Monday, October 8

What do I wish for my country (my speech from the opening ceremony at Forum 2000 in Prague)


These have been tough times for democracy advocates and proponents. 

We are living in liquid times, trying to stand on moving sands in a world that is full of unprecedented challenges. 

One of my favorite writers, Elif Safak, sums it well in a story she shared in one of her recent talks. Safak mentions this club called “Worried, and depressed, international writers club”. 

Each time its members who come from countries like Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela, Nigeria would come together at international conferences and events, recalls Safak, they would smile at each other in sympathy as comradery of the doomed. 

But more recently explains Safak, the club has welcomed new members from places like Poland, Hungary, Greece, Austria, France, UK, the Netherlands and the United States. 

“Suddenly there were more of us worried about our nations, and the future of our world”, explained Safak in her talk. 

I might not be a member of this club, but I am too worried about the future of my country and the world. 

So here I am, standing in front of you, tonight, tasked with a very tough question - of what is it that I wish for my own country, Azerbaijan in these challenging times. 

I love my motherland but a place I call home has never been mine. 

It has been in the hands of illiberal politicians exploiting it. These so-called leaders have looted its resources, gained power at the expense of others, and who have turned my motherland, into a fiefdom. 

As a result, Azerbaijan is known for its devastating press freedom record, grave human rights abuses, abducting its journalists and smuggling them back into the country, for money laundering, secret slush funds, and Panama Paper leaks. 

So what can someone like me, who has never had a chance to have a say in the present and the future of my country wish for it? a chance for free and fair election, a plurality of opinions and voices, ensuring equality, and fostering transparency. 

To me, these are some of the most important pillars of democracy. 

Now how to achieve these, that's the hardest part. I think a good place to start would be by getting some inspiration from Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s 14th-century fresco on the allegory of good and bad government. 

For the sake of time, and context, I will focus on the good, because we know all too well how the bad one looks like. 

In the fresco on good government, you see the commune who tells the people that they should be the ones who rule themselves and not their kings or queens. Surrounding commune are his advisors - justice enthroned looking up at the figure of wisdom who supports the scales of justice; harmony binding justice to the citizens; and peace. And watching over the republic is Security with a banner that reads: everyone shall go forth freely and without fear. 

This is how I imagine Azerbaijan. A nation freed of a tyrant, guided by justice, who at present sits in shackles at the feet of our leadership; where civic ideals and a plurality of opinions are celebrated; rather than perish in prisons; where civil society is vibrant and where a nation isn’t governed by fear but by solidarity and freedom. 

Thank you!

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