Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Human Rights Hopes Still Tied to Eurovision in Azerbaijan

with 2 comments

It seems that no matter how many times I read about the potential for change represented by Eurovision’s being held in Azerbaijan in 2012, my skepticism remains. The most recent article about the potential for Eurovision’s spotlight to clean up Azerbaijan’s human rights record comes from our friends at RFE/RL:
Several Azerbaijani rights organizations have launched a public campaign about rights violations in the country ahead of Baku’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reports.…Anar Mammadli, an initiator of the campaign, told RFE/RL the activists want to see concrete changes from the Azerbaijani government.“First, political prisoners should be released from jail,” he said. “Second, we want public TV to provide more pluralism. Third, the right to freedom of assembly should be guaranteed. Fourth, we want to inform the world about violations of property rights. Finally, we are concerned about the visa regime. Foreigners coming to Azerbaijan regularly face this problem.”

Mammadli said the campaign will hold public debates, issue statements, and publish and distribute posters and other materials. He added that activists will also try to meet with the Eurovision organizing committee to press their case.

I think we can all agree that this is an ambitious agenda for a song contest.I don’t want to say that Azerbaijan will be unaffected by Baku being set at center stage in May 2012. And I also am aware that it’s probably good in these situations to set your goals high and see what you can get, instead of lowering expectations. However, a sober reading of the situation in Azerbaijan should likely lead to a more moderated view of what will happen over the next 10 months in the lead up to Eurovision 2012.Looking at the list of changes Anar Mammadli wants to see, I don’t think anyone would disagree with his assertions. Those would be fantastic changes to see in Azerbaijan, a true step forward (I’m all too familiar with that last issue regarding visas…) It’s also good to see that the campaign is focused on getting the word out. The problem, from my vantage point, is that there isn’t much demand from the people for these changes. If this were a situation where a significant chunk of the population regularly spoke out for the cause, that would be one thing. Yet, that doesn’t happen. Outside of Baku, those types of actions are non-existent. In Baku, most of the actions are weak. Whether that is because of the government’s vigilance or because of the population’s inability to work together, I think there are valid arguments both ways; both sides have some blame for these issues’ immobility.

At the same time, we still have to recognize that the government’s top priority seems to be maintaining stability. From what I think is the Azerbaijani government’s perspective, a more free right to assembly, a more free journalism, or a larger appeal to pluralism are all invitations to less stability. Since I come from a background that teaches me that increased pluralism is more stable, I can’t agree with that logic. But it’s not my decision to make, I suppose. I don’t have oil contracts to maintain, military agreements to tend to, or the fear that my neighbors to the north, the south, and the west all want to encroach on my country.

In the end, the spotlight will be on Baku and there will be some changes here in Azerbaijan because of it.  Whether those are the changes we want to see regarding human rights or infrastructure development, or it just ends up being a short-term influx of foreigners who show Azerbaijan some new faces, we should just remember to measure our expectations for the transformational power of Eurovision.

Written by Aaron

August 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I wouldn’t put my hopes too highly on Eurovision either. If you look at even higher profile events staged in other places with questionable human rights records (China and the Olympics, South Africa and the World Cup), you see very little change although you did see some talk, which is perhaps valuable in itself). I’m not sure what makes Azerbaijan or Eurovision different, though I could probably be missing something.

    I, for one, am interested to see how the Azeri government and press handles two things, though: one, the fact that Armenia still plans to compete and two, the large number of gay fans that Eurovision has (NB: I don’t really know much about gay rights or anything in Azerbaijan, so perhaps this is me being a stupid Westerner). I also wonder what the plans are for visas, given that there are likely a large number of foreign fans planning on coming — Ukraine in 2004 suspended the need for visas for those who were coming to see Eurovision (I’m not sure how that was handled, showing tickets maybe?). They’ll lose a good deal of tourism money if they don’t straighten that issue out — the question, I think, is whether it’s likely to be a temporary fix or a permanent one, I think.


    August 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    • There have been promises made by government officials that Armenians will have no problems when they visit Azerbaijan, but I don’t think those sorts of statements are really helpful. That’s a really tough issue for sure, if not because of the conflict itself, but because people here have been raised to hate the neighbors to the west.

      As for the visa issue, there is talk that the visas situation will change. My guess, however, is that it will be much like the Ukraine thing, where people use their Eurovision tickets as visas. I do wish, however, that they would get serious about tourism instead of paying lip-service to it while keeping up these stupid barriers. All just to line someone’s pockets…

      And I have no idea what to say about an influx of gay people storming Baku.


      August 4, 2011 at 5:13 am

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