January 18th, 2014
This is a response to Ali Abunimah´s article “Palestinians trapped in Syria war, denied aid, stalked by starvation”. In his article, the author focuses on the suffering of Palestinians trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp, besieged by the Syrian army since the summer without access to food and other supplies. To read it, click here.
The fallacy of neutrality
As in many other Syrian neighborhoods, large segments of the Damascus Palestinian “unofficial” refugee camp Yarmouk joined the peaceful mobilizations and the widespread civil society efforts that emerged in March 2011 and were violently repressed by the regime.
As early as in June 2011, a local coordination committee was established in Yarmouk to coordinate protests, sit-ins, banners, slogans, civil work. Mohammad (who asked me not to share his last name) and Abu al-Abd Guevara (nickname), two Syrian Palestinians who had to flee the country and now live in Madrid, were in Yarmouk at the time. According to Guevara, “confusing the fact that Yarmouk was an open welcoming space with a position of neutrality is very misleading.” He continues:
People escaping the regime, and members of the civil opposition came from all over the city to take refuge in Yarmouk. We worked hand in hand in the camp, organized demonstrations, a coordination committee was formed… The regime started by targeting any form of peaceful activism, demonstrations, graffiti, chants, civil society building… that was what was happening all over the country, before the uprising became an armed rebellion. So Yarmouk was as “neutral” as the rest of Syria.
“It is true that many of us did not want the FSA to enter the camp because we thought that it would come at a high price, and we wanted to protect the people”, Ahmad explains. “However, things escalated after the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command killed 13 young Palestinians. The shabbiha from the General Command are as responsible for the suffering in Yarmouk as the regime itself.”
Ali Abunimah´s article, from the title itself – “Palestinians trapped in Syria war”- points at neutrality as a starting point, as if only Palestinians, and not civilians as a whole, were trapped in this tragic conflict. Neutrality is insisted on again through a quote:
According to Abou Nasser, while some youth in the camp organized in support of the Syrian opposition, “Yarmouk remained neutral the first year of the Syrian revolution,” amid “public awareness and consensus that the camp should be left out” of the conflict.
In addition to that, the “FSA enters the camp, regime bombs it” sub-headline of the article dangerously reminds us of the approaches that point at Hamas for Israeli attacks on Gaza. As if the Free Syrian Army (legitimate armed resistance, unlike illegitimate groups such as ISIS) was responsible for the ruthlessness of the regime against civilians. As if Assad needed excuses to shell and starve civilians.
The neutrality of Yarmouk is a fallacy, a recurrent and quite damaging one. To quote Talal Alyan, who wrote an outstanding article at Mondoweiss:
The Pro-Palestinian movement was delayed in picking up on the tragic unraveling of Yarmouk. It took the work of a great deal of dedicated activists to force it into the forefront of the solidarity movement’s agenda. What couldn’t be predicted, however, was that, in the place of silence, an ugly neutrality would hover over the new-founded concern
Syrian Palestinians are part of the reality they live in
Connected to the fallacy of neutrality is the focus on Palestinians as if they could be detached from the reality they have been part of, for several generations in many cases. Despite their strong sense of identity as Palestinians, Syrian Palestinians are culturally and socially Syrian, and they have equally suffered the corruption and the institutionalized injustice of the Assad-ruled system. There are Palestinians rotting in Assad´s jails and there are Palestinian shabbiha. The view of Palestinians as neutral victims “in Syria´s vicious war” is extremely dangerous and irresponsible, in addition to inaccurate.
Abunimah´s article starts by highlighting that “Palestinians have been disproportionately affected. More than half of the 540.000 Palestine refugees in the country have been forced from their homes by fighting”. However, more than half of the initial Syrian population (23 million) are now refugees or internally displaced as well, so there is no disproportion, but widespread suffering among the population.
