Catapults and Critics
Report from Budapest
It was a bit dizzying to have both Larry Lessig, who loves the Internet and social networks, and Evgeny Mrozov, who doesn’t, in town the same week. Larry held forth Monday on how money drives the legislative process in Congress, and Evgeny gave us some dark thoughts on Friday from his Net Delusion book about how slacktivism can divert us from genuine civic activity, even as dictators effectively nail folks down with heat-seeking propaganda tools and tracking technologies.
But the real star of the week, from my perspective, was Ahmad Gharbeia, an Egyptian blogger and digital activist who told us on Friday about how social networking communication and organizing tools worked during the Tahrir Square revolution. He said the struggle is not yet over, since the Egyptian Army is acting like the old regime when it continues to persecuting activists and bloggers, with military trials. The detention in jail of his colleague @Alaa Abd ElFattah was extended today for another 15 days.
Ahmad said that a turning point in the revolution came when the Mubarak’s regime actually shut down the entire Internet in the country. This required the activists for a time to resort to medieval catapults to lob their news bulletins out of the encampment on the square, to the periphery where theoretically people in the shadows would retrieve them.
Meanwhile, a rumored Occupy Budapest movement this weekend failed to materialize in nearby Szabadsag (Freedom) square. The police seemed to know in advance that something was up; a band of them were waiting just around the corner. A delegation of European press freedom advocates arrived Sunday night for three days, including meetings with government officials, to challenge the new Hungarian media laws. A study, to be issued this week by the Center for Media and Communication Studies where I am a fellow, will show that the Hungarian media laws are indeed out of line with European Union norms, despite the Hungarian government’s claims to the contrary.
So democracy is an ongoing struggle, with or without liberated media and communication tools. On the good news front, all of us—the Egyptian army, the embattled bloggers, the money bags in Congress and their critics, the Hungarian government and its critics--all of us apparently dodged an earth-crushing asteroid last week. To celebrate, I’m heading to the USA on Tuesday to see for myself how the home fires may be burning there as the winter begins.--Nov. 13, 2011