public life, we must be guided not only by the number of visits but, to a greater extent, by existing experiences and examples of such influence. By this criterion, the LiveJournal blogging platform has the greatest influence on the political agenda in Russia. On LiveJournal, public events and occurrences are brought to attention with the help of user-generated ‘blogwaves' [ru], and the media permanently monitor what is emerging there.

If we are talking about potential for mobilisation - that is, the capacity to assemble an informally integrated group under the banner of a particular issue - then the most successful platform at the moment is the social network VKontakte (In Contact). True, it is worth noting that VKontakte can delete a group - of which there are already examples. In the second place in terms of potential for mobilisation I would rank LiveJournal. Other networks - Facebook, Odnoklassniki (Classmates), Moi Mir (My World) and so on - have not succeeded so far, with the exception of certain cases, in becoming instruments of sociopolitical influence.

Who?

Who are these people who manage to launch ‘blogwaves' and influence the agenda, as well as resolve emerging problems? Most often, they are the most frequent users. Neither professional journalists nor public or political figures, they are new citizen journalists - people who discover and publish information of public interest on their blogs.

Due to re-posting and links from a large number of bloggers, as well as support of particularly popular bloggers and media, an issue can very quickly attract a lot of attention and become popular. One such example occurred recently, when the driver of the head of Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations, Sergey Shoygu, threatened to kill the blogger archeornis who recounted the story on the LiveJournal page of the Society of Blue Buckets and also uploaded a video.

As far as potential for mobilisation is concerned, we almost always see a similar phenomenon here: the organisers and initiators of civic groups on social networks are more often than not ordinary people, not members of any particular party or organisation.

A classic example of this is a VKontakte group called Informal Public Association - Healthcare for Children! [ru], which was created by Daria Makarova, a young mother from Novosibirsk who lost her child. The goal of this group is to promote changes in the area of children's healthcare in the Novosibirsk region. Within a few months of existence, six thousand people had already joined. This group is leading an active campaign: holding meetings with the directors of Novosibirsk's healthcare system, employing experts, monitoring the condition and requirements of the region's children's hospitals, and carrying out fundraising activities.

The leaders of social networks' communities and groups are a new kind of public figures, emerging directly from within civic society. Practically anybody with a desire to act, the energy to gather supporters, and basic social networking skills can become one of these new leaders. New groups such as these are not required to register with the Ministry of Justice - a feat that is currently almost impossible for new parties or public organisations. Online groups do not require an office, support staff, etc. All their funds, which they can easily raise via the Internet, are spent on concrete action.

As well as these pluses, there are some minuses. Existing on a network, informal organisations are less stable and can quickly cease to exist since they are based not on formalised structures but on the efforts of their members and organisers.

When?

What effect can the rapid development of social networks, the growth of the number of users, and the strengthening of their capacity for social impact and mobilisation have, and when?

In regards to internet users in Russia, the Public Opinion Fund predicts that by the end of 2014 (assuming present trends in the growth and spread of the Internet continue), they will number around 80 million, or 71% of the population over eighteen years of age. In turn, according to the estimates of J’son & Partners Consulting [ru], the share of the Internet audience using social networks will reach on average 76.5% of the total number of Internet users by the end of 2015. Furthermore, by 2013-2014, 'blogwaves' will develop and become more widespread and effective.

The growth in the number of users sooner or later will yield a qualitative effect, that is, in terms of the impact of blogs on the authorities and society as well as the potential for mobilisation via the Internet. People will be used to interacting via the net, they will see the advantages and feel the zest for life in online communities, and they will take part more often in the activities and operations of such groups. Social networks will help Russian civic society get on its feet and develop a new quality: society will be structured not by parties and public bodies but by informal network communities involving a greater number of participants.

What is to be done?

How is it possible to help this process of the reinforcement of civic society through social networks and the Internet? It seems to be that there are two main ways:

  1. Training citizen journalists so that there is an increase in the number of people who independently find and publish information of public interest on blogs and social networks. Furthermore, helping and supporting these citizen journalists.
  2. Supporting new networks and communities involved in areas of public interest (bearing in mind not only politics but issues related to the defence of civil liberties in various spheres: corruption, the army, protection of historical monuments, lawlessness on the roads, environment, healthcare, etc.).

