Decolonisation, what the AI revolution means for civil society leaders, how to connect with audiences in repressive countries, and how to build momentum for change on the agenda at Unlock 2023.
After a four-year hiatus, Unlock was back in Prague May 25-26 at Kasárna Karlín. Our civic summit showcasing new ideas at the nexus of activism, media and technology in Eastern Europe and Central Asia connected over 200 participants representing the vanguard of civic activism and independent media from the region.
The long pause was first due Covid restrictions and later owing to the chaos that ensued following Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Russia’s war has deeply impacted civil society across the region and accelerated discussions on decolonisation and identity, topics that permeated the two days of workshops and talks.
One speaker, Mariam Naiem, is a Ukrainian woman of Afghan origin who gained tens of thousands of followers writing about decolonising the discourse on Ukraine in order to centre Ukrainian voices and debunk Russian and pro-Russian imperialist narratives.
Temirtas Iskakov, an urban activist from Kazakhstan, presented Architectural Frontier: Identity, Community and Collective Memory in Kazakhstan, a talk about how history and colonial legacies shape urban spaces and people's lives.
Other speakers included experts in AI, solutions journalism, activists finding creative ways to mobilise people and build movements, and those connecting communities in exile with active citizens living in repressive countries.
In addition to discussions and workshops, participants had the option to participate in Mediathon, a content challenge spurring them to work in teams to produce a video, podcast, or artwork that will draw attention to their cause. A popup podcast studio was available to participants on site, as was other technical equipment and peer mentoring.
“Unlock is especially useful for people who want to learn how build their communities and make them stronger, and how to make democracy thrive”, said Anhelina Lomakina, a participant from Ukraine. “For those of us who live in so-called ‘post-Soviet’ countries, it is really important to build sustainable and strong civil societies”.
Participants also connected with the Czech activist community. Representatives of several prominent Czech organisations and movements joined us at Unlock, including Mikuláš Minář, Czech activist, student and founder of the civic movement A Million Moments for Democracy. Minář co-led a session with Prague Civil Society Centre Senior Advisor Blaževič called Building Momentum for Change.
As always, Unlock had a strong tech through line connecting activism with the latest tech trends. Alexsai Srourali, CEO of SocialLab Estonia, presented on the dawn of AI and what it means for civil society leaders.
Art and its power to connect people and inspire reflection was also on exhibit at Unlock this year. Belarusian Activist Rufina Bazlova presented the traditional Belarusian art of embroidery and how it became a solidarity tool in Belarus. Participants got the chance to try their hand at embroidery later in the courtyard at a session led by Bazlova. Meanwhile, the work of Bazlova and other artists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova was on display at the nearby Artivist Lab in the White Flag exhibition hosted by Unlock organisers. The exhibition explored the complex relationship between art and freedom in the artists’ societies.