The Budapest [Global Voices] gathering represents one of the major benefits of today’s internet revolution: the radical democratisation of the global flow of ideas. The technology, the ideas and the processes that have made possible blogs, social networks, and collaborative projects like Wikipedia also give many unconventional thinkers previously consigned to the margins of public life a platform that enables them to be heard by a dedicated (if often tiny) audience. The academic, blogger and pundit Daniel W Drezner has called this new generation – free from the usual constraints of the academia, self-employed, and armed with Google search – “Public Intellectuals 2.0”.
But is it “Public Intellectuals 2.0” or “Dissidents 2.0”? The Budapest experience suggests that the movement slowly emerging on the margins of the blogosphere shares much in common with an older generation of those who sought to “speak truth to power”. The city’s mayor Gábor Demszky – a communist-era dissident – was one of the first people to welcome some Global Voices bloggers. The early stencils used to copy anti-government materials in east-central Europe, now housed in the Open Society archives in Budapest, add to the sense that there are similarities between blogging and samizdat. It may be just a matter of time before an Apple or a Lenovo laptop belonging to a Belarusian or an Uzbek dissident-blogger finds a well-deserved placed next to these stencils.