Brazil: Plane Carrying 7 Indigenous People Disappear In Amazon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

A plane carrying seven indigenous people disappeared in the Amazon rainforest, but few in Brazil are talking about it

Area where the plane disappeared in Amapá, northern Brazil | Image: Reproduction/Google Maps

On December 2nd, a small plane took off around Matawaré village, deep in the Amazon rainforest, in the northern state of Amapá. On board was an indigenous woman of the Akuriyó group, her son-in-law, and a family of the Tiriyó group – a teacher, his wife, and three small children. The pilot was Jeziel Barbosa de Moura, 61, who is experienced in the region.

The region’s indigenous people frequently fly from the most remote villages to the town of Laranjal do Jari, located 265 km away from the state capital, Macapá (the journey by car from one to the other takes around four hours). A one-hour chartered flight costs around 3000 Brazilian reais (around 770 USD).

Twenty-five minutes after takeoff, Jeziel sent a radio message saying that he needed to make an emergency landing. Radar contact with the plane was lost after that. According to information from the news outlet G1, he was flying clandestinely without having previously disclosed a flight plan.

Fifteen days after the plane went missing, the Brazilian Air Force announced they were suspending searches for survivors. The mission amounted to 128 hours of flight in total. Two planes and a helicopter searched an area of 12,000 km2, roughly equivalent to 12,000 football pitches. However, the thick forest made the work difficult.

According to state news agency Agência Brasil, friends of the pilot and indigenous people from four groups – Apalai, Akuriyó, Tiriyó and Waiana – continued the search on their own, on the ground, until a month after the disappeareance, in January 2. The Association of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Amapá State and Northern Pará published a message condemning the Air Force’s decision to suspend the search.

The group recalled that the improvement of landing strips for indigenous communities is a longstanding issue. This negligence could have hindered rescue searches. G1 reports that there are 49 landing strips yet to be brought up to official standards in indigenous territories across Brazil, according to the Federal Prosecution’s Office. In Amapá state alone, “there are 17 irregular strips, which are used for the transport of health and education professionals, and indigenous people themselves”.

This case, although noted by some national websites and newspapers, has not made to the main headlines in Brazil. Eight people disappeared in the world’s largest rainforest and most of the country has not even heard about it.

The families

G1, a large mainstream online news site in Brazil that has been following the case, talked to relatives of passengers and the pilot. All of them said they were in “despair” and that they were waiting for help from the Army to search for the disappeared in the thick forest. The fear is heightened because it is a race against time.

The pilot’s daughter, Flávia Moura, said:

My father knows the region, he has been flying for a long time, so we know that he tried to land somewhere, but that in the forest it is difficult to find. We know the difficulty of air rescue, but we want to find him, and so we gathered some miners and indigenous friends of my father, who are in the forest. But we want help from the Army which is prepared for this.

Sataraki Akuriyó, son of the oldest passenger on board told the website:

My mother I won’t see again, and so I wanted to find at least the plane or her body. Since they fell I have been suffering a lot.

Silence

On the same day the Air Forced announced the end of the searches, then president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1st, declared his intention to revise the demarcation of the indigenous reserve Raposa Terra do Sol, so that it can be exploited it in a “rational way”.

Within the reserve’s 1.7 million hectares, there are around 17,000 indigenous people from five groups – Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona. In an article, lawyer Lucio Augusto Villela da Costa recalled that the area is “known for being rich in minerals such as tin, diamonds, gold, niobium, zinc, caulim, amethyst, copper, diatomite, barytes, molybdenum, titanium, limestone, as well as having the second largest reserve of uranium on the planet.”

The idea of exploiting the lands, according to specialists, is “unconstitutional” under Brazilian law. His plan would go against the article of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution which provides the right for indigenous people to “maintain lands, way of life, and traditions”.

The website De Olho nos Ruralistas (“eye on the ruralists”, in English) which reports on conflicts over land and politics in Brazil, interviewed the anthropologist Denise Fajardo, researcher at the Institute for Research and Training in Indigenous Education, about the case of the disappeared plane. For her, the current political approach and the way that the case has been reported are not isolated:

The matter is not being discussed because the lives of indigenous people is not important at the moment, we are living through an anti-indigenous time and they are considered to be an obstacle to the country’s development. We can draw parallels even with the children lost in a cave in Thailand, which has had more attention from the press.

She added that indigenous people from the region often leave their villages to deal with personal matters and that there they feel isolated.

The Tumucumaque National Park is a small area which belongs to them and was where the state put them, or rather where the state isolated them. The region is difficult to access and no means of transport are provided to this population, who stay confined there to the village.

The village Mataware, where the disappeared plane left from, is only accessible bycanoe or plane. In the night of 17 December, another plane carrying indigenous passengers had an accident in the Amazon. This time, near the border with Peru. The three passengers were rescued alive by the Air Force.

How preserving folktales and legends help raise environment awareness in the Mekong

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

How preserving folktales and legends help raise environment awareness in the Mekong

The Mekong Basin. Photo from the website of The People’s Stories project. Used with permission

In 2014, several indigenous communities in the Mekong started recording their stories and legends with the help of a group of researchers who are exploring how these narratives can help exposing the destructive impact of large-scale projects in the region.

The Mekong is one of Asia’s great river systems which flows through six countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is rich in biodiversity and a vital source of livelihood for millions of farmers and fisherfolk.

In recent years, several large-scale projects such as hydropower dams have displaced residents while threatening the river basin’s ecosystem. Despite protests, the construction of dams has continued, especially in Laos and Thailand.

In partnership with Mekong Watch, a Japan-based group advocating sustainable development in the region, several community elders in the Mekong began recording some of their stories and legends in 2014 that revolve around nature. Mekong Watch believes that these stories “have played an important role in protecting nature by avoiding the over-exploitation of natural resources.”

Mekong Watch asserts that part of the commons that need to be protected are not just natural resources but also “intangible heritages” that can be shared and accessed by the local community. Toshiyuki Doi, senior adviser of Mekong watch, adds:

People’s stories should be regarded, recognized, and respected as Mekong’s commons, especially these days when they are losing their place in local communities to more modern media, and are not passed on to next generations.