Today, there are people all over the country, including Syrian Palestinians, who are being killed by starvation in neighborhoods like Yarmouk and Moaddamia. Starving the population as a strategy is despicable and intolerable, and it should be addressed as a whole, to avoid falling on sectarian views of our region, as composed of different breeds, religions, ethnicities that deserve different treatment. In the same way, the struggles for human rights in the region should be addressed as a whole. After all, the liberation of Palestine will not be achieved unless the people of the region are empowered and liberated from oppression.
As a Syrian, I am extremely grateful for the solidarity shown by the people of Yarmouk, which welcomed peaceful protesters and activists prosecuted by the regime, turning the camp into a symbol. Yarmouk was a model for the Syria many of us dream of, one that maintains its diversity while respecting every person´s fundamental rights.
December 4th, 2013
On October 14, I was invited to a conference called “Egypt´s first popular congress”, which was later renamed as the Cairo Media Forum. Behind the organization, there was a consulting company called Bureau Veritas, linked to the Egyptian Marine and operating in the country since 1971.
The fact that the invitation mentioned the need “to show international media the truth about Egypt” raised some immediate flags. Anyone claiming to show “the truth”, a mantra repeated by repressive regimes and their information arms, raises immediate flags. Reading the rest of the conference contents and the following emails it became quite clear that this was a pro-military, government-backed event to try to gain legitimacy for the current government of Egypt. Referring to the 2013 events as a second wave of the Egyptian revolution, highlighting “its peaceful means”, and mentioning the government´s needs to fight terror, made it all the more obvious. To make it even more appealing, the site opened to a huge banner of the 2011 uprising and the 2013 protests, together with beautiful photos of the Nile and the hotel where attendants would be staying.
However, I still thought it could be worth attending. Listening to the reasoning behind the military coup and trying to understand the arguments that have become quite popular among large segments of the Egyptian society seemed worth knowing more about. My views on the coup, which I have repeatedly described as the kidnapping of the revolution, just as many of my Egyptians friends and colleagues have as well, are no secret, so I found it amusing that they would invite me. My colleague from Eldiario.es and renown Spanish war correspondent Olga Rodríguez, who has also been very critical of the coup, was also invited.
The conference was postponed several times, as the organizers seemed to be struggling with the dates and logistics. When I finally received an email with a plane ticket, only three days before the beginning of the conference, it was already too late for me to attend. In addition to that, the ticket was for a different date than I had requested, so I informed the organization that I would not be attending.
The following morning – today -, Olga called me to tell me that I was highlighted as a speaker on the event´s website, next to the Egyptian Military´s General Staff Colonel and Spokesman Ahmed Mohammad Ali, Egyptian intellectuals known for supporting the coup such as writer Alaa al-Aswani, international political figures such as Bernard Kouchner, and a list of international journalists and political analysts. Evidently, I had never accepted to be a speaker at this event, and I have serious doubts that most of the people whose names have been posted on the website and used as a means to promote the conference, have either. Attending, listening, and reporting is one thing, very different from participating as a speaker, which I consider endorsing. And I am very cautious about the events that I endorse.
I was never offered to be a speaker to begin with, and neither had Olga, who had also had her profile highlighted on the conference ´s website days before. I never gave my consent for the organization to include my name, bio and photo – which I don´t know where they got from – either.
I am not sure what the conference organizers aim to achieve with this flimsy “marketing strategies”. If the purpose is to give the Egyptian government some much craved international legitimacy, is making international journalists and analysts aware of their clumsy manipulations the best way to do it? Making them angry by using them as bait in such an obvious way does not seem like a very good idea, even for blatant propaganda purposes.
If this event is a reflection of the current Egyptian government´s values and modus operandi, I have had my fair share of its manipulation efforts, without even having to set foot at the conference. I admit that now I am even more amused and intrigued about the content of the event and how it will be sold to international attendants, so if you are there, please share.
Also, do not miss Jack Shenker´s note on the conference and his experience with the Egyptian embassy in London.
October 1st, 2013
Sahwari attendants to the festival, and their international guests, during one of the screenings. Source: Fisahara´s official website
For a few months now, I´ve been working with a team of journalists, artists and movie makers on the organization of FISAHARA - Festival Internacional de Cine del Sahara, that will take place between October 8-13. I have to admit that I didn´t not know so much about the festival until I joined the communications team this spring, although it has been going on for 10 years. In 2010, The Guardian named it “the world´s most remote film festival.”
