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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].

As a Federal State, Yemen Marks the Third Anniversary of Its Revolution

February 11th marked the third anniversary of Yemen's revolution which toppled former President Ali Abdullah's Saleh's 33 year rule. Just a day before, on February 10, Yemen's president Abdu Rabu Mansour, based on the National Dialogue‘s recommendation for the political transition and after deliberating with a Region Defining Committee, approved turning the country into a six-region federation state.

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, an activist, member of the National Dialogue and editor-in-chief of The Yemen Times, tweeted:

The federal system was a solution to counter the failure of the centralized government and to give the south more autonomy while preserving Yemen's unity. Yemen's parties had been divided on whether to split the federation into two or six regions. A north-south divide which was suggested by Southerners was rejected due to fear that it could set the stage for the south to secede. The six agreed regions included four in the north, comprising Azal, Saba, Janad and Tihama, and two in the south, Aden and Hadhramaut.

Azal includes the capital Sanaa, which will be a federal city not subject to any regional authority, in addition to the provinces of Dhamar, Amran and Saada. Aden would comprise the capital of the former south, as well as Abyan, Lahej and Daleh. The southeastern Hadhramaut province would include Al-Mahra, Shabwa and the island of Socotra, while Saba comprises Bayda, Marib and Al-Jawf. Janad would include Taez and Ibb, and Tahama also takes in Hudaydah, Rima, Mahwit and Hajja.

Yemen_updates tweeted a link showing the new regions:

There were many reactions among Yemenis and Arabs both for and against this decision.
Yemeni youth activist, Jamal Badr jokingly tweeted a still shot from a scene of a famous Egyptian comic play:

Isn't Yemen fine?? Yes, every region is fine but separate

Farea Almuslimi disapproving the haste in the decision making tweeted:

It took my father and uncles a longer and more thoughtful time to divide the (small) land they inherited from my grandfather then it took to determine the form and number of the regions in Yemen

Egyptian visual artist and film maker, Mahmud Abdel Kader, commented:

Nobody is saying that the UAE is divided because it is federal … because the idea of federalism is to add not divide, what happened in Yemen is a division not an addition

Lebanese Karl Sharro sarcastically tweeted:

Yet there were many questions in people's minds, which Sam Waddah raised on Facebook:

Major question marks remain on dividing power, authority, duties between regions and central state, defining the new system, how local governments will be elected, etc. Tentatively federal system is a good one but it's too early to tell here and by leaving these issues undefined I think Hadi and the regions defining committee are putting the cart before the horse!

Adam Baron also wondered:

Nadia Al-Sakkaf shed some light on the new federal system in her article in The Yemen Times:

The relationship between the regions and the federal government will be written into the constitution. The details will be defined in a Federal Regions Law after the constitution has been approved via a national referendum, expected to take place three months after the creation of the Constitutional Drafting Committee. Each region will have the autonomy to devise its own regional laws to define the relationship among its various states.

Three years after the revolution, on February 11, Yemenis were back on the streets but for various reasons. There were those who went out to celebrate the anniversary of a revolution which awed the world with its power and peacefulness and there were those who went out to protest against the government's corruption and for not realizing the revolution's demands.

Majda Al-Hadad, an activist spearheading the campaign against the government's continuous electricity power cuts tweeted:

It is not necessary for me to list the reasons for me to go out tomorrow, there is nothing positive that would make me hesitate. No rights, no dignity, no law, no justice, and no presence of the government except corruption and injustice.

Journalist Khaled Al-Hammadi tweeted:

The people want to topple corruption“, “the people want the fall of the government“, “a new revolution all over again“, “oh government of corruption, leave the country” chanted protesters across the streets of Sanaa.

(Video posted on YouTube by Ridan Bahran

Akram Alodini also highlighted the political division in his tweet:

In the morning, marches for the republic of Sabeen and the sport stadium, and in the afternoon for the republic of Seteen, and the citizen is helpless

Lawyer Haykal Bafanaa wondered how would corrupt politicians counter corruption:

Researcher, blogger and activist Atiaf Al-Wazir tweeted:

This video by SupportYemen is a reminder of what the revolution was about and what it still needs to achieve:

And as Rooj Al-Wazir, tweeted, some of the revolutionary youth, three years later, were still behind bars:

Journalist Benjamin Wiacek tweeted with disappointment, a bitter sentiment shared by many of the revolutionary youth:

Journalist Iona Craig, who has been living in Yemen since 2011, and as the rest of Yemenis has been suffering from frequent and lengthy electricity cuts tweeted:

Many Yemenis did not feel a change in their daily living conditions – quite the contrary, many were disappointed and frustrated with its deterioration. In a question posed on Facebook by journalist Ahmed Ghurab, “In your opinion what change has occurred in the living conditions of the average citizen in the last three years since the outbreak of the revolution?!!”, the majority complained about the hike in prices, the continuous power outages, the insecurity and instability along with the increase of assassinations, the car explosions and kidnappings and the failure of the government to address or manage these issues.

