Matchbox Media News

  • RFI: Destination Europe: Hungary part 1/5

  • VICE NEWS 'Refugees Will Break the Wall': On the Frontlines of Hungary’s Immigration Fence

    By Andrew Connelly

    Mounir pulls out his phone to consult a map and send his WhatsApp location to a friend monitoring his stealth journey through Europe. He is one of over 60 Syrians and Iraqis huddled together taking a brief rest by dense woodland on the outskirts of the Serbian village of Kanjiza, mere kilometers from the Hungarian border.

    Suddenly one of the group leaders runs down the line, ordering everyone to extinguish cigarettes and turn off cell phones, to avoid detection by border police and roaming bandits. Men, women, and children stand up, their raised protective sticks silhouetted in the moonlight, and descend into the darkness.

    Mounir and his fellow travelers represent a tiny contingent of what the United Nations has called the largest movement of forcibly displaced people since World War II, with refugees currently numbering over 60 million worldwide.

    'Now we have reached the point of no return, my friend.'

    Most are fleeing war and tyranny in Syria and Afghanistan, with other sizeable groups from Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The cheapest route to Europe is from Turkey through the Balkans.

    Hungary is the first European Union (EU) state that migrants reach which is part of the passport-free Schengen scheme, hence it has become the second largest recipient of asylum seekers per capita after Sweden with the government logging over 110,000 asylum applications since the beginning of 2015.

    Less than 1 percent of migrants wish to settle in Hungary and instead merely transit across — hoping to reach Austria, Germany, and other wealthier European nations. Despite this, the right-wing Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has responded to the humanitarian crisis by constructing a 109-mile (175-kilometer) fence across its southern border with Serbia in hope to stem the flow.

    VICE News told Mounir about Hungary's immigration solution. He laughed and replied: "Oh? Nice. How much did this fence cost them? We will find a way to cross this, I'm telling you. Don't worry, just let the border be completed and we will find a way. We have a saying in my country: 'The metal will be discovered by the fire.' The European Union entered the fire, they discovered the metal, and it is strong."

    Is the Hungarian government seriously proposing building borders between EU states?

    Earlier in the day outside the Serbian border town of Subotica, Hassan, a printer from Baghdad and his friend Abbas sit under the shade of a tree, perspiring in the 104 degree Fahrenheit (45 degree Celsius) heat.

    They are temporarily camped in the scrubland area outside an abandoned brick factory that has become an improvised resting point with charities visiting to donate food and water and conduct medical check-ups. A group of 10 Pakistani men appear from a field of crops, asking VICE News the direction to Hungary, before walking off into the distance.

    Hassan fled Iraq after he was threatened by a militia when unable to pay a ransom for his kidnapped brother. Now he is making his way to Belgium where he hopes to claim asylum and bring his family across to build a new life.

    He told VICE News: "I never left my country, even during the war with car bombings. I had a good job and a good salary, but now it's enough, there is danger in front of me. Sometimes when I walk in the street with my family, my kids see corpses on the street. I don't want them to grow up with that."

    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic recently expressed "shock" at Hungary's decision to build a fence across its border and it has sparked fears that Serbia will become a bottleneck of refugees unable to enter its northern neighbor.

    Yet the fence's porosity was already demonstrated last week when 18 migrants were found in the Hungarian village of Assothalom after breaking through using wire-cutters. Assothalom, with a population of just 4,000, has only one police officer so unarmed civilian rangers are employed to monitor the border.

    Driving slowly along in a tiny Lada patrol vehicle, Barnabas Heredi shepherds a collection of apprehended migrants along a country road towards a police checkpoint. Some kind elderly villagers hand out bottles of water from across their gate to the tired masses.

    Heredi told VICE News that he started working one year ago, thinking it would be a quiet job: "I understand why these migrants had to leave but I don't really feel sorry for them. They get treated well here and we still have many poor families in Hungary, why would you help them and not Hungarians?"

    The fence abruptly stops here, with miles of open land surrounding it, affording anyone the possibility to simply walk around the edge.

    On Saturday morning, more than 200 migrants had been apprehended in the fields of Assothalom in the space of one hour, awaiting transportation to immigration camps across Hungary for asylum processing.

    Ali, a wedding photographer from northern Afghanistan trying to reach Finland, walked all night from Serbia to Hungary. He told VICE News: "We should be one land, no border. Refugees will break the wall."

    In Budapest, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told VICE News: "If necessary we are going to build a fence on other sections of the border. You have to halt, you have to stop this happening on the borders of Europe. That's it."