FiSahara takes place in Dakhla, the most isolated of four camps, 130 miles from the nearest town and home to around 30,000 Saharawi refugees. There are no paved roads, no sources of water, no vegetation and in summer, temperatures can reach 50°C. And yet once a year a multiplex-sized screen rolls up on the side of an articulated lorry, a tented village springs up in the centre of the camp and hundreds of actors, directors and film industry insiders fly in from around the world for a programme of more than 30 films, some made by the refugees themselves.
This year, the festival will aim to reach out to an even wider audience in order to bring attention to the forsaken struggle of the Saharawi people. It also seeks to frame this struggle within the regional movement that has pushed millions of citizens of the Middle East and North Africa to demand freedom, justice and dignity since 2011. In fact, many find the root of the so-called Arab Spring in the Western Sahara, back in 2010, when the indigenous Saharawi population demonstrated against the occupying Moroccan authorities. Their demonstrations were violently put down, and eleven Saharawis were killed.
Despite the increasing threats, violence and suffering the region faces, the struggle against oppression that was at the core of the 2011 mobilizations remains, more than ever, a legitimate one. Creating and fostering bonds and networks between civil activists in the Sahara, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and the rest of the MENA region is crucial to strengthen citizen voices against tyranny, whether this comes from fascist and so-called secular regimes or islamist threats. Many journalists, activists and movie makers from the region will join this festival´s edition. We are very proud of all of them, but there is one who is particularly inspiring.
Nadir Bouchmouch is a Moroccan activist who has been very involved in the February 20 movement since early 2011. His 40-minute documentary, Makhzen and Me, which shows the counter-attack by the Moroccan authorities as a response to the popular uprising, will be featured at the festival. Last week, he wrote the following message on his facebook page, which speaks louder than anything we may add:
This festival is particularly meaningful for me to go to because I have had enough of self-censoring myself on the Western Sahara issue. The refugees I will be working with are refugees because my country, Morocco, is occupying their land. This is why it is particularly symbolic that I am working with Guy Davidi, an Israeli who supports the Palestinian cause. I always hope more Israelis take action to support Palestinians, but how can I not expect the same from myself regarding Western Saharans? It’s almost the same issue: an occupier and an occupied, a settler-population and a refugee population… I was brainwashed for years to believe the Western Sahara was Moroccan, but says who? King Hassan II? Our state-owned TV channels? Our government-controlled history textbooks?
I will no longer be an accomplice, through silence, with the Moroccan regime of occupation of the Western Sahara. From here on, I will be loyal and consistent to my belief in democracy, human rights and equality for all. I will condemn the occupation and I will be a voice within Moroccan society that will choose to no longer be silent nor afraid. #FreeWesternSahara
September 16th, 2013
These days everybody is talking a possible US strike on Syria. Politicians, media and public opinion are divided between the “yes-or-no to intervention” parties.
Yet, by doing so, we are framing Syria in the wrong way. We tend to treat Syria as a matter of foreign intervention, as a geopolitical game between super-powers. This way we forget that, more than two years ago, peaceful demonstrations started in Syria as a civil society movement led by Syrians, asking for reforms, freedom and dignity. Today, the civic movement that took to Syrians to the streets in 2011 remains viable, yet highly neglected by the geopolitical conversations and the focus on militarization that tend to ignore the grassroots movement on the ground.
Syria Untold is a project which Syrian journalists, activists and designers from inside and outside the country have been incubating for more than one year.
Our aim has been to frame information on Syria within its historical, political and social context, and to focus on Syrian civil society and the way it has been coping with the increasing violence and militarization of the conflict by producing actions of creative resistance, civil disobedience and self-management.
Given the present situation, it is more key than ever to take a close look at this civil society component which has been neglected by politicians and the media, therefore by the international public opinion shaped by the latter.