Areas in the Mekong where researchers conducted fieldwork. 1. Kmhmu’ in northern and central Laos; 2. Siphandon in southern Laos; 3. Akha in northern Thailand; 4. Thai So and Isan in northeastern Thailand; 5. Bunong in northeastern Cambodia. Used with permission.

The group was able to collect a total of 102 stories in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Stories were recorded, transcribed, and translated into the national languages of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia before an English version was made. Mekong Watch published these stories as pamphlets in both printed and digital formats, and used them during environment workshops they conducted at the communities.

Since late 2016, we have used people’s stories to provide environmental education to children in rural Laos and Thailand. We have hosted workshops in schools and local communities to guide children, and sometimes adults, to collect stories from elderly people, learn from the stories, and turn them into reading materials.

An example of a workshop involves the retelling of the story of ‘The Owl and the Deer ’from Kmhmu’ people in central and northern Laos. The story is about an owl who lost his ability to see during the day after cheating a deer.

During a workshop, young participants are asked: “What kinds of animals appear in the story?”, “Can you see these animals in your village?”, and “If there are fewer of these animals in your village than before, why do you think this has happened?”

After this, participants are encouraged to connect the story to the deterioration of the environment in their communities.

In Champasak Province, south Laos, the legend of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and the Sida bird is used to highlight how a dam project is disrupting the seasonal migration of Mekong River fisheries.

Another story also from southern Laos is instructive on the value of resource management:

The story about the Rhino Head was recorded on November 16, 2014, at the Songkram River bank in northeast Thailand. The narrator was Mun Kimprasert, aged 68. Photo by Mekong Watch, used with permission.

Once, a soldier stepped into a spirit forest. He discovered a lot of tobacco leaves there and collected them. However, when trying to leave the forest, he could not find an exit. It was because he took more tobacco leaves than he could possibly consume for himself. No matter how hard he searched, he could not find a way out of the forest. Realizing what might have been the problem, he finally decided to return the tobacco leaves to the forest. The moment he dropped them on the ground, he was able to see an exit in front of him.

In northern Thailand, a story by the Akha people about the origin of the swingteaches self-sacrifice through a heroic episode of a brother and a sister who put the world in order.

In northeast Thailand, a folktale about Ta Sorn narrated by Tongsin Tanakanya promotes unity among neighbors in a farming community. Another story recalls how the hunting of a rhinoceros led to the formation of salt trading in this part of the country.

In Bunong, located in northeast Cambodia, there are stories about rituals to fix bad marriages and planting and harvest ceremonies narrated by Khoeuk Keosineam. There is also the legend of the elephant as retold by Chhot Pich which reveals how villagers who once poisoned a river were punished by the gods and turned into elephants. It explains why elephants were comfortable living with humans but, after several generations, they forgot their origins and went to live in the forest.

Hea Phoeun from the Laoka Village, Senmonorom, Mondulkiri Province in Cambodia shares a village ritual on how to fix an ‘unfit’ marriage. Photo by Mekong Watch, used with permission.

For Mekong Watch and the threatened communities in the region, preserving these stories is integral in the campaign to resist projects that would displace thousands of people living in the Mekong:

These stories can help form their identity as a community member and identify with the environment. By means of stories, the communities search for ways to accommodate and/or resist changes that are taking place in the Mekong river basin.

Russia: U.S. Tech Giants Greed Helping To Kill & Imprison Dissent Voices

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

New internet laws in Russia — and US tech giants’ acquiescence — spell trouble for dissenting voices

Rally against online censorship in Kaliningrad, Russia. Sign reads: “Respect the Russian constitution.” Photo by Alexandr Podgorchuk, Klops.ru. (CC BY 4.0)

A 2017 law regulating online activity and anonymous speech went into effect in Russia at the beginning of this month.

The law “on information and information technology” stipulates what content search providers are legally allowed to show. Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor, known as the “censorship ministry”) already maintains a registry of banned websites, created in 2012. The list of banned sites range from online gambling to extremist material and information on the use of narcotics. Search engines are now prohibited from showing these sites in their search results.

To facilitate the implementation of the registry, Russian agencies created the Federal State Information System to act as a bridge between the registry and search providers. These search providers are now legally mandated to connect to this system through an API so that banned websites will automatically be filtered out. Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine has connected to the API, but Google has so far not compliedwith these new requirements, which may leave it subject to a petty fine (by Google’s standards) of up to 700,000 rubles, or about USD $10,000.

The law also dictates when and how a user can anonymously use the internet, such as through VPN (Virtual Private Networks) software that allows users to mask the origin of their traffic through servers in other countries, thereby avoiding locally-based content restrictions and censorship.

Google has been censoring search results in Russia on the basis of local laws for quite some time. Links to popular Russian torrent sites disappeared over a year ago from both Yandex and Google as Roskomnadzor deemed the sites illegal. As RuNet Echo reported earlier, Google has also been accused of over-complying with censorship requests from the Russian government, such as removing YouTube videos posted by opposition figure Alexey Navalny, and most recently, blocking a controversial rapper’smusic video.

Several years ago, Google moved some of its servers to Russia in accordance with laws compelling companies to store their data on Russian citizens on Russian soil. With some servers now in Russia, the authorities have a more direct means of forcing the company to comply with local law.

Users have long suggested using VPNs to go around these types of measures, but the law’s provisions took this into account as well: VPN providers must block the sites, or face being blocked themselves. But this may be easier said than done. The Russian government banned Telegram earlier this year, but the app is still up and running and being used all across Russia without a VPN. Similar attempts to block VPN services could meet limited success, due to their decentralized infrastructure. This leaves the threat of a fine as the most salient option at Roskomnador’s disposal against VPNs and search providers that do not connect to the new federal system.

While the proposed fine may seem paltry from the perspective of massive tech companies like Google, sources close to Russian tech operations have said that amendments are in the works to drastically increase fines. Rather than capping the fines at 700,000 rubles, the new rules allegedly peg the fines at 1% of the company’s earnings.

