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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Category Archives: central asia

On You Tube you can find several short scenes for example of the opening of Barcamp Bishkek, photo’s and reports of bloggers.

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About 200 bloggers, activists, technologists and journalists of around the world – most of them contributors to Global Voices Online – travelled to Budapest the last weekend of June.

The GV Citizen Media Summit 2008 brought them together for two days of public discussions and workshops. It was a wonderful, energetic, diverse and fascinating gathering. Light-hearted in a serious way. Optimistic and creative despite difficulties and uncertainties. Lots of stories, videos and more can be found via on the Global Voices pages.

Some remarks:

– in closed societies role of diaspora – especially on line – becomes even more important

– who needs press freedom in booming economies, like Singapore? So what to do when your society is not interested in politics, freedom of expression or activism in general?

– Often torturers of bloggers do not have a clue how the internet works. In one example (Morocco) their leading question was: ‘why did you invent Facebook.com’? Comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

For a good impression of the discussions and the atmosphere have a look at ‘The right to blog‘ (pdf), an excellent article of Evgeny Morozov. I also recommend the blogs of the co founders of Global Voices Online; Ethan Zuckerman about collective decision making, the day after the summit; and Rebecca MacKinnon on ideas related to global participatory media.

The Summit 2008 was realized by Georgia, Solana, Sami and David.

For dessert: some really nice photo’s (203) made by Neha Viswanathan.

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Choose the work you want, as long as you do not want to become a journalist. In Russia many parents are likely to advise their children likewise. The prospects of the Russian media are gloomy. This becomes clear at the Global Forum for Media Development. The GFMD describes itself as ‘a network of media assistance organizations around the world, promoting a collaborative effort by practitioners and researchers to develop tools to measure the impact of media programs’.

One of the speakers at the GFMD regional meeting on Central Asia (Paris, 17-19 April) is Maria Eismont, an independent media expert from Russia. She begins her talk with stating the rather provocative question: `Why have the millions of dollars spent on Russian media assistance resulted in such disappointing state of the press?’

Continue reading this article ›

Steppe Magazine contains wonderful photography and is beautiful designed. On top of that, the well written articles are an intelligent sharp selection of the current affairs in Central Asia. Last week I received the winter issue, and again it was a great read. It will be no surprise that I especially can recommend ‘Steppe Blog Guide‘, this article gives a nice and clear overview of the blogging scene in Central Asia.

Also on the web pages of the network of weblogs NewEurasia, you can find the online Central Asia Blog guide, a fine list of useful, relevant and lively weblogs.

For your agenda: Hivos workshop at the PicNic conference
Wednesday 26th of September, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, 14.00-16.00 hr

In Europe we take free access to the web, IP telephony like Skype and e-mail very much for granted. You get on line and expect it to be there and working. Yet, in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and China access to the internet is getting more and more restricted as the governments build firewalls around content they don’t approve of.

The technology to empower the citizen, but also to block access, is getting moresophisticated by the month. Is the internet in danger of becoming much less open, transparent and therefore useful? Main questions for this workshop are: how to guard freedom of expression on line? How to support (citizen) journalists reporting and publishing their opinions without fear of censorship or persecution? Are there ways of balancing the good and evil aspects of the web, or is it just a reflection of society in general?

With among others:
Jonathan Marks, consultant/researcher social media (criticaldistance.blogspot.com)
Evgeny Morozov, new media director Transitions OnLine (www.tol.org)
Bektour Iskender, director youth portal Kloop in Kyrgystan (www.kloop.kg)
Eefje Blankevoort, Webcamstories from China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tunesia (www.prospektor.nl)
Jeroen de Kloet, University of Amsterdam, about China and the Olympic Games (home.tiscali.nl/jeroendekloet)
Sami Ben Gharbia, coordinator bloggers community Global Voices OnLine (globalvoicesonline.org)

Entrance is free. You only need to register at:
picnicnetwork.org

No wonder internet is still a medium for the happy, and more often rich, few in Kazakhstan. Only 4 % of the Kazakhs is wired, due to the high costs. An dial-up plan costs the Kazakh customer 82 euro a month. The low bandwidth and the average monthly salary of 292 euros (January 2007) explains why so few are interested.

It is also possible to get an unlimited ADSL connection. Of course, everything is possible as long as you pay. The fee for unlimited traffic at 2048 kbps (kilobit per second), including VAT, amounts to more than 3,700 euros a month. For a big part, thanks to monopolist Kazakh Telecom.

To get the picture clear: in Amsterdam I pay about 70 euros a month for an ADSL connection with speed of about 5400 kbps. Even I – living in a comfortable double income household without kids – can not afford a Kazakh ADSL connection.

You can find these figures in  ‘Internet Governance in Kazakhstan’, a recommendable article from Rachid Nougmanov published in the recent OCSE report ‘Governing the internet‘ (July 2007)

We climb the rock in the late afternoon. We do not meet many other visitors, besides some groups of youngsters (Koreans?) and elderly people. The climb is done by stairs and a bit of not too serious rock climbing. Depending on one’s physical condition, one can reach the top in roughly twenty minutes. The view was a bit disappointing, also because it was a little hazy. Water, soft drinks and a small assortment of Islamic souvenirs can be bought at the top. The mosque is one of the tiniest you can imagine, eight people at the most will fit in. A sweaty group of men comes out, catching air and buying water.

It is said the mayor of Osh wants to build a ski lift on Solomon’s Rock. A lift could bring more people to the top in an easy way. It is said that Central Asian muslims consider visiting this rock three times, equal to the hadj to Mecca. Of course such a lift will give an economical upheaval to the city: more visitors and tourists will visit the place, which means: jobs and money for which the region is in dire need.

People opposed to the plan say there is much vagueness about the safety. The rock is said to be built on a sandy foundation. What happens if the lift brings up, as planned, 300 people every 5 minutes? Can the rock hold this kind of weight and movement? Recently the local government held a press conference about this issue, but they spilt not a word about safety precautions or environmental issues. They do not have any feasibility reports; it seems the authorities of Osh have not yet studied the consequences of their plans very well. Another contra argument are the ancient inscriptions in the rock, they should be preserved. Due to the rock the inhabitants of Osh know their city is more then 3000 years old.

The oppositionists say the rock could be on the Unesco World Heritage list, but of course the mayor will not put much of an effort into this because then it will be impossible to build a lift to the top. And finally: rumours go the Islamic Development Bank is behind the plan.

In a nutshell this heated discussion about the plans for a lift shows some of Osh’s main troubles. Firstly people do not trust the authorities and expect them to be corrupt. Secondly there is fear for the rising influence of religion. Although the majority of the people are Kyrgyz, the people in power seem to all have the Russian ethnicity. Serious ethnic clashes occurred here and in nearby Uzgen in 1990.

A small story like this brings together commercial, environmental, ethnic and religious elements. And we know what happens what can happen when people start locking themselves in their own ethnic and or religious niches. Distrust and hostility can grow, and one group will wish to rule the other. Whether or not this lift will ever be built, is not the point. It is the discussion about this lift that shows, as the temperature of the tolerance in the city of Osh.

To be continued