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Monday, June 06, 2005

 

Student activists meet in Tirana

From The Guardian:

Razi Nurullayev was seized by the Azerbaijani police three weeks ago near his home in Baku, dragged away and jailed for five days for being a democratic nuisance. A week earlier, on a main street in Minsk, Yauhen Afnagel and 100 other young Belarus democracy guerrillas staged a political stunt. They demonstrated for half an hour, holding pictures of a "disappeared" opposition politician and then ran for cover before President Alexander Lukashenko's police could arrest them.

In Uzbekistan, meanwhile, a few dozen Tashkent students switched their lights off together in a synchronised show of defiance last week - a small gesture of protest, but risky and daring given the murderous regime of President Islam Karimov; and perhaps the start of something bigger.

The activists involved in all three incidents linked up in Albania yesterday to form a transnational network of young democracy fighters - a student international aimed at toppling dictators.

The activists danced, drank and then got up in the morning for earnest arguments about "knowledge proliferation", "flash mobs", Foucault, the value of logos and corporate branding, political marketing, the meaning of politics and how to maximise subversive impact.

"We mocked the power as much as possible," said Alina Shpak from Kiev, explaining her Pora movement's triumph in unseating the old Kuchma regime in last winter's Orange Revolution. "You can't be afraid of someone you're laughing at."

Young veterans and strategists of the Orange, Rose and Cedar revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon, as well as of the anti-Milosevic uprising, were joined in Tirana by Albanian youngsters organised to fight everything from illegal Italian waste dumping to corruption and violence against women. Alongside them were student leaders hoping to emulate the success of their peers against the daunting dictatorships in Belarus, Azerbaijan and in Uzbekistan, where President Karimov has just demonstrated his ruthlessness by massacring hundreds.

"We all consider your chains our own," declared the Albanian youth leader, Erion Veliaj, 25. "We hope you all reach a non-genetically modified democracy."

Their tools are the internet chatroom and the text message, the logo and brand recognition, the eye-catching flyer and pithy sloganeering. These outfits are non-hierarchical, decentralised, nominally leaderless and organised with militaristic precision.

"Our idea was to use corporate branding in politics," said Mr Marovic of Serbia's Otpor, which has become the model for parallel movements across the region.

"The movement has to have a marketing department. We took Coca-Cola as our model."

As well as acting as an ambassador, training revolutionaries in other countries, he is also developing a computer game - A Force More Powerful -with programmers in the US. You win by outwitting and toppling regimes through techniques of non-violent guerrilla activism.

Controversy has raged over the precise role of the west, and the US in particular, in financing and directing the revolutionaries for "regime change".

While the Serbs and the Ukrainians, for example, benefited from US support and money, the Uzbeks and Azerbaijanis are bitter about the lack of American backing in the face of formidable repression. "The US was pushing for regime change and was ready to invest millions of dollars," Mr Marovic said of the Serbian scenario. "The funds were there."

Others accused Washington of double standards for singling out Belarus and the regime of Alexander Lukashenko as a target for overthrowing while tolerating the Karimov and Aliyev regimes in Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan because the first is useful to the US military in Afghanistan and the second is crucial to American oil interests in the Caspian basin.

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