While regular internet users don’t have to worry about such excessive fines, they too could soon face other repercussions for anonymously using the internet. Roskomnadzor has spearheaded new rules that require messaging apps to identify users based on their mobile provider. This in effect ties a user’s phone number to their personal identity.

Apps like Signal and Telegram pride themselves on allowing a user to communicate practically anonymously if they so wish. By obligating such apps to verify a user’s identity with their service provider, the Russian government is attempting to crack down on dissent and what they see as criminal activity. Telegram voluntarily registered with Roskomnadzor in 2017, which makes them liable under the new law. Signal does not keep servers in Russia and may run the risk of being banned there for non-compliance with the rule, but it also has a relatively small user base in Russia.

Aleksandr Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, stated plainly:

The ability to communicate anonymously on messaging apps makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes. The government’s current decree is a necessary step in creating a safe communication environment for both citizens and the state as a whole.

In many instances, the ability to post content online anonymously is a major draw for users. Being able to express an opinion or expose injustices without using one’s identity is now more important than ever, seeing as how people have been facing criminal chargers simply for posting memes.

And the consequences of de-anonymizing a user have been seen in various scenarios. After last month’s suicide attack at an FSB (Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency) office, the administrator of an anonymous Telegram channel was arrested for spreading messages glorifying the attacker. It is unknown if Telegram cooperated with law enforcement to expose this user, but if messaging apps start to follow these new rules, more prosecutions can be expected along with an outright drop in dissenting voices online.

These new laws and rules, along with the plethora of other laws regulating the collection of online users’ data, make it difficult to use online platforms to voice discontent in Russia. At a time when both online and public spaces face increasing limitations on expression in Russia, further restrictions should worry Russians and non-Russians alike. Though individual users can take measures to protect their accounts, such as using two-factor verification, there is little they can do to protect themselves from backdoor transmission of their data to the authorities.

South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls out ‘boring man with no plan’ in feminist hit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls out ‘boring man with no plan’ in feminist hit

Nyaruach. Photo by Tania Campbell-Golding, used with permission.

A man named Gatluak is probably feeling a bit embarrassed as South Sudanese singer Nyaruach calls him out for being a “boring man with no plan” in a hit song shared widely since its release in June 2018. Or, rather several Gatluaks — the name is common in South Sudan and “all know a Gatluak [who behaves this way]”, Nyaruach says.

With fierce feminist messaging, Nyaruach’s playful song reclaims a woman’s dignity after getting burned in love. It also reminds the world that vibrant music and art emerge out of Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, one of the largest refugee camps in the region.

Nyaruach, a single mother of two who lives in Kakuma, told Global Voices during a Skype interview:

South Sudanese men fail women with the wrong kind of love. So, my message is to the young girls of the new generation … Love is killing the new generation.

The catchy song and music video, which features some of Nyaruach’s Kakuma co-residents, released in November 2018, caught the world’s attention for its hypnotic Afro-beats and bold lyrics.

Nyaruach@nyaruachmusic

Ladies… there is nothing worse than a boring man, with no plan 😝. Gatluak pick up your phone ?!? 📞😂💥😂 New video and album with my brother @emmanueljal out now. Click on my bio ☝🏾 Naath Album | Gatluak https://www.facebook.com/nyaruachmusic/videos/762482210751137/ 

See Nyaruach’s other Tweets

Gatluak bought her cold drinks, they went on long walks, and then ghosted her! “You refuse to pick my phone after you get what you want. You are such a bastard guy, I just want to say goodbye! May God bless you where you are. You boring man — with no plan. With no plan!” sings Nyaruach.

“Gatluak” is the second release on the album NAATH (“humans” in Nuer) produced by Nyaruach and her brother Emmanuel Jal, a hip-hop artist who gained notoriety after his autobiography, “War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story”, was published in 2009. As children, the siblings were forced apart through extreme circumstances.

The two draw on Nuer traditional folk and love songs and interlace them with addictive dance beats. “We can’t forget our culture”, Nyaruach said. “We have to remind the new generation about the past — and music makes people happy.”

Nyaruach and Jal named the album NAATH after the “glorious Kingdom of Kush” of the Nile as an antidote to images of war and poverty that have characterized South Sudan.

A long road to music

Nyaruach was born in 1983 in Tonj, Sudan and separated from her family at the age of four when her mother died. Her brother Jal was taken as a child by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and forced to fight. He was then taken to Kenya at the age of 11 with the help of a British aid worker who was married to then-senior SPLA commander Riek Machar. There he discovered hip-hop, which he used to encourage peace.

Nyaruach’s life took a different turn. She spent several tumultuous years with relatives and ran away from an abusive father at the age of 10, surviving several arduous escapes from Sudan, first to Ethiopia and later, to Kenya.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, after a 22-year long civil war (1983-2005). The peace did not last long despite major investments in South Sudan’s development. In 2013, armed conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This spread to other areas of the country, gradually turning into an inter-ethnic conflict between the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Dinka, represented by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the Nuer, represented by then-Vice President Riek Machar.

Nyaruach did not reunite with Jal until they met in Nairobi. They collaborated on a song called Gua, or “peace” in the Nuer language. She was 22. The song was a hit in Kenya in 2005 and a breakthrough song for Jal, who went on to become an award-winning musician and peace activist.

Jal also faced criticism for contradicting his role model status with using social media to air divisive views that stoked ethnic tensions when conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013.

In 2015, Nyaruach traveled to South Sudan for a short visit. Upon her return, she spoke out against the violence she witnessed. Pregnant with her second child, she decided to shift to Kakuma, seeking security.

Kakuma Refugee Camp was originally established by the UNHCR in 1992 to host 20,000 Sudanese children and youth known later as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” fleeing violence during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

Today, over 56 percent of the population of Kakuma and neighboring Kalobeyei settlement are from South Sudan. At the end of January 2018, the camps hosted a total of 185,449 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

Nyaruach said that living in a refugee camp is especially hard on women with children.

They give us firewood for a month, it finishes after seven days. We need to eat our meal, we wake up at 4 a.m. to steal. Yes, we have to steal it — and it’s very dangerous. They rape us they can even shoot and kill us. But we can’t report. Who is going to report? We have no voice or authority.

