5 Reasons Why Our Cause Could Take A Leap Forward With The Bologna Summit
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Are the famous words of Victor Hugo. In Eritrean opposition politics – it requires a follow up sentence, maybe something like:…if it can withhold the storm.
Most of us have long concluded that the prolonged survival of the PFDJ regime in Eritrea is not the result of its strengths, but rather the unfortunate effect of its weak opponent – Eritrea’s opposition. When Eritrean defence forces were occupying the Ministry of Information at Forto the role of the Eritrean opposition looked again somewhat diluted: Hours of remote excitement were followed by weeks of external analysis. The opposition was both fascinated and concerned, there is no question about it, but above all, it was unprepared. It was in no position to support or expand the mission of Forto in any way; instead, it took on the role of the spectator and analyst.
Five months after the incident of Forto an idea was vividly discussed.
It was an idea that was driven by the sincere intention to strengthen the Eritrean opposition, which was divided and chronically fragmented.
Well, Rome was not built in a day, and the idea focused on establishing a public platform for the fragmented sections of like-minded organisations and activists: Those who believe that change in Eritrea would and should be foremost driven from within the country and that this process needed to be owned and led fully, autonomously, and confidently by Eritreans to succeed.
In order to actively contribute towards the realization of this vision, the idea focused on building the notoriously missing link between the Diaspora and the pro-democratic forces and people inside Eritrea.
Further, to connect this vision symbolically to the history of the Eritrean Diaspora resistance who gathered in Bologna during the 70ies, 80ies, and early 90ies and embodied those very values at the time.
In short, the idea of the Bologna Summit 2013 was born. And just two months later it was implemented.
The storm that targeted the Bologna idea followed shortly after the calm. It was the same storm that had been repeatedly witnessed over the years leaving many organisations and efforts badly weakened behind. In meteorological terms: Air moves between areas of different pressure. It moves from areas of higher pressure to those of lower pressure, following the same dynamics each time. The greater the discrepancies in the pressure cells, the higher the effect of the wind. Hence, it was expected, and stormy it got.
The opposition wind was once more in full force. The idea disappeared into the background at best and was dismantled into PFDJ conspiracies at worst. Its creativity was translated into a quest with ulterior motives. Its true potential derailed through the painstakingly analysis of ‘Eritrean Solutions for Eritrean Problems’. Moderate voices were less concerned with the aggressive defamation campaigns and tasteless threats – how undemocratic in nature – and instead followed the flow: “well – look at your theme! “…..clearly, socialist tendencies and unification are hard to kill after all, even if democratic rights for everyone (the right to choose a conference theme without fear of repercussion should fall under that) is what we all strive for.
Let’s say it as it is, because this political correctness and group-hug vision is getting us no-where. It is not the right strategy to replace…or shall we say to ‘cover up’ political differences that naturally exist in a mass of people.
But in my view this is no reason to become demotivated or pessimistic. Success in all aspects of life is never built on a smooth road. What we witness is in my view a legitimate, expected – albeit challenging part of the process on the path from dictatorship to democracy, and a crucial part: The process of distinct self-identification in the opposition, in the movement for change, is finally being visibly and openly formed. Self identification is how your see yourself or identify yourself with someone or something. A certain group, a vision, values, certain qualities, hopes etc.
The strong self-identification PFDJ supporters have with their political line is still a powerful tool at their part. But self-identification is absolute essential in a democratic building process where the system is built on certain values, and where multiple groups, institutions, and parties can only operate on the basis of self-identification by leaders and followers. If Eritrea’s opposition indeed wants to reach there, self-imposed unity and political correctness will not be of much help – coming from any quarter. And an opposition where you constantly walk on egg shells not to become the next target (‘well – look at your theme!’), will equally never become a decisive entity of significance. Not self-inflicted uniformity at all cost, but tolerance and the potential to cooperate among distinct oppositions fractions is what we need.
In the US, where democracy had a long time to form, the topic ‘change’, as we heard it during the Obama campaign, may be clear enough to inspire millions to challenge the status quo. In a country like Eritrea, ‘change’ is undoubtedly the right context, but it is quickly followed by the ‘how?’ and the ‘And then what?’ and as a result millions never move. The few who actually do move still see attending demonstrations as the ultimate form of defiance to bring change.
The Eritrean tragedy and the continuous political chess games by PFDJ (now playing with Demhit and Gnbot 7) cannot even be comprehended or understood by most of us, but it is clear – in fact, the situation is almost screaming for it – that there is a need for all of us as opposition groups to move towards the next stage – consciously: MAKING not merely defying politics; leading with conviction, plan, and vision something concrete, something we ourselves have built.
