Tales of a revolution, from Libya to Stillwater

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2012 - 6:13 PM

Ilya Gorodisher of Stillwater used social media to collect the stories of 100 people who were touched by the 2011 Libyan uprising.

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Ilya Gorodisher, a Stillwater man has written a book on the recent war in Libya with a woman from New Zealand.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Ilya Gorodisher met scores of Freedom Fighters who took part in the 2011 Libyan Revolution that led to the ousting of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

Ironically, he's never been to the northern African nation, and he's never met any of them face-to-face. Gorodisher met them through Twitter, and on blogs and Facebook.

With the help of editors on three continents, he collected their heroic and compelling stories about the battles they fought in the streets and how the conflict touched their lives. He tells their stories in a new 221-page book, "Voices 4 Libya."

"I'm incredulous this happened," the Stillwater resident said. "It was never meant to be, but this shows what social media can do."

Gorodisher, 49, jokes that he was "traded for a sack of wheat" when the Helsinki Accord allowed him to emigrate to the United States from his native Soviet Union in 1977. But his early life experience as a Jew behind the Iron Curtain allowed him to empathize with the plight of Libyan citizens who had lived under Gaddafi's tyrannical rule for 42 years.

That drew him to follow the uprising through news accounts on CNN and BBC. He had an insatiable appetite for more, but as coverage waned in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown, Gorodisher had to go elsewhere for coverage. He found it on blogs on Al-Jazeera's English network.

He also turned to the Internet and added his voice to blogs and tweets. He soon launched his own website and his clever limericks, which he posted using the screen name Moussa Koussa (Gaddafi's foreign minister), drew a big following. More than 100,000 logged on to www.koussa.info and Gorodisher invited a few of those he exchanged thoughts with on Al Jazeera to post on his protected website.

Within 48 hours stories poured in from civilians, lawyers, clerks, engineers, doctors and students who had stormed a military complex, created makeshift weapons, lost limbs or loved ones in battle, and treated innocent children who were struck by bullets.

"I met friends and I wanted to keep them," Gorodisher said. "I was the aggregator of news rather than CNN."

Among the contributors were editors in Jordan, England and New Zealand, who joined together to create a booklet using 20 bloggers' messages of hope for injured Freedom Fighters. That was the genesis of "Voices 4 Libya," which has 100 stories.

The foursome selected all the passages and did all the editing, communicating only electronically. Because of the time difference, Gorodisher was often clicking away on his laptop at 3 a.m., said his wife Susanna.

"They took something virtual and something tangible came of it. This is a testimony of the will to find a way to open doors and do something good with limited resources," she said.

Gorodisher said he hopes his blogs and book have an effect and bring hope to Libya. Radwan Ziadeh, co-spokesman for the Syrian National Council, said they already have.

"The social media are indispensable in this revolution," he said in his address at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It is the demonstrators using their iPhones and transmitting the demonstrations to YouTube and Twitter that are the only source of accurate news.

"The world wide connection and support for democracy is the greatest improvement in human rights the world has ever seen, and it is unstoppable. This connection has and will pull down any dictatorship that opposes it."

He said the army of bloggers made a crucial difference in Libya, and he hopes the same will be true in Syria, another country experiencing civil war.

Gorodisher began work on "Voices 4 Libya" in October of 2011, and the book -- in English complete with photographs -- came out in April. It was a big hit in Libya, where the Ministry of Culture sponsored a book launch in Benghazi that featured many of the contributing writers, Gorodisher said.

In the coming months, Gorodisher said an Arabic version of "Voices 4 Libya" will be in the works.

He also hopes to line up presentations such as the one he gave in August at Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 • Twitter: @timstrib

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