Thursday, November 15, 2012

IGF in Baku: Instant Coffee, no Wi-Fi and Vice-Premier for Emergencies

IGF 2012 logo
This is how Baku greeted the 7th Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

It was the biggest puzzle for me. So much pomp and PR around organization of IGF; bringing half of world’s Internet elite and numerous high-ranking officials to Baku; and then - the government displaying very careless attitude to the whole event – wasn't it a bit strange?

There have been many articles and posts in the Internet regarding human rights and freedom of expression issues in the host country Azerbaijan, thus I’m going to skip them. As an old Azeri saying tells, an open village needs no guide. So, let’s look through other issues that got my attention.

"Have you seen the toilets," I was asked in horror by a foreigner friend even before I entered and got my badge – bad news travels faster.

The first day there was no drinking water available in the forum venue, the last day – food was so scarce that more than half of delegates couldn't get anything. During the whole event only instant coffee was served and Wi-Fi didn't work. No real coffee and Wi-Fi for the world’s top Internet people?! Yes, apparently!

Don't get deceived by headphones - no translation was available (Photo: IFLA.org)

I could think of this as maladministration and deficiencies of organization, but what about the President visiting a run-out-of-mill telecommunications exhibition – Bakutel just 100 meters away while Vice-Premier for Emergencies was reading his address in the opening session of the IGF? Was IGF an emergency?

And how they managed to operate a real café, an open buffet and display 4G in Bakutel, but have no decent coffee and Wi-Fi just 100 meters away?

Except the main session hall, neither of conference and workshop rooms was equipped with simultaneous translation – come on, wasn't this a UN event and doesn't UN have six official languages? How was a non-English speaker supposed to participate in side events and workshops?

After all, who decided to hold such an important event au bout du monde - in the Baku Expo Center next to the airport, far from the city center while there were a lot of places available in the city itself? Taxi mafia? Shuttle service providers? Or ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach of the Azerbaijani government?

Indeed, I am puzzled at the Azeri government. They are not capable of holding a normal event, I've started to think. Either they raze half of the city and spend a billion to hold a single event – like Eurovision, or they just pick everybody, leave them in the middle of nowhere without water and coffee – like IGF.

Isn't it possible for us to have somehow a normal course of events, dear government?

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