    Hungary shares its eastern border with Romania. Is the Hungarian government seriously proposing building borders between EU states? Kovacs replied: "You cannot rule that option out. You have to stop this flood of illegal migration. Austria and Germany is full. Sweden is full. And they have started to send back people to the entry point, and that's Hungary. And that's a problem."

    In villages on the frontier, some officials hold a different view. In Kubekhaza, the site where the fence construction first started, mayor Robert Molnar told VICE News: "This is not about immigration, it's all internal politics. This fence is just an obscene gesture to the far-right and it's causing damage to Hungary's international reputation. It shows the world that we don't care about their problems."

    Won't the fence help to stem some of the immigration into Hungary? Molnar replied: "The possible consequence will be that migrants will follow the fence all the way to Kubekhaza and walk around it."

    Molnar took VICE News to inspect the fence construction across a windswept field. A few meters away, a watchtower stands in Serbia and a church's steeple pokes out of a tree in Romania. A white triangular monument sits on the corner where all three borders meet, symbolizing peace and co-operation between the countries.

    The fence abruptly stops here, with miles of open land surrounding it, affording anyone the possibility to simply walk around the edge. Three rows of coiled razor wire wobble in the wind and the individual sharp edges can be bent by applying pressure with the fingers.

    Back in the woods, Mounir and his group have made it across into Hungary but a baby has begun to cry loudly. The whole group stands frozen still as his distressed wails float out into the still night and in the distance dogs begin to bark. Suddenly ahead a police light flashes and it is time for everybody to disperse.

    "Now we have reached the point of no return, my friend. I don't know the destination, maybe straight, maybe not, let's see. No retreat, no surrender."

  • VICE NEWS 'Refugees Will Break the Wall': On the Frontlines of Hungary’s Immigration Fence

    By Andrew Connelly

    Mounir pulls out his phone to consult a map and send his WhatsApp location to a friend monitoring his stealth journey through Europe. He is one of over 60 Syrians and Iraqis huddled together taking a brief rest by dense woodland on the outskirts of the Serbian village of Kanjiza, mere kilometers from the Hungarian border.

    Suddenly one of the group leaders runs down the line, ordering everyone to extinguish cigarettes and turn off cell phones, to avoid detection by border police and roaming bandits. Men, women, and children stand up, their raised protective sticks silhouetted in the moonlight, and descend into the darkness.

    Mounir and his fellow travelers represent a tiny contingent of what the United Nations has called the largest movement of forcibly displaced people since World War II, with refugees currently numbering over 60 million worldwide.

    'Now we have reached the point of no return, my friend.'

    Most are fleeing war and tyranny in Syria and Afghanistan, with other sizeable groups from Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The cheapest route to Europe is from Turkey through the Balkans.

    Hungary is the first European Union (EU) state that migrants reach which is part of the passport-free Schengen scheme, hence it has become the second largest recipient of asylum seekers per capita after Sweden with the government logging over 110,000 asylum applications since the beginning of 2015.

    Less than 1 percent of migrants wish to settle in Hungary and instead merely transit across — hoping to reach Austria, Germany, and other wealthier European nations. Despite this, the right-wing Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has responded to the humanitarian crisis by constructing a 109-mile (175-kilometer) fence across its southern border with Serbia in hope to stem the flow.

    VICE News told Mounir about Hungary's immigration solution. He laughed and replied: "Oh? Nice. How much did this fence cost them? We will find a way to cross this, I'm telling you. Don't worry, just let the border be completed and we will find a way. We have a saying in my country: 'The metal will be discovered by the fire.' The European Union entered the fire, they discovered the metal, and it is strong."

    Is the Hungarian government seriously proposing building borders between EU states?

    Earlier in the day outside the Serbian border town of Subotica, Hassan, a printer from Baghdad and his friend Abbas sit under the shade of a tree, perspiring in the 104 degree Fahrenheit (45 degree Celsius) heat.

    They are temporarily camped in the scrubland area outside an abandoned brick factory that has become an improvised resting point with charities visiting to donate food and water and conduct medical check-ups. A group of 10 Pakistani men appear from a field of crops, asking VICE News the direction to Hungary, before walking off into the distance.

    Hassan fled Iraq after he was threatened by a militia when unable to pay a ransom for his kidnapped brother. Now he is making his way to Belgium where he hopes to claim asylum and bring his family across to build a new life.

    He told VICE News: "I never left my country, even during the war with car bombings. I had a good job and a good salary, but now it's enough, there is danger in front of me. Sometimes when I walk in the street with my family, my kids see corpses on the street. I don't want them to grow up with that."

