Tuesday, August 5, 2008

lunch



I received a little political lesson yesterday, but I am still not sure how to interpret it. During class, my Azerbaijani interpreter told me that one of the students needed to talk with me. As it turned out, the student needed to talk to me because she said a journalist she knew wanted to talk to me. I was unenthusiastic about the vague invitation to talk with him. Frankly, I anticipated some sort of nationalistic diatribe. But it seemed impossible to evade this invitation and after dinner my colleague and I met with the “journalist.”

As it turned out, Sabir was not so much a journalist as a businessman and a politician. Business and politics are closely linked in many countries, and the two fields of activity are very tight in Azerbaijan. I am convinced that it is impossible to become wealthy without accumulating political clout first.

Sabir is also the leader of a pro-government party. Of the pro-government parties, however, he said it is the most critical of the government. And – he was quite open about his criticism of some people surrounding the president.

The lunch was curious for all sorts of reasons that I won’t go into here, but the political lesson seemed to be that some level of criticism was possible, if the critic somehow sweetens the criticism. In this case, the criticism was accompanied with incredible devotion to Heydar Aliyev, the father of the current president. Sabir appeared to genuinely adore Aliyev, and because he is so vocal about his adoration, perhaps he is allowed more freedom to be critical of the current government.

Or – perhaps his criticism is a facade too – useful for the current government in one way or another, but really ineffectual.

On a less speculative note, the trainer who has been working with students on blogs had his last day here today. Wonderful energy! Crazy and frustrating sometimes – but good energy. So, our students in Sheki now have a group blog page and each one has an individual blog page. It’s educational for them just to learn about navigating around the Internet – but this step might also be in the direction of freedom of expression. In this country, the print and broadcast media are tightly controlled – but controlling the Internet is not so easy.

Included is a photo of our lunch with Sabir yesterday. There I heard many stories that are not appropriate for this forum.