Syria Untold aims to provides an overlook of the current development in the Syrian civic movement and a comprehensive overview of its evolution, offering a comprehensive archive of material and an overview of the creators and groups working in the field. We aim to make non-violent, civil society building more visible and to frame it within a very complex picture.
Syria Untold brings you independent voices, stories from the ground, personal accounts of daily resistance. We focus on everything about Syrian civil society whose crucial importance has been lost in the polarization created by the “yes” or “no” debates, and we highlight the importance of grassroots projects and civil disobedience against all forms of extremism and violence.
Our site combines content aggregation from social media and information collected and shared by grassroots activists with original content produced by our team on the ground in Syria, both in English and in Arabic.
We do hope that you will find our project useful; yet, as it is a work-in-progress we would be happy to get your feedback and suggestions about how it could be improved along the way. We want to welcome journalists, human rights organizations and any groups and individuals interested in Syria to use our contents and materials. Everything we publish is licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for its use and re-distribution as long as the authors and sources are properly quoted.
Please help us share Syria Untold`s stories with the world; help us bring Syrian civil society back at the centre of the international debate on Syria.
With our best wishes
The Syria Untold team
Our website: http://syriauntold.com/en
March 24th, 2013
After an inspiring conversation with some activists from the town of Kafranbel today, I decided that as soon as I can go back to Syria I will visit this town and meet its amazing people, who have become a symbol of resistance against tyranny with their creativity and weekly banners.
So I decided to post this message on twitter:
Writing this made me think about all the other things I want to do once I can finally go back to Syria. I actually visualized how it will be, and it felt great after two years of loss, grief and nostalgia. So I decided to ask a few friends to answer that same question: What will you do when you go back to Syria? And this is how the #whenIgobacktoSyria hashtag started.
Two hours later there were hundreds of messages by Syrians living abroad and people who had visited Syria and wished to go back. These are two of my favorite (Syrian humor : ))
Yes, Syrians put ketchup on pizza, sorry but it´s true! Many of the tweets refer to food (Syrians crave their hommos and shawarma and kusa mehshi), the smell of jasmin, the sound of the Adan (call to prayer) and the streets of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo…
Other tweets honor the martyrs and thank those fighting for freedom:
Others refer to the work Syrian expatriates will do in re-building Syria after the regime is overthrown:
And then, Salim Idriss, Chief of the Free Syrian Army, tweeted:
Not only Syrians are longing to go back. Journalist Daniel Neep tweeted:
I´m inspired by all the comments, memories and ideas. Let´s keep working to make this happen. Thanks!! And Free Syria.
November 1st, 2012
Egyptian demonstrators hold a banner reading "From Tahrir to Sol, democracy for all"
My contribution to the International Conference on Non-Violence.
Tunisia, 1-3 November 2012:
Reactions to the Arab Spring and the way strategic powers have tried to profit from changes in the region do not leave much room for trust in governmental support. When we mobilize as citizens, whether it is in Egypt, Syria, Spain or the US, we are questioning the roots of power systems and structures, so it is not very realistic to expect we can go to those same systems and structures for support and solidarity.
We should expect to count on citizen support and solidarity. We have shared this solidarity in a very exciting way, since mobilizations that started in Tunisia spread to other MENA countries and then, with different connotations, to Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. All these movements shared the same hunger for change, for new forms of representation, for a re-definition of the concept “citizenship”.
The differences between demonstrating in a democratic country such as Spain and in openly repressive countries such as Syria or Iran are obvious, and we can all see the repercusions in real-life time. We do share, however, a need for change, a will for change led by young people who do not feel represented by old systems and structures. This can be seen through the new narrative citizens are creating using new media within a context of growing distrust of traditional media.
Even though the common ground is clear and citizen solidarity has helped ignite change throughout the region and the rest of the world, over the last months we have witnessed attempts (media, political) to divide us, to highlight what separates us instead of our bonds and shared values. Some of these attempts to divide us have succeeded.