    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic recently expressed "shock" at Hungary's decision to build a fence across its border and it has sparked fears that Serbia will become a bottleneck of refugees unable to enter its northern neighbor.

    Yet the fence's porosity was already demonstrated last week when 18 migrants were found in the Hungarian village of Assothalom after breaking through using wire-cutters. Assothalom, with a population of just 4,000, has only one police officer so unarmed civilian rangers are employed to monitor the border.

    Driving slowly along in a tiny Lada patrol vehicle, Barnabas Heredi shepherds a collection of apprehended migrants along a country road towards a police checkpoint. Some kind elderly villagers hand out bottles of water from across their gate to the tired masses.

    Heredi told VICE News that he started working one year ago, thinking it would be a quiet job: "I understand why these migrants had to leave but I don't really feel sorry for them. They get treated well here and we still have many poor families in Hungary, why would you help them and not Hungarians?"

    The fence abruptly stops here, with miles of open land surrounding it, affording anyone the possibility to simply walk around the edge.

    On Saturday morning, more than 200 migrants had been apprehended in the fields of Assothalom in the space of one hour, awaiting transportation to immigration camps across Hungary for asylum processing.

    Ali, a wedding photographer from northern Afghanistan trying to reach Finland, walked all night from Serbia to Hungary. He told VICE News: "We should be one land, no border. Refugees will break the wall."

    In Budapest, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told VICE News: "If necessary we are going to build a fence on other sections of the border. You have to halt, you have to stop this happening on the borders of Europe. That's it."

    Hungary shares its eastern border with Romania. Is the Hungarian government seriously proposing building borders between EU states? Kovacs replied: "You cannot rule that option out. You have to stop this flood of illegal migration. Austria and Germany is full. Sweden is full. And they have started to send back people to the entry point, and that's Hungary. And that's a problem."

    In villages on the frontier, some officials hold a different view. In Kubekhaza, the site where the fence construction first started, mayor Robert Molnar told VICE News: "This is not about immigration, it's all internal politics. This fence is just an obscene gesture to the far-right and it's causing damage to Hungary's international reputation. It shows the world that we don't care about their problems."

    Won't the fence help to stem some of the immigration into Hungary? Molnar replied: "The possible consequence will be that migrants will follow the fence all the way to Kubekhaza and walk around it."

    Molnar took VICE News to inspect the fence construction across a windswept field. A few meters away, a watchtower stands in Serbia and a church's steeple pokes out of a tree in Romania. A white triangular monument sits on the corner where all three borders meet, symbolizing peace and co-operation between the countries.

    The fence abruptly stops here, with miles of open land surrounding it, affording anyone the possibility to simply walk around the edge. Three rows of coiled razor wire wobble in the wind and the individual sharp edges can be bent by applying pressure with the fingers.

    Back in the woods, Mounir and his group have made it across into Hungary but a baby has begun to cry loudly. The whole group stands frozen still as his distressed wails float out into the still night and in the distance dogs begin to bark. Suddenly ahead a police light flashes and it is time for everybody to disperse.

    "Now we have reached the point of no return, my friend. I don't know the destination, maybe straight, maybe not, let's see. No retreat, no surrender."

  • IL MIO LIVEBLOG SULLE ELEZIONI DEL 7 GIUGNO

  • VICE NEWS 'Even God Forgot This Place': Welcome to the Oilfields of Azerbaijan

    VICE News

    n the late 13th century, the explorer Marco Polo travelled to the region that comprises modern-day Azerbaijan and reported seeing gushing oil geysers, some of which ignited and lit up the night sky. These days, the sky above the capital Baku is more likely to be illuminated by spotlights from stadiums or skyscrapers paid for by the country's black gold.

    The city just hosted the inaugural European Games, an Olympics-style multi-sport tournament for athletes from 50 countries, and Azerbaijan's government has spent billions on glittery decorations and lavish ceremonies. Yet rumors of a further devaluation of the country's currency, dipping oil prices, and discontent over the Games' ballooning costs are exposing the vulnerability of a nation whose economy is one of the most oil-dependent in the world.

    A few kilometers north of Baku's $640 million Olympic Stadium — which recently hosted a lavish opening ceremony that featured fireworks, Vladimir Putin, magic carpets, and Lady Gaga — a shepherd named Ibrahim gazed at his flock next to a clump of reeds growing improbably in the wastelands of the Balakhani oilfields.

    "I'm so proud," he told VICE News. "Before these games, nobody knew where, or even what, is Azerbaijan, but now everybody will go back to their countries and tell their families about us."

