Posted by: bartwoord | March 31, 2009

Olaf Koens

Ik ben zelf een grote consument van nieuws en analyse met betrekking tot Rusland, zoals bijvoorbeeld David Johnson’s Russia List, de OpenDemocracy Rusland pagina en de blog van NRC-Correspondent Michel Krielaars.

Een aanrader is echter ook de website van Olaf Koens, huidig GPD-correspondent in Moskou, waarin hij niet alleen zijn gepubliceerde maar ook (nog) niet gepubliceerde artikelen plaatst.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 26, 2009

Talking Freedom

Besides the standard NGO capacity trainings that I am conducting in the Caucasus, I always leave a time slot open for some political discussion, most often centered around the concept of freedom. I usually keep my own political opinions rather discrete and let the participants play around themselves with me moderating. Not only because the – often traditional – crowd I train is politically diverse and I don’t want to antagonize them, but also because I am afraid that my philosophical, radical understanding of freedom is not always easy to explain within an hour or so and can actually turn people off.

Now, today (Gymri, Armenia) was an exception and I went into the mud myself, though admittedly only knee-deep. Some remarks:

Myself: “I see absolutely no reason why someone would be able to prohibit me from smoking marihuana.” Participant #1: “So what if someone tries to kill you?”

Participant #2: “If we are going to follow your understanding of freedom, we will all turn into beasts.”

Participant #3: “Can we please come back to the question what freedom exactly is?” (he repeated this 3 times, as if he was still expecting me to pull it out of a high hat at some point of time)

We had a good time though.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 25, 2009

FC Eindhoven – Wereldfaam in Armenie

Okay, ik weet dat ik niet teveel mijn geliefde regio belachelijk moet maken, maar het zijn soms toch zulke sufferds.

Zie onderstaande foto van een sportzaak in Tzakhkadzor, Armenie. Tussen topclubs als AC Milan en Barcelona vind je daar warempel het logo van FC Eindhoven. Hoogstwaarschijnlijk beoogde de eigenaar het logo van PSV (Eindhoven) op zijn gevel te plaatsen maar de designer was te lui om de logo’s te checken (die van Juventus is immers ook wat vreemd).

Hoe dan ook, amusant is het wel.

Tzakhadzor Sport Shop

Tzakhadzor Sport Shop

Posted by: bartwoord | March 25, 2009

Turmoil in the Caucasus

I just added a new blog post to IFLRY’s Bureau blog. For regular followers of my blog, you’ll find nothing new.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 23, 2009

Anti-Xenophobia Protests in St. Petersburg

Some good news coming out of Russia: anti-xenophobia protests in St. Petersburg. One of IFLRY’s Russian partners, Oborona, is part of the initiative.

Read more about it in the St Petersburg Times.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 23, 2009

Border Disorder – Armenia, Georgia and Turkey

As some of you might know, Armenia faces closed borders with not only Azerbaijan but also Turkey as a result of the conflict in the nineties. This certainly doesn’t stop Turkish goods from arriving to Armenia, as I noticed at the Armenian border where Turkish trucks were arriving after a much longer trip via Georgia. It probably shouldn’t have to take more than a couple of hours for goods from Kars to arrive to Yerevan, but considering the additional border check for goods in Georgia it now must take at least a day.

Turkish trucks at Armenian border

Turkish trucks at Armenian border

The question of Turkey opening the border with Armenia is something that leads to very vigorous discussion in Azerbaijan and sighs of hope in Armenia. As a participant at my current seminar described: it is the only way that Armenians can keep on breathing under the current financial crisis, which has hit Armenia very hard.

One of the theories goes that Turkey will offer to open its borders in exchange of the American Congress refraining from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide.

The trip from Tbilisi to Yerevan was rather impressive: we took a road that took us narrowly passed the Armenian-Azeri border, with deserted and burned down houses from people who had previously lived together in relative peace. The scenery was fantastic, but there was misery in the air.

