Diaspora Bilen people are gathering in Lausanne, Switzerland between May 7 and 8, 2016. These two days conferences organized by Radio Blina are special and unique dates for Bilen social groups: probably a milestone progressive achievement on preserving an endangered language and culture of a community exposed to constant massive exodus and political segregation. This historical event was initially proposed by Radio Blina listeners to extend their helping hand to dedicated individuals who worked tirelessly in broadcasting it. Though initial idea of the gathering was to strength it through financial terms a, on this event, it seems that much more will be discussed and performed to shape and empower it.
The conference is scheduled with one full and busy day period, an evening cultural concert and second half day rap-up and conclusion meetings. For organizing this event, “No PFDJ and No opposition” involvement, just pure Bilen culture and Blin language lovers initiative and gathering of Bilen people coming from all over the world except Eritrea.
So far, the radio and its lovers seem busy in creating politics neutral zone. These people who originally are subjected to constant migration due to war, political chaos, social and family disintegration, unstable life that is originated from oppressors, it is surprising and very concerning to hear such objectives from a radio established by prime political refugee victims.
It is hard to imagine a separate zone between culture and politics, society and politics, prosperity and politics, social harmony and politics. All are intermingled, hard to ignore one while working on the other. It is within this deep contemplation that the author took a thought provoking initiative to raise this topic.
The objective of this article is therefore to share a concern of an ordinary individual who belongs to a social group mentioned above, a group of society that are exposed to mass exodus and political downfalls for the last 400 years. It is pure mindful thoughts and close observation on the social dynamism. It is primarily meant to provoke ideas ahead of the conference for discussion. On this occasion the author wishes success and expects objective outcomes to be outlined to strengthen the radio in its programs, man-power, finance and plan for reaching wider community.
- Radio Blina: A Glimpse
Since November 2014(First Broadcast), a radio program called “Radio Blina” started its first recorded you tube broadcast from North America by three self motivated and dedicated volunteers. It is worth to mention the names of these objective and visionary Eritreans who reside in USA with my sincere admiration for their immensely contribution. Their names: Noredin Natabay, O’qbaselasie Mesghna and Sami Gergis.
According to informal information I have, Radio Blina is dedicated in preserving the language and culture of Bilen people. So far, it is “strictly non-political program”. Its primary objective is to preserve and enrich the culture and language targeting mainly Diaspora Bilen community. According to information gathered from its you-tube channel (Radio Blina), stream length varies from one hour to one hour and forty minutes. Since its birth, it has consistently stayed on line streaming its program every Saturday. For highlighting its achievements, the author has conducted a small research of the last six months period (see table below). According to the research, the number of average visitors and stream length are found to be 3896 and 1 hour and 8 minutes respectively.
|23/04/2016||2220||01:06:31||Recent broadcast. Visitors expected to increase till the next broadcast.|
|16/01/2016||4696||01:11:31||Maximum visitors registered|
|31/10/2015||4385||01:37:01||Longest recorded stream|
|Total Streaming||26 (6 months)|
|Average Stream Length||01:08:52|
Source: Radio Blina youtube Channel (visited on 26/04/2016) 
Note: Number of visitors is subjected to change as the record is available to visitors all time.
From the above information, what we can learn is that Radio Blina is popular Radio channel among Bilen Community living in the diaspora. Comparing the total number of Bilen population (about 115,000, as of 2010 report), 3896 (3.4%) might seem insignificant. However this number comes mainly from people who are living across the globe, far in the east, Australia to the far west USA, from New Zealand to the far North Canada and Norway. This implies dispersed Bilen communities are connected via this service. Not only this, as the record is easily accessible at all time, it is a center of archives for primary teaching source material to today’s and next generations to come who are not able to get a chance to hear pure Blin dialect.
- Blin as an Endangered Language and itsHistorical Anecdotes
When people are displaced from their original land, their values, identities, languages, cultures, pride and dignity face a tremendous challenges for survival, often with difficulty, sometimes impossible and those unlucky extinct. Contrary to this, there are exceptional cases where such bottlenecks can be over-come. Blin language and Bilen People’s collective identity is among those who face a striving moments. Today, these two entities are surviving against all odds not at home but far away. No matter how dispersed the people are, the passion to keep their identity is getting stronger than ever.
Different people work hard to safeguard their cultural identity for different reasons. In this modern world and globalization, the world is witnessing languages and cultures being extinct. It is hard to put Blin language on these endangered languages category but circumstances and migration are putting great pressure on keeping its originality, dialectical purity and vocabulary preservation. Because of mass exodus, the people are subjected to global influence and forced assimilation to other societies.