    It's unlikely that any European Games spectators will make it to Balakhani, yet the coveted crude that fuels what was the world's first oil industry was originally dredged from this exact spot. In 2013, while Europe was still bleakly trudging through recession, Azerbaijan sold an average of 880,000 barrels of oil per day, and was one of the world's fastest-growing economies for several years.

    even-god-forgot-this-place-welcome-to-the-oilfields-of-azerbaijan-body-image-1435687788

     

    But the precipitous decline in the price of oil from $110 to a low of $50 has caused some panic in the Azerbaijani government, including a recent 30 percent devaluation of the Manat currency. It is abundantly clear, however, that nation's vast wealth from hydrocarbons has never truly touched the neighborhoods around the oilfields.

    A few houses in Balakhani stand clean, bright and proud behind metal gates fringed with vines, while others are clustered in areas with an appearance that verges on post-apocalyptic. The wind whips up putrid fumes of burning plastic next to an oil-slicked lake entirely ringed with a crest of blackened bottles, tires, ossified birds, and children's clothes. Some shacks sit in the shadow of the hypnotic Soviet-era "nodding donkey" pumps, which oscillate metronomically, squeaking as they suck the ground dry. Villagers are not accustomed to seeing foreigners, yet welcoming hand signals, offers of tea, and requests for selfies are numerous.

    "What are you doing here? Even God forgot this place!" a young man told VICE News.

    A local named Samira stood in the doorway of her 100-year-old house in the middle of a desert filled with metal and crisscrossing pipes. The area is practically uninhabited, but Samira has lived here all her life. After both her grandparents and parents died from illnesses, she now looks after her two younger brothers.

    "I suppose I'm quite proud to live where Azerbaijan's oil was first found, but sometimes I wish that they would improve things here, most people in Azerbaijan don't have a job," she said. "Right now I'm not working because they closed down the factory for the European Games. I guess they will open it after it's over."

    Reports have swirled around the city that company heads and state employees have been forced to buy tickets to the Games, with the money taken directly from their salaries. A teacher in Azerbaijan makes on average $150 per month. A recent wave of arrests also saw oligarchs with debts to the state shaken down to fill the European Games-size hole in the budget.

    Such jitters might be surprising in a land where petrol flows so freely that in the nearby Naftalan spa, people literally bathe in oil for its so-called therapeutic properties. From the late 1800s, oil barons such as the Nobel dynasty spilled into the city, building opulent villas on Baku's seafront "Oilman Avenue." By 1900, Azerbaijan became the provider of half the world's oil. So coveted was the region in World War II that in one video, Nazi generals can be seen presenting Hitler with a cake of the Caspian Sea, with the smiling Führer cutting a slice labeled "Baku."

    The oilfields are home to a large number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region over which Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia have fought a ruinous conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives since the late 80s.

    At a rowdy café, Emil, sipping a beer next to wall daubed with posters of war veterans, delivered an extensive patriotic speech, welcoming foreigners to the country. Asked if anyone living in the oilfields works for the oil industry, and whether the government subsidizes people that live here, Emil hesitates and turns to the translator.

    "Look, don't translate this to him because I am too ashamed," he said. "Everybody knows where the money really goes." Emil pointed to the sky, a common gesture in Azerbaijan to refer to the government without audibly saying so.

    Large Jeeps with tinted windows rolled past, and people turned their heads. Oil has transformed Baku into a gleaming Oz-like metropolis, though the authorities, playing the role of the wizard, would prefer tourists not to peek under the curtain at places such as Balakhani. Much of the land belongs to SOCAR, the state oil company, which has been hostile to the media in the past. In 2012, journalist Idrak Abbasov was beaten into a coma by security guards for the company while he filmed illegal evictions and demolitions near his house. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the crime.

    "Foreigners came, drilled our land, and gave us money which we spend," political scientist Hikmet Hadjizadeh told VICE News. "Is that development? No. This is a petrocracy. We have been hearing for over 20 years that our economy would diversify, but so far nothing happened, and true development will only occur when we have political and property rights."

    SOCAR's website features a quote from Azerbaijan's former President Heydar Aliyev, who signed the "contract of the century" in 1994 that opened Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields to a consortium of multinationals led by BP.

    "Azerbaijan's possession of large reserves of oil and gas is our nation`s good fortune and is the most important factor for the welfare of its people and the country's development, now and in the future," Aliyev said.