Nevertheless, there were those who were celebrating the revolution's achievements so far and were still hoping for more. Photos of the marches all over Yemen commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the revolution were posted all over Twitter and Facebook.

Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron tweeted:

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

Activist, photographer and member of the National Dialogue, Nadia Abdullah,posted photos of the marches in Sanaa on facebook.

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

On a more positive note, Baraa Shiban, a youth activist and also member of the National Dialogue, tweeted:

He summarized in his Facebook post, what many would undoubtedly agree is the greatest achievement of Yemen's revolution:

Yemen has a new generation of men and women who believe in the principals of democracy and human rights. Yemen's youth now believe in equal citizenship, women's rights and minorities. Yemen's youth today believe in achieving their demands by following the peaceful method.

The revolution continues…

“Celebrating Valentine's Day Is a Direct Way to Hell” in Tajikistan

According to a recent survey [tj], one out of three residents of Tajikistan are celebrating Valentine's Day today. Although these findings seem a little bit exaggerated for the country as a whole, they do appear to be accurate for the country's main cities. Over the last two decades, many young Tajikistanis have embraced the tradition of giving their loved ones cards, red roses, and other love-themed presents.

However, similarly to some other holidays such as Halloween or New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day struggles to gain broader acceptance in Tajikistan. During the week before February 14, social media users in the country argued about whether or not “the day of love” should be celebrated.

Many Facebooka nd Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads:

Many Facebook and Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads: “Comprade! Don't give in to the bourgeois crap! February 14 is an ordinary day!”. The image originates in Russian-language social media.

Some netizens contend that the holiday has no place in a Muslim society. For instance, on blogiston.tj, Vatandust writes [tj]:

Бародарону хоҳарони тоҷик. Нодониста намонед ки ҷашн гирифтани валентин роҳи рост ба ҷаҳаннам. Боре дар бораи кӯдакотон фикр кунед. Имруз шумо валентин ҷашн мегиред – фардо онҳо бо хайвонот алоқаи ҷинсӣ мегиран.

Tajik brothers and sisters, you should know that celebrating Valentine's Day is a direct way to hell. Think about your children. Today you celebrate Valentine's Day – and tomorrow they will have sex with animals.

Siyovush adds [tj]:

Иди занону валентину ва гайра хамаш як сафсата каме нест!!! Чаро лубой иди гарбиву русиро чашн мегиред??? Идхои точики исломи дорем бас нест??? Агар форадатон брен ба Москва ё Амрико ва унчо чашн гирен чизе ки хохен. Диндорои точик бояд ба мардум фахмонан таърихи валентин чиву маънош чи. Хукумат бошад бояд фуруши валентинкахову хар як бозичахои дилдорро манъ кунад.

Women's Day, Valentine's Day – these are all nothing but nonsense!!! Why do you have to celebrate every western or Russian holiday??? We have Tajik and Islamic holidays. Aren't they enough? If you want, go to Moscow or [United States] and celebrate whatever you like there. Tajik religious leaders should explain the history and meaning of Valentine's Day to people. The government should ban the selling of love-themed cards and toys.

Under an article on ozodi.org, Muhammadi claims [tj]:

Вокеъан, агар ҷавонони тоҷик ки будани Валентинро медонистанд, аз тачлили ин рӯз даст мекашиданд.

Indeed, if Tajik young people only knew who [Saint] Valentine was, they would not mark this day.

While Sham asks [tj]:

Магар хамон кавми Валентину Иванову балову бадтар идхои моро чашн мегиранд, ки шумо ба онхо пайрави мекунед??? Боре дидаед,ки онхо иди рамазону курбон чашн гиранд???

Why do you imitate Valentine and Ivanov [common Russian surname] folks when they don't celebrate our holidays??? Have you ever seen them celebrating Idi Ramazon [Eid al-Fitr] or Idi Qurbon [Eid al-Adha]???

On Twitter, @onlytajikistan mentions some stereotypes associated with the holiday:

However, many people in Tajikistan do not see a problem in celebrating Valentine's Day. Khusrav sees [tj] the holiday as part of a global culture:

Мо хохем ё нахохем дар ин дунёи глобали одату маданияти гарб ба расму одатхои мо таъсири худро мерасонанд. Хозир давраи озодии фикру рафтор шудааст ва на мулло ва на вазири фархангу маърифат пеши ин корхо шуда наметавонад.

