Emin Milli: EuroGames are PR for the ruling family

Source: Deutsche Welle

In only a couple of days, Baku will host the first-ever European Games, an Olympics-esque event with a smaller number of participants and sports. Director of Berlin-based Meydan TV, Azerbaijani dissident and blogger Emin Milli said in an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW) that holding this sporting event in Baku was an insult to the Olympic idea and served only as a public relations stunt for the ruling authoritarian President of Azerbaijan. The following is a translation of DW interview.

Deutsche Welle: In a couple of days, Baku will kick off the inaugural European Games. What does this major sporting event mean for Azerbaijan?

Emin Milli: For the Aliyev presidential family, its means a lot. I saw a scene where Ilham Aliyev, his wife, his daughter and his son were running around the city with the torch. These Games are a solid advertisement for the presidential family. I think that it is completely contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Games. There has never been such an insult to the Olympic Games in all the years of their existence.

DW: But many believe that one should not mix sports and politics. What should be the reaction of the sporting world and European politicians to this event?

EM: This reminds me of the FIFA corruption scandal, and I think that such scandals should be taken very seriously. See what’s been happening lately. Neo-totalitarian, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes assume all the costs of organizing big sporting events, thereby corrupting the sport itself and profaning the sporting ideas. This cannot be tolerated.

Recently, the German Olympic Sports Confederation said that the criteria for selecting the venue of the Olympic Games and big international sports events would be decided upon next year. From my perspective, it is necessary to pay close attention to where they are held, and the human rights situation in those countries. In this case, I don’t think that such an assessment was done at all.

DW: Supporters of large-scale sporting events in countries with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are against that. They say that such events make the organizers and their hosts loosen the screws at least a little bit, which contributes to a certain liberalization of the regime. Is this the case in Azerbaijan?

EM: I can say that the opposite is happening. Such big events only give legitimacy to neo-totalitarian, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. According to various estimates, Ilham Aliyev paid from $3 to 9 billion for hosting the European Games in Azerbaijan, which is in an urgent need of investment in health and education, and where many people live in poverty. Do you think that some dictator is ready to pay nine billion to liberalize their own neo-totalitarian system?

DW: How did preparations for these Games affect Azerbaijani journalists? Have things changed in the field of freedom of the press?

EM: The situation has become worse. Here is an example from the recent past. A couple of years ago, Baku held Eurovision. Then, too, many hoped that this event would help liberalize the regime, and strengthen the position of the media. What happened? In 2014, and now in preparation for the European Games, all those who had contact with foreign media during Eurovision were arrested, or forced to leave the country not to end up in prison. I think that this time will be the same. Anyone who dares to communicate with foreign journalists, to express critical opinions about how and what is happening in our country, will yet again be behind bars.

Everything that’s happening is just public relations, marketing, advertising of one man, one presidential family and its regime. All the participing athletes, 6,000 from 50 countries, who Ilham Aliyev personally will pay for from the state budget of Azerbaijan, have unwittingly become part of this.

DW: Your website Meydan TV has correspondents in Azerbaijan. How dangerous is their job?

EM: I’ll tell you a story. Our social media manager Habib Muntazir has been living in Berlin for 12 years and received political asylum here. He is the most famous and influential blogger in Azerbaijan. In 2013, when we started the Berlin-based project Meydan TV, two of us received information from completely different sources that a person named Tural Gurbanov came here to the Azerbaijani embassy in Germany, and was tasked with organizing the assassination of Habib Muntazir and finding the executor.

We reported this to the German police. In April that year, when we launched our project, the event was held under police guard. And in July 2013 – just a couple of months after that – we read in the newspapers that Tural Gurbanov, an official employee of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, was found dead in a five-star hotel in the Maldives.

In April, having learnt about the planned assassination attempt, we of course wrote about it a lot. We have no evidence, but, as you see, this is an unusual story. This is the only case where an Azerbaijani “diplomat” died in a suspicious situation after his name was mentioned in a Meydan TV story.

I believe that, both domestically or abroad, independent Azerbaijani journalists, civil society activists, and human rights defenders cannot feel safe. Journalism is a life-threatening profession in Azerbaijan.

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