I will underline one important point: such support requires new people, new leaders who must be sought not in pre-existing organisations but in new media and network communities. Yes, of course, the advantage of online communities is the lack of registration, bank accounts and offices - all things that cause problems even for international institutes that are used to interacting with legal entities. But this problem is easily resolved if the emphasis is placed on specific people: citizen journalists and social leaders, who would benefit from training, an exchange of experiences and the expansion of connections.

To sum up, I want again to underline that the development of social networks and civic mobilisation in Russia has a very marked and positive effect on civic society and Russian political life in general.

May 03 2011

Russia: Who is Restricting the Russian Internet?

On 18 April, 2011, American non-profit organisation Freedom House issued a report on Internet freedom in the world. The report, “Freedom on the Net 2011“ analyses freedom of access to the Internet in 2009-2010 in 37 countries.

In the report (authored by Global Voices' Alexey Sidorenko, editor of RuNet Echo), Russia is rated among those countries with “partial freedom” of Internet access. Compared with the organisation's previous report, published in 2009, Russia's position in the ratings has dropped.

Among Russia's neighbours on the list of “partly free” countries are Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Egypt. Of the republics of the former USSR, Freedom House experts identified Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, along with Russia, as “partly free.” Belarus appears on the “not free” list, while Estonia is on the “free” list - in fact, Estonia tops the rankings for all countries mentioned in the report. Russia's other former Soviet neighbours are absent from the rankings.

Trailing the field on Freedom House's list are Cuba, Burma and Iran, where experts registered the worst situation regarding Internet freedom.

 A map representing internet freedom, from Freedom House's report

A map representing internet freedom, from Freedom House

One cannot argue with the facts listed in the report about Russia. All the same, questions arise about their analysis and interpretation.

The first important question: What aspects of this ranking really originate with the authorities or state structures? What exactly is the Russian authorities' contribution to “Internet unfreedom?” After all, it is generally accepted that the restriction of freedom be considered in terms of its usefulness to the authorities' policies and functioning of legislation.

If we look carefully at the list, we will see two obvious types of actions emanating from state structures:

“E-Centres” to prosecute extremists

1. The activities of law enforcement agencies and units within the fight against extremism (so-called “E-Centres”), which actually direct the prosecution of bloggers (and not only bloggers) for expressing opinions on the Internet. More often than not, cases are brought according to Article 282 of the Penal Code; specifically according to Part 1, which includes penalties for “activities, carried out in public or via media, aimed at the incitement of hatred or hostility or the degradation of a person or group of persons on grounds of gender, race, nationality, language, origin, religious inclination, or membership in a particular social group.”

I have explained more than once how this mechanism works. E-Centres are the operational units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) in every Russian region. They carry out the functions of the MIA in the area of counter-extremism. These units have a “top-down” plan for the fight against extremism: a certain number of citizens over a certain period of time must be held accountable for extremist activity.

Where do E-Centres look for extremists? Seeking out those who are plotting “the formation of extremist organisations” or some other kind of extremist activity is difficult: for that you need to have informants to carry out quality surveillance over a long period and collect information and evidence. That's difficult. It is easier to find “extremists” on the Internet while sitting at a computer in your office, reading blogs and forums and looking for sharp, critical opinions of authorities or some social group or other.

It's a cushy job: find a statement and, if its author is somehow identified, turn your attention toward the Internet service provider to find out whose computer the message was sent from. That's it. An extremist is rooted out, the task is carried out, the question is closed, the bosses are happy, a report on the “fight against extremism” is dispatched to Moscow, and the bill for its foot soldiers continues to be paid from the state budget.

