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Conversation with Sinan Çiftyürek on the Kurdish question and the communists

category greece / turkey / cyprus | the left | interview author Monday September 17, 2007 08:07author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D. Report this post to the editors

On May we had the chance to talk with the spokesman of the Mesopotamian Socialist Party, a revolutionary Kurdish group, Sinan Çiftyürek. Although he comes from a different political angle than us, we believe there are many interesting issues raised by the interview that are of use for anyone in the revolutionary movement. Sinan Çiftyürek, with an open mind and a critical spirit, talks of the Kurdish struggle and imperialism.


1. First of all, what's the situation of the struggle for Kurdish liberation nowadays?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
In the past the Kurdish national liberation movement had an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist content. The socialist identity of the national liberation movement was evident in the biggest part of the Kurdistan i.e. Northern Kurdistan. All parties and organisations claimed to be Marxists and Leninists. But after the collapse of the USSR and the socialist block, these organisations quickly withdrew from these ideological positions. It was not only their socialist objective what they gave up, but also their anti-imperialist aim. Today the Kurdish national liberation movement, except for the communists, is limited to the anti-colonial aim. A nationality which has to counter imperialism is full of problems and the Kurdish national liberation movement has been experiencing these problems very deeply.

2. We have seen some events of repression escalating in Turkey -do you think the AKP government or the EU negotiations could play some moderating effect over these levels of repression?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
There is an increase in the oppression and the operations against the Kurdish people and this trend tended to increase in the period just passed. For over the last years, the chauvinistic Turkish regime is pursuing an open policy to exclude, to alienate and to make a dartboard out of the Kurds. This has been stated by the representatives of the highest levels of the state and openly continues to be so. The Chief of General Staff, General Yaşar Büyükanıt even is stating that everyone who does not say “how happy I am to be a Turk” is an enemy of the Republic of Turkey and that he will remain so. He also says that a guerrilla cannot keep fighting without the logistical support of the peasants and claims that imams and demarches are giving logistical support to the guerrillas. If he openly and totally takes aim at the Kurdish people, the attacks on the people will continue and increase in the following period.

In this period, neither the new AKP government nor the EU process can play a role in softening the oppression. The EU has already more than one of its own Kurds. Northern Ireland, Bask Country, Catalonia etc. AKP cannot think differently from the army on the question of the Kurdish national liberation struggle. The reason why AKP did not support an operation to Southern Kurdistan had to do with the nearing elections, with the fact that they did not want the army to make a final decision.

3. What has been the response from the Turkish government to the fact that Kurdish Iraq functions as a separate entity?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
The Southern Kurdistan is still not able to move independently from Iraq, because it is not an independent State. It exists within the federal system of Iraq as the Kurdish Federal State.

Turkey is not able to tolerate even a federal Kurdish structure. It continuously threatens it with attack. Over the last years the Turkish State has seen the Kurdish Federal State as the greatest thereat against itself, because it thinks that the structure in the Southern Kurdistan is triggering the national liberation movement in the north.

4. One of the main arguments of the detractors of Kurdish independence has been to insist in the fact that it is not desirable a landlocked Kurdistan if you can be part eventually of the EU; in what way the oil-rich de facto Kurdish state affects this view?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
The question of EU membership is only relevant for the Northern Kurdistan, that is, the part in Turkey. It is also still debatable if Turkey will gain EU membership. The chances are almost equal one way or the other. The EU process creates an expectation for the reduction of the oppression among the Kurdish people who have been beaten by the State for centuries. But these expectations are also melting with time. The fact that the main tendency in the Northern part is federalism instead of independence is not something new and it not directly related to the EU process, but has been there since the 1970’s.

Can the Kurdish Federal State in the south became independent and what would be the results of it? It is hard to give definite answers to these questions today. But I should state what I believe: The Southern Kurdistan can affect the north, but it cannot push it on its direction! The highest potential to affect and to push forward is in the north and it is also questionable if it can really do it. There are many examples of different States coming from the same nation and this can also happen to the Kurds.

