The fourth training event hosted by Rushan Abbas’s organization was a great success. “Bitter Winter” was there.
by Marco Respinti
Tokyo in Japan, Adelaide in Australia, Istanbul in Turkey, and now Vienna, in Austria, September 1–3, 2023. The training workshops for young activists, hosted by Uyghur leader Rushan Abbas’ Campaign for Uyghurs (CfU) arrived in 2023 at their fourth edition.
Attendees in these workshops are mostly young Uyghur activists, actual and future, and/or university students. They of course belong to the country where the workshops are held, but in the case of Vienna, helped by a common language, some came also from Germany. And a few young non-Uyghur German and Austrian nationals were present too.
Around thirty people registered and attended. They were an elite of sort, even if the event was not elitist at all. The young attending students might be considered an elite because they were (on an average basis) second-generation Uyghurs who were born in families that have left Xinjiang, which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkistan, and are now seemingly living with no particular economic problems. This is an important note, because many Westerners have a stereotypical image of women, men and children escaping daring religious, cultural, and ethnic persecution to resettle in the West as plagued by chronic poverty or even abject misery.
Instead, while of course speaking, and quite proudly, the Uyghur language of their people, Uyghur attendees were perfectly bilingual as to the language of the country they were born in, German. Many were also fluent and even eloquent in English. They were university students in a variety of fields, some wishing to become journalists, all hoping to be able to be effective on behalf of their persecuted people. They are indeed the rising generation than can move things forward—and accomplish much.
Opening the workshop, Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, based in Munich, Germany, told an old story which sounded new to the young attendees. He recalled when he and other Uyghur exiles, including Rushan Abbas and her husband, political analyst Abdulhakim Idris, Director of the Center for Uyghur Studies, struggled without money, sleeping in cars to be able to attend important public events of advocacy around Europe, and eating junk food; they were preoccupied only with getting their message out. Now, CfU training workshops are organized with the specific aim of empowering new leaders through what the preceding generation learned, without repeating the difficult story of those pioneers.
Expert in various fields and testimonials shared their knowledge and experience. Speakers in Vienna included, after Rushan Abbas and Abdulhakim Idris, who opened and concluded the event, Arslan Hidayat and Sabrina Sohail. Respectively CfU Program Director and Director of Communications, they are experts in different aspects of advocacy and digital campaigning. They kept Vienna workshop focused, consistent, and challenging for two full, rich days.
Serena Oberstein, Executive Director of Jewish World Watch (JWW), dealt with the Uyghur genocide from a Jewish perspective, adding extra value to a subject that some may perceive as controversial. Some think that Jews are territorial and jealous of the word “genocide,” as if it should be applied only to the Jewish Holocaust. Those who attribute this view to all Jews are certainly wrong. Organizations like JWW and the people involved in it give the lie to this theory. They are not isolated nor alone in the Jewish world. ‘Bitter Winter” published several reports on Jewish public support to the Uyghur cause. Indeed, Oberstein herself applied the motto “Never again,” coined with reference to the Holocaust, to the Uyghur genocide.
Diknur Reyhan, from France, brought the topic of environment and feminism within the radar of Uyghur attention and advocacy. She built on her extensive experience in dealing with those subjects in the public arena and media, as the author of many influential articles and analyses published in major journals.
Marine Mazel, also from France, investigated the psychological effects of Uyghur persecution. She explained how a correct psychological analysis of victims, persecutors, and facts can be effective for producing apt responses. She did it using the ideas of three Austrian psychologists, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), Viktor Frankl (1905–1997), and Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990), and a German philosopher, Hannah Arendt (1906–1975). Both speakers from France added unusual while precious views to the general topic.
Lou Ann Sabatier, founder of Sabatier Consulting and an American celebrity in the publishing industry and consultancy, was virtually connected with the audience. She taught how to craft a proper message for a successful campaign, out of her long experience in communications and FoRB advocacy.
Addressing “artivism,” the neologism she created for describing her own public activities, music composer, dancer and filmmaker Mukaddas Mijit, explained how performing arts with a clear conscience may be effective for advancing the Uyghur cause, without converting them into mere partisan propaganda.
Finally, this writer, rhetorically wondering whether media and Uyghurs are friends or foes as a professional journalist, concluded with a cautionary advice. All of us, Uyghurs or not, should not consider all media as enemies, while knowing that they are not always good friends.
At the end, activists and students simulated a pro-Uyghur campaign, putting in practice what they had been taught. Uyghur advocacy is now an international success story. It counts on a lively diaspora, brilliant testimonials and organizers, courageous friends and allies, as well as initiatives like CfU’s training workshops. All persecuted groups, Uyghur or not, in the People’s Republic of China or elsewhere, should imitate CfU, and invest in their own future. At the end of the Vienna weekend, one got the impression that the Uyghur peaceful fight for truth and justice may have reached a positive turning point.