    With Europe keen to reduce dependence on Russian energy, new pipelines connecting Azerbaijan's gas fields with the Mediterranean are eagerly awaited. Meanwhile, back in Balakhani, Samira smiled and squinted into the amber glow of the evening sun as it slowly sank into the horizon. The squeak of a nearby pump perforated the silence.

    "I would gladly invite you in for a tea, but right now I can't buy any," she said. "Inshallah, next time you visit, I will have some."

  • VICE NEWS 'Even God Forgot This Place': Welcome to the Oilfields of Azerbaijan

    VICE News

    n the late 13th century, the explorer Marco Polo travelled to the region that comprises modern-day Azerbaijan and reported seeing gushing oil geysers, some of which ignited and lit up the night sky. These days, the sky above the capital Baku is more likely to be illuminated by spotlights from stadiums or skyscrapers paid for by the country's black gold.

    The city just hosted the inaugural European Games, an Olympics-style multi-sport tournament for athletes from 50 countries, and Azerbaijan's government has spent billions on glittery decorations and lavish ceremonies. Yet rumors of a further devaluation of the country's currency, dipping oil prices, and discontent over the Games' ballooning costs are exposing the vulnerability of a nation whose economy is one of the most oil-dependent in the world.

    A few kilometers north of Baku's $640 million Olympic Stadium — which recently hosted a lavish opening ceremony that featured fireworks, Vladimir Putin, magic carpets, and Lady Gaga — a shepherd named Ibrahim gazed at his flock next to a clump of reeds growing improbably in the wastelands of the Balakhani oilfields.

    "I'm so proud," he told VICE News. "Before these games, nobody knew where, or even what, is Azerbaijan, but now everybody will go back to their countries and tell their families about us."

    It's unlikely that any European Games spectators will make it to Balakhani, yet the coveted crude that fuels what was the world's first oil industry was originally dredged from this exact spot. In 2013, while Europe was still bleakly trudging through recession, Azerbaijan sold an average of 880,000 barrels of oil per day, and was one of the world's fastest-growing economies for several years.

    even-god-forgot-this-place-welcome-to-the-oilfields-of-azerbaijan-body-image-1435687788

     

    But the precipitous decline in the price of oil from $110 to a low of $50 has caused some panic in the Azerbaijani government, including a recent 30 percent devaluation of the Manat currency. It is abundantly clear, however, that nation's vast wealth from hydrocarbons has never truly touched the neighborhoods around the oilfields.

    A few houses in Balakhani stand clean, bright and proud behind metal gates fringed with vines, while others are clustered in areas with an appearance that verges on post-apocalyptic. The wind whips up putrid fumes of burning plastic next to an oil-slicked lake entirely ringed with a crest of blackened bottles, tires, ossified birds, and children's clothes. Some shacks sit in the shadow of the hypnotic Soviet-era "nodding donkey" pumps, which oscillate metronomically, squeaking as they suck the ground dry. Villagers are not accustomed to seeing foreigners, yet welcoming hand signals, offers of tea, and requests for selfies are numerous.

    "What are you doing here? Even God forgot this place!" a young man told VICE News.

    A local named Samira stood in the doorway of her 100-year-old house in the middle of a desert filled with metal and crisscrossing pipes. The area is practically uninhabited, but Samira has lived here all her life. After both her grandparents and parents died from illnesses, she now looks after her two younger brothers.

    "I suppose I'm quite proud to live where Azerbaijan's oil was first found, but sometimes I wish that they would improve things here, most people in Azerbaijan don't have a job," she said. "Right now I'm not working because they closed down the factory for the European Games. I guess they will open it after it's over."

    Reports have swirled around the city that company heads and state employees have been forced to buy tickets to the Games, with the money taken directly from their salaries. A teacher in Azerbaijan makes on average $150 per month. A recent wave of arrests also saw oligarchs with debts to the state shaken down to fill the European Games-size hole in the budget.

    Such jitters might be surprising in a land where petrol flows so freely that in the nearby Naftalan spa, people literally bathe in oil for its so-called therapeutic properties. From the late 1800s, oil barons such as the Nobel dynasty spilled into the city, building opulent villas on Baku's seafront "Oilman Avenue." By 1900, Azerbaijan became the provider of half the world's oil. So coveted was the region in World War II that in one video, Nazi generals can be seen presenting Hitler with a cake of the Caspian Sea, with the smiling Führer cutting a slice labeled "Baku."

    The oilfields are home to a large number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region over which Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia have fought a ruinous conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives since the late 80s.