5. You have said that the interests of the US and the interests of the Kurdish people have been in coincidence at points; many people have actually singled out the Kurdish as collaborators. But for how long you believe this coincidence of interests will last? What role do you think the Kurdish question is playing in the war on terror and the New Middle East project of Bush?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
Firstly, I should note this: Imperialism does not have friends or enemies; it has interests. Its hostility and friendship depends on its interests. A friend of the US or the UK can become an enemy one day.

The US wanted to be sovereign in the Eurasia in the 21st century so to stand on it own land. In the early 1990’s he transformed this into a long-term strategy.

English geopolitics scientist Sir Harold Mackinder said as early as in 1904 that he who rules over Eurasia will rule over the earth. And American strategist Brzezinski notes in his book “The Grand Chessboard” that in the 21st century the most important strategic reward for the US will be controlling Eurasia. I don’t want to keep going on. These remarks shape the basis of the 21st century strategy of the US.

The US wanted to circle and neutralize Russia and then China. It knows that neutralizing these two states will pave the way for controlling Eurasia. The aim of the Eurasian strategy is certain and Afghanistan and then Iraq are occupied to reach this aim.

The US also gave to the Kurdish national liberation movement a place in its Eurasia strategy since it is at the hearth of the Middle East. It was the US who invited the Kurdish people for cooperation, knowing that they have been beaten by the four states and yearn for their own State. This invitation had a positive response. The Kurds, mainly the southern/Iraqi Kurds, tied to the US against the dictatorship of Saddam as “one ties to the infidel from the faithless”.
The duration of this cooperation depends on the developments in the region and especially in Iraq. I don’t think that this cooperation is durable, but thinking that it will end soon would also be wrong.

Kurdish national movement is an important dynamic in the Middle East. Either the revolutionary movement will use this 40-millions-strong potential for the advantage of the people and the revolutionary transformation or imperialism will use the Kurdish national potential as a part of its divide-and-rule policies and of its aim to rule Asia.

6. What do you believe to be the main priorities for Kurdish people in the current regional context?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
The answer to this question requires detailed and long answers starting with the sociological structure of the Kurds. It is not possible to do it given the limits of this interview. But I can note this: The Kurdish people are one of the indigenous peoples of Mesopotamia like the Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians etc. As well, the Kurdish people and the peoples and societies constantly interacting with one another are one of the creative dynamics in the Middle East. Especially Hurris have a historical importance for fulfilling the role of a bridge between the West and the East. They played an important role in the making of the Mesopotamian culture through the interaction with Hittites, Palestinians and Phoenicians and carried this to ancient Greece and Western Europe.

7. Now that can bee seen a number of movements in all of the Middle East claiming to fight imperialism and US hegemony -how do you see the fight against imperialism in the region?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
The ongoing fight against imperialism in the region is full of problems from many angles. “The footprint of the horse is mixed with the one of the dog”. Only a revolutionary uprising from the depths can win it.

It is full of problems, because the US financed, supported and directed many Islamic organizations in the region during the Cold War with the aim of forming a “Green Belt” (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt) to prevent Russia’s advance. Today we see these organisations in the anti-US front!

It is full of problems, because the militarist forces of the Saddam regime also joined the anti-US front, because the US did not give them a place in the post-Saddam regime!

It is full of problems, because there are no more anti-imperialist nationalist movements around leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mohammad Mossadegh, Hafiz al-Assad.

It is full of problems, because the communist movement is weak in the region. This was the political climate which gave the opportunity to invade Iraq. Of course in no place on earth is democracy brought by tanks and thus it will not be brought to Iraq.

Due to the reasons I already noted, the struggle against imperialism is problematic. The radical resolution of these problems depends on the re-birth and development of the struggles of the working class and the oppressed people not only against imperialism, but also against capitalism.

8. What are the main features or changes you see in international capitalism and imperialism over the last while? How does this affect the struggles in the region and in Kurdistan?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
Dear comrade, I should write a little brochure to answer to this question. We prepared a manifesto answering it and we will soon end the debates around it. After the manifesto assumes its definite shape in the following weeks, we will translate it into English and share it with the world communist movement.

After this remark let me explain myself briefly. Firstly, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism maintains its relevance, but there are also some new developments and we should take them into consideration. I think that in a short period of time the “Empire” thesis was refuted by life.