Syrian activists have seen with great sadness and disappointment how our legitimate reivindications of freedom and justice have been undermined by geostrategic analysis that disregard the repression we have been facing for decades. We have been shocked to discover a so-called “anti-imperialist” discourse that distinguishes between people who have the right to rise against oppression and those who don´t.
Syria has gone from being an information black hole to becoming number one Youtube-video producer in the region. By recording and sharing with the world the events that they are witnessing, Syrians are risking their lives to send an SOS message that no one seems to be listening to, including the ones who have stood against oppression in other cases of human rights abuses. They say the Syrian revolution has gotten contaminated by international interests. Is this our fault? Do Syrians have to deal not only with being bombed, tortured, arrested, displaced, humiliated? Do we also have to be held responsible for attempts by others to profit from our suffering?
Since March 2011 Syrians have been teaching the world a lesson of non-violence. Even though this movement was faced with crackdown by the government and there is now an armed rebellion that emerged months after the beginning of the revolution, non-violence movements and initiatives continue to exist in Syria, facing unprecedented brutality. There are countless examples, the “Stop the killing” movement is just one of them:
Syrian activist Rima Dali holding a "Stop the killing" banner in Damascus
The non-violence movement will continue to lose ground as mainstream media and political agendas focus on geostrategic and military aspects and undermine many Syrian voices on the ground. Syrian voices, MENA citizens´voices, citizen voices all over the world are now easier to reach than they ever were, and yet many continue to look for intermediaries and geostrategic analysis that disregard the Syrian context and dynamics.
1. Let´s listen to citizen voices. To different, diverse citizen voices. Especially to young citizens who are leading movements and changes that the older generations did not see possible. Here are just a few examples of sites and platforms I follow, but there are countless others:
Image from the group of art designers "Syrian people know their way"
2. Let´s silence governments who silence citizens. Governments who kill, torture and silence journalists are not reliable. Let´s not go to them for quotes and insights on how to solve the problems that they created.
3. Language is sensitive. Language contributes to configuring and (de)legitimizing our movements
- Dictator vs. president
- Thugs / Mafia vs. police / authorities
- Assad´s army vs. security forces
- Neo-liberal vs. anti-imperialist
- Human rights abuses vs. sectarianism and hatred
- Revolution vs. civil war
4. Let´s build our own networks
The Internet allows for bonds and interaction that were very difficult until very recently. Let´s use all the tools at our disposal to work together and join efforts. Coordination and citizen bonds have been crucial for revolutions to spread the way they did during 2011.
5. Let´s focus on the universal values our movements stand up for: freedom of expression, social justice, women´s rights, struggle against corruption, non-violence. Let´s not fall into geostrategic traps, let´s run away from the view of the world “in two blocks” (“imperalist” vs. “anti-imperialist”) which does not adjust to our complex and diverse realities. Human rights do not belong to any particular people, group or country, and those who abuse human rights do not either.
October 11th, 2012
It´s my birthday and I have the same birthday wish I´ve had all my life: A Free Syria.
Since it seems like this may take a while, I´ve come up with a smaller birthday wish: To collect money and send it to Syria at these extremely difficult times. To use my birthday to start my own fundraising for Syria.
I have friends in the country, people I trust they will make sure the money reaches whoever really needs it. I also have friends in the rest of the world who stand in solidarity with Syria and would love to help. So what can I do? I can mediate between you guys. Here´s how this works:
- Today I opened an account on Triodos Bank (sustainable banking) so that you can make your donation easily. The only purpose of this account is this fundraising: This is the number:
Account: 1491 0001 25 2038245011
IBAN: ES 211491 0001 25 2038245011
- On Monday, October 15, I´ll check the account and will transfer the money to different friends who live in Syria. They will make sure this reaches people in their communities, people who are in real need in Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and the rest of the country. If you prefer to make your donation to my friends directly, you can contact me individually and I will give you my friends´ account numbers. However, since their situation is quite unstable and unpredictable I think it´s safer this way.
- Once they receive the money I will write another post to keep you updated on where it goes.
How does this sound? So yalla, make your donation and make my day!
Love. – And Free Syria.