Whether we want it or not, western culture and traditions have an impact on our cultural practices in this globalized world. We live in the time of freedom of thought and freedom of behavior, and neither mullahs nor Minister of Culture can prevent this.

Mila writes [tj]:

Charo ki in ruzro jash nagirem? Kase oshiqu mashuq hast marhamat metawonand jakdigarro dar in ruzi oshiqon khursand namoyand, wa mekhostam dinro ba in mawzu omekhta nakuned!

Why shouldn't we celebrate this holiday? Those who are in love can make each other happy on this day. I would also like to [ask everyone] not to link this topic to religion.

Meanwhile, on blogiston.tj, netizens put together [ru] lists of best romantic movies to watch on Valentine's Day and discuss [ru] different ways of celebrating the day. Tomiris congratulates the readers of her blog, writing [ru]:

Всех с этим замечательным праздником! Любите и будьте любимыми! Любовь делает этот мир прекраснее!

I would like to congratulate everyone on this wonderful day! Love and be loved! Love makes this world a better place!

Tajikistan is not the only country where debates about the appropriateness of celebrating Valentine's Day have occurred. Some countries have banned the holiday. In the neighboring country of Uzbekistan, the authorities force students to sign contracts affirming that they will not celebrate the holiday. In Kyrgyzstan, officials in the southern city of Osh have banned the celebration of the holiday in schools. A Kyrgyz MP has even called [ru] Valentine's Day a “Devil's Holiday”.

Rap Musicians Take on Guinea-Bissau's Drug Trafficking Problem

Rapper NB on the balcony of Rádio Jovem (Youth Radio) during the interactive radio program ‘frees’. Photo shared by Buala (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

A longer version of this article, written by Miguel de Barros and Patrícia Godinho Gomes, was originally published on web portal Buala with the title Percepções e contestações: leituras a partir das narrativas sobre o narcotráfico na música Rap da Guiné-Bissau (Perceptions and demands: Readings from narratives on narcotrafficking in the rap music of Guinea-Bissau) on January 24, 2014.

The problem of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau has been gaining visibility in the African country, thanks to rap musicians who are waging a war of words against the illicit trade. “Narco-rap”, as it is called, is building resistance to drug trafficking in an innovative way by giving a voice to the people fighting against it.  

In the beginning of the new millennium, illegal cocaine trafficking reached global proportions, not only by infiltrating the traditional markets such as the United States and Latin America, but also in Western Europe, Russia and more recently some countries on the West African coast, which have become countries of transit for drug cartels.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and lacks the capacity to control its territory, making the narcotrafficking phenomenon there and the subregion of West Africa not only a matter of lack of development, but also a security problem (see a special mention of Guinea-Bissau in the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime reports from 2007 and 2008 [PDF]).


Song “Relatório” (Report) by MC Mário, Patche di Rima and Dom Pina

Beyond the highly publicized American intervention [en] against drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau and the subregion, it is important to understand the internal mechanisms of resistance that are being adopted and what effects they are having at the national level.

For example, “non-institutionalized” youth from lower social classes are protagonists in the fight against the trade, denouncing it in rap performances broadcast on the radio and in concert. Narco-rap is an artistic medium through which the rappers give commentary, criticize those in power and challenge prevailing social (dis)order, combining cultural emancipation with the exercise of political and democratic participation.

Take a look at the lyrics of a handful of narco-rap songs written in kriol, or Creole, the lingua franca of Guinea-Bissau, with translations in English.

Drug trafficking, condemned

The lyrics of “Culpadus” (Guilty) by Torres Gémeos (2008) condemn narcotrafficking:

droga tchiga Guiné i djumblintinu senariu/Nhu alferis ku nhu kabu/Tudu pasa sedu bida empresariu (…)
Amadu ki chefi di izersitu/Iooode/I ka fasi nin 2 dia ki tchiga la/Iooode/I mata Djokin i subi la
Ku asasinatu ku aumenta/korupson ganha forsa
I ta troka mindjer suma ropa/I tene kumbu té na Eropa
Nunde ki sai ku es manga di kusas?/no ka sibi! 

Drugs arrived in Guinea and shuffled our scenario
Mr. Lieutenant and Mr. Private
All became businessmen
Amadu is the chief of the army/Iooode
It hasn’t even been two days since he got there/Iooode
He killed Joaquim and climbed up there
With the increasing murders
Corruption gained power
He changes women as if changing clothes
He even has money in Europe
Where did he get all that?
We don’t know!