Enduring years of hardship has taken at toll on Nyaruach’s spirit. Reuniting and making music with Jal has felt like salvation. “I have a heart of singing”, says Nyaruach. “Jal taught me how to rhyme.”

‘Woman have no rights’

Nyaruach’s song uplifts women and girls in South Sudan who she says have “no rights, no matter how young you are” in a recent interview with Kenya’s The Star.

South Sudanese women are among the most marginalized, and the conflict has made conditions untenable. More than 80 percent of those who have fled the violence in South Sudan are women and children.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Ba6tDPYlDZl/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=12&wp=722&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoices.org&rp=%2F2018%2F12%2F01%2Fsouth-sudanese-singer-nyaruach-calls-out-boring-man-with-no-plan-in-feminist-hit%2F#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A3753.499999991618%7DSouth Sudan has gone through several rounds of failed and fragile peace negotiations, but data shows that women have been far less involved than men in the peace process, despite research that suggests including women at higher levels would improve stability.

Machar returned to South Sudan in October 2018 after two years in exile in South Africa to work with Kiir, but many are wary of the peace deal after five years of protracted conflict.

“Women in South Sudan have been treated by government soldiers and armed actors, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict”, UN investigators said in September 2018. “The plight of South Sudan’s women and girls should no longer be ignored”, they said — referring to disturbing testimonies of rape victims.

According to a 2017 survey issued by the International Rescue Committee and Global Women’s Institute, 65 percent of South Sudanese women interviewed had experienced physical or sexual violence.

Nyaruach has her own testimony.

[South Sudanese] men’s ideas are changing about love. They get married to many wives and then destroy our lives. They fail to take care of their children properly. They rape us, use young girls, get us pregnant and leave us.”

Nyaruach says music is her calling. “If I hide what is killing me in my heart, what can I do to make a change?” she asks.

No wonder “Gatluak” is a hit. This is Nyaruach’s chance to demand the men in her life to do better, not just in love but war — and peace.

Mozambique’s New China-Funded Bridge (Will Cost Them Their Sovereignty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Mozambique’s new China-funded Maputo-KaTembe bridge, the longest in Africa, comes with high tolls

The Maputo-KaTembe bridge. Photo by Alexandre Nhampossa, used with permission.

On November 10, Mozambique inaugurated the Maputo-KaTembe Bridge, a four kilometer- long piece of infrastructure connecting the center of the capital Maputo with the KaTembe district on the south side of the bay.

It’s the largest suspension bridge in Africa and one of the 60 longest in the world, as well as a symbol of Chinese investment in Mozambique.

The bridge was built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation at a cost of 785 million US dollars, making it the most expensive infrastructure project undertaken in Mozambique since the country’s independence in 1975. It was 95 percent funded by loans from China’s EXIM bank, to be paid by the Mozambique state in 20 years time at a four percent interest (the remaining five percent came directly from the public coffers).

The construction affected around 900 families, who had to be rehoused. Authorities say the relocation process contributed to delaying the bridge’s inauguration, originally scheduled for June 25, the date Mozambique celebrates its independence.

The government hopes that the Bridge will serve the hundreds of residents of the KaTembe district who commute by small boats and ferry boats to the center of Maputo for work and study.

KaTembe is officially part of the metropolitan area of Maputo, but both regions are very different: the northern half of Maputo is a highly-urbanized center, with a population of around two million, while KaTembe lacks infrastructure and still has plenty of unused lands.

Authorities also hope to boost trade and tourism from South Africa — the driving time between its east coast border and Maputo will now take around 90 minutes instead of the previous six hours.

The bridge, which has no pedestrian lane, will be tolled from 160 to 1200 Meticais (2.60 to 20 USD). Frequent users will have an up to 75 percent discount. Currently, boat-crossing of Maputo costs between 10 and 1050 meticais (0.16 and 17.24 USD).

The inauguration ceremony of the Maputo-KaTembe bridge. Photo by Alexandre Nhampossa, used with permission.

However, the bridge has faced criticism from Mozambicans for the high costs of the loans that permitted its construction — as well as the toll charges that will help service them.

University student Sérgio Wiliamo said on Facebook:

There is here a failure of the government when determining such fees. In projects like those, the fees do not aim to recover the initial investment, but to upkeep the infrastructure. It seems to me, and taking into account the high values I have seen, there are gains that are expected to be obtained above the simple operationalization and maintenance of the infrastructure

Also commenting on the fees, philosopher and professor of Eduardo Mondlane University, Ergimino Mucale, wrote on Facebook:

The essence of a bridge is to connect, to unify, to (re-)establish contact. Mozambique is now the first country in history to distort the traditional meaning of the concept of the bridge. The beautiful and one of the largest suspended bridges of Africa, Maputo-KaTembe, was born to establish or unveil, painfully, the gap between the wealthy and the wretched of one same nation. It is no longer the few miles separating the Maputo residents from here and there, but the many meticais of the coming tolls.

The inauguration ceremony of the Maputo-KaTembe bridge. Photo by Alexandre Nhampossa, used with permission.

A contributor of World Vision, a development organization, Elvino Dias expects the bridge to be a relief for the citizens of KaTembe, but also has reservations regarding the toll:

When we applauded that the Maputo KaTembe Bridge marked the end of the suffering of the citizens of that part of Maputo, I didn’t imagine that it would be the beginning of another form of slavery, and this time without an end in sight.

I do not care where the money came for the construction of the bridge or road came from, because I know I’ve paid taxes that supposedly were for building such infrastructures. That’s why I sometimes wonder where taxpayer’s money goes to. Dear brothers, if they persist with such prices, we must say no to the eliticization of a public good.

Mozambican authorities are expecting the bridge to sustain a daily average traffic of over four thousand vehicles, a significant increase of the average of 200 vehicles that cross the bay by boat today.