    At a rowdy café, Emil, sipping a beer next to wall daubed with posters of war veterans, delivered an extensive patriotic speech, welcoming foreigners to the country. Asked if anyone living in the oilfields works for the oil industry, and whether the government subsidizes people that live here, Emil hesitates and turns to the translator.

    "Look, don't translate this to him because I am too ashamed," he said. "Everybody knows where the money really goes." Emil pointed to the sky, a common gesture in Azerbaijan to refer to the government without audibly saying so.

    Large Jeeps with tinted windows rolled past, and people turned their heads. Oil has transformed Baku into a gleaming Oz-like metropolis, though the authorities, playing the role of the wizard, would prefer tourists not to peek under the curtain at places such as Balakhani. Much of the land belongs to SOCAR, the state oil company, which has been hostile to the media in the past. In 2012, journalist Idrak Abbasov was beaten into a coma by security guards for the company while he filmed illegal evictions and demolitions near his house. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the crime.

    "Foreigners came, drilled our land, and gave us money which we spend," political scientist Hikmet Hadjizadeh told VICE News. "Is that development? No. This is a petrocracy. We have been hearing for over 20 years that our economy would diversify, but so far nothing happened, and true development will only occur when we have political and property rights."

    SOCAR's website features a quote from Azerbaijan's former President Heydar Aliyev, who signed the "contract of the century" in 1994 that opened Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields to a consortium of multinationals led by BP.

    "Azerbaijan's possession of large reserves of oil and gas is our nation`s good fortune and is the most important factor for the welfare of its people and the country's development, now and in the future," Aliyev said.

    With Europe keen to reduce dependence on Russian energy, new pipelines connecting Azerbaijan's gas fields with the Mediterranean are eagerly awaited. Meanwhile, back in Balakhani, Samira smiled and squinted into the amber glow of the evening sun as it slowly sank into the horizon. The squeak of a nearby pump perforated the silence.

    "I would gladly invite you in for a tea, but right now I can't buy any," she said. "Inshallah, next time you visit, I will have some."

  • VICE NEWS 'Even God Forgot This Place': Welcome to the Oilfields of Azerbaijan

    VICE News

    n the late 13th century, the explorer Marco Polo travelled to the region that comprises modern-day Azerbaijan and reported seeing gushing oil geysers, some of which ignited and lit up the night sky. These days, the sky above the capital Baku is more likely to be illuminated by spotlights from stadiums or skyscrapers paid for by the country's black gold.

    The city just hosted the inaugural European Games, an Olympics-style multi-sport tournament for athletes from 50 countries, and Azerbaijan's government has spent billions on glittery decorations and lavish ceremonies. Yet rumors of a further devaluation of the country's currency, dipping oil prices, and discontent over the Games' ballooning costs are exposing the vulnerability of a nation whose economy is one of the most oil-dependent in the world.

    A few kilometers north of Baku's $640 million Olympic Stadium — which recently hosted a lavish opening ceremony that featured fireworks, Vladimir Putin, magic carpets, and Lady Gaga — a shepherd named Ibrahim gazed at his flock next to a clump of reeds growing improbably in the wastelands of the Balakhani oilfields.

    "I'm so proud," he told VICE News. "Before these games, nobody knew where, or even what, is Azerbaijan, but now everybody will go back to their countries and tell their families about us."

    It's unlikely that any European Games spectators will make it to Balakhani, yet the coveted crude that fuels what was the world's first oil industry was originally dredged from this exact spot. In 2013, while Europe was still bleakly trudging through recession, Azerbaijan sold an average of 880,000 barrels of oil per day, and was one of the world's fastest-growing economies for several years.

    even-god-forgot-this-place-welcome-to-the-oilfields-of-azerbaijan-body-image-1435687788

     

    But the precipitous decline in the price of oil from $110 to a low of $50 has caused some panic in the Azerbaijani government, including a recent 30 percent devaluation of the Manat currency. It is abundantly clear, however, that nation's vast wealth from hydrocarbons has never truly touched the neighborhoods around the oilfields.

    A few houses in Balakhani stand clean, bright and proud behind metal gates fringed with vines, while others are clustered in areas with an appearance that verges on post-apocalyptic. The wind whips up putrid fumes of burning plastic next to an oil-slicked lake entirely ringed with a crest of blackened bottles, tires, ossified birds, and children's clothes. Some shacks sit in the shadow of the hypnotic Soviet-era "nodding donkey" pumps, which oscillate metronomically, squeaking as they suck the ground dry. Villagers are not accustomed to seeing foreigners, yet welcoming hand signals, offers of tea, and requests for selfies are numerous.