That is precisely why the Russian Internet community and human rights activists must fight for the abolition of Article 282 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation. As law enforcement practices demonstrate, just about anybody can fall into the category of “extremist:” bloggers, Internet users, writers, community activists, religious figures, whoever you like, only to justify the existence of E-Centres, which previously, by the way, were “Units for the Fight Against Organised Crime” and have retained their practice of meeting quotas. It is also necessary, in my opinion, that Centres for the Fight Against Extremism close, since they are involved in activities that are beyond their remit: in reality, they prosecute the free expression of opinions, be they political or religious views.

As regards the prosecution of bloggers, the real reason behind it is often not a statement by a given person on a blog or on the Internet, but instead his or her other activities (social, political or commercial). The expression of an opinion on the Internet acts only as a convenient pretext for the initiation of pressure or prosecution.

Blocking Internet resources

2. The second action emanating from the state and directed “against the Internet” involves the judicial system, which, at the instigation of the public prosecutor's office, can decide to block Internet resources. Yes, indeed, the court in Komsomolsk-na-Amur city made an utterly illogical legal decision to shut off users' access to YouTube because the site allegedly hosts extremist materials. Later on, the court of appeal overturned this decision, identifying specific pages on the site to which access must be blocked by Internet service providers. Well-known Russian internet activist Anton Nosik then wrote on his blog [ru]:

By the level of its crudeness, the court's verdict is typical of all domestic legal proceedings concerning the Internet.” These happenings are, in Nosik's opinion, “All in all, only an amusing legal episode that is of no practical consequence for tens of millions of Internet users in Russia.

The number of ignorant decisions taken by Russian courts is well known to all, and they do not only concern the Internet. This area is one the majority of judges and prosecutors do not understand; they tend to confuse sites maintained by their owners with services or sites based on user-generated content (UGC).

Ignorance in relation to the realities of the Internet, however, is not particular to the activities of judges and prosecutors alone. Not long ago, a businessman asked a friend who the “editor-in-chief of Twitter” was, and whether it would be possible to meet him. People's general ignorance regarding the realities of the Internet leads to such episodes.

The conclusion here is simple: a movement focused on rectifying this lack of awareness is required, so that rulings about “YouTube shutdown” provoke not only the indignation of users but also the hearty laughter of the Internet community that believes an actual YouTube shutdown will not come to pass.

Untraceable control

As for the remaining facts contained in the Freedom House report, they may bear no relation whatsoever to the state and the authorities' actions - or may, indirectly. DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks, which in recent times threatened LiveJournal.com and the Novaya Gazeta website cannot be linked to the state but result from either commercial orders or the unauthorised activities of certain individuals. The same goes for the hacking of certain sites by the “Hell Brigade.”

Activity in the blogosphere by “pro-Kremlin youth organisations” is more a positive than a negative fact, reflecting real freedom of expression by political forces of different stripes. There is evidence of both liberal and nationalist activity in the blogosphere: those for Putin, and those against him; those for Stalin, and those against him; those for Khodorkovsky, and those against him.

The means of conducting the discussion are, admittedly, not always good: there are trolling and spamming and ad hominem attacks. But these complaints can be laid against anybody, not just against “pro-Kremlin forces.” The thing is, depending on the topic, distinct groups are mobilised differently, so that in certain discussions (indeed, those that have to do with topics such as Stalin, Yeltsin, Khodorkovsky, the Russian Orthodox church and others) the better mobilised groups take part in discussions with greater aggression and fury.

Of course, the purchase of successful services and websites by businessmen close to the Kremlin can, to a certain extent, be put down to “state influence.” But it seems to me that we are dealing in these cases with the usual desire in business to acquire a commercially successful venture.

Moreover, it is difficult to cite an example of owners influencing the editorial line of Lenta.ru or the ‘editorial' policy of LiveJournal. Blogs on LiveJournal are completely free, and a recent period when the site was down could be attributable not only to a DDoS attack, but also to unresolved technical problems on the part of the service itself. Another important factor is a statement by President Medvedev, who drew attention to the attacks on the popular blog hosting service and condemned them. The president coming to the defence of a popular blog hosting service has no precedent in any country.