Stories of Sri Lankans who are “Taking a Stand” for democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Stories of Sri Lankans who are “Taking a Stand” for democracy

Image via Groundviews

This post originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a political crisis since October 26 when president Maithripala Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – replacing him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. This has led to a power struggle between the newly appointed PM and the recently ousted PM who both believe in the legitimacy of their position. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the capital Colombo to question the constitutional legitimacy of the president’s decision and demand the parliament be reconvened to settle the matter. Bowing to pressure, President Sirisena has promised to reconvene the parliament on November 7.

On November 4, 2018, a group of people gathered at the Liberty roundabout in the Kollupitiya neighborhood of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.

For some, it was their fifth day of standing in protest. Following news that President Maithripala Sirisena and the United People’s Freedom Alliance had stepped down from the coalition Government, a group of citizens decided to meet at the roundabout every day, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, until Parliament was convened. On the first day, the protest coincided with a larger rally organised by Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) held nearby – but many of those who attended the rally on that day were quick to say that they were not attending to support the UNP.

On October 30, a tweet by Lisa Fuller featuring one of the posters held by a protester went viral. It read, “I’m not here for Ranil – I’m here for democracy”.

Lisa Fuller@gigipurple

“I’m not here for Ranil. I’m here for democracy and good governance” Civil society protest at liberty circle now

The poster appeared to encapsulate the sentiments of many of those gathered at the Liberty roundabout on October 30 and every day after.

Over the past few days, Groundviews documented those who attended the citizen protest. Those attending included young people who had never attended a protest before, senior citizens, activists and members of civil society. On November 4, there were participants from Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa and Kandy as well as from Colombo. For some, it was their first time at a protest. Others had seen corruption continue on for decades (the oldest participant was 92 years old). Members from the corporate sector stood shoulder-to-shoulder with activists from Jaffna and Batticaloa, who were flanked by those in the theatre community.

Corruption was a recurring topic, given revelations from UNP MP Ruwan Wijewardene about sums of money being offered for Parliamentarians to switch allegiances.

On October 30 and afterward, we asked those who attended one simple question – “What made you decide to participate?”

Over the past few days, Groundviews documented those who attended the citizen protest.

This is what they had to say:

Diordre Moraes. Image via Groundviews

“As a mother, as a grandmother, I want to see democracy restored. I’m not against any person or any party but as a citizen of Sri Lanka. Nothing like this has ever happened before” – Diordre Moraes

Neluni Tillekeratne. Image via Gorundviews

“I feel young people should take political issues more seriously. When youth engage with politics they only look at statements from the President or Prime Minister. We don’t look at deeper issues. I’m hoping to influence young people to come.” Neluni Tillekeratne

Nadesan Suresh. Image via Groundviews

Our Malaiyaha Tamil community, those who work in tea estates, voted for President Sirisena hoping he would reform society. However, what he did sets us back 100 years.’ Nadesan Suresh, from Badulla.

Sarojini Kadirgamar. Image via Groundviews

“Though I’m 92 years old, I feel I must make a stand for democracy. Over the years I’ve seen the steady deterioration of political life. Every party has used corrupt practices for short term gains.This has to change.” Sarojini Kadirgamar

Leisha Lawrence, Mihiri de Silva, Sepali de Silva and unknown. Image via Groundviews

“I’m here for democracy. If an MP choose to jump to another party they should lose their seat in Parliament. I’m not here for any party.” Leisha Lawrence (far right)

“We vote in a particular way for who we want. That doesn’t give the President the right to do what he wants, because he doesn’t get on with a particular person.” Mihiri de Silva (second from right)

“My vote is not for sale. This is not right!” Sepali de Silva (second from left)

Kalaivani. Image via Groundviews

‘We call this a democratic country but what happened suppressed democratic means. We made history as having the first female prime minister, now we have made history again for having two prime ministers!’ Kalaivani, from Batticaloa.

Adrian Roshan Fernando. Image via Groundviews

“The decisions being made now don’t include the public opinion. They are just taking their own decisions. There is a way to do things.” Adrian Roshan Fernando.

Piyathilaka Ranaweera. Image via Groundviews

“This is not good for the country. We’re doing this for the next generation, for the future of this country.” Piyathilaka Ranaweera

Irfadha Muzammil. Image via Groundviews

“People’s votes matter. We can’t let politicians corrupt that and exploit voters.” Irfadha Muzammil

Abdul Kalam Azad. Image via Groundviews

Rather than saying “I am Prime Minister” come to Parliament now and show that you have the majority. Govern the country. Don’t waste our time!” Abdul Kalam Azad.

As evening fell, the electricity at the Liberty roundabout remained switched off. Later on, Mayor of Colombo Rosy Senanayake tweeted that this was “an act of sabotage”.

Rosy Senanayake@Rosy_Senanayake

This has been brought to my notice and it was an act of sabotage. We will ensure the lights are switched on tomorrow.

Groundviews

@groundviews

Citizens use smartphones – for light, and to inquire with the CMC why the streetlamps were turned on late – as their protest against #ConstitutionalCrisisSriLanka ends for the day. It will continue daily, 4.30pm-6.30pm at Liberty roundabout till Parliament is convened. #lka

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
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Undeterred, the protesters used the light of their mobile phones and continued chanting.

Image via Groundviews

Eventually, at 7 pm, the protest came to an end – to be resumed the next day, and the day after that, until Parliament reconvenes.

Image via Groundviews

You can read the full Photo essay here. You can also follow along with the protest on Twitter, and from multiple perspectives, here.

In The Philippines President Duterte And His Police Are The Biggest Criminals?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

A 15-year-old rape victim is the latest collateral damage of Duterte’s drug war

Screenshot from news channel News5Everywhere/Youtube.

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has reached a new low this week when a police officer was arrested for raping the 15-year-old daughter of detained drug suspects in the capital Manila.

Photos of officer Eduardo Valencia of the Philippine National Police (PNP) pleading with his superiors for having brought the teenager to a motel in exchange for the release of her parents have gone viral. Medical tests showed signs of rape.

Critics of President Duterte say it is his misogyny, rape jokes, and repeated assurances to defend police and military in the course of his government’s anti-drug and counterinsurgency operations that has normalized a macho culture of sexual abuse.

