Freedom Book Fair Report 2017

From 24 February to 27 February 2017, The Hague Freedom Book Fair took place in Het Nutshuis in The Hague. With the participation of 15 publishing houses and book shops from Netherlands, Bangladesh, Turkey and Somalia, the book fair attracted hundreds of people. The book fair showcased censored books from Bangladesh and Turkey, books on censorship in different countries written by persecuted and censored writers themselves, and other regular books. Click here to read the report of the Freedom Book Fair 2017.

During the four days of the book fair, we also held four different panel discussions related to freedom of expression, one Somali and one Bengali poetry night. On 26 February, we also commemorated Avijit Roy (it was the anniversary of his death), along with other Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and publishers who were murdered in recent years. The panel discussions were about freedom of expression in Bangladesh and Turkey, the contemporary debate regarding freedom of expression and hate speech and LGBT freedom in religious societies. Experts from
Bangladesh, Turkey, Netherlands, UK and USA were present as panelists in these discussions. More than 500 people physically attended the discussions, and we were able to reach an audience of more than 90 thousand people via Facebook livestream.

The book fair successfully brought together diverse group of individuals, publishers and organizations to address the recent global crisis of freedom of expression. The event can be considered as laying down the foundation of a crucial network that can uphold and promote a dialogical method in solving the crisis of freedom of expression in the current world.

Review of Freedom Book Fair 2017

When the doors of Het Nutshuis in The Hague were opened at the 24th of February 2017 at 1 o´clock in the afternoon, the second edition of the Freedom Book Fair had started. The focus was on authors who are censored or forbidden in their home countries and books who deal with freedom of expression and freedom of press in general. Besides all the books and publications we hosted 6 panel discussions on freedom of speech in different countries and its different forms.

Through these events, that were completely sold out, we were able to put freedom of expression on the agenda and to show our deepest solidarity to people who are putting their lives on the line for it.

The Book Fair started with an introductory panel discussion on Friday evening: “Free speech versus Hate Speech: where the world is heading”, followed by the Somali Poetry Night. In the weekend there were discussions on freedom of expression in Turkey and Bangladesh. Moreover, a documentary and a panel discussion on Saturday evening was dedicated to the LGBT-movement in religious societies.

Every panel was distinguished by the presence of charismatic experts, some of which were personally involved with the subject, trying to give an accurate overview of the current situation in conflict regions and to answer the questions of the audience. Because of this the debates were heated and continued well after the official finishing time, with people exchanging perspectives, opinions and contact details. All events were accompanied by a Facebook live stream, which is still available on the Facebook page of The Hague Peace Projects. We want to say thank you again to everyone who contributed in the organisation, in the events and in the audience to create a successful event. Freedom of expression can never be protected and promoted enough.

Elections in Somalia: Towards sustainable peace?

On Saturday 1st of October, about 30 people participated in our event about political changes and the potential for peace in Somalia. The first speaker, Ismail Moallim, gave a short explanation about the history and politics of Somalia. He explained  the emergence and functioning of the 4.5 clan-based system, a power-sharing system in Somali politics between the 4 major clans and a fifth “0.5” group composed by minority clans. He shows that it is on the one hand an unfortunate system because it gives too much value to clans, while this is just one of the many identities Somali people have. Also it discriminates towards all the minority voices who altogether have half of the voice and votes  that the four major clans have. On the other hand: it is currently the only system which is more or less functioning at the moment, and finding a working alternative is not so easy.

bijgewerktIn view of alternatives to this system, former BBC journalist Nafisa Osman Nur talked about federalism and the possibilities this system entails for Somalia. Also the federal system does not seem to solve all the problems that Somalia faces: this system could just repeat the same clan-divisions on a more local scale. Also many people in Somalia live nomadic lives, so they will not easily stick to one province or another but keep moving around. This makes a reliable federal administration system very difficult.

Ali Yahye, director of the Dutch Somalian peace organisation Nabaddoon, was the third speaker. Together with some songs by poet Jawahir Shire, he presented his hopes for the future of Somalia and the way the Somalia diaspora could contribute there.

During the discussion, many root causes of conflict were mentioned: the clan-system, the years of dictatorship, the lack of leadership, foreign intervention, corrupt elites, etc. The advantages and disadvantages of the 4.5 clan system and federalism were further brought up and discussed. Many participants agreed that clan identity plays a crucial role in Somali politics. And although its role isn’t always positive, it is a factor that simply cannot be neglected. Nafisa emphasized that strengthening the role of women was of the utmost importance. The audience discussed possibilities for change and whether or not grassroot peace activism, or a top-down approach would be more effective in creating a sustainable and long lasting peace. One participant remarked that before any state system should be discussed, first there should be a large and honest process of reconciliation, in which each and every victim is able to express his or her suffering and perpetrators can be judged or forgiven. Only after such a process there will be enough basis to really start building a truly democratic state. Many agreed that previous attempts to organize a reconciliation process were flawed by a lack of real political will and a lack of honest intentions by the organizers.

dsc_1013In addition to the discussions and talks held, the participants wrote messages of peace on the wall, there were songs in Somali and a poem by Qali Nur about peace. The result was a very fruitful meeting of active, engaged Somali’s in the Netherlands who are eager to work for peaceful change. The Hague Peace Projects aims to facilitate the process of collaboration further by creating an inclusive working group of Somalis in the Netherlands. This could become a platform for exchange of ideas, dialogue within the  diaspora, and the development of new initiatives and projects for sustainable peace in Somalia.