Yet it is still worth remembering the Kremlin's tough position regarding the Federal Security Service's (FSB) initiative to ban access to Skype, Gmail and Hotmail, about which I have written in a previous article. The truth is, yet another initiative of the Russian government came to light a few days later: a tender to carry out research into the foreign experience of regulating responsibility for Internet networks. The research should analyse the legislation of the USA, Germany, France, the UK and Canada, as well as China, Belarus and Kazakhstan where, as we know, the Internet is blocked.

On the whole, my conclusion regarding the situation of the Internet in Russia, as described in the report “Freedom on the Net 2011,” is as follows: yes, Russia can be included among those countries with “partly free” Internet access. At the same time, this particular lack of freedom is not due to the deliberate policies of the federal authorities. At least for the time being, the authorities are not seeking to limit Internet freedom, and Medvedev's position on this matter is clear enough. Only Article 282 of the Penal Code and the activities of the “Centres for the Fight against Extremism” raise a real concern.

Notwithstanding this, not only Internet users but human rights defenders, political activists, historians, religious figures and other “troublemakers” suffer. The Internet here is but a pretext for accusation. Ignorant judges and prosecutors are trouble too - not only in terms of the Internet but sometimes in terms of legislation in general, which they themselves do not understand or interpret terribly. Yet another real problem is that in Russia we are dealing with a multitude of actors who may engage in violence against bloggers and activists. This multitude can appear to be an integrated instrument of the authoritarian state but, if we look closely, it reveals itself as a vector resulting from the actions of various security agents, bureaucrats and bandits.

Therefore, to “liberate” the Internet and raise Russia's position in Freedom House's ratings, the Russian community must turn its attention to Article 282 and start a campaign to have it repealed. This is well within the power of the Russian Internet community.

September 22 2010

Azerbaijan: Bloqosfer 2010

By Aygun Janmammadova

Finally it happened. Bloqosfer 2010, an event bloggers in Azerbaijan had been looking forward  to for about two months, was held on 10-12 September in the resort town of Nabran. Over 100 established bloggers took their place beside emerging ones, new media specialists and Internet experts, business stakeholders, and representatives from civil society as well as the authorities.

The event was sponsored by international donors such as the Soros Foundation, the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan, and Counterpart International among others. Following the Barcamp format it aimed to discuss the current state of the blogosphere in Azerbaijan as well as formulate new strategies on making it more productive and widely known.

Preparations for Bloqosfer 2010 started months before, with social networking sites such as Facebook especially publicizing the event. Promotional videos for the event were also filmed in advance and were shared by many Facebook users.

But, as this was Bloqosfer 2010, many bloggers also reflected on the event, especially after it was over. Ahmadzada.tk blog [AZ], for example, says that the event went well overall and was a turning point in the Azerbaijani blogosphere even though some presentations were not perfect.

Forumu baş tutmuş hesab etmək olar, çünki, çox maraqlı və yeni bir hadisə idi. Hətta, özünün qüsurları ilə də. Şəxsən, mənim foruma uyğun görmədiyim qeyri-peşəkar və müştəbeh insanlar yer alsalar da, ümumi götürəndə, forumun əhəmiyyəti böyükdür. Və yeni medianın inkişafı istiqamətində aparılan texnoloji mahiyyətli müzakirələrdən də görüldü ki, İlqar Mirzənin rəhbərlik etdiyi , özlüyündə mühüm perspektivlər daşıyır.

One can conclude that forum took place and that it was an interesting and new event despite its weak points. Personally I think there were also some irrelevant and arrogant people participating, but in general the forum was of a significant importance. It was obvious from technology-related discussions in the sphere of new media development that “Bloqosfer-2010,” led by Ilgar Mirza, will have a significant impact on the future.

Nevertheless, some bloggers participating at the event were unhappy that the issue of the two imprisoned prominent video blogging youth activists, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, detained and eventually imprisoned last year on charges of hooliganism, was not raised during the event. Action Meinhof [AZ] touched upon this issue by arguing that blogs are not necessarily written only about political matters, but can also be for commercial purposes.

