Sing For Democracy

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There are many people who have criticised the European Broadcasting Union for holding Eurovision in a country not noted for having a liberal view on human rights. But for us, the best way to learn about a country is to see it for yourself, talk to the locals and root about the back streets looking for he earthier side of life. And over the last couple of days we’ve experienced two very different kinds of protest first hand.

As we were bimbling our way to the arena this morning, we passed a small group of locals striding purposefully across Fountain Square, all wearing t-shirts sporting the Sing For Democracy movement logo, and surrounded by yellow tabard wearing press. Thing this could turn out interesting, we followed them to the door of the local bazar, where a few more had already congregated. One of their number came up to us and said “We’re about to have a two minute protest, please follow us” and at that moment about sixty fellow protesters melted out of the shops and started charging back towards the square, shouting something along the lines of “Democracy!” in the Azeri language.

Instantly the police got nervous, but mindful of the negative press coverage of last week’s protest, hung back as the group zig-zagged through the fountains, gathering members as it went. It wasn’t just young, westernised youth that were involved. Now mumsy middle-aged women and little old men in hats were starting to join the fray. By the time we’d reached a major junction in the main shopping area, the crowd had swelled considerably.

It had all been perfectly peaceful up to now, but looking around you could see some slightly heavy characters in civilian dress joining in around the fringes, and some pro-government locals had started to argue with the protesters, causing a few minor scuffles. At this point a line of police appeared, cutting the protest in two. Those who tried to cross the line were pulled away, often quite forcefully, by those heavies in civvies, and the arguing began. And they do like a good argue around these parts.

In the end it passed off mostly peacefully, but at times there was a real sense that it could have got  a bit nasty. One can only wonder what might have happened to them if the western press weren’t out in force filming their every move.

We managed to film the whole thing on Bambuser, but please do forgive the slightly hazy shakeycam and my sausage fingers occasionally creeping into view. I was trying to take pictures with my other hand and avoid being snatched by the rozzers…

Have a look by clicking this link… Sing For Democracy protest, Fountain Square, Baku

In contrast, yesterday afternoon we attended a slightly legal show by a couple of local punky metal bands in the city’s Rock’n'Roll Cafe. I’d heard word that all rock shows had been discouraged from taking place by the government, but they’d got around it by calling it an open rehearsal that only members of the promoter’s fan club could enter. Despite a nosy police van parked right outside, it all passed off without incident – the most teenaged crowd peacefully lapping up the Evanescence-flavoured sounds of Empathy and the cutely dumb nu metal racket of Live Or Leave. It was terrific fun, and a great chance to meet with the local kids and talk about punk rock and the city of Baku.

It’s an amazing place, but it’d be great to come back in a couple of years to see how things are when there’s not a big event on. people talk about the Olympic legacy, but it would be interesting to see what kind of a legacy this funny old show is going to leave on the place.

Right, that’s got the serious stuff out of the way – from here on in it’s pop all the way!


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