After five years of crippling political and economic crisis, Madagascar is looking to finally pick itself up off the mat. Over the course of a month in December and January, Pulitzer Center grantees Aaron Ross and Rijasolo traveled the country to survey the damage and gauge the prospects for a brighter future. The journey took them more than a thousand kilometers from raucous political rallies in the capital to beachside resort towns in the north to the rough-and-tumble sapphire mines of the south.
Future Faith in Saudi Arabia
The religious landscape of Saudi Arabia—a state founded on religion—is shifting. Internally, the dominance of the ultraconservative Wahhabists is being challenged by an explosion of social media and rising education levels among the kingdom’s largest-ever “youth bulge.” Pressures from the outside include sharpened tensions between Sunni and Shia, the rise of politically-oriented Salafism and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a major political force.
Pulitzer Center grantee and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Caryle Murphy kicks off her exploration of the evolving role of faith in Saudi Arabia with an op-ed piece that ran in the international editions of The New York Times.
After years of isolation, Burma is experiencing a political thaw that has taken even jaded observers by surprise. Its military leaders have brokered cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups around the country and allowed civilians to play a greater role in the new government.
Media and economic freedoms have been expanded and hundreds of prisoners released, among them Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy activist and Nobel laureate, now a member of parliament. In response, the United States has removed all sanctions and reinstated its ambassador to the country after a 22-year absence. An investment boom is underway. But peace and prosperity in the “New Burma” are not for all.
Read more from Jason here: Burma in Transition
Russia and Ukraine: Is Putin “in Another World?”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, rarely one to engage in flights of fancy, finished a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the crisis in Ukraine, and then, turning to several of her aides, she said that “she was not sure he was in touch with reality.” The Russian leader, she added, seemed to be “in another world.”
And therein lies a possible source of dangerous misunderstanding, or no understanding, between the leader of Russia, on the one hand, and those of the western nations, including the United States, on the other. Just what does Putin have in mind? This is the central question.
Having gobbled up Crimea, is he now planning to invade the generally pro-Russian eastern half of Ukraine, and split the country in two? Has he indeed lost “touch with reality”? Or, more likely, has he now concluded, pursuing his own cold logic, that he can recapture a large portion of Russia’s former imperial glory by moving aggressively against Ukraine—and doing so with relative impunity? Who, or what, is going to stop him?
Putin is not mad, and he is not in “another world.” He is very much in his own world, which is for him a very realistic world of a new, frothy, determined Russian nationalism. Indeed, he is master of this world.
Now that he has gambled—and won—on a successful, terror-free Olympics, creating a global image of a slick and modern Russia and inspiring ordinary Russians to be proud of their country once again (and polls show they are), he figured it was time to take on the chronic, nagging problem of Ukraine: put simply, whither Ukraine?—east or west?
Turkey: A Journalist Deported
In late December, days after Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into corruption, which included influential businessmen and government officials, Turkish Airlines stopped offering copies of Zaman newspaper and its English-language counterpart, Today’s Zaman, on their flights. The newspapers are owned by Feza Media Group, which is affiliated with Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish Islamic cleric who Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of orchestrating the corruption probe in an attempt to dismantle his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Gulen is at the head of a large, worldwide network of followers, many of whom, after a generation of education within the Gulenist system, have emerged prominent, confident and well-connected. What those followers — most of whom refer to the group as the “Hizmet” (service) movement — would themselves explain as the natural distribution of ambitious and educated people within the Turkish government, judiciary and security forces, Erdogan has labeled a “parallel state.” The Zaman papers — once, like Gulen himself, supportive of Erdogan and the AKP — quickly became enemy propaganda.
The Zaman offices are a mirrored box by Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. From an adjacent park, lunching reporters can watch Turkish Airlines flights take off, one after another, their red tails slicing through wispy clouds on their way to an ever-growing list of destinations, Zaman newspapers-free. Last Friday, Mahir Zeynalov, a Today’s Zaman journalist, arrived at the same airport, with his wife and some luggage to turn himself over to the police. In December, Erdogan filed a lawsuit against Zeynalov for two tweets — one related to the corruption probe and another to Al-Qaeda in Turkey — which the prime minister deemed offensive and false. A few weeks later, for the tweets, the journalist was deported. The authorities also pointed out that Zeynalov had not yet received a new government-issued press card, which he had easily acquired in previous years, but this was widely viewed as an excuse. Deportation procedure requires waiting at home for a police escort, and because Zeynalov and his wife went to the airport by themselves, he had to pay a fine before leaving.
I visited the Today’s Zaman office a few days after Zeynalov was deported to meet with Celil Sagir, one of the paper’s managing editors. When Sagir arrived in the glass-walled meeting room, he was waving a piece of paper in exasperated triumph. It was a faxed photocopy of Zeynalov’s renewed press card. In his other hand, Sagir carried a copy of the day’s newspaper, which had been chronicling Zeynalov’s deportation in detail; the paper has been running updates on Zeynalov under the headline “Storm of Blatant Lies” on the front page, above the fold. “We encourage other newspapers to cover this issue because it is a press freedom issue,” he told me. As for the photocopied press card, he said, “This will be our next story.”
