Saturday, November 1, 2008

Truth to be Silenced?

The Azerbaijani government has decided to kick Radio Liberty and BBC off the airwaves beginning next year. The government says it wants to restrict local broadcasts of international media.

This is a very bad decision.

Radio Liberty and BBC are the only two stations in the country that provide high quality news and information to the people of Azerbaijan. More importantly, these two radio stations are not afraid to speak out about issues -- including corruption and bribery -- issues that would never see the light of day, otherwise, simply because all other stations are either state-owned or too afraid to speak out.

Since I've been in Azerbaijan, dozens of people have told me that the only place that they can get real news that is not tainted by self-censorship or government intimidation is on these two stations.

Personally, I have worked closely with Radio Liberty and have provided news programs to them on a variety of issues -- the government's lack of attention to Internally Displaced Persons, corruption at various levels of government, poor health care and a host of other issues. Radio Liberty did not hesitate to broadcast this material. In fact, it was often the only broadcaster who was willing to do so.

The entire country suffers if Radio Liberty and the BBC are silenced in Azerbaijan. They are the only places to turn -- when citizens want to hear something other than "happy news."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Way - The Wrong Way

Traffic is a royal pain in Baku and when the president decides to go somewhere, the traffic situation gets even worse. That's what happened yesterday. All the main streets were blocked for more than one hour -- forcing drivers to make long detours through very narrow streets.

We need to go about seven blocks, but had to make one of those long detours. The driver, Heydar, decided to make the long detour a bit shorter. He pushes down the accelerator on his Mercedes and turns left onto a one way street -- there were three problems: we were going the wrong way, the street was incredibly narrow and the line of cars in front of us stretched on forever.

Heydar laid down on his car horn and proceeded down the street. Not a single driver seemed to think it was out of the ordinary -- they just moved over as much as they could -- and we squeezed by.

After three blocks or so, we finally got off the one-way street, but had to take another one -- and this one went right past the police station. The cops didn't even notice -- we just drove right by them -- they continued talking.

As Heydar explained, drivers feel forced to break the law since there are so many cars and so few streets and alternative routes -- particularly when the president decides to close the streets.