If you have any problem with the account please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
August 25th, 2012
Every time I feel pessimistic and overwhelmed by the suffering in Syria, I talk to friends and family who actually live there and I get the most amazing energy from them. They are stronger, braver, more generous, positive and optimistic than anyone I have ever met. Today someone I really love wrote something so beautiful that I have translated it for English readers. Enjoy:
We have become like travellers… with our suitcases always ready. We have learnt what are the things that we really need and we have given the rest away. Since we feel death coming from every corner we don´t keep extra food or money. We share it. We consume less. We waste less. We even walk more to avoid wasting oil, we´re becoming friends of nature. : )
Our relationship with each other has improved, we don´t worry about things we used to worry about before.
I offer my house to others and I may have to leave it any minute, so I keep it clean and neat.
I understand now why some people choose a life of travelling, because travelling makes you see your goals in life more clearly. It makes the world smaller in your eyes, and keeps you closer to God. We´ve learnt the hard way, it´s true, but we finally woke up to what we didn´t see before. We are suffering oppression and poverty, but we´re trying to change the world.
Wait for us, we are the Syrian people.
أصبحنا كالمسافرين والرحالة
بما أن أشيائنا في الحقائب دوماً ….علمنا ماهو الضروري منها ووزعنا الباقي…
وبما أننا نشعر بالموت قادم من كل اتجاه …… لا نبقي فائض الطعام و النقود ….إلا و نتشارك بها…
استهلاكنا لكل شئ أقل …… نفاياتنا أقل
حتى أننا نمشي أكثر لنوفر البنزين …. اصبحنا أصدقاء للبيئة
علاقتنا مع بعضنا تحسنت …….. أمور الآخرة هي ما تهم الآن
حتى أن منزلي
أصبح أنظف ….
…. لأني قد أتركه لغيري وأغادر في أية لحظة
الآن فهمت لماذا اختار بعض الأشخاص حياة الترحال، فهي توضح هدفك في الحياة ، تصغر الدنيا في عينبك
و الأهم تقربك من الله
صحيح أننا تعلمنا بالطريقة الصعبة و لكن الله ايقظنا لأمور لم نكن نعيها من قبل ……
لكننا نحس الآن بالمظلوم والفقير
إن الله يدربنا و يصطفينا لتغيير العالم
انتظرونا نحن السوريون …..
May 30th, 2012
Have you heard about Rotation Curation? It is the process of rotating the spokesperson on a social media account. It was originated in December 2011, when a project called Curators of Sweden was launched, handing the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week. Each person managing the account contributed to manifesting Swedish diversity through their own voice and personality.
I loved this idea when I first heard about it and wished it would spread to different countries and contexts. Now this initiative has reached Syrians and is my turn to manage the collective account @TweetweekSyria. Starting on June 1st, Syrian curators will take turns in managing it, I will be responsible for that during the first week, June 1-7.
After more than a year since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, my personal Twitter account has become mainly devoted to news coming from Syria, where there hasn´t been a single day without a story of tragic death and a story of inspiring courage.
I lived in Damascus in the 80s. I have only returned for vacations since then, but I haven´t forgotten how I went to school dressed in the military uniform children used to wear until very recently. I haven´t forgotten the chants we repeated to honor the leader whom we were taught to view as immortal. I haven´t forgotten the silence and the whispering of adults when children where around. And I will not forget the first time I wrote about Syria, after years writing about everything else and carefully avoiding my father´s country. My country, too. I still have a hard time understanding where Syrians found the courage to break a wall of fear and silence that it took decades to build. My admiration for these people does not fit in a million tweets.
This week the @tweetweeksyria account will be tweeting in Arabic, English and Spanish, probably retweeting in some other (Romanic) languages. Please helps us spread the word about Syrian news so that we can keep attracting more people to the Syrian struggle, which is about freedom, justice and dignity, universal values that we should all defend together. I hope we will soon get to tweet these three words: “Syria is free”.
