Friday, May 1, 2009

Demonstrations in Baku

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?


Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

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Azerbaijan is far from Harlem of Langston Hughes, but today I was thinking about the concepts he expresses in this poem. A friend of mine sent me information this morning about the student demonstrations in Baku.

Here also is a link to the blog of Ilgar Mammamadov. He was one of the first political bloggers in the country, and I see that he was at the protests and is writing about them.

An Azerbaijani friend of mine later explained that the students wanted a day of remembrance for the victims, but the police were trying to control all the expressions of sorrow. I think the authorities are reflexively trying to restrain all spontaneous expressions. At the demonstration, the students were told to disperse. Also, the police interfered with the demonstration - with plain-clothed policemen telling the students to go in one direction, while uniformed cops sent them a different way.

This repressive reaction on the part of the government is part of living in an authoritarian country. All spontaneous action and communication is suspect - even if it is patently non-political. But - by trying to restrain such natural and human impulses - the authorities only will make things worse for themselves. The control will chafe more on the feelings of the people - who know that the government does not represent them - but feel powerless to make any changes.

Interesting - that in one of the news accounts here, the students are quoted as chanting "No terror, no corruption."

While the government may argue that it innocent in this particular terrorism incident, the complaints about corruption certainly hit close to home.

Such government repression can create serious consequences for the people in charge. Think Bloody Sunday, Jan. 22, 1905, when peaceful demonstrators in St. Petersburg were killed by the tsar's police. Or - perhaps more relevantly, think of Qara Yanvar, when 26,000 Soviet troops stormed Baku and killed hundreds of unarmed residents of the city. The killings were followed by stubborn resistance and 40 days of mourning, while the country engaged in a de facto strike. While the intervention by the soldiers was to maintain Soviet power, the opposite occurred. The country declared its independence the following year.

I'm not saying in anyway that the student demonstrations are similar to either of these historical events. But - I do believe that in situations when a population does not feel represented by its government, non-political events can have political consequences that are surprising and seem to be out of proportion.