Və sonda bir məsələyə aydınlıq gətirmək istərdim ki, bloq yalnız siyasi mövzularda yazılmır. Əgər bununla razılaşmayan varsa, bir zəhmət çəksin, “google”a müraciət etsin, bloqların növləri və onların tematikaları barəsində məlumat əldə etsin, bundan sonra fikir mübadiləsi aparsın. Evdar qadının belə bloqu ola bilər, orada yemek resseptləri yazaraq geniş bir auditoriya əldə edə bilər.

[…]

[…] İndi bəzi şəxslər dirəniblər ki, nə üçün Emin Milli və Adnan Hacızadənin adı orada heç çəkilməyib və ya buna imkan yaradılmayıb. Nəzərinizə çatdıraq ki, bu mövzu artıq uzun zamandır müzakirə olunur və əminliklə deyə bilərəm ki, Bloqosfer 2010 layihəsindən qat-qat güclü tərəflər – qurumlar və təşkilatlar bu məsələnin önə çıxmasına çalışırlar və hələ də davam edirlər. Bəs nəticə? Yoxdur nəticə! Olmamasına səbəb isə məhz köhnə stereotiplərə ilişib qalan bir insanlığa məxsus xalqımız olmasıdır. Orada müzakirə olunmalı olan “necə edək ki, gələcəkdə digər bloqerlərimiz də azad sözə görə həbsxanaya düşməsinlər” olmalı idi, daha “Emin və Adnan niyə həbsdədirlər” yox.

Also, I would like to clarify that blogs do not necessarily touch upon only political issues. If anyone disagrees with this statement let them “google” it to get information about the types and themes of blogs, and only after then can they brainstorm and argue. A housewife can also have a blog, sharing food recipes and attracting a cult following.

[…]

[…] And now, some people fret about why Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were not mentioned during the discussions or why there were no opportunities for it. Let me tell you that this issue has been long discussed and I can confidently say that parties, far more powerful than Bloqosfer 2010 - institutions and organizations, try to bring up this issue and still continue to do so. And what is the result? No result! The reason for this is that there is our people still stick to old stereotypes. The issue that should have been discussed there should have been what can we do so that other bloggers do not get arrested for freedom of speech rather than why are Emin and Adnan still in jail.

In its post, “What did Bloqosfer 2010 give to Azerbaijan,” Жизнь как Метро [AZ] came up with some suggestions, concluding that the event was very innovative, achieved its goals, and perhaps even more than that by representing a new beginning.

İkincisi, Bloqosfer 2010 dağınıq halda olan Azərbaycan bloqçuluğunu birləşdirə bildi. […]

Üçüncüsü, Bloqosfer kifayət qədər özünə qapanmış formada fəaliyyət göstərən və barmaqla sayılacaq qədər olan region bloqçularına mərkəzə doğru açılmaq imkanı verdi.

Dördüncüsü, Bloqosfer – 2010 Azərbaycanda bloqqerlik fobiyasını az da olsa qırmış oldu. […]

Beşincisi, Bloqosfer bloqqerliyi siyasilikdən çıxarıb sosiallaşdırdı.

Second, Bloqosfer 2010 could unite a blogosphere that was in a scattered state in Azerbaijan. […]

Third, Bloqosfer gave an opportunity for regional bloggers functioning underground and in scarce numbers to come into the spotlight.

Fourth, Bloqosfer 2010 could break the blogging phobia in Azerbaijan, even if only insignificantly. […]

Fifth, Bloqosfer took blogging out of politics and made it a social thing.

Presentations made at Bloqosfer 2010 will be uploaded to slideshare and its official website. Videos filmed during the event will also be available on Youtube. Twitter updates about the event can be found at #bloqosfer10.

