What we learned from Hotspot Afghanistan

What we learned from Hotspot Afghanistan

by Rachele De Felice @ The Festival Academy

The Hotspot Afghanistan hosted by The Festival Academy took place online on Thursday, 26 August, and was an opportunity to bring together arts and community leaders and directly affected advocates from Afghanistan and region. The purpose of the session was to raise awareness and knowledge about the current state of the country and the Afghan arts and culture sector. In particular, the group discussed the role the arts and culture community can play in regard to Afghanistan’s latest political developments.

This session provided an opportunity to understand in depth what is happening in Afghanistan right now and how it directly affects people not only in the arts and culture sector but also beyond it. The discussion provided grounds to build bridges and strategies for enhancing international cooperation. In addition to the facilitator, four speakers were present, three of them being Afghan activists and directly affected by the country's recent developments, and one being closely engaged with arts and cultural associations in Afghanistan. About 30 members of the arts and culture community joined in to learn from these real time impressions and how the speakers themselves are engaging in current events.

Throughout a heavy and emotional discussion, speakers illustrated the history and political conflicts of Afghanistan and the influence of Taliban in the region, as well as the divergent information between a more inclusive portrayal of their new era in power made by the Western media compared to the reality in the country. Furthermore, a European perspective of responses to these developments was given, with the example of Iceland and how the government's response translates into reality. The urgent need to get people in danger out of the country by the end of this month was continuously underlined, as developments after the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country are unpredictable. Potential routes on how to get those in imminent danger out of Afghanistan were also discussed, and real time impressions about the challenging exile in neighbouring countries for refugees and activists were heard.

Speakers also oriented participants on actions that can be taken in order to help. They emphasised that the situation is grave and people are fearing for their lives, and that the country is rapidly descending into chaos since the Taliban took power. According to speakers’ informants currently in Afghanistan, the Taliban has already started door-to-door search activities to identify those that have been working with U.S. and European governments, not sticking to their amnesty promises and killing innocent civilians. Since they seized power so abruptly and Foreign Ministries were abandoned in a rush, there was no possibility to destroy valuable intel, which means that the group now has access to a large number of databases and technology which make it easy for them to track people’s identities in the country. Checkpoints have also been established in order to track down those who are against the Taliban, and the economic situation is devastating as banks have shut down completely and Afghan nationals cannot access their finances. People are confined to their houses, not able to move freely and safely. On top of that, the international community has failed to include Afghan cultural workers in their support programs and relocation schemes.

“As someone whose family has been involved in Afghan politics since 2001, we have been targets of the Taliban many times and they have killed and severely injured many of my closest relatives. Since Afghanistan collapsed a few weeks ago, this feeling now that we as Afghans go through, we have not really been eating or sleeping properly. Every minute I think of what happens to my family there, the Taliban can just get in now and connect the dots, figure out their identity and massacre them. So, for the Taliban now announcing general amnesty, they are not going to stick to what they are saying because they have no principles, they are not trustable.”

One of the speakers was a former public figure in Afghanistan who talked openly about women's issues. After her activism, she received many threats and was attacked three times by the Taliban, barely surviving the last attack. She openly shared her situation with participants, and explained her highly moving reality:

"We have lost everything, our lives in Afghanistan, we had to leave everything behind. After the last attack, which nearly killed me, my children were terrified and begged me to stop my activities so I could survive. I am very concerned about their psychological health, because they have lost everything.”

“Afghanistan and its people have been humiliated for the last decades, the humiliation that we went through is unimaginable. Today's Taliban is the same as in the 1990s."

Even though the Taliban are now presenting themselves as a more moderate force and vouching to respect women’s rights and to forgive those who fought against them, the reality from an Afghan civilian perspective looks quite the opposite. Our speakers have voiced their utter concerns that recent developments will undo all the hard work from the last two decades towards a more equal and inclusive society for all people in Afghanistan.

Finally, the most urgent takeaways of Hotspot Afghanistan relate to actions of solidarity with Afghanistan in these conflict times, among Afghans, and from the international community, to support however necessary. 

The group provided the following suggestions on how the international arts and culture community can support Afghanistan now and in the future:

  • urgent need to keep on pressuring international governments to act in evacuating people
  • urgent need for monetary assistance both in and outside Afghanistan for dislocated people
  • urgent need to share statements and petitions with their government about Afghanistan
  • sharing reliable funding or crowdfunding schemes in support of Afghanistan and its people
  • contributing to organisations and crowdfunding, if possible, especially those who are trying to still get people out by the end of the month
  • continuing to raise awareness globally and keep speaking about Afghanistan
  • facilitating and encouraging international collaborative works with Afghan activists, civilians and artists
  • fostering opportunities for international networking
  • creating pressure from the outside to help people on the inside gain access to information and support that might not be immediately available to Afghan nationals
  • create pressure so that governments do not recognise the Taliban as new head of government
  • creating residencies outside of Afghanistan for Afghan artists/civilians in need
  • using contacts and networks to keep sharing statements about the situation in Afghanistan
  • long-term need to keep Afghanistan and its people and the current conflict in focus

Unlike with our previous hotspots, for the safety of speakers and to protect their identities in these conflicting and unstable times, we will not make the names of participants and speakers public.

In response to the current developments in Afghanistan, we are collecting solidarity initiatives to help the arts and culture scene and the people in the country. This page will be updated regularly.

Please send any initiatives you wish to share to info@thefestivalacademy.eu.