German Pirate Party MP Jörg Tauss to support imprisoned Azerbaijani activists

Jörg Tauss, a former social democrat who has recently joined Germany’s Pirate Party to become its first MP, has announced he is going to visit Azerbaijan from Juli 28 to 31 in support of two arrested activists, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada.

Global Voices Advocacy has some information on the two detainees’ case:

“In what might be the first case of a prominent blogger being assaulted and detained in the South Caucasus, two youth activists were yesterday imprisoned for two months pre-trial investigative detention in what many consider to be a travesty of justice. […]

Ali S. Novruzov (who himself had been detained earlier this year) and Onnik Krikorian continue to cover the case for Global Voices Advocacy.

Jörg Tauss asks his peers to support Milli and Hajizada by sending mails to Azerbaijani officials and also points them to an online petition.

It’s interesting to see Tauss using both classic diplomacy and up-to-date digital activism to build up pressure on Azerbaijani authorities to release the two activists. While Jörg Tauss is in a very special position since he is not member of a big party, but rather the figurehead of a new web-based extraparliamentary opposition, this mix of two tactics is certainly interesting. And I must say I am not sure what to think of it.

On the one hand, we who always complain about politics which have distanced themselves from the people should embrace when high-ranking politicians turn to us to make politics. In a way, by sending letters to Azerbaijani officials we all become diplomats. This is some kind of a democratization of foreign politics. Not one that has been enabled by the web, but one that has been made essentially easier by its technological means.

Not that we have any real power to show off confronting the Azerbaijani authorities, but neither does Mr. Tauss as an opposition politician. And to be fair: Would our leaders do anything to Azerbaijan just to support some poor activists? I doubt it. All foreigners can do in this case is to show that they care.

So I say this is a democratization of diplomacy. Democratization is one of the big words we use to honor tiny steps we make towards a society we dream of, where we imagine to people to have more power, and the big players to have less.

And this is the point where I see a dark side of how Mr. Tauss turns to the netizens to support Milli and Hajizada. Because I know that many grassroot activists shy away from becoming related to any kind of foreign government or state-controlled organization for good reasons, I am myself skeptical about official politics and grassroot activism mingling.

When party or national politics become mixed with the efforts of grassroot activists, the latter are always in danger to suffer from this connection. This becomes even more true when it comes to foreign politics. While I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Tauss as a citizen, I find it worrying that he spearheads what should not need to be lead by any politicians.

Mr. Tauss may, as I have said, be in a special situation. He is, for certain reasons, no longer a member of the establishment. Still, when visiting Azerbaijan as a German MP, he acts as if he were (and he can do nothing about it – he is a German MP, and he will be seen as one).

Additionally, Mr. Tauss has done something I deem as a failure: He has started his own campaign to support Milli and Hajizada. It is a German campaign, started and lead by a German MP. Something I have always heard from activists in the Middle East was their urge to Westerners not to start their own campaigns, but rather to support local activists. Their argument is clear: Foreigners just do not have the insights needed to run a successful campaign. They can still make a difference, but they can only do so if they act focused. That is why they should support those familiar with the environment in which the case is set.

In this case, the mingling of said tactics may still form a fine strategy. But in general, the people should in on their own behalf instead of following the order of authorities. Everybody can stand up for human rights. That does not need a MP as crutch. Officials may join or even lead any campaign. But they should do so as citizens, not as politicians.

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