Internet, the great equalizer
PRAGUE, Czech Republic—All roads lead to the Internet, to that vast and eternal space out there. It’s going to be the great equalizer as developing countries’ economies expand and widen access to cyberspace.
The Internet is also the future of the media and the civic marketplace, whether in the US, Asia, or Europe. TV, print, and radio will converge online, on the ubiquitous cellphone, or tablet, and laptop.
These threads ran through many of the discussions here, in an annual global forum that is the legacy of the late Vaclav Havel, democracy icon, writer and former president.
Take Tarik Nesh-Nash, 33, described as an “electronic activist,” or an “e-activist.” He’s for real and I met him in person.
Energetic and enthusiastic, Tarik is a software engineer from Morocco, an Arab monarchy. He worked with Microsoft in Seattle and China and returned home to build a start-up company. He has since made waves; he designed a software that allowed citizens to draft a new Constitution.
All the Moroccans did was to log in to a website and write their comments and proposals to various provisions of their Constitution. The final Constitution, drafted in 2011 amid the changes brought about by the Arab spring, incorporated ideas from the crowd—and was approved by a large majority.
“Setting up a constitutional monarchy, Morocco has initiated a new governing style that other Arab leaders could possibly follow suit and introduce key amendments to their respective constitutions that will guarantee real democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression,” wrote the Eurasia Review. “If these constitutional amendments have succeeded in countries like Morocco…for sure they can witness same success in other Arab monarchies.”
It was refreshing to listen to Michael Anti speak. He’s 37 and one of China’s 300 million microbloggers. Brimming with idealism, he says that the Internet is the media platform in China and he can’t wait for the day that they will be completely free.
“Free speech is our birthright,” he declares, dismissing counsel for him and his generation to be patient. “It’s not something that we imported from overseas.”
I wonder if he would be noticed by the omnipresent Chinese official censors and what awaits him in Beijing.
But as he explains, censorship is selective. Posts that are deleted usually have to do with national officials, who have the resources and sophistication to monitor blogs in clones of Facebook and Twitter. Local governments, who are unable to watch the Internet, are the easy victims of blogs, Anti says.
These sites are blocked but to give Chinese space to vent, the government set up copies of these social media networks.
China watchers say that officials are wary of blogs and posts that may incite collective action, like Tienanmen, but allow local (towns, provinces) anomalies to be exposed.
Many are watching Burma which, in a startling shift, is shedding off its authoritarian character and moving forward to democracy. Internet is still a baby in this Southeast Asian country but has the great potential to contribute to the blossoming of free speech.
Ko Ko Gyi, who is pushing 50, was released early this year after about 18 years of being in and out of jail. He is introduced as a “1988 student leader,” one of the activists who initiated a landmark uprising that year.
One of the first things he did upon his release from prison, where he was in solitary confinement, was to familiarize himself with the Internet. He wanted to know what this technological revolution—which he missed—was all about.
Soft-spoken and deliberate, Ko Ko Gyi reminisces about his days as a student activist, when all he and his colleagues needed were pen and paper on which to write their messages. As he was speaking, he fiddled with his pocket and brought out a pen, dramatizing the stark simplicity of it all.
It seems hard to imagine how to organize a protest without Facebook and Twitter, but that was Ko Ko Gyi’s milieu then. He did it the very hard way, suppressed by the generals.
Today, he is catching up with technology and, together with his co-activists, preparing for a new playing field: the 2015 general elections. The New Yorker considers him one of the former prisoners to have the “greatest potential in politics.”
The Internet can be an effective tool for Ko Ko Gyi, the wonders of which he is still discovering.
Gatherings such as this, attended by hundreds of participants from various places in the world and held in a palace in this magical city, make for a great learning experience. It was Havel’s wish, after all, to promote democracy not only in his country but in distant places like Burma and Cuba.
Through his writings and his work as a politician, he encouraged intellectual discussions, liked to talk about big issues and find common experiences to enrich the human spirit.
This forum was one of them. - Rappler.com