A Tottering Ukraine—Putin’s Nightmare as the Sochi Games Begin
When the Olympic Games began in Beijing in 2008, Russian and Georgian troops began to fight for control of a north Caucasus province called Ossetia. Now, as the Olympic Games begin in Sochi (not too far away from Ossetia) Ukraine totters towards an economic and political collapse, a condition so potentially contagious to Russia that a concerned President Putin has begun a crackdown.
So far, he has not moved Russian forces into Ukraine, but he has urged Ukrainian President Yanukovich to contain and stop the popular insurrection that started more than two months ago. Putin has taken three other actions that could be a prelude to military intervention. First, he has imposed a blockade of Ukrainian goods into Russia, devastating to the already weak Ukrainian economy. Second, he has frozen a promised $15 billion aid package for Ukraine, leaving Ukraine without any outside financial support, which is desperately needed. And third, he has opened a propaganda war blaming the United States for the crisis now spreading through Ukraine. When in trouble, Putin starts following an old Russian pattern: Don’t address the problem—blame the United States.
Read the rest of Pulitzer Center Senior Adviser Marvin Kalb’s piece here.
As Nepal and India push to construct a high dam on the Koshi River in Nepal, a group of indigenous people continues to impede work on the project.
Though the dam offers many benefits to millions of Nepalese and Indian citizens, such as reliable electricity, better healthcare, flood management, infrastructure development and an improved standard of living, those who thwart the building of the dam fear it will destroy their way of life.
They cite loss of their homes, land, holy sites and culture in their opposition to the dam.
Theirs is not so much a story about who owns the natural resources but rather who owns the right to determine a people’s future. It is more a narrative about progress versus tradition, self-determination versus assimilation: A small group of indigenous people choose their own destiny at the cost of the greater good.
View student fellows Steve Matzker and Jennifer Gonzalez’s whole project on defending the Koshi here.
Dominic Bracco and Jeremy Relph make their living by telling tough stories.
The journalists have reported together from two of the most violent cities on earth: San Pedro Sula, Honduras and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Dominic’s photography spans several continents and brings to life everything from the plight of traditional fishermen in the overfished Sea of Cortez to the effects of gun violence in Washington, D.C. Jeremy has written dispatches from field hospitals in Misurata, Libya and expat watering holes in Kabul, Afghanistan.
So when we scheduled a full week of D.C. education outreach with both Dominic and Jeremy around their Pulitzer Center project “Aqui Vivimos,” which examines the culture and politics behind Honduras’s astonishing rates of violence, we made sure to consider carefully how they would present that work to young people.
But Dominic and Jeremy guided the conversations by doing what they already do so well as journalists: dissecting complex scenarios to find their root causes.
“You guys probably know that there are some bad guys doing bad things,” Dominic said in his opening to fourth-graders at Powell Bilingual Elementary School. “Do you know why people might do bad things?” Hands shot up. For money, students responded, maybe for food if they needed it, or for revenge. “When you get bullied, you might turn into a bully too,” observed a student in the following session.
Dominic, based in Mexico City, spoke with students in Spanish and English throughout the week. Both he and Jeremy – based in Toronto – explained in straightforward terms the complex forces that have swelled the numbers of Honduran immigrants to the United States since a military coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.
The journalists spoke with nearly twenty classes in those five days. They also gave an evening talk at the Pulitzer Center with fellow New Yorker contributor and Pulitzer Center grantee Mattathias Schwartz.
Read more about our favorite moments of the week-long visit, written by Education Coordinator Amanda Ottaway. Images by Social Media Editor Rebecca Gibian.
The decades-long conflict between the Burmese government and Kachin Independence Army, members of a minority group, has “created a perfect storm for human trafficking along the China-Burma border,” according to a report released by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand.
Since 2010, some 10,000 people have been driven to the Chinese border and now live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. They cannot seek help as refugees because the Chinese government refuses to become involved. Kachin women who live near the border suffer dual risks—exposed both to fighting and human trafficking. In this video Boston University student fellow Lusha Chen shows us women who have been trafficked, some who have escaped, and one who helps victims re-adjust to a new life.
Read more about Burmese Brides, reported on by Pulitzer Center student fellow Lusha Chen.
Founded in 2004, PSOL is a Brazilian political party known for its role in mobilizing support for anti-capitalist protests as well as for education and public health reform. Members also support a number of human rights-focused campaigns and are currently monitoring the government’s “street cleaning” exercises.
Renato Cinco’s main campaign focuses on the legalization of drugs in Brazil. In the last few years, his work has centered on the moral panic around the “war on drugs.” He believes this is being used as an instrument for criminalizing the poor.
Read more from student fellow Lauren Wilks’s project: Sex and Sanitation in Brazil.