Thursday, July 17, 2008

Police disperse protestors


Just in case you get the impression that there is no political dissent in Azerbaijan or that the dissent is completely muffled, I should note that little sparks of protest erupt occasionally, but they are usually suppressed immediately and effectively. Last week on July 11, members of the Musavat Party held an unsanctioned protest in front of the Baku mayor’s office. The news account I read did not give information about what the focus of the demonstration was. In any case – it was small. Police detained 13 activists and two reports, releasing them with verbal warnings.
According to the deputy chairman of the Musavat party, the arrested journalists were subjected to physical pressure. I’m not sure what this means. This could mean anything from twisted arms to beatings. Journalists have been beaten, stabbed and killed here in recent years, not to mention imprisoned. Combined with the fact that the government owns the major news outlets, the press is fairly effectively repressed.
So, what shape does dissent take – if even minor expressions of opposition are repressed? Sullen resentment, as far as I can tell. Unorganized resentment. The desire of the most educated people to leave the country. I have heard knowledgeable people say that the main form of opposition will be wearing religious clothing. I’m not sure this is true – because in general the Azerbaijanis I know don’t seem fervently religious, but I could be wrong. At the moment, the society seems to me like a pressure cooker, with the heat on very low. There is no release valve for the pressure, but neither is the stove burning very hot. Yet.