Only when that is achieved, will there ever be the possibility that PFDJ is starting to respond to our actions, our plans, our events. Some believe that this is exactly what happened when PFDJ suddenly summoned people to Bologna after 23 years. Was that just a coincidence? Or was it in reality the disruption of a momentum that was started last year in Bologna by the opposition and that continued to grow? In fact, rumours on PFDJ related Facebook sites suggest that there will be a PFDJ demo in front of the hotel where the Bologna Summit 2014 will take place this August. It may or may not be true, but even such rumours are a first. When a suppressive regime becomes responsive it is another significant sign that the tables are indeed turning.
Here are the 5 reasons, why our cause could take a significant leap forward with the Bologna Summit.
1) Organic Growth
Eritrean opposition groups came together in Bologna last year; they now keep together, and work together on the basis of an idea. Not on the basis of invitation letters, membership, or equal representation by each participating party, but inspired by the strong belief in the same vision, values, and approach.
Indicators that this is working: more groups have joined the effort since last year – again, not by invitation, but out of own initiative, because they too, believe in the same idea. It is still early days, but the manner in which the Bologna Forum is growing seems somewhat unique.
2) Independent Formula
The conviction (it’s never been just a slogan!) ‘Eritrean Solutions for Eritrean Problems’ has been a point of huge controversy among non-supporters of the idea.
Yes, striving towards healthy relationships with our neighbours, including Ethiopia is important, but a healthy relationship can only ever function when both parties are equal and there are no conflicting interests. Equality here is not defined by the land mass of a state, the number of its inhabitants, or the access to resources. Equality is defined by one not depending heavily on the other. Because a position of dependency clearly compromises how freely you can act upon your own undertakings. It is the same rule for any relationship, be it between two spouses in a marriage or two states with own interests.
As Eritreans we don’t want and cannot work in isolation, but autonomy is an important political conviction for many. Promoting autonomy is not about sidelining anyone, but about the advancement of a political conviction. This is what democracy is all about. Freely choosing and working for the values you stand for.
3) Advancing the Inside Eritrea Link
Where could Forto have reached if it had not been a completely isolated incident? This really is an important question we ought to ask ourselves. The details of who marched to Forto and what they found or not found when they arrived at their destination is not the question. The issue is that we as an opposition were in no position – after over a decade in existence – to represent the actors in our own community or the world community at large during the incident. The opposition had no capacity to respond or mobilise any kind of support to leverage the incident in any way with the people inside Eritrea. Instead, the opposition across the board was made of spectators with no role and no direction during the Forto incident.
Yes, even today there will be the voices that will loudly claim change can and never will come from inside Eritrea. Sadly some even use the failure of Forto as a proof. Those who are more diplomatic will say it is ‘unlikely to happen’.
How can we make that judgement when it is the only path that has never been tried, the path no-one ever walked on?
What really has gotten us no-where far was a direction that disengaged from the dynamics, sentiments, and experiences of people inside Eritrea. We all have been chronically inactive and detached in that regard.
In my view, this is the greatest collective failure of the opposition, the biggest missed opportunity, the greatest risk, let’s say it….it’s a betrayal of faith and trust. We abandoned the faith in our people, in ourselves as a nation, in the many who have given their lives to stand up questioning the regime on its own soil.
It’s like seeing your brother struggle through the water and waves and you turn around and say: “Come on, you can’t swim…. I think you will probably never be able to swim.’
That attitude, the loss of faith in our own abilities is a tragedy we still nurture ourselves.
Now here is the paradox:
Nothing, absolutely nothing has excited Eritreans so much like the voices reaching us from inside Eritrea. Nothing has ever spread so much hope within hours. Forto felt like a victory-in-the making, the letter by the Catholic Bishops was the biggest message of hope that reached our ears. Change is happening in Eritrea in front of our eyes, yet we are still discussing if it is worth our concerted attention and organised effort?!
Well, those who believe it is more than worth it, are now meeting again in Bologna working towards strategies to link the Diaspora resistance with the people inside. It is one of the main objectives of the summit. ‘Eritrean solutions for Eritrean problems’ is therefore the conviction of a can-do attitude. It is about re-building our confidence and faith. Why – I sincerely fail to understand – would any Eritrean oppose that? At least, give it a chance.
4) Tapping into the sentiments of the masses
Not having won the masses over yet does not mean that you are on the wrong path, as some suggest. Our very movement for change, for example, is undoubtedly the right path, yet it started to build up very slowly and it still has not won the masses of Eritreans.
Strengthening self-believe and autonomy is a strong motivator and it could be a message that taps into the sentiments of the masses – both mentally and politically.
5) Building – not defying something
Lastly and most importantly, it is crucial that we move away from defying and all start building. The new principle of the Eritrean opposition, the real focus, should not be to oppose, but to work on alternatives that can replace PFDJ – politically, culturally, and at last economically.
Leaving you with a quote from Henry Ford:
Coming together is a beginning;
keeping together is progress;
working together is success.
We hope to see you at the Bologna Summit 2014 working together towards a better future for Eritrea. Those who can’t or don’t want to attend: Your solidarity is our collective strength.
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion
(Aka Miriam September)