Secondly, I believe that globalisation is not something new. Its roots are in the past. The comment of Marx that history became world history with capitalism explains many things. The capitalist globalisation fastened over the last 15-20 years after the socialist block collapsed.

Thirdly, capitalism is not just historically on the end of the road, but it also reached its natural (physical) borders. The natural resources of our earth cannot carry the weight of the capitalist consumer culture. If the whole Asia and mainly China and India enter to this culture, the end of our earth will come. So humanity needs quickly to throw capitalism to the litter bin of history, because capitalism is dragging humanity and the world to collapse.

Capitalism blessed property and gave it the status of a god, but in this process a majority of the world is also dispossessed. Capitalism transformed economic work from a mean to an end, but capitalism also detaches wage labour from work using technology. Capitalism commodifies everything human, commercializes everything that is social and makes nature and humans the notaries of the markets. If production and consumption were not the undividable aspects of a cycle i.e. if the large masses were not in a dynamics of consumption, capitalism will not even consider humans worth exploiting!

9. How do you see the future of national liberation struggles?

Sinan Çiftyürek:
The classical national liberation movements on earth were superseded at the end of the 20th century. After the collapse of the classical colonialism, the States around the world increased from 40 to above 200. Since everyone encircle their garden with national fences and put a national flag in the middle of it, the national independence movements will not be a determining dynamics. There are only a few unresolved national questions. Briefly, Asia, Africa and America formally gained their national independence, but imperialism came back down the chimney after he was ousted from the door. There are more than 200 states around the world, but only a few can act independently from imperialism. The conflict between imperialism and the oppressed peoples is changed after the liquidation of the classical colonialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While the imperialists’ openly assumed aspects get weaker, its social-class aspects with their economic, social and cultural content loomed larger. In the 20th century the determining aim of the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America was national liberation. In the 21st century this left its place to social revolutions aiming to economic independence. Briefly, these continents are preparing to new revolutions against imperialism and also capitalism. The waves from the depths give the first signs of this.

10. Having suffered a number of defeats as well as changes in the context over the last couple of decades, what's the future you see for left wing politics? What type of movement and organisation do you think is best suited for the tasks you see ahead? I remember we were talking of the criticism about centralism and the theocratic organisation what I think is particularly relevant...

Sinan Çiftyürek:
I don’t believe that history is in search for a new way. In other words, the movement of freedom and socialism are developing a fight to give again a direction and shape to history. This fight is growing deeper and on a larger scale than in the last century, just like the development from the 19th to the 20th century. I have no doubt of it. Humanity and especially the oppressed people are preparing for a final fight against capitalism. We are at the beginning of the 21st century and the communist and today’s revolutionary movement in general should be liberated from the shadow of the revolutionary movement of the 20th century. In history, breaks and continuities always developed side by side. Every break formed a bridge between the past and the future as continuity. Lenin was a political genius who could apply the break and the continuity. Lenin did not repeat the experience of Marxism in the 20th century and he contributed and reproduced Marxism under the context of changing conditions on the world and Russia.

The contemporary world communist movement should base on Marxism, on the relevant universal sides of Leninism and the revolutionary spirit of the 20th century which attacked the heavens. But it should break from the political programme and practical struggle methods specific to the 20th century and from the communist structures of the last century which became a new social democratic movement.

We understand the communist organisations of the 20th century and think that it should not be repeated today.

In the 20th century the relationship between discipline and freedom was defined as freedom in discipline. But freedom did not find a place to live under the limits of discipline. In the party, organisation discipline was from outside and we cannot keep it so. We accept and aim discipline in freedom and to transform discipline to an internal phenomena.

In the 20th century party structure the determining part of democratic centralism was centralism. Therefore the place for direct democracy decreased in the organisation. Today the relationship between democracy and centralism should be reconfigured to emphasize democracy.

In the 20th century communist movement the center had the status of god and the general secretary had the status of the prophet. In a big party the base of the party i.e. the body followed the central committee or the general secretary, if they moved to a leftist position or to right wing opportunism.