Exploring the narcotrafficking route 

The song “Bo obi mas” (Listen again) by Baloberos (2008) travels the geographies of drug trafficking:

Guiné-Bissau nason di trafico? Tráfico
kil ku na bin bai pa Spanha? Tráfico
kil ku ta bin di Colombia? Tráfico
Mira ermanos, la fuerza armada transportando la cocaína en quantidad
haciendo negócios com nuestros ermanos de Colombia
(…) bo obi es sistema di pesa coca: kilograma, decagrama, hectograma, graaama 

Guinea-Bissau, nation of trafficking? Trafficking
the one that goes to Spain? Trafficking
the one that usually comes from Colombia? Trafficking
Look brothers, the armed forces carrying a large quantity of cocaine
doing business with our brothers in Colombia
(…) listen to this system of weighing coke: kilogram, decagram, hectogram, graaam [sic]

Calling for protest

In “Kaminhu sukuru” (Dark way) by FBMJ (2008), a call is made to the people of Guinea-Bissau:

Marca di Avion 515 tisi medicamentu pa tudu duentis
i guineensis ka na duensi mas
bardadi n`fia, Guiné i terá nunde ku pekadur ta garandi ora ki misti, di manera ki misti, tudu ta dipindi 
bardi n`fia, Guine i tera nunde ku po ta sibi riba di santchu mbes di santchu sibi na po
Ma i ka sigridu ku nha kabesa na ramasa i ni i ka kudadi
i sibidu kuma i ten djintis na Guine ora ku e misti pa tchuba tchubi, tchuba ta tchubi
ora ku é mista pa sol iardi, sol ta ratcha

An airplane branded 515 brought medicine for all the patients
and Guineans will never again become ill (…)
truth I believe, Guinea is a land where people are mature when they want to be, how they want to be, but everything is relative
truth I believe, Guinea is the land where the trees climb monkeys instead of the latter climbing trees!
But it is not a secret that I am throwing up nor that it is worrying
It's known there are people in Guinea that when they want it to rain, it happens
when they want the sun to shine, it happens

Expressing uneasiness

The song “Contra” (Against) by Cientistas Realistas (2007) regrets the state of the “narco-state”:

Cartaz de Cientistas Realistas.

Poster for Cientistas Realistas

notícia di tera obidu ate na rádios internacionais
fidjus di Guine ta ianda npinadu é ka ta ossa ianda nin alsa rostu
tera i ka purmeru, ma anos pekaduris i restu
na diaspora no ta sta tristi suma kil ku tene disgostu
pais sta desorganizadu, corupson sta generalizadu, aparelho di no stadu aos torna un sistema di corupson
dinheru ku no djunta passa na sbanjadu a toa i grande orgulho, fama(!)
Guine-Bissau i narcotráfico
djintis di stadu na pratica di negócios ilegais
e na fasi crimes organizadu ma faladu na nomi di stadu
es tudu anos i contra
narcostadu puera lanta
tudu mundo misti sai nês coba

news from the land was heard even on international radio
sons of Guinea-Bissau are crestfallen without the guts to raise their faces
the country is not prioritized, people come last
in the diaspora we get used to being sad as if we were heartbroken
the country is disorganized, generalized corruption, the apparatus of state turned into a system of corruption
our money is now being wasted for nothing, great pride, fame!
Guinea-Bissau is a narco-state
people of the state practicing illegal businesses
carrying out organized crime, but let’s say in the name of the state
all this we are against,
narco-state raised dust
everyone wants to leave this hole

Calling for action

The song “Kaminhus” (Paths) by As One (2012) takes on a tone of indignation as well as gives a call to action:

No leis apedrejado
cheio de lacunas
li ki Guine-Bissau pa kin ku ka sibi
li ku traficantes ta dadu privilegio mas di ki pursoris di universidade
juro li te purcu ta pudu gravata i bistidu fatu
katchuris si é mata é ta dadu caru tipo incentivo
tipo se presente pa é continua mata
guineensis i sta na hora di no kunsa nota
no disa pa tras tudu ke ku na tudjinu avança…

Our laws stoned
full of holes
this is Guinea-Bissau for those who don't know
this is where the traffickers are given more privileges than college professors
I swear pigs wear ties and suits here
when they kill the dogs, they receive cars as an incentive
as a gift to keep killing
Guineans, it is time we start to notice
let’s leave behind everything that does not allow us to move forward…

Radios have been (and still are) an extremely important medium in Guinean daily life. Rappers, through their creative narratives, aim to spread the word [fr] in the freest way possible about those who are profiting from trafficking. They use radio as an opportunity to denounce via their music the various aspects of the illicit trade.

This trend proves the need to question the label of “narco-state”, keeping in mind that the living of a large majority of the Guinean population is not based on the drug business. 

Young rappers have opened up new pathways for reflection on the position of youth, the dispute over the management of “public affairs” and the emergence of new political actors in the public arena of a country in development.

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