Our first day took place in April, with a meeting at the office of Democracy International in Cologne. We defined our project, set goals and got to know each other as a team: Khaled and Hishem from Tunisia; and Antonia and Elena from Germany and Austria respectively. We discussed the main objective of the project, namely, how to make the lived realities of LGBTIQ+ individuals and democracy activists in Tunisa more visible. Even during this first meeting, while listening to the accounts of Khaled and Hishem, it became apparent that the project was aiming at a politically sensitive issue, during an increasingly difficult moment in Tunisia.
Over the course of the first three months of our project, the political situation in Tunisia shifted even further away from democracy.
Just a few days after our first meeting, Tunisian President Kais Saied arrested opposition figures such as Ennahda Party politician Ghannouchi. He also spouted racist speeches that led to violent attacks on people from sub-Saharan Africa.
While we were busy researching, producing podcasts, networking, and organising a film screening in Cologne Ehrenfeld, violent attacks targeting people from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as black Tunisians, became more frequent following a series of racist speeches from Kais Saied. This escalated in July, when hundreds of migrants were deported into the desert bordering Libya and Algeria, without access to food, water, or shelter. The EU, with far-right Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni leading the way, negotiated a new migration agreement with Tunisia despite this clear violation of human rights and the objection of aid agencies.
Bearing all of this in mind, we frequently discussed the question of whether the second project phase should take place in Tunisia as planned, finally deciding in favour of it. But two days after booking our flights, it became clear that a project phase in Tunisia would not be possible, due to the very real threat of arrest of one of our Tunisian colleagues. While Khaled was able to extend his stay in Germany, Hichem returned to Tunisia, where he conducted a workshop training activists in digital security.
Therefore, the three of us decided upon a new approach: visiting and interviewing activists in exile. Before we could jump on a plane with a camera and a microphone, we had to raise the funds to allow us to do so, working from home and writing proposals.
Weeks went by without any response. Eventually, we had gathered enough funds and were able to travel a week later to Stockholm. for our first two interviews with Haifa Safa and Hamza Nasri. You can watch the interviews here.
In September, we conducted a third interview with Ronnie Vitalia, a Sudanese activist currently living in Berlin, who talked to us about their activism, their beliefs and their current life situation.
As the project neared its conclusion October, we hosted a webinar in which our interview partners, Jospeh Debono of the University of Malta, and Caroline Vernaillen from Democracy International attended as speakers, discussing the topic of (direct) democracy in Tunisia and the role of the EU.
What remains of this demanding, challenging, wonderful, and at some points frustrating time? I personally learned a lot: about teamwork, Tunisia, the EU. I met great people, without whom I would have given up long ago. Together we hopped over some obstacles, fought our way through the mills of bureaucracy, applications, and paperwork, discussed a lot and laughed even more.
Thank you for this time!