Briefly we, Kurdish communists, aim at a party/organisation strong in the body, not in the centre. The ideological, philosophical, political power should be concentrated in the body of the organisation. And the final decision maker should be the body. We call this “organisation or party strong in body”.

author by Anarkismo Editorial Group - Anarkismopublication date Tue Sep 18, 2007 04:14Report this post to the editors

It can be checked in the following link

Related Link:
author by ender yilmaz - AKi -Turkeypublication date Tue Sep 18, 2007 17:12Report this post to the editors

i am not very much impressed about the democratic organisation chatters. compared to pkk they are very much behind them. apo, the leader of pkk, is deep into bookchin and pkk made a declaration when bookchin died: "comrade bookchin will live in our struggle!" lately the central organ of pkk changed its name from kkk (people's council of kurdistan) to kck (council's council of kurdistan) to emphasize "the statelessness of the new democratic confederal system". in the end this means nothing.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Wed Sep 19, 2007 05:41Report this post to the editors

I have to say that overall I like the format of interviews for political debate as they give the chance of a somewhat more direct opportunity for discussion than articles alone. I find it particularly interesting what has been said -that is something that anarchists have been stating for long- that the classical national liberation model failed to deliver exactly what it promised: "national" liberation, as the reproduction of new States with their own capitalist framework lead them soon to the orbit of super-powers, usually the same former metropolis- while at the same time, the former colonial class was replaced by a new ruling class, by means of the classical "prebendary" state or by the "neocolonial" state; usually this new ruling class does nothing different than the former colonial administration.

What I agree with Ender, is that the criticism of the former political model is quite weak, as it accepts the "theocratic" model as valid for a certain period in time. To claim that Lenin was a political genius may have a point in terms that a skillful politician he surely was. However, this is a far cry from saying that the USSR experience, founded on Lenin and continued by Stalin and the latter Bolshevik veterans did deliver what it promised. It clearly failed and proved quite right the anarchist criticism against the State. This fact alone jeopardize the whole claim that Lenin changed Russia and the world -surely he did, but not in the way that was promised -to create conditions for a new society of equality and freedom.

Though it is true that the revolutionary movement from the 21st century "should break from the political programme and practical struggle methods specific to the 20th century and from the communist structures of the last century which became a new social democratic movement" it is impossible to do so if we fail to answer why this structures and this political programme ended up being social democratic.

There's no point in turning a new leaf if we don't get right the lessons learnt. That's the only way to move forward. To ignore the failures of Leninism and the serious problem posed by any attempt to change society top down, implies to be likely to repeat the same mistakes, under "new clothes" again and again. Though most of the left has nominally moved away from Leninism formally, at least in words, unfortunately, leninism remains the dominant "common sense" in most of the left. That's why internal criticism that goes to the political roots of a phaenomenon that ended up in a huge catastrophe for the revolutionary movement is now more necessary than ever, when we seem to be moving forward, while in reality we are not.

author by Nestor - Anarkismopublication date Wed Sep 19, 2007 19:06Report this post to the editors

...and we do all this by publicizing their words? It is one thing to engage with the authoritarian left in a debate. It is quite another to give them free reign in an interview. Surely there are anarchists who could be interviewed on the Kurdish question. Or even better, non-authoritarian-communist Kurds?

As for the interviewee's nod in the direction of a direct democratic party, we need a LOT more convincing. "State & Revolution" promised a lot too and look what happened then... It will take more than a few sweetners thrown in at the end of an article for anarchist communists can ever trust a leninist (and neither do I have any qualms about defining the USSR as a red fascist state).

author by Manuel Baptistpublication date Wed Sep 19, 2007 20:00Report this post to the editors

A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak with the leader of a marxist Iraq-Kurdish party, Housan Mamoud.
She seemed in good relationship with anarchists communists from French Alternative Libertaire.

Could it be that some people in the Arabic and Middle east world are still inside leninist parties, because the local anarchists are not supported enough by our people in the rich West.... this would be also our own failure!

author by Ilan Shalifpublication date Thu Sep 20, 2007 18:48author address Tel AvivReport this post to the editors

Like the anarchists in Russia and Cuba who cooperated with the Leninists because of pragmatic and opportunist reasons... and paid with their freedom and life, so are the anarchists in various countries in our region.

They failed to discern the subterranean red fascist trends of the authoritarians of the left that will surface when they get the power.

