For nearly three months between the end of July and the first week of October, a group of Serbian digital activists known as the SHARE Foundation planted themselves in Beirut, and with Beirut-based digital rights activists, cultural producers, production and media companies, and other civic stakeholders staged a wholly unique conference aimed at promoting the tools of freedom in a digital age. The conference – known as SHARE BEIRUT – proved to be a mind-blowing weekend for the more than 3,000 people from the Middle East, and North Africa who attended the event from October 5-7, 2012. The production was on a grass-roots scale the likes of which are rarely experienced in Beirut.
The following are excerpts of an exclusive interview conducted by Beats and Breath| with SHARE Foundation organizers Vladan Joler and Filip Milošević at online/cafe – Radio Beirut in the lead-up to the event.
BEIRUT – Modelled on the SHARE Conference that began in 2011 in the Serbian capital Belgrade, SHARE BEIRUT Conference was a free, non-commercial hybrid event that blended Internet culture and technology-related daytime conference events with a dynamic cutting-edge music festival by night. SHARE BEIRUT brought together Lebanese organisers and paired them with dozens of individual bloggers, tech geeks, alternative artists, musicians and cultural producers in order to facilitate a massive exchange of ideas, knowledge and creativity.
At the conference, some 200 lectures and workshops were delivered by leading internet development figures from around the world including Ji Lee (Communication Designer for Facebook), Thom Cummings (Soundcloud), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla/Creative Commons), Stanfard University’s Elizabeth Stark, Rebecca Bowe (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and Peter Sunde (Flattr).
These new technology and internet luminaries where joined by other international social media activists and regional bloggers like Lebanon’s Maya Zankoul, and Nasri Atallah, Egypt’s Wael Abbas and Sarrah Abdelrahman, and Tunisia’s Wafa Ben Hassine and Sami Ben Gharbia – among many others. (For a complete list of musicians, artists, speakers and participants go to the SHARE BEIRUT website.)
While the reverberations of the event are still being felt and won’t be know for some time, it was clearly a 72-hour period that showed Beirut and the Arab world what was possible when a passionate group of 21st century cultural creatives get together to have fun.
The following is the interview shot on location at Radio Beirut – edited transcript of the video interview below:
BEATS AND BREATH: What does the SHARE conference mean?
VLADAN JOLER: That’s a very tough question. I always wanted to do something – to create an impact on society. And somehow when we (the SHARE organisers) really looked at the world today – we realised that the internet and internet culture were really important to all of us. So we thought it was important to develop something to help protect the internet as an open, neutral, decentralised place for communication, and a place to exchange things. We wanted a tool that could help bring us somewhere else.
You see we’re surrounded by things in society – media – that is closed or controlled by our governments or the corporate sector. These are things we cannot approach anymore as human beings. So SHARE was a way of creating a safe outlet to do something as an alternative to this phenomenon.
FILIP Milošević: SHARE conference for me is mostly about using new media and the internet for social impact – for social change. There’s are lots of good examples around the world of people doing this – and many people heading these things are the speakers that have been coming to our conferences (the last two years in Serbia). They share their experience and knowledge to lots of young people that come to the conference, who then get inspired by their work – and hopefully they begin thinking about how to change things in their own societies.
SHARE is concerned with the impact of digital communications on everyday lives and human rights, the goal of the Share Foundation is to fight for the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights, in the areas of privacy, free speech, government transparency and efficiency, surveillance and human rights.”
BEATS AND BREATH: Tell me a little about the social quotient of the conference. How will you incorporate the social activist side of things in this conference here in Beirut?
VLADAN: We are taking this social activist side of things from a really wide angle – because social activism as a profession is misused by the ngo (non-governmental organisation) sector. From this perspective social activism is something that you need to do as an organisation and you end up turning it into some kind of business model or some kind of industrialised model.
What we are trying to do is to find activism somewhere else; to find activism in some kind of real grassroots movements – like people who are doing activism in their homes for example. Perhaps by fighting barriers that exist around them. It could be activism as some kind of distribution of music or distribution of information. It can be lots of different points of activist methods – it doesn’t have to be visible in a way – like let’s gather on the street and make protest banners etc.
We’re trying to explore some kind of basic grassroots activism and then try to connect all of these people – first we try to bring all of these people together in one place so that they see that they are not alone, and that there are lots of people around them that are doing similar stuff. And then we try to connect them to introduce the local activists to other activists that are doing similar work around the world – to that it’s some kind of platform or live social networking platform.
BEATS AND BREATH: Social activism as a means of change in the Arab world or a tool for change in the Arab world – clearly SHARE has a relation to that kind of reasoning – even though many in the Arab world feel that internet activism has been a mixed bag. But why choose Lebanon – country that has clearly avoided so much of the revolutionary change?
Vladan: This Arab Spring and idea of the social media revolution is a bit hyped as a term. In a way it has been misused. I am not really fond of calling revolution of any kind recently as a Facebook revolution because Facebook is one company – a private company So how could such a company be considered part of revolution really? And it’s also a bit scary to see a corporate sector of being part of some social resistance.
Then on the other side of this analysis is the media sphere and how really what we’re talking about is that the media sphere has been decentralised. It’s not that I’m having one TV station and I’m putting on a program that is brainwashing the masses. No – the process is decentralised that can be shifted to a lot of different points of media.
In this way there is a big shift in communication that allowed us to easier gather and act on some issues or problems. But still the position of Twitter and other companies like Facebook is too high as some kind of model of resistance. Then you have this phenomenon on Facebook of the number of likes that doesn’t mean anything really that doesn’t appear in its physical manifestation.
FILIP: Actually prior the first SHARE Conference in Belgrade we were thinking of naming it Belgrade Spring- and it predated the Arab Spring – so somehow the politics between the first and second SHARE conferences were often related to these happenings around the world. And also around the world there were other things happening in the areas of internet and social activism. And there are all these different kinds of lower revolutions – if you want to call them lower – the revolutions that are happening that aren’t always in the news or that fly under the radar of the media. They are happening no matter what – cultural revolutions or music revolutions or any other things that are helping to change things in society over time.
For me one of the things that drew me into Beirut was that I found it very similar to Belgrade – especially when it comes to the diversity here – both cities in both countries have gone through some very volatile histories in the last two decades. And both cities you can see this manifested in the music scene – both are the hubs for the whole region for the alternative and the underground scene.
BELOW are a few videos from participants at the SHARE BEIRUT Conference held in Beirut October 5-7, 2012. The entire line up of amazing participants can be found on the SHARE BEIRUT website at this link: