Economic inequality is deepening, natural resources are being exhausted due to overconsumption, exploitation of labor is intensifying, hierarchical gender relations and traditional roles are glorified and idealized, gender-based violence and homophobia are not declining, racism, nationalism, fascism and reactionary populism are on the rise, fundamental freedoms are violated, authoritarian influence is gaining pace. All of these changes are happening worldwide, while the majority, suffering from gender, racial and social discrimination, is further impoverished and constrained, and, on the other hand, the wealthy minority only expands its wealth. In 2019 as a reaction to these global problems, three professors, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser published a book entitled Feminism for the 99 Percent: A Manifesto. In 2021 this book was translated into Azerbaijani as well. This article is an attempt to discuss the political feminist manifesto and the potential for its basic principles to gain ground in the context of Azerbaijan. Thus, this article explains the possibility of transformation of feminism and establishment of a Feminism for the 99 Percent movement in Azerbaijan. Here I provide a brief overview of eleven theses of the political manifesto and assess the transformation of Azerbaijani feminism, perspectives of Feminism for the 99 Percent in Azerbaijan, or, in other words, the potential for an “F99 movement” to gain ground in this country.

What is Feminism for the 99 Percent? 

Multiple kinds of feminism have emerged since the beginning of democratic movements. They include such varieties as liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism, black feminism, queer feminism, eco-feminism and others (Bryson 2003; Künzel 2003; Cəlil 2021). This new type of feminism, called Feminism for the 99 Percent, aims to assemble all – except for liberal feminism – feminisms under one large umbrella in the fight for common goals. “Refusing to sacrifice the well-being of the many in order to protect the freedom of the few [this is a critique of liberal feminism – J], it champions the needs and rights of the many of [sic] poor and working-class women, of racialized and migrant women, of queer, trans, and disabled women, of women encouraged to see themselves as “middle class” even as capital exploits them … Standing for all who are exploited, dominated, and oppressed, it aims to become a source of hope for the whole of humanity” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 14, 15).

In this particular case, the above disenfranchised includes not only women, it includes all human beings as well as nature. The term exploited, in its turn, means those exploited along gender, class and race-based lines by policy, patriarchy, and political systems. That is why this feminism “proposes to join with every movement that fights for the 99 percent, whether by struggling for environmental justice, free high-quality education, generous public services, low-cost housing, labor rights, free universal health care, or a world without racism or war” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 15).

By uniting three basic elements – anti-capitalism, antiracism and anti-patriarchism – feminism for the 99 percent aims “to tackle the capitalist roots of metastasizing barbarism,” class and institutional racism, patriarchy and liberal feminism (Arruzza et al. 2019, 13). Here liberal feminism is represented as Lean-in feminism. The co-authors of the volume criticize liberal feminism by targeting the book titled Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead written by American billionaire and business manager Sheryl K. Sandberg and published in 2013. By underlining that Sandberg’s book is an appeal to privileged women, the co-authors insist that the real aim of liberal feminism is the increased representation of privileged women in an unjust system; it endeavors only to help those women in the struggle to earn more money along with men of the same class, but ignores the needs of the vast majority of women. Thus, feminism for the 99 percent radically distinguishes itself from liberal feminism. Feminism for the 99 percent styles itself as a manifesto with its eleven theses, which are intended to build a radical and transformative feminism, encompassing different classes. These theses, the book argues, in times when liberal feminism is converted into meritocracy, queer feminism is acquiring traits of bourgeoisie and other feminisms lose their strength, reveal an uncompromising message: “feminists must take a stand” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 4).

Feminism for the 99 Percent: Brief Overview of the 11 Theses

Before switching to deliberations on the perspectives of Feminism for the 99 Percent in Azerbaijan, I would like to provide readers with a brief introduction to the 85-page long Manifesto. This brief overview along with introduction to the content of the Manifesto will assist readers in better understanding the main part of this article.

The first three theses of the Manifesto explain the necessities and opportunities paving the way for the emergence of a Feminism for the 99 Percent. In the next three theses, gender problems initiated and exacerbated by the crisis of capitalism are illustrated. In theses seven to eleven, the co-authors elaborate their arguments regarding the instrumentalization of sexuality by the capitalist order, the persistence of racist and colonial violence in capitalism, the destruction of nature and environment to gain capital, the incompatibility of genuine democracy and world peace with capitalism. Thus, the co-authors call on all radical feminist and leftist movements to join in a common anticapitalist insurgency. Let us now have a closer look at each of these theses separately.