They failed from allaying with the "non political" working people who have an intuitive distrust of the authoritarians of the left.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Fri Sep 28, 2007 21:45Report this post to the editors

One of the weakest aspects of anarchist politics, in general, is when it comes to the issue of alliances. I am inclined to believe that a correct politics of alliance requires, first and foremost, a strong programmatical approach by the anarchist movement. A revolutionary programme is not merely a sharp and articulate criticism of capitalism and State, but how that criticism applies to a concrete historical situation and how it translates into a constructive set of proposals to overcome the existing contradictions that plague a determined society.

The lack of such a programme and analysis leaves anarchism a weak political actor in the face of events (a good idea, impossible in practice), while it means that we can't gain the heart of the people in struggle by becoming an alternative. This inability to become an alternative in our own right, which reflects the lack of programmatical coherence, means that we end up defining our own politics in relation to a "third" actor -usually the biggest parties of the left. And it is this weakness that underlines our ill-designed politics of alliance which often consists of two manicheistic positions: whether we reject at all working with any other group of the left or become uncritical cheerleaders of them.

This, and not cooperation as suggested by Shalif, is the main problem in the past revolutionary failures in the history of anarchism. In fact, this is no new conclusion, but was already outlined in relation to Russia by the Dyelo Trouda group back in 1926, when they stated in their famous "Platform" that:

“We have fallen into the habit of ascribing the anarchist movement's failure in Russia in 1917-1919 to the Bolshevik Party's statist repression, which is a serious error. Bolshevik repression hampered the anarchist movement's spread during the revolution, but it was only one obstacle. Rather, it was the anarchist movement's own internal ineffectuality which was one of the chief causes of that failure, an ineffectuality emanating from the vagueness and indecisiveness that characterized its main policy statements on organisation and tactics.

“Anarchism had no firm, hard and fast opinion regarding the main problems facing the social revolution, an opinion needed to satisfy the masses who were carrying out the revolution. Anarchists were calling for a seizure of the factories, but had no well-defined homogeneous notion of the new production and its structures. Anarchists championed the communist device "from each according to abilities, to each according to needs," but they never bothered to apply this precept to the real world…Anarchists talked a lot about the revolutionary activity of the workers themselves, but they were unable to direct the masses, even roughly, towards the forms that such activity might assume...They incited the masses to shrug off the yoke of authority, but they did not indicate how the gains of revolution might be consolidated and defended. They had no clear cut opinion and specific action policies with regard to lots of other problems. Which is what alienated them from the activities of the masses and condemned them to social and historical impotence.

“Upwards of twenty years of experience, revolutionary activity, twenty years of efforts in anarchist ranks, and of effort that met with nothing but failures by anarchism as an organising movement: all of this has convinced us of the necessity of a new comprehensive anarchist party organisation rooted in one homogenous theory, policy and tactic.”

This view was not exclusive to the Platformists. Maximov, the well known Russian anarcho-syndicalist, under the nickname of Sergven, published an article in Volnyi Golos Trouda, Moscow, in 1918 on the failures of anarchists to organise and have clear strategies to capitalize the revolutionary fervour of the masses in a libertarian project. (This article is available in toto in Paul Avrich's book "The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution").

So to say that the biggest mistake of anarchists in both Russia and Cuba was to cooperate with the leninists, it is absolutely wrong, not only in political terms, but also in factual evidence.

In Russia, there was no significant cooperation between the anarchist organisations and the Bolsheviks -apart from the technical and military coordination by the Makhnovists in Ukraine. It is true that some former anarchists collaborated with the Bolsheviks -notably, people like Iuda Roschin and Victor Serge- but this does not equal to "anarchists" collaborating with them, as they did it in individual terms, it was not significant numerically and they were individuals absorved by the Bolsheviks that rejected anarchism when joining forces with the Bolsheviks (or is Christian Cornelissen an example of social-democracy collaborating with anarchism?).

