LEBANON ::

Andre Baladi

Springhints: discussion through a questionnaire

14/02/2009

Psychiatrist, Lebanon

(To make things more chronological and easier to understand, you will forgive the “I” that refers to Andre Baladi’s personal ideas behind the questionnaire and the idea of the campaign, which evolves naturally into a “we”, much more important in terms of what the evolution of this initiative will hopefully bring to the country.)

Being Lebanese involves a certain number of unanswered questions that have always been in my mind. Perhaps because of a certain “bourgeois francophone” mode of living, my Lebanese citizenship has often triggered questioning regarding the multiplicity of the Lebanese identity, the richness it involves and the complications it implies.

In 2005 the population provoked a raz de maree. People thought, for once, right or wrong, that they were able to change things. History is in part made up of these mass movements, and a voluntary citizenship can provoke historical changes. This idea that a mere citizen may be able to influence the flow of events gave us wings, and, in a way, I’m thankful to PM Omar Karameh for his resignation then, “in response to the street’s demand”. His attitude convinced us that our naïve dream was possible.

I started meeting young people gathered every evening on the same spot in the street, it had a certain May 68 flavor, and through the exchange of ideas I realized that what was obvious for me was not for the others. The way each one perceived diversity, and its effects positive and negative, was not perceived in the same way by the others. The dialogues used to end in monologues; we got to know and understand each other but did not succeed in putting any common vision to the future of Lebanon.

I thought about the questionnaire for the first time. We must know at least what people have in mind, what they think, in order to communicate and understand better before we suggest any change; why not a questionnaire for that purpose?

I submitted the idea to NGO’s and friends… Then some advertising firms and journalists gave us some support… We were in March 2006, one year after the big raz de maree. Things were cooling down and returning to a status quo. The response was positive and enthusiastic despite the prevailing pessimism. The group was formed in less than a month.

We gave the idea a form: plexiglass boxes and table were designed. A press conference was held at the Vendome Intercontinental on May 4, 2006. The times were unfortunately not suitable for our ‘table of hiwar’ that we had wished to put on Martyrs Square to refreshen the year before’s enthusiasm. We created a website submitted the questionnaire on it, and planned then implemented, in less than a month, a tour for the questionnaire in different universities. The feedback was very positive and opened new horizons to some of the students.

At that time we did not think of creating an association as we thought that a lot were being formed and matched the spirit of this ‘dialogue box’. We finally did in 2007, because we realized it is more convenient, especially on the long term. Yet our wish is still to coordinate efforts with other people from what is called the “civil society”, and we have joined in several collective events and manifestations (NGO forum, Jbeil 2006; July 2006 meetings of NGOs “for life” – against israeli attacks; April 13, 2007 commemoration of start of civil war in Hippodrome, etc.)

The most frequent question during the campaign was “when will the results be published?” To meet the demand was difficult due to what the country was going through and the state of mind we were in: Israel attacked heavily in July 2006, the country very solidarity during the war started falling apart as the stop fire was implemented… On the individual level the feelings were a mixed of despair, helplessness and frustration… Springhints had a mission to look forward to: publish the result, analyze the significance of the numbers, and interpret them. We did it in the form of a book published in Arabic and French, the signature of which took place at the Fly Bar, roof of Virgin Megastore, on September 4, 2007.

The campaign is not over. The questionnaire in its original form will acquire with time a new significance due to the changes, or lack of it, that will occur. A long-term process of confronting ideas and opinions, including our own, will take place. It will take different forms, mainly as a next step, through debates to be organized in the various Universities where we went to discuss the ideas behind the questions and the significance of the results.

To plan the future is becoming difficult, the country and the region are facing a major challenge. The priorities of life are shifting as if in wartime. We hope to keep this dialogue open to all. The feedback and suggestions of future questions and activities are essential to the existence of this dialogue: formulating the correct question is solving a big part of the problem… Furthermore, we modestly believe that the questions we raise are fundamental to the resolution of the more global regional issues.

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