August 20 2010

Madagascar: The Undercover Investigations That Exposed Rosewood Trafficking from the Rain Forest

By Lova Rakotomalala

One of the consequences of the enduring political crisis in Madagascar is its punishing impact on the environment, especially on the rain forest that is being pillaged because of a lucrative illegal rosewood.  The combined work of activists specialized in conservation and protection of the environment and transparency and accountability organizations was instrumental in documenting these environmental crimes. The investigation conducted by various independent environmental agencies showed that the illegal logging of rosewood was worth $460,000 USD/day. The reports also revealed that the illegal trafficking was sanctioned by the government of Madagascar who authorized the transportation of containers containing the rosewood logs.  The investigations were conducted for more than 2 years  and started when the previous administration were still in place.  The issue has only made its way into the political debate and the Malagasy mainstream media in the last few months partly because of the indisputable evidence collected by the agencies.

Video from Globalwitness.org documenting the illegal logging of Rosewood in Madagascar

Many environmental and transparency organizations are to be credited for conducting the investigation in spite of the political turmoil, legal uncertainty and death threats. We interviewed Rhett A. Butler, creator of the environmental science and conservation website Mongabay and Reiner Tegtmeyer, member of the Global Witness team, an organization that exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems about the many challenges of protecting the environment in an embattled country and the role of technology in collecting data for their reports. The full reports on the extent of the traffic and the authorities involved can be found here (Global Witness) and  here (Mongabay).  Important  policy reports on the protection of environment were also published by the  Madagascar Wildlife Conservation and Jane Goodall Insitute and the International Resources Group, USAID and  Madagascar National Parks.  These investigations were mostly conducted independently of the others except for a few collaborations.

Mongabay team in Madagascar- Credits Benja R. at wildmadagascar.org

The Role of Technology and Cost of Investigative Report:

Rhett Butler explains that a team effort was needed to not only collect the evidence but also get the words out in the news and on social media platform:

Jeremy Hance, Rowan Gerety and the local anonymous tippers were instrumental in collecting and organizing the information. Tipsters took pictures with mobile phones and basic digital cameras, sent reports via email and text. Tipsters would monitor shipments at the port and passing tracks and report via mobile. The Missouri Botanical Garden financed the acquisition of high resolution imagery that was used to document where rosewood logs were being stored. This information was conveyed to local authorities (who did little), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (to investigate under the Lacey Act), the French delegation in Copenhagen, and media (which mostly ignored the story) [..] Satellite imagery from what I understand  is expensive and  Google Earth imagery is not good enough (resolution and frequency) in this case.  Mongabay itself did not have a set budget and mostly relied on voluntary and collaborative work.

Reiner Tegtmeyer also emphasized that many people ( from Global Witness and outside) were involved in the investigation and the production of reports. He breaks down the cost of conducting the investigation as follows:

a) the investigation’s scope (geographical, thematic), b) the target country’s transport conditions and flight fares to that country, c) number of stakeholders and persons/organisations affected by the investigation’s subject that need to be consulted, and d) whether local experts (technical experts, guides, translators) need to be contracted. The costs for a 4-week field investigation like the one in Madagascar would be of about USD $50- 80,000, including expenditures for backup and administrative support, insurance and production and publication of reports.

Sattelite image of rosewood containers courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Challenges in Protecting  the Environment

Madagascar is a remote place for the rest of the world and the rain forest is remote even for Malagasy people in the capital city. Yet Reiner Tegtmeyer does not think distance was the main issue but rather the lack of political will  to prevent more illegal logging:

The main challenge is to break the complicity of government official, in particular reportedly the Prime Minister, and the timber barons in the SAVA Region. Consequently, the Government issued again and again “exceptional” exportation authorizations for the timber barons operating in SAVA Region of precious wood officially recognized as being of illegal origin. But there are also the financial constraints the Interim Government is facing due to punitive sanctions against the country that makes it desperately searching for funds. A further challenge is insufficient staffing and provision of technical and logistics equipment of the National Parks management and the regional forest and environment administration which results in limited and inefficient control operations. Collaboration with law enforcement agencies can partly mitigate these problems but cannot be seen as a definite solution. Furthermore, reported and observed complicity of certain elements of the Gendarmerie jeopardizes effective law enforcement efforts.