Also Cuba is not a case of "opportunistic cooperation" as suggested by Shalif. In fact, the ALC, the anarchist organisation, from the start, as early as a 1956 document called 'Proyecciones Libertarias' took distance from Castro and the M-26. It is true that some individual anarchists participated in the M-26 and in some other guerrilla movements such as the Directorio Revolucionario, but all of this participation, in terms of the political weight of anarchism, was absolutely tokenistic. A number of figures involved in the M-26 is a far cry from "cooperation". In fact, when the M-26 took over La Habana, some anarchists kept active in armed resistance. Yet again, it is easier to blame anarchist failure on the "cooperation" of a number of individual figures than on the lack of strategy of the anarchist movement.

The result of both revolutionary experiences that ended up in reppression to the libertarian movement, is not the product of some obscure "subterranean" tendencies present in "red fascists" as suggested by Shalif, but of something that Bakunin already predicted in the XIXth Century: that any group, even the most enlightened one, will become an authoritarian ruling class when they conquer the State -particularly after a periodof civil war. There's no need to resort to labels such as "red fascists" to understand the nature of State -and actually, I think not only they do not add anything to this understanding, but they prevent us from it instead.

So there we are anarchists in the middle of a left of which 95% of it wants to conquer the State in one way or another and in the middle of a working class of which 95% will think that what we need is actually a change of government. We all know that revolution will not be made by anarchists alone. So therefore the problem of alliances become a particularly relevant one for anarchists.

To say that anarchists have "failed from allaying with the "non political" working people who have an intuitive distrust of the authoritarians of the left", as Shalif says, is wrong in my opinion on a number of grounds:

1. it is false and tantamounts to elitism, to view "working people" as "non political". In fact, most anarchists are actually workers. This is true for all other political tendencies in the left and even in the centre.

2. the statement that "working people have an intuitive distrust for authoritarians of the left" is quite relative. In many countries, in fairness, authoritarians of the left are the main force among working people. Such an intuitive "distrust" may be true for countries with a strong McCarthist tradition, but this in no way means any more of a sympathy towards libertarians.

3. as anarchists don't come from the moon, but do represent a section of the working class, it would be strange, from an anarchist point of view, to believe it is the only "pure" or "legitimate" representative of the working class. Such a view is no better than the "single party" politics of leninism. I am inclined to believe that all of the parties, organisations and tendencies vying for hegemony and influence among the people do represent actually a section of the working class.

4. the working class is not homogeneous; it neither is "authoritarian" in nature, neither "libertarian". Actually, those two poles do exist alongside each other, striving for preminence. The fact that the authoritarians have tended to be better organised and with a clearer political programme and understanding of the immediate problems of the working masses, have meant that they have tended to be the hegemonic force in most revolutionary experiences (with the remarkable exceptions of the Ukraine and Spain)

5. that the only way to make sure that anarchism becomes the driving force in next revolution is by clarifying our own programme, proposals and organisational structure.

So therefore there we are again, still facing the problem of alliances. The problem of political alliances has no easy answers and depends enormously from one situation to another. It is impossible to have a blanket policy on this issue that will apply to absolutely every situation. In Chile, where comrades have put some thought on this problem, there were a number of conclusions drawn from the experience of the past decade:

1. That the first step for a correct politics of alliance is internal strenght; with no programme there's no possibility of being a strong actor in any popular movement. Only a programme will allow us to a bit more than condemning or cheerlead.

2. That unity with other sectors can't be sought at all costs; we would only enter talks with groups as long as they are relevant to our own initiative. Therefore, the alliance becomes the conclusion of our own political development and not the starting point of it.

3. That unity of action and coordination of initiatives does not mean to postpone or submitting our own programme.

4. Thus, it was stated that the needed unity of the revolutionary sectors in order to advance positions against the ruling block has to happen "from below and through action". From below, because we only coordinate in concrete spaces where we actually meet other militants (trade unions, for instance), as long as we share minimum goals. And thorugh action, because we believe that it is the concrete practice that serves to further clarify goals and correct positions, intead of abstract political debate.

Those are some basic ideas and guidelines. In no way they should replace the original process of reflection carried by each comrade in each particular situation. For we are aware that the situation in Chile is different from the situation anywhere else. In the same way that the situation in Israel is different to the situation in Turkey. It is impossible to believe that one can know it all or attribute differences in political evaluation to other people's ignorance. This attitude does not help the necessary debate and exchange of opinions to build up a project which is still on the making.

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