    "What are you doing here? Even God forgot this place!" a young man told VICE News.

    A local named Samira stood in the doorway of her 100-year-old house in the middle of a desert filled with metal and crisscrossing pipes. The area is practically uninhabited, but Samira has lived here all her life. After both her grandparents and parents died from illnesses, she now looks after her two younger brothers.

    "I suppose I'm quite proud to live where Azerbaijan's oil was first found, but sometimes I wish that they would improve things here, most people in Azerbaijan don't have a job," she said. "Right now I'm not working because they closed down the factory for the European Games. I guess they will open it after it's over."

    Reports have swirled around the city that company heads and state employees have been forced to buy tickets to the Games, with the money taken directly from their salaries. A teacher in Azerbaijan makes on average $150 per month. A recent wave of arrests also saw oligarchs with debts to the state shaken down to fill the European Games-size hole in the budget.

    Such jitters might be surprising in a land where petrol flows so freely that in the nearby Naftalan spa, people literally bathe in oil for its so-called therapeutic properties. From the late 1800s, oil barons such as the Nobel dynasty spilled into the city, building opulent villas on Baku's seafront "Oilman Avenue." By 1900, Azerbaijan became the provider of half the world's oil. So coveted was the region in World War II that in one video, Nazi generals can be seen presenting Hitler with a cake of the Caspian Sea, with the smiling Führer cutting a slice labeled "Baku."

    The oilfields are home to a large number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region over which Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia have fought a ruinous conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives since the late 80s.

    At a rowdy café, Emil, sipping a beer next to wall daubed with posters of war veterans, delivered an extensive patriotic speech, welcoming foreigners to the country. Asked if anyone living in the oilfields works for the oil industry, and whether the government subsidizes people that live here, Emil hesitates and turns to the translator.

    "Look, don't translate this to him because I am too ashamed," he said. "Everybody knows where the money really goes." Emil pointed to the sky, a common gesture in Azerbaijan to refer to the government without audibly saying so.

    Large Jeeps with tinted windows rolled past, and people turned their heads. Oil has transformed Baku into a gleaming Oz-like metropolis, though the authorities, playing the role of the wizard, would prefer tourists not to peek under the curtain at places such as Balakhani. Much of the land belongs to SOCAR, the state oil company, which has been hostile to the media in the past. In 2012, journalist Idrak Abbasov was beaten into a coma by security guards for the company while he filmed illegal evictions and demolitions near his house. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the crime.

    "Foreigners came, drilled our land, and gave us money which we spend," political scientist Hikmet Hadjizadeh told VICE News. "Is that development? No. This is a petrocracy. We have been hearing for over 20 years that our economy would diversify, but so far nothing happened, and true development will only occur when we have political and property rights."

    SOCAR's website features a quote from Azerbaijan's former President Heydar Aliyev, who signed the "contract of the century" in 1994 that opened Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields to a consortium of multinationals led by BP.

    "Azerbaijan's possession of large reserves of oil and gas is our nation`s good fortune and is the most important factor for the welfare of its people and the country's development, now and in the future," Aliyev said.

    With Europe keen to reduce dependence on Russian energy, new pipelines connecting Azerbaijan's gas fields with the Mediterranean are eagerly awaited. Meanwhile, back in Balakhani, Samira smiled and squinted into the amber glow of the evening sun as it slowly sank into the horizon. The squeak of a nearby pump perforated the silence.

    "I would gladly invite you in for a tea, but right now I can't buy any," she said. "Inshallah, next time you visit, I will have some."

  • In Turchia il partito di Erdogan fa i conti con i nuovi equilibri - Mio pezzo per Panorama - 17 Giugno 2015

    In Turchia il partito di Erdogan fa i conti con i nuovi equilibri - Mio pezzo per Panorama - 17 Giugno 2015

    Pnr post elezioni giugno

  • Erdogan, il genocidio armeno e il voto di giugno - Panorama - Maggio 2015

    Erdogan, il genocidio armeno e il voto di giugno - Panorama - Maggio 2015

    Panorama - Centenario Genocidio Armeno

  • Sinistra radicale e curdi sperano nell’effetto Syriza

    (Alberto Tetta - Askanews) Galvanizzato dalla vittoria elettorale di Alexis Tsipras, il Partito democratico dei popoli (Hdp) spera che l’effetto Syriza arrivi anche in Turchia. “L’Hdp ha iniziato il suo cammino verso il governo proprio come Syriza” ha dichiarato il co-segretario del partito Selahattin Demirtas, in un’intervista pubblicata dal quotidiano curdo Ozgur Gundem. La coalizione tra autonomisti curdi e sinistra radicale, mira a superare l’alta soglia di sbarramento elettorale, fissata in Turchia al 10%, e si candida a diventare il principale movimento d’opposizione al Partito della giustizia e dello sviluppo (Akp) del presidente Recep Tayyip Erdogan dopo le elezioni del 7 giugno.