Be it for good or not, credit goes to Ethiopian warlords and feudal, and then PFDJ ruling regime for letting these people depart from their home in unprecedented magnitude. If there is any equivalent history for their exodus, it must be that of the 16thC.
Bilen people have very controversial and argumentative history. One of the widely accepted narration states that Bilen people immigrated to Eritrea from Agow Lasta of central Ethiopia in the 16thC where they have kinships still living there . Other unconfirmed oral narration says, “Bilen people were original settlers of the highland of today’s Eritrea. Through time they migrated to today’s central Ethiopia and were able to establish great kingdom. After a time, they lost their central power and immigrated to their original land”.
For more elaborated facts, the work is left to historians. Nevertheless these anecdotes give us an overview of delicate insight, “migration”. This forced them to be exposed to different cultures and religious practices. Today, it is not a surprise to find the same family belonging to different religions and speak different languages.
- Bilen People and their Exodus
The last 50 years have never been friendly and often more challenging to Bilen society. Due to 30 years bloody war with Ethiopia and now PFDJ administration, the people are faced massive exodus followed by brake-down of immediate family link and scattered settlements. Depending on the nature of push factor and challenges encountered, these period can be divided into two waves of migration:
- First Waves of migration and Challenges – 1960s to 1980s
When Ethiopia started burning villages and kill innocent people in mass, Bilen people became the first victims. Villages such as Ona and Besigidira were burned and their people massacred. Witnessing these horrific tragedies, families started to flee. Whole families left their home and villages were abandoned. Refugee camps established in neighbouring countries such as Sudan became their new settlements. Few and lucky families were resettled in the Middle East, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Canada.
Those who continued to live in refugee camps experienced difficulty to preserve their culture and language because of daily life challenges. As a result, families were forced to send their children in schools that offer curriculum in foreign languages (mostly Arabic). However families were staying together. This has given them a limited advantage of using their language at home.
The other group of emigrants who went far away from home and settled in a completely new environment faced a unique challenge: new language and culture. Because of daily work and limited contact with their children, not only their culture but also their native language became at risk.
- Second Waves of Migration and Challenges – 2000 to present
While Bilen people were living under previous trauma of mass migration and social pressure, a new wave of migration emerged since 2000 because lack of freedom and forced conscription. What makes it more worrisome for this new exodus is that unlike before, where whole families or villages were fleeing, today, the youth are fleeing as individuals. Horrified by indefinite military service and exposure to systematic torture and crimes, these young people were escaping in all directions and to unknown destination. Unlike before, instead living in refugee camps the continued their journey through Sahara desert, crossing the Mediterranean and then scattering all over European countries. Including the asylum processing time, on average three to four years were spent. These unending journey produced anxiety, unsettled living, trauma and dissociation from their habituated previous life.
Majority are young, single and exposed to all forms of identity erosion. Because of their miser life under PFDJ administration, politics is terrifying, often a taboo subject. Their previous life experience and constant brainwashing forced them to choose a path free of politics. The impact of such tendencies is quite visible in all of their social contacts and initiatives they took for their social gathering.
Bilen People and their Role in Eritrean Politics
Reading Bilen history back to centuries and then in modern times, there exists downfalls and retreats which it later affected their capability to protect themselves. Their exodus from central highlands of Ethiopia was one cause of their power lose and weakness to protect themselves. Even when they settled in their today’s territory, their capability to defend themselves remained weaker. For example, Michael Gabir  put in his booklet as follows:
“ብሊን ሓደ ጥሙር ኣመሓዳድራ ኣይነበሮምን፤ ብሓድነት ንጸላእቶም ብዘይምምካቶም ከኣ ብዙሕ ይጉድኡ ነይሮም። ኣብ ውሽጢ’ዚ ኣብ ላዕሊ እተጠቕሰ ግዜ እቲ ከባቢ ብግብጻውያንን ገዛእቲ ትግራይን ይጭነቕ ነበረ። ብ1863 ዓም 12 ዓድታት በጎስ ብወረርቲ ሓይልታት ነዲደን። ብ 1865 ዓ.ም. ዓበይቲ ዓዲ ተኣኪቦም ዕቑባ መንግስቲ እንግሊዝ ክሓቱ ወሲኖም።”
With the arrival of Italian colonizers, resistance of Bilen people was not that much strong. Their adoption for Catholic religion could be a possible reason of conformity and inability to safeguard the status quo. With the arrival of British administration and the ‘divide and rule policy’ introduced, these people were exposed to kinship confrontation. They claimed their family tree (Terke, Tawke and 12 Neged) as a main source of social division among themselves.
