Report from Prague, Comment on Japan

     |    Tuesday, der 15. March 2011

The One World Prague International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, is in full swing.The festival motto “Your energy is needed elsewhere” turned out to be highly prophetic, as will be discussed later.

This year’s program sees a new high in terms of quality and relevance. Topics such as Guantanamo, homphobia around the world, children’s rights, renewable energy (although no film about nuclear power) and integration of ‘minorities’ in the EU were covered, as were corruption and the marginalisation of the elderly. Festival director Hana Kulhankova felt especially these issues are problematic in the Czech Republic, which is why they are represented with special sections in the festival program. Human rights activism starts at home is how Kulhankova sees it. The festival also inaugurated a new media award to take into account the role social networks and innovative open source advocacy technology are playing in emanicipation movements in Egypt, Libya, Tunesia, Iran and other countries. This year’s New Media Award for Social Change winner is the Help Map – The Russian Fires Project, which used Ushahidi mapping technology during last year’s forest fires in Russia,  to connect affected groups and citizens and organisations offering aid so that the assistance could be directed in a timely fashion. The initiative not only helped to alleviate the damage in Russia, it is also a model for use in other crisis areas, like Japan, for instance.

The events in Japan overshadowed our visit to the festival, as did some local developments. More about Japan to come.

The certainly less grave (compared to Japan) development is the effect of the recession on downtown Prague. The author who had last been in Prague in 2008, was somewhat shocked at the state of Prague’s central location – Wenceslas Square, actually a misnomer for the short boulevard. Both the major department store Bila Labut (White Swan) at the top of the hill near the St. Wenceslas Memorial and trendy boutique Kenvelo in the Koruna Palace shopping center at the ‘Square’s’ foot had closed. Much of Koruna, which was well rented out two years prior, was deserted, the only survivors a pizza parlour chain, a CD/DVD megastore and a home crafts shop. Generally, the appearance of tourist trappy Wenceslas Square has changed from cheerfully tacky to progressively rundown. It would be comforting if resources and priorities were simply allocated to more pressing things such as social services, but I’m afraid it is more likely indicative of general economic downturn.

Here is a short video.

Of course, the earthquake, tsunami in Japan and resulting nuclear power plant explosions in Fukushima (as well as the precarious situation of other plants) are the prime focus of attention. Sincerest condolences to those affected in Japan. Much time is spent trying to find both timely and thorough information, as the Japanese government is not very forthcoming. For those who read German, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung is highly recommended. Thanks to that daily paper for its comprehensive interviews with radiation experts, analysis of the German government’s reaction to the crisis and detailed assessment of the dangers for the Japanese people, but also what might happen in Europe. An important way to minimise damage is through information.

Better World Links offers a compendium of sites: news, official statements, meteorogical reports and other links.

For activists in major atomic energy producing country Germany seeking to get the government to shut operating nuclear power plants down in that country, is a comprehensive resource with dates and times of protest activities as well as background info. In France, which has 59 reactors in 20 plants (second only to the US with 104 reactors in 65 plants), there is no comparable political debate (yet).

One section of the One World Film Festival is called “Right to Know” – never has the need for information been more pronounced than in the wake of Fukushima. Plant operators and government in Japan should release detailed data now about radiation levels and how far possible contamination could reach. The better everyone is informed, the more damage can be controlled.

Without wanting to trivialise the gravity of the situation, here is a biting satirical cartoon about commonplace information policy about atomic energy.