Posts Tagged ‘Eurovision 2012’
This past weekend, The Guardian‘s Comment is Free article by Mary Fitzgerald had some pointed words about Azerbaijan and its free speech record. She attended a reception in Westminster City Hall held by Azerbaijan that night, headlined by Ell & Nikki, the Eurovision darlings. The evening was packed full of typical Azerbaijani PR material and she describes her take on that evening in England and its reflection on what is happening in Azerbaijan thus:
Apologists for the regime – and I met many that night – will tell you that the last presidential election was not “quite as bad” as the ones preceding it. The evidence supports this – yet all have been marred by violence, intimidation, allegations of fraud and suppression of dissent. Last year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that journalists and bloggers “work in a climate of endemic impunity and under persistent pressure from the authorities”. A number of activists are currently staging a hunger strike in protest at the harsh sentences meted out to opposition activists involved in a quashed demonstration in April this year.
It’s embarrassing, to say the least, for those who want to befriend this energy-rich republic. Responding to the April incident, the European parliament’s president Jerzy Buzek called for the release of all political prisoners in Azerbaijan, and stressed that Azerbaijan’s relationship with the EU “would become even stronger with more progress on human rights and political freedoms”.
So, not really in praise of Azerbaijan’s promise of growth and development, you see.
Ms. Fitzgerald’s criticism isn’t a new thing around here, but it does speak to a reality that people in the US, and the West generally, need to keep in mind about Azerbaijan: just as with any other country, their functions abroad can betray the realities of governance at home. The leadership here in Azerbaijan is likely fully aware of how they act abroad and conscientious of the image they wish to portray to the outside world and to foreign governments. From the message they deliver about Azerbaijan’s fruition as a new democracy all the way down to the cut of their suits, these folks are no fools and can probably play the international diplomatic game as well as anyone. It’s to their credit that they have a solid grasp of their diplomatic missions abroad. You can’t fault them for trying to portray an appealing and progressive face to the rest of the world.
To illustrate this, you don’t have to go far. Recently, President Ilham Aliyev sat down with David Frost (of Frost-Nixon fame) for a somewhat lengthy interview here in Baku. If you can get past Frost’s strange mannerisms and cadence to actually get to Aliyev’s answers, you’ll find the interview an interesting look at how Azerbaijan is able to portray itself to the world. Then go back and contrast with Mary Fitzgerald’s descriptions of the situation in Azerbaijan.
We have talked on this blog about visas way too much. You will be happy when this blog ceases to talk about visas to Azerbaijan. Yet, again, Azerbaijan and visas are in the news. You will soon be able to get an e-Visa:
Azerbaijani Culture Ministry Apparatus head Firudin Gurbanov said e-visas for tourists arriving in Azerbaijan maybe issued from 2012.
Work is already underway in this direction, he said.
“Persons will appeal and receive a response electronically in Azerbaijan in accordance with the international experience. Key technical issues must be solved for transition to this system,” Gurbanov said.
This is a fascinating development. Before I had heard of it here a few months ago, I had no idea what an e-Visa was. To find out, I found myself flipping through the Kingdom of Cambodia’s e-Visa page, a scintillating read (they even have customer testimonials!) If Azerbaijan is actually going this way, that could mean positive developments in the ease of travel to this country, a necessary requirement if the government ever wants to make good on their pledge to promoting tourism. This is certainly a positive development for the upcoming talks with the European Union about the Azerbaijani visa regime, and a good sign for Eurovision fans.
The other note that I picked up was slipped in right at the end of that article:
Now, foreigners arriving in Azerbaijan will be able to obtain visas at the airport.
After this debacle, I cannot say if I’m glad, or even more frustrated, to hear this news.
Today’s post is a smattering of links that are newsworthy or worth reading.
First, worth reading is a post from Steve describing a great-looking adventure up in the Qusar-Quba region of Azerbaijan, in the north nearer the border with Russia. Steve writes about meeting an ex-government official, a recently-returned soldier, and visiting a pir (an excellent explanation of pirs here).
Second, it looks like the Azerbaijan’s Education Minister been saying some interesting things lately: In keeping with the recent policy implementation to retire educators at age 65, creating a wave of involuntary retirements and new job openings across the country, the minister has offered to make good on his own retirement since he, too, is 65 years old. On top of that interesting offer, the minister is also seemingly interested in raising teacher salaries. I doubt that he’ll be willing to implement the 2000 AZN/month figure he seemed to grab from thin air:
“Azerbaijan has a lot of professional teachers today, but they have very low wage – AZN 200. Therefore they retire and prefer tutorship at home”, Minister of Education of Azerbaijan Misir Mardanov said during the Baku education workers conference, APA reports. Mardanov underlined the selfless labor of the Azerbaijani teachers and said if they received AZN 2000, children wouldn’t need in tutors.
Last, Eurovision 2012 has seen two major developments in the last few days: Development one is that it appears that the Baku Crystal Hall has begun construction on the Baku bay. That 25,000-seat enclosed stadium will have to be completed in less than eight months, as the finals for Eurovision are scheduled for mid-May. Hope the rush on that order doesn’t compromise things like safety standards. Development two is that the government did respond to the Eurovision committee’s request that Azerbaijan’s visa regime be simplified. Unfortunately, with a flat “no”:
Samad Seyidov, the head of Azerbaijan’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said on September 3 that “simplifying the visa regime ahead of [the] Eurovision [contest in 2012] is not under discussion.”
It looks like the Azeri government has left some wiggle room for compromise, but as of now, it looks like they are fairly firm on continuing to implement their somewhat-cumbersome visa process. Sorry, Eurovision fans and prospective tourists.
Eurovision is pushing for the change they want to see in the Azerbaijani visa process. Obviously, having a simplified or more loose visa regime is a bonus for Eurovision, as having the song contest in a country with difficult visa rules makes the coming attraction much more difficult to fill with wild fans. There are many good reasons why a country like Azerbaijan should have an easier visa process, like the tourism industry Azerbaijan wants to develop. Apparently, though, those reasons haven’t made a strong enough argument. In their stead, here is Eurovision to make the case:
Eurovision Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand was speaking to RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on September 1, as the contest’s governing body, the so-called Reference Group, met in Baku for the first time.
“It’s paramount for us that during Eurovision weeks, people be able to come to Azerbaijan; the contestants, the delegations, journalists be able to come in and work freely,” Sand said. “It is very important for us. We have asked the government to simplify the visa rules. It should be easy to come and work here.”
Last October, the Azerbaijani authorities toughened visa regulations for foreigners. Until then, it was possible to obtain a visa on arrival at Baku airport.
I don’t think there is much to say about this except that we should wait and see. Whatever change probably won’t come very soon, but I’m interested in seeing if the Azerbaijani government responds at all, either positively or negatively, to the request.