Meanwhile, here´s the first tweet I will be publishing from the tweetweeksyria account in a few hours:
We will never forget you, Bassel. #Syria #FreeSyria
(From the TweetWeekSyria blog)
Why Tweet Week Syria? #RotationCuration is a very democratic experience at its heart. There might be many reasons why such a program is important to Syrians and Syria in general, but the most important is that since Syrians are at the verge of drastic political and social change, we believe that offering a platform to which many people pay attention (Syrian and global citizens) and many Syrians can use to cast their voices and speak their ideas will hopefully be of tremendous value, through social media channels that are becoming mainstream.
If you’re Syrian and have anything that you’d like to say, or know of anyone who’s ideas you want to be heard, click on Nominate a Curator and submit a nominee.
May 9th, 2012
The winners of the Prix Ars Electronica 2012 have been announced : ) You can see the full list of Golden Nicas, Awards of Distinction and Honorary Mentions here. On the Digital Communities category, which focuses on the social and artistic impact of the Internet technology, the winners are:
Golden Nica to…
- Syrian people know their way, a digital community of young Syrian digital artists, designers and activists that aim to both gather and provide inspiration for the Syrian struggle for freedom.
Awards of Distinction:
- Dark Glasses.Portrait, a Chinese campaign focusing on the arrest of blind civil rights activist Cheng Guancheng that aims to raise awareness about freedom of expression in the country.
When the organizers of the Ars Electronica festival contacted me to ask if I would like to be a jury member for the Prix Ars Electronica, I couldn´t imagine it would turn out to be such an enriching experience. I had already participated on a panel called “Public Square Squared: how social fabric is weaving a new era” at the AEC festival a few months earlier, but it was my first time as a jury member. I joined organizers Ingrid Fisher, Romana Leopoldsecer and fellow jury members Thomas Schildhauer, Wolfgang Blau, Yan Liu and Peter Kuthan, in the beautiful city of Linz for discussions on the projects that had applied in the Digital Communities category. We spent four days going through more than one hundred projects, most of them inspiring, some of them outstanding. Deciding the winners was hard, since all of the projects were in one way or another valuable contributions to their communities.
Photos of people who joined the "Dark glasses" campaign in solidarity with blind lawyer Cheng Guancheng, arrested by the Chinese government
During the four days of readings and discussions we took into consideration the impact of the award in the sustainability and scalability of the projects. We also regarded mobile accessibility of the tools and platforms within the growing trend of mobile users worldwide. We looked for innovation, both artistic and technological, and we analyzed each of the projects in relation to their social, political and economic context, since creativity and innovation face more challenges in highly repressive or underdeveloped contexts. Special consideration was given to open source projects and to bottom-up projects emerging from grassroots initiatives and responding to existing local needs.
Image of the touch screen based camera control interface Elphelvision, by Apertus Open Source Cinema
It was not easy, but by noon April 22 we had decided the winners. All of the awards recognized the value of freedom in the projects, one of them through an open source hardware/software initiative that is also a platform for film-makers, creative industry professionals, artists and enthusiasts supporting each other and advocating freedom: Apertus Open Source Cinema. The other awards were given to projects that represent the power of community and the citizen struggle for freedom of expression: The “Dark Glasses Portrait” from China and “The Syrian people know their way” from Syria.
The winners of the Golden Nica do not want the jury members to share their names or identities. “The Syrian people know their way” community has contributors who live in Syria and also Syrians living abroad. One of their digital artists was recently arrested in Damascus for his activism and there are no news on his whereabouts. In words of one his friends:
“He never got the chance to know that we won. He never got a chance to know that his designs are looked at from all over the world while he sits down there in the dark”
This award recognizes the work, courage and creativity of Syrian activists in their struggle for freedom, and is also a symbolic recognition of citizen creativity in repressive contexts such as the Middle East and North Africa.
Congratulations to the winners and to the 12 projects that received honorary mentions:
This post is dedicated to the Syrian people. To all those killed, arrested, tortured and harrassed for demanding freedom, justice and dignity. And very especially to Razan Ghazzawi and the staff of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Join the Free the Freedom of Expression campaign on facebook to demand their release and that of all political prisoners.