(Sorry, I should have added some sources in here but I am rather short on time)

Posted by: bartwoord | March 19, 2009

Referendum in Azerbaijan II

Global Voices on the referendum.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 19, 2009

Referendum in Azerbaijan

As I know that some of the visitors of my blog are looking around for some reflections on yesterday’s referendum in Azerbaijan, here are my 50 cents. Keep in mind that I am in Georgia at the moment so I am not ‘on the ground’ (if one can be ‘on the ground’ at all).

Over the past days I have constantly bothered a senior colleague who has been working in the Southern Caucasus for over a decade, asking him whether he had any news on the Azerbaijani referendum. He couldn’t understand my interest as he said that nothing would happen and the outcome has already been set. Approval rate of the constitution of more than 90% and certainly over 60% of participation, was his expectation. O, irony.

I saw the voting ballot a couple of weeks ago and even a democracy fanatic and certainly no opponent to referendums like me, I could not imagine myself devoting any time to such a monster of a ballot. I believe there were 29 questions to which all voters were supposed to say yes or no to, independently. Admittedly, it is much better and democratic than if they would have had an option for a single box to tick, but I simply cannot believe that 60% of the population has actually spent at least 10 minutes reading the ballot and casting its vote. It would have brought the whole country to a standstill if that was the case. (Coming to think of it, could anyone do some mathematics and count how much total time it would cost for 60% of the population to spend 10 minutes on voting and comparing it to the amount of total time available for voting (amount of voting boxes times 6 * 13 hours) ?)

There were independent international observers at the referendum. Yeah, right. I am sure they were probably not much different than these guys (essential reading, trust me). I have no confidence anyway in the opinion of those parachuting short-term election observers, Western, Eastern or Marsian, as they naively assume that elections are only rigged at the very day of the elections. I think that about 95% of the voting manipulation takes place prior to elections or referendums, through intimidation of opposition activists, severely maiming of independent media, overall strategy of stimulating political apathy among citizens, etc. . One only needs to have a pervert mind and winning elections actually becomes very easy.

What’s next? I might be completely wrong but it didn’t seem to me that the opposition has been able to make any fist at all. In addition, during my visits to different NGO centers (where I held my trainings), local NGO representatives were complaining that the authorities were becoming more and more intolerant of their work. Its like someone is slowly sucking the oxygen out of the Azerbaijani air. I have met the most wonderful people in Azerbaijan and I’m adamant about going back in 1,5 week, but there is no doubt that the country has just taken another step back.

Posted by: bartwoord | March 18, 2009

Wat Luchtigers II

Sinds mijn tijd als Plusmarkt Peen ben ik dol op supermarkten. Mooi geordende muren met allerlei producten, ruimte om met je wagentje lekker de winkel door te crossen en de welbekende muziekjes waar ik anders eigenlijk nooit naar luister. Naast mijn ouwelui in Schiedam en mijn vergeten knuffelbeer mis ik dan ook eigenlijk het meest hier in de Kaukasus de Albert Heyn of Plus. Het concept supermarkt is hier nog maar spaarzaam bekend en over het algemeen koop je hapjes en drankjes bij verschillende kleine zaakjes, volledig volgepropte kiosken, of veel te dure, uit Dubai ingevoerde, ‘wereldsupermarkten’ (in Baku) die door Indiers gerund worden en je toch niet het propere Appie gevoel meegeven.

Nu wil het dat ik vanmorgen een supermarktketen in Tbilisi ben binnengestapt waar ik mijn lol niet op kon. Niet alleen kon ikĀ  er een yoghurtdrankje kopen en (redelijk aangebrande) verse croissantjes, de helft van het assortiment bestond zelfs uit puur Nederlandse producten!

Vind hieronder enkele voorbeelden:

img00134-20090318-1804

img00135-20090318-1804

img00136-20090318-1805

Find the statement here.

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