     

    Il successo della sinistra greca non è passata inosservata in Turchia. I principali quotidiani hanno messo in prima pagina la vittoria di Syriza. “Al potere il ragazzo ribelle” titola il quotidiano Hurriyet, “Sinistra radicale al governo” scrive Milliyet e per Cumhurriyet, giornale del principale partito d’opposizione in Grecia: “la speranza ha scritto la storia”. “Intendiamo lavorare con la Grecia per riddure i conflitti e riprendere le trattative su Cipro e Syriza condivide quest’opinione” ha dichiarato, dal canto suo, oggi il ministro degli Esteri turco Mevlut Cavusoglu, in una conferenza stampa con l’omologo ungherese Peter Szijjarto.

     

    Il primo a congratularsi con il neo-premier Tsipras, però, è stato il segretario dell’Hdp Demirtas con un messaggio su twitter ieri notte, in turco e in greco. Il partito è nato nel 2012 dall’accordo tra il pro-curdo Partito della democrazia e della pace (Bdp), vicino ai guerriglieri autonomisti del Pkk, molti piccoli partiti della sinistra radicale turca e gruppi femministi, ecologisti e Lgbt, oltre che diverse organizzazioni delle minoranze etnico-religiose turche come armeni e aleviti.

     

    Il giovane partito che si è presentato solo nelle zone non a maggioranza curda per lasciare spazio agli alleati del Bdp, ha raccolto meno del 2% dei consensi alle amministrative del marzo 2014, per balzare al 9,7% alle presidenziali del 10 agosto e ora punta a superare il 10% alle politiche del 7 giugno e ora spera di ripetere l’exploit di Syriza.

     

    “Non possiamo chiaramente dire che la situazione in Turchia, Spagna e Grecia è sovrapponibile, ma hanno in comune con la Turchia una situazione di forte stallo – spiega Demirtas su Ozgur Gundem – Una seria crisi economica pesa sulle istanze di maggiore democrazia e libertà.

    In Spagna e in Grecia la gente ha perso fiducia per i partiti politici che si ispirano al sistema neoliberista. (Syriza e Podemos) hanno capito che era necessario marciare uniti (ad altre forze) per arrivare al governo. In questo sono simili all’Hdp che è riuscito a mettere insieme molti gruppi che lottano, senza dimenticare il suo passato.”

    La sinistra curda in passato, aveva presentato candidati indipendenti per aggirare l’alta soglia di sbarramento elettorale turca, ma questa volta ha annunciato che si presenterà alle elezioni come partito, correndo anche il rischio di rimanere fuori dal parlamento. Una paura che potrebbe spingere la parte dell’elettorato curdo più conservatore che ha votato Erdogan alle presidenziali a sostenere l’Hdp perché le istanze della comunità non rimangano fuori dal parlamento. Per superare la soglia di sbarramento, l’Hdp spera di raccogliere anche i voti dei turchi liberali e di sinistra, scesi in piazza nell’estate del 2013 in tutto il Paese, contro la demolizione del parco Gezi, e delusi dalla debole opposizione del Chp, il movimento creato dal fondatore della Repubblica di Turchia Mustafa Kemal Ataturk negli anni ’20, da sempre punto di riferimento della élite turca.

     

    Se riuscirà a ottenere il 10% dei consensi, i pro-curdi potrebbero conquistare decine di parlamentare nel’sud-est a maggioranza curda scompigliando i piani di Erdogan. L’Akp vuole cambiare la costituzione per dare maggiori poteri al capo dello Stato, ma non dispone dei 330 parlamentari necessari a riformare la costituzione in senso presidenzialista e mira, quindi, ad allargare il suo gruppo parlamentare vincendo con oltre il 55% dei voti le politiche del 7 giugno per poi cambiare la Carta.

     

    Secondo gli analisti turchi con tutta probabilità l’Akp si confermerà di nuovo come primo partito, ma se l’Hdp supererà la soglia di sbarramento, potrebbe conquistare decine di parlamentare nel sud-est a maggioranza curda a scapito dell’Akp che non riuscirebbe così ad eleggere i 330 deputati necessari a fare approvare la riforma presidenzialista.

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