Such developments led Bilen people to weaken their social cohesion and ability to protect their common interests in unity. The impact of such disintegrations was prevalent throughout the armed struggle and now under PFDJ rule.
During the struggle era (1961- 1991), majority of Bilen fighters stayed with the ELF wing. They gained a reputation as being staunch members. When ELF was defeated and left the field, Bilen fighters were the first victims of political assassination and forced exile. Known figures within the ELF unit became vulnerable. Consequently Bilen elites were fled, far away from their home.
Resettlements and Opportunities
Because of deep connection with their tradition, once displaced from their original land, life becomes challenging: Usually followed with cultural shock, dizzy moments, nostalgic, feeling of loneliness, depression, anxiety economic deficiency, and communication problems; and often full of stress. Unable to stand these difficulty moments and in search of immediate solutions, Bilen people are known for building quick social ties and networks.
Before independence, most of the time families had limited opportunity to get connected. This weakened their cultural ties and keeps their language striving within its purity. Though occasional community gathering had some positive impact in keeping them connected, their area specific, lack of appropriate technological means, inaccessibility to played a negative role in keeping them confined, unable to exercise their culture.
On the other hand, the new wave migrants started to resettle with new opportunities. Most of them being millennials, they didn’t spent time to use modern communication systems to be closer as much as possible. Facebook, youtube, paltalk, viber, whatsap, imo, etc are among their favours. There are also websites dedicated for Bilen people and their history (such as www.daberi.org, http://bilenbogos.weebly.com). Using these social media, they continued to keep in touch and exchange ideas. As introduced above, recorded radio program is also broadcasted using youtube.
Despite the existence of such social networks, the content and message seem to shying away from politics. Almost all concentrate on language and culture. There could be acceptable reasons why these social networks spent lots of energy on these areas. Experiencing centuries old political trauma and instability indeed these people have been vulnerable to social catastrophe, cultural erosion and endangering the survival of their spoken language .
The main source of these dangers is absence of political accommodation and repressive system of governance in the country they lived before. To reclaim their dignity, the best solution could have been strengthening their political share while working on preserving their language and culture through a wide network. Nevertheless any initiative so far seems to discourage political participation. For example, since its birth, Radio Blina is working under a program theme “Politics free zone”. This kind of program is the worst kind of politics as it seems to ignore political situation and social crisis of victimized target group.
De-Politicised Programs: an Impact of Political Trauma
Looking deeply on the social demography of Bilen people that encompasses hibernating clan conflicts, their past instability, failures of building common political benchmarks and current political landscapes, it is not easy to design inclusive politics. In addition, their exodus and unending journey search for basic protection produced anxiety, trauma and dissociations.
Not only this, due to PFDJ political system and constant brainwashing, politics is often foreign issue, often a taboo subject to discuss among. The impact has extended to every establishing social media.
If one looks the indirect political agenda of PFDJ, it is creating society free of politics. Eritrean community centres established under direct PFDJ supervision have one a must to observe criteria: “any member who joins such communities must drop his/her own politics”. It is hard to conspire against any motive of individuals however there could be an indirect correlation that can be drawn if a program corresponds to an existing objective.
Depoliticized programs are by themselves politics. As has been discussed in the introduction part, it is hard to differentiate life from politics. It becomes harder when the target group are themselves victims of politics. As life is something that lives, so is politics. Any program designed free of politics is far away from reality unless its politics is to depoliticise.
Bilen people, like the rest Eritreans are the prime victims of colonization, Ethiopian aggression and worse PFDJ rule. Their basic social structure is deteriorating, probably leading to a state of endangered society. Their culture and language is facing catastrophe. Understanding their status, these people are taking important initiatives to preserve their identity. Radio Blina is born by individuals who deeply understood their where about.
The idea and dedication is commendable. However, keeping their programs free of politics is insane. For the coming weekend, the conference to be held in Laussane is a milestone for future politics of Bilen people. The author is hoping therefore to reconsider objectives and missions of Radio Blina so that the program of the Radio to reflect the real situation. If not, any program that manifests against reality is void and hence non-representative. Above all, the worst politics is to shy away from politics. For this reason, the author wishes objective outcomes of the conference that recreate dignity and values of Bilen people.