Reprimanded by the police chief while on live television, Valencia tried to justify his actions with the following line which seem to amount to an admission that rape was, in fact, nothing out of the ordinary in the police force:

Sir, I have a family. Sir, this is not new for our operatives whenever we arrest drug pushers.

Earlier this month, three upper-class cadets of the PNP Academy came under investigation for allegedly forcing two first-year police academy students for sexual assault.

A report by the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) released on October 31st shows there have been 33 documented cases of police abuse against women and children since Duterte took power on June 30, 2016, until October 2018. Of this figure, 16 involve rape while the rest include other forms of physical assault, sexual harassment, blackmailing, and trafficking.

Gabriela WomensParty@GabrielaWomenPL

SOME MONSTERS ARE REAL. They live on people’s taxes, wear uniforms, and prey on vulnerable women and children. The more horrible part is that the President condones their crimes.

Among many other instances, Duterte told troops last year that he will answer their rape cases:

Just work on it. I’ll take care of everything. I will be the one to jail you. If you commit rape three times, I’ll take responsibility for it.

Here are some of the outraged reactions on Twitter:

Ica Fernandez@icafernandez

This is Duterte’s gift to the Philippines: enabling the police to extort, kill, and rape the most vulnerable families. Akala ko ba adik ang nagnanakaw at nagrerape? If there is a hell, I hope you all rot in it.

Rambo Talabong@rambotalabong

LOOK: Mug shot of PO1 Eduardo Valencia, the Manila cop accused of raping the 15-year-old daughter of drug suspects. @rapplerdotcom

View image on Twitter

I thought it was the addicts who steal and rape?

Veronica L. Gregorio@veronixgregorio

The Philippine National Police idolizes President Duterte. From the merciless killings of poor drug suspects to the rape of women and children, these are all blatantly encouraged by the president himself. His words and actions has brought misery to the Filipino nation.

Angelica Reyes@anjkabataan

Oplan Tokhang, Oplan Tambay, Oplan Kapayapaan, Martial Law, Rape Culture, Red October etc.

Ang gobyerno ni Duterte ang pinakanakakagimbal na horror story!

Duterte’s government is the most horrendous horror story!

לוֹחְמָנִי@alders_ledge

Three times in the last two months the gov has said the will put the lives of police officers over the lives of “drug suspects”. That ideology in the Palace is what enabled this pig to rape a 15yo girl bc the parents were “suspects”.https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2018/10/30/philippine-policeman-accused-of-raping-drug-suspects-15yearold-daughter/ 

Juan Bisaya@unlucky911

It’s not solely his fault, but look at it this way: Think of Duterte as a father (we call him “Tatay” even), and he tells his kids it’s OK to rape and jokes about it regularly. When his children rapes, wouldn’t you hold the father accountable for being an enabler?

Einstein Z. Recedes@Enteng_Itneg

Kung ano ang puno sya rin ang bunga! Hindi lang pumatay ang ibig sabihin ng Tokhang kundi RAPE.

Karumaldumal ang mga kriminal sa gobyerno sa pangunguna ni Despicable Duterte, who has emboldened his goons- AFP & PNP to kill the poor & rape women w/ impunity, at may pabuya pa nga.

A tree is known by its fruit. Tokhang does not only mean murder but also rape. The criminals in government have become more brazen under despicable Duterte, who has emboldened his goons — AFP & PNP to kill the poor and rape women with impunity, and with rewards to beat.

inday espina varona@indayevarona

“SOP” Rape as SOP. Blood curdling.
But this is a country ruled by Duterte, a despot who thinks the only debatable issue on rape is who gets first dibs. https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/10/28/18/para-malinis-ang-rekord-pulis-nanggahasa-ng-15-anyos-anak-ng-drug-suspect 

“The people’s voices” prevail: Sri Lanka’s prime ministerial crisis to be put to a parliamentary vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

“The people’s voices” prevail: Sri Lanka’s prime ministerial crisis to be put to a parliamentary vote

The Parliament of Sri Lanka. Image from Flickr by Kolitha de Silva. CC BY 2.0

Since October 26, when Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country’s prime minister, and replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the ensuing political crisis has many in the country analyzing the constitutional legitimacy of appointing a prime minister without wider consent. The president also suspended the country’s parliament for three weeks and dissolved the cabinet of ministers.

On October 30 and 31, in response to the questionable legitimacy of Wickremesinghe’s removal and the temporary suspension of Parliament, thousands took to the streets of Colombo to demand that Parliament be reconvened in order to resolve the ongoing political crisis.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Azzam Ameen

@AzzamAmeen

Massive Demonstration in Colombo demanding President Sirisena to convene Parliament “The people have spoken. Summon Parliament. Restore democracy now” says @

Harsha de Silva

@HarshadeSilvaMP

Thank you! Tens of thousands of people thronged the entrance to Temple Trees. They were orderly, not drunk and didnt climb lamp posts. They came only to demand that parliament be summoned and dislodge . Huge success. @MaithripalaS don’t trample democracy. @RW_UNP

Vikalpa

@vikalpavoices

Live updates from the people’s protest at the Liberty Plaza roundabout calling for the re-convening of Parliament

In a news conference, Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya urged the president to let Wickremesinghe prove his majority support on the parliament floor, and warned of a bloodbath if the impasse continues.

Nusky Mukthar@NuskyMukthar

Diplomats from UN, EU, UK, Canada & Germany met the Speaker today and urged to convene the parliament and to ensure democracy is protected

Pressure from protests to reconvene Parliament have borne fruit, as Sirisena has scheduled a parliamentary vote to decide who is the lawful prime minister on November 7.

A dysfunctional coalition

The events of the past few days have stoked fears among some Sri Lankans of a return to the period of Mahinda Rajapaska’s presidency, when sectarian violence, state-sponsored repression and censorship were rife. As a group of students has noted in a statement on the matter published by GroundViews:

The resort to violence and coercion is a chilling reminder of what dictatorship looks like. The coup is being followed by a return to the norms of self-censorship, violence, and fear that were characteristic of Rajapaksa-era politics. State media institutions were stormed in the night and security for the Prime Minister and Ministers  arbitrarily withdrawn. Moreover, many private media stations are already becoming vehicles for misinforming the public and spreading disinformation.