Rhett Butler agrees that political will is critical. A task force was set up by the current government months ago but it ended with little impact and the members recently complained publicly that they never received their overdue salaries [fr].   Butler also mentions that cyber-attacks were launched against his site and that he received  the death threats  trying to expose the lucrative trafficking:

I'm still not confident however that illegal logging or shipments of rosewood will not resume again soon.  It's going to take political commitment to end the trade.  From my perspective, the situation is now at a point where engagement of other parties is going to be more useful in advancing the issue. It's also a problem that the press doesn't care that much about such issues and that most Americans don't know anything about Madagascar [..] I don't engage with politicians in Madagascar.  Both the Rajoelina camp and the Ravalomanana camp contacted me but I didn't respond because neither camp offered concrete solutions to end the trafficking.  In March 2010,  a cyber-attack was launched against my sites that corresponded with the peak of the activity around the Delmas shipment.  The attacks–which used two very different tactics, one fairly blunt, the other more nuanced–appeared to originate in China, although it's hard to say. I also got some threatening emails from people whom I assume were associated with the loggers (wanting to kill me and in some cases my family). But they never knew where I was and I also always made sure I protected the identity and anonymity of my sources and colleagues.

Manambolo River in Madagascar courtesy of Benja R. on wildmadagascar.org

Solutions for more Effective Environmental Policies

Rhett Butler refers to his article here:

An absolute moratorium on logging combined with amnesty from prosecution for traders and a reforestation program funded by sales of illegally logged timber. The moratorium would be effective immediately with violations punishable by a long prison sentence. Any rosewood logs currently awaiting shipment in Vohemar, Tamatave, and other specified towns would be marked with a counterfeit-proof code (required for export clearance) and recorded in a digital tracking system. The logs would be auctioned via a transparent market system — the price and the log code would be recorded and publicly available.

Reiner Tegtmeyer emphasizes the need for better trained policy makers that can overcome corruption, the legal recognition of tenure and usage rights of local populations and a combination of leverage with aid money with stringent penalties and sanctions:

Pressure in international media won’t have a big impact on states/governments that already have a bad/weak reputation (see Cambodia and Burma). Yet, there is a bit leverage through conditionalities (to be) attached to aid money. With respect to tenure and usage rights of local populations, studies have shown that traditional farming methods and small-holder farming has the least negative impact on forests; if land rights are acknowledged, farmers show a high interest in maintaining their environment for future benefits.[..] the fight against illegal logging, in combination with good governance, is high on the agenda of national and international political bodies and the international donor community: Lacey Act from the US Congress and  the “Due Diligence obligation” from the European Parliament. The suspension of aid as a sanction against pariah states is a tricky issue. Not only has it left the Malagasy government without funds to curb illegal activities through regular and targeted control activities but has also caused mass unemployment and a huge surge in child labour. This fact is one of the reasons the greedy timber barons can so easily get needy people to do the dirty and very hard work to cut and transport ebony, rosewood and pallisander for making a living. The international community (IC) should support, with financial and technical aid, semi-autonomous organisations such as Madagascar National Parks (MNP) to quell the illegal activities and book the responsible parties. [..] The Malagasy Government should generate funds to effectively control activities in the forests through the overdue confiscation and sale of the stocks of illegal precious wood. In addition to the official December 2008 inventory in the SAVA main towns,  all precious wood stored elsewhere must immediately be inventoried. However, all wood not being inventoried must be destroyed as the only effective deterrent for the continuation of cutting down trees.

Final thoughts:

Reth Butler

I've been warned that I cannot return to Madagascar under the current regime.  It's sad because Madagascar is my favorite country (in fact the name Mongabay originates from Nosy Mangabe in Madagascar) but a small price to pay for helping interrupt the destruction of the island's wonderful forests.

Reiner Tegtmeyer:

At Global Witness, our work in exposing corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses does not so much address the broad public but rather national and international policy decision makers and the international community at large who are concerned with, or somehow involved in the policies or support of natural resources extraction.

Additional resources:

Interview in French with Hery Randriamalala, one of the lead researcher for the MWC and JGI report.