Sirisena told reporters that he removed Wickremesinghe after discovering that the latter was involved in an assassination plot against him. But it is believed that the current situation is, in fact, a by-product of the existing power struggle between Sirisena, Wickremesinghe, and Rajapaksa.

In January 2015, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for a presidential election in a bid to consolidate his power and to seek a third term in office. Sirisena, a former minister in Rajapaksa’s government, defected from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and was nominated as a candidate by the Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) to contest the presidency against the incumbent. Sirisena emerged the surprising winner—securing 51.28% votes against Rajapaksa’s 47.28%—and took over as the new president of Sri Lanka.

After the election, Rajapaksa handed over leadership of the SLFP party to Sirisena in accordance with the party’s constitution, which states that any member who is President is automatically leader of the party. During the parliamentary elections in August 2015, Siresena’s and Rajapaksa’s factions joined forces to contest the election under the banner of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Wickremesinghe’s UNP-led coalition, however, won 106 seats out of 225, with the UFPA winning 95—55 by the pro-Rajapaksa faction, and 40 by the pro-Sirisena faction.

After the parliamentary elections, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe prime minister and created a National Government after signing a memorandum of understanding in order to address issues which were not resolved after the end of the 30-year ethnic conflict. Since then, the Rajapaksa-led SLFP faction has been the de-facto opposition party.

Over the past two years, however, Rajapaksa has been gaining significant ground, and his party swept the local elections in February 2018. In April 2018, Wickremesinghe survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament brought by supporters of Rajapaksa, a move clearly meant to weaken the already unstable ruling coalition.

The growing popularity of Rajapaksa’s SLFP party and existing tensions between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over the latter’s leaning towards India as a geopolitical partner instead of China, may be one of the many reasons that Sirisena has chosen to appoint Rajapaksa as prime minister.

“The people’s voices have been heard. . . ” Wickremesinghe stated optimistically on Twitter on November 1, after it was learnt that parliament would be reconvened next week. “Democracy will prevail.”

Saudi woman facing the death penalty for peaceful protest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Israa Al-Ghomgham, a Saudi woman facing the death penalty for peaceful protest

Human rights advocate Israa Al-Ghomgham is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, for her non-violent human rights related activities.

Al-Ghomgham was arrested in 2015 along with her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim, over their roles in anti-government protests in Al-Qatif back in 2011, when pro-democracy protests spread across the Middle East and North Africa.

A #FreeIsraa campaign photo, circulated on Twitter.

Al-Qatif is located in the Eastern Province, where most of the country’s Shiite minority — who make up 10 to 15 percent of the population live. Shiite Muslims in the Sunni-dominated kingdom face ”pervasive discrimination”, including unfair treatment under the justice system, government interference with their religious practices, exclusion from public sector jobs, in addition to stigma and sectarian speech, according to Human Rights Watch.

Alongside many other Saudi Shiites, Al-Ghomgham and her husband were protesting these injustices and demanding that the Saudi government uphold their human rights.

Al-Ghomgham faces eight charges including “preparing, sending and storing material that would harm the public order” under Article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007. She also stands accused of “inciting rallies and young people against the state and security forces on social networking sites”, and posting photos and video of these protests online. State prosecutors for her case are seeking the death penalty.

She was put on trial in early August 2018 before the counter-terrorism court, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC). A second hearing took place on October 28, but neither her nor the other defendants in the case were brought to court, the Gulf Center for Human Rights reported. The next hearing is scheduled for November 21.

#IsraaAlGhomgham #إسراء_الغمغام@IsraaAlGhomgham

Today second court hearing did take place, but neither Israa nor the other activists being trialled alongside her were present.

It is unknown why the Saudi authorities failed to transport them to the courtroom

Third court hearing will be Wednesday 21st November

In addition to Al-Ghomgham, five more individuals are standing trial before the SCC this week for charges related to exercising their peaceful rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, according to Amnesty International. The human rights organisation documented eight cases where activists are facing the death penalty:

The Public Prosecution’s recurring calls to resort to the death penalty in the past three months for at least eight individuals raises the alarm about the fate of dozens of activists who are currently detained without charge or trial and for those currently on trial before the SCC.

Among those who stood trial this week was religious cleric Salman al-Awda. State security officials arrested him in September 2017 and charged him with a litany of offenses, including calling for reforms and regime change in the Arab region. He also faces the death penalty.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s attorney general Saud al-Mujib arrived in Turkey on Monday to join an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Al-Mujib has often been sent after political rivals of the monarchy, and those who challenge the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Leaders around the world have pointed at Bin Salman, accusing him of playing a role in the journalist’s murder.

Many are wondering how Bin Salman can endeavor to bring justice to Jamal while at the same time seeking the death penalty against those practicing their rights to freedom of expression.

د. عبدالله العودة

@aalodah

The same Saudi Attorney General who sought death penalty against my father @salman_alodah and others because of their peaceful activism, is going to Turkey to discuss the death of who was killed because of his peaceful activism!
🤔

Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU? A historic referendum will decide

Rally in Skopje, MAcedonia in support for the referendum on EU and NATO accession.

Pro-referendum rally on 16 September 2018 in Skopje. Photo by Andreja Stojkovski via Twitter, used with permission.

On September 30, Macedonians will vote in a referendum to decide whether their country should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance and the European Union (EU).

The referendum is part of a process that began in 1993, when all political parties in the then newly independent Republic of Macedonia declared joining NATO a key strategic priority. Many believe that membership in the military alliance would help protect Macedonia, located in the volatile Balkans region, from external aggression and civil war. Years later the country made a similar commitment to strive for EU membership.

Admission to both NATO and the EU require the consensus of all existing members, so Macedonia needed first solve bilateral disputes with its neighbors, some of which already belonged the two organizations.