Mongabay in Madagascar

Global Witness

December 03 2009

Bangladesh: The Rising Voices of Women in a Drowning Country

Even in the most extreme circumstances when survival is at stake, Bangladeshi women stand out for their capacity to unite and together overcome climate change’s effects on their lives.

A summary of Bangladesh’s situation, a video filmed and posted by CaroOxfam

Sufia holds her child while she brings to memory the most painful day of her life, the day she lost her son. Her home was being flooded with water and when she turned to nurse her newborn baby, her five-year-old son was carried away by the flood. “I could not find my son, I searched so hard”, says Sufia breaking into tears in the video filmed and posted by Oxfam. Sadly, to lose a loved one to the extreme weather conditions in Bangladesh is not an uncommon situation.

Bangladesh is one of the most affected countries by climate change in the world. Although Bangladesh’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emission is low, floods and natural disasters are becoming more and more frequent. Its vulnerability lies on its geographic location as a coastal country and its high population density.

On the blog The Daily IIJ, Bangalee blogger Jahangir Akash highlights the alarming numbers of affected Bangladeshis:

Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is the city most threatened in Asia by climate change. If things continue as they are, in the future, the economy will fail and human life itself will be threatened. At present, there are 10.3 million people living in Dhaka. In 2025, the population will have increased to 20.5 million.

A Country Under Water

In her blog Anushay’s point Bangladeshi blogger Anushay Hossain posts about how unsettling it was to grow up in a country that was going under water:

I grew up knowing my country was drowning. My childhood memories are full of flashing images of annual monsoon rains making rivers out of our roads, lakes out of our rice paddy fields, washing away farmers’ harvests, pushing the rural population into our already overpopulated capital city. The rumor in the playground was that in twenty years Bangladesh would be completely underwater. Today that statement is no longer a rumor, but very much a reality.

During natural disasters women are more likely to suffer the consequences than men. Jean D’ Cunha, regional program director of the United Nations Fund for Women based in Thailand said that some women in Bangladesh died during a flood in 2001 because their traditional long dress and burka hindered their movements and prevented them from escaping the rising waters. But despite their disadvantages, Bangladeshi women find ways to adapt to climate change’s impacts.

Blogger Ben Beaumont writes in the Oxfam blog about Hasina, a woman who had to move six times due to floods. Now she is the president of local women’s group called Shanti Mohila Committee in the Shariatpur district. Each member of the group collaborates a small amount of money to both prepare for the floods and assist women afterwards:

What struck me most was the energy and passion of this group of 20 or so women. (…) women in this community haven’t always been so vocal - in conservative, rural areas like this, women often play very traditional roles, and stay at home with the family. But now, Hasina and her friends are full of confidence - earning and saving money as day labourers, and providing for their families (…) And, as the floods get more unpredictable, it’s the women who are at the centre of their community’s response.

Bangladeshi Women’s March

Blogger Jess Mccabe also posts on the blog The F Word about Bangladeshi women coming together as an outstanding example of women taking a stand on climate change’s issues:

Back in November 2008, around 2,000 women took to the streets of Dhaka, in Bangadesh, wearing masks of G8 leaders, to call for action on climate change.

(…)

‘Protect our agriculture, protect our country, protect our lives from the damaging effects of climate change', they chanted, waving their fists to make their demands.

Climate Change Rally. Photo by Oxfam and used under a Creative Commons license.

Climate Change Rally. Photo by Oxfam and used under a Creative Commons license.

The words of blogger Anushay reflect the positive steps Bangladeshi women have taken towards adaptation to global warming, but outline the urgent need for women around the world to get involved and take a stronger stand:

Back home in Bangladesh, the list of innovative ideas to combat and more importantly, adapt to climate change is endless. (…) But there has to be more. Women may be in the frontlines of climate change, but they are not only its victims. Their personal and intimate experience of the harsh impacts of climate change means that within them lies very real solutions to combat it. If the voices from the women’s rights movement don’t pick up this issue, loudly, clearly and unanimously, climate change will not only drown out countries, but the agents of change, women, with it. And that is simply not an option.

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