The biggest obstacle was the long-standing naming dispute with Greece, which has hindered Macedonia’s development for 27 years. In June 2018, as a precondition for removing the Greek veto on its EU and NATO membership, Macedonia signed an agreement which obliges the country to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

In spite of the agreement, the name change remains a core issue. The September 30 referendum explicitly asks:

‘Are you in favor of EU and NATO membership by accepting the Agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?’

A majority must participate

The referendum is not legally binding but rather consultative, and will only be considered valid if a majority of registered voters participate. But failure to reach the required 50 per cent voter turnout would not stop the NATO and EU accession process, which requires further action by parliament.

According to one Twitter user:

Мутен@toVornottoV

30 септември дава можност за конечно помрднуење од status quo-то у кое што смо заглавени и конечно ослободуење од бизарен проблем што не влече надоле скоро 30 године. Затоа ќе .

September 30 provides an opportunity to finally move from the status quo which has stymied us, to finally break free from a bizarre problem that has been holding us down for almost 30 years. That’s why #IVote.

For other voters, the referendum is both symbolic and cathartic, representing a return “to the right path” after “the lost decade” of democratic backsliding, and many have been holding their breath in anticipation:

mindрluмbеr@mindplumber

Цела држава се неуротизирала, све се остава за „после 30-ти“.
А бе, сендвич да сакаш да купиш, таа на скарата ќе ти каже „немој сеа, ај после 30-ти, да се расчисти“

The whole state has become neurotic, everything is left [for] ‘after the 30th’. Even if you want to buy a sandwich, the barbecue lady might say, ‘Not now, let’s do it after the 30th, after the situation clears’.

Calls for a boycott

This anxiety may have to do with the boycott campaign being waged by right-wing populist opponents and led by several fringe non-parliamentary parties, including pro-Russian, Euro-skeptic and anti-NATO United Macedonia, which styles itself on Putin’s United Russia.

The campaign stokes the fears of ethnic Macedonians by presenting the country’s name change as the first step along a slippery slope that will lead to genocide, or ethnocentric. The campaign is steeped in disinformation and hate speech, from intentional misinterpretations of the consequences of the agreement with Greece, to claims that the government has given citizenship to Albanians from Kosovo to boost the number of “yes” votes. There have even been suggestions of election fraud, to which one Twitter user replied:

Ленка многу кенка@RedRadish5

Кога стварно мислиш дека ќе местат гласање излегуваш да гласаш за да им отежнеш, а не седиш дома

When you really think that authorities plan voter fraud, citizens go out and vote to make it harder for them, they don’t sit at home.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, a member of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), has sat on the fence, neither openly endorsing the boycott campaign nor encouraging its supporters to participate in the referendum and vote against the agreement with Greece, which it considers “a capitulation”.

Other EPP members have accused VMRO-DPMNE of hypocrisy, as high ranking party officials participated personally in the boycott, and the campaign was vigorously promoted by media outlets reputed for being party mouthpieces.

Representatives of the ruling SDSM have also claimed that VMRO-DPMNE had attempted to make a deal, promising to throw its support behind the referendum if its former party leaders on trial for corruption were given an amnesty. The government refused, and the VMRO-DPMNE’s indecisive position is largely being interpreted as sign of weakness:

НиколаСтрез@NikolaStrez

За едно од најважните прашања за Македонија, вмро нема став и повикува секој да гласа по свое убедување.

Очекувам на следните избори, кога ќе сакаат да дојдат на власт, да излезат со истиот став и да не сугерираат за кого да гласаме.

VMRO-DPMNE has no official position on one of the most important issues for Macedonia, and has declared that people should vote according to their own preference. In the next elections, I expect that they will adopt the same position and won’t advocate whom to vote for.

Social media tactics and allegations about Russia

On social media the “I boycott” campaign (#бојкотирам) started over the summer, and involved mainly anonymous social media profiles and sock puppets from the VMRO-DPMNE troll army. Observers noticed a high number of new profiles appear in August 2018, suspected to be automated bots originating outside the country. The campaign was also shared via profiles linked to specific individuals, including VMRO-DPMNE’s foreign lobbyists, Macedonian nationalist organizations operating in the diaspora, and Macedonia’s president, who gained his position with the party’s support.

Around 50 people attended the Boycott campaign rally in Ohrid on 22 September. Photo by GV, CC-BY.

Western sources alleged that Russia was trying to obstruct the consolidation of the NATO and EU process; when asked, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev diplomatically said that the authorities have not found “evidence of direct Russian influence with fake news” regarding the referendum, and that he trusts Macedonia’s NATO allies on this matter.

Prior to that statement, however, Zaev was less reserved in pointing to Kremlin-related attempts — including the funding of violent protests by a Greek-Russian oligarch — to obstruct the deal with Greece. Moreover, an independent journalist discovered that back in 2015, a Russian troll farm specialist named Anna Bogacheva had visited Macedonia on business. She has since been named as one of 13 Russian nationals indicted over alleged interference in the 2016 United States election.

The “I Boycott” campaign has also employed tactics used by the American alt-right, including use of the Pepe the Frog meme, which was ridiculed even by VMRO-DPMNE members who couldn’t understand how their party’s symbol, the mighty lion, was reduced to a frog.

Ready for change

There have been attempts, mostly through cyber-bullying, to intimidate activists and ‘dissenting’ right-wing figures who have said they will take part in the referendum. Former VMRO-DPMNE government minister Nikola Todorov’s revelation that he would vote “no” exposed him to particularly vicious harassment on Facebook. But in spite of some of the threats issues, observers don’t expect much violence.

Numerous citizens have also expressed their support for both the referendum as the ultimate tool of democracy, and for the government-backed campaign to vote in it:

Бени@Shushmula

Скоро три полни децении живееме во пештера а сакаме светот да не знае и прифати.
Од сето тоа светот знае само дека живееме во пештера.

Almost 3 decades we’ve been living in a cave, while wanting the world to know about as and to accept us.
Out of all that, the world only knows that we’ve been living in a cave.
#IVote!

If surveys conducted in the months before the referendum are anything to go by, most Macedonian citizens are ready for change, even if that means swallowing the bitter pill of the name change in exchange for the long-term benefits of NATO and EU membership.