Strikes, marches, meetings and protests are basic forms of the feminist fight, according to the book. The co-authors of the Manifesto claim that these traditional methods have weakened due to the decades-long neoliberal offensive. Yet, by pointing out marches, protests and strikes, such as the Black Friday strike, which began in Poland in 2016 and then spread to Italy, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Peru, US, Mexico, Chili and other countries, Aruzza et al. argue that these protests resemble an awakening of a mass-protest spirit of working-class women in the early 21st century. In these strikes, women “far from focusing only on wages and hours also target sexual harassment and assault, barriers to reproductive justice, and curbs on the right to strike” with feminist, internationalist, environmentalist and antiracist demands (Arruzza et al. 2019, 8). Thus, “a new feminist wave is reinventing the strike” (Thesis 1) and restores this tactic, long obliterated from memory, in the northern and southern hemispheres.

With the proposition that “Liberal feminism is bankrupt. It’s time to get over it” (Thesis 2), the co-authors insist that during the years when liberal feminism was dominant, the interests of only the 1% of women, and not of the remaining 99%, were promoted. “In treating women simply as an ‘underrepresented group,’ its [liberal feminism’s – J] proponents seek to ensure that a few privileged souls can attain positions and pay on a par with the men of their own class” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 11 original emphasis). This thesis, which accentuates the connection between bankruptcy of liberal feminism and Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat in 2016, urges that the time has come to evaluate the gender problem from a leftist point of view. And for this reason, the co-authors press the claim that “we need an anticapitalist feminism – a feminism for the 99 percent” (Thesis 3). In the next thesis, the co-authors insist “what we are living through is a crisis of society as a whole and its root cause is capitalism” (Thesis 4). The co-authors emphasize that capitalism itself is in profound crisis and claim that the sustainability of nature as well as human being’s spirit for existence are exhausted. The co-authors stress that, “[i]n so doing, they [the capitalist elite – J] have reorganized not only class exploitation, but also gender and racial oppression, often appropriating rebellious energies (including feminist energies) for projects that overwhelmingly benefit the 1 percent.” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 19).

By proposing that capitalism is the source of gender exploitation, the co-authors argue that while gender hierarchy was not initiated by capitalism, it has contributed to the aggravation of the problem. Capitalism shapes social reproduction to maintain the capitalist system’s sustainability; capitalists value population growth as a potential labor force, and they exploit people by maintaining material, political and cultural control over them. Based on this, the co-authors claim “[g]ender oppression in capitalist societies is rooted in the subordination of social reproduction to production for profit” (Thesis 5) and “[g]ender violence takes many forms, all of them entangled with capitalist social relations” (Thesis 6). It is this system of power, which creates hierarchies of gender, race and class, and sanctions this violence. Feminism for 99 Percent emphasizes that the traditional feminist approach toward gender violence i.e., demands for criminalization and prosecution, are inadequate to solving the problem. “This ‘carceral feminism’[1] as it has been called, takes for granted precisely what needs to be called into question: the mistaken assumption that the laws, police, and courts maintain sufficient autonomy from the capitalist power structure to counter its deep-seated tendency to generate gender violence” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 29).

In the background of all these ideas, the book explains through its seventh thesis the basics of the capitalist system’s regulation of sexuality and how it benefits from that regulation. By arguing “capitalism tries to regulate sexuality. We want to liberate it” (Thesis 7), the authors suggest that sexual authoritarianism (constraints and control on sexual expression) is anything but premodern and capitalist societies have always tried to regulate sexuality. If before the emergence of capitalism problems of sexuality were under the control of the church and lay communities, capitalist society has continued to regulate sexuality by applying new bourgeois norms, regulatory regimes, cultural and repressive means, while at the same time commercializing sex.

In the Manifesto, that the authors claim “capitalism was born by racist and colonial violence” (Thesis 8) and thus has repressive impacts on gender relations. “Historically, however, the feminist record in dealing with race has been mixed, at best. Influential white US suffragists indulged in explicitly racist rants after the Civil War, when black men were granted the vote and they were not” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 41). That is why the co-authors suggest that “[a] feminism that is truly anti-racist and anti-imperialist must also be anticapitalist” and “racism, imperialism, and ethnic nationalism are essential buttresses of generalized misogyny and the control over all women’s bodies” (Arruzza et al. 2019, 43, 45 original emphasis).

Along with racist and colonial oppression of peoples, the book emphasizes the capitalist system’s destruction of nature. By claiming that “[f]ighting to reverse capital’s destruction of the earth, feminism for the 99 percent is eco-socialist” (Thesis 9), the authors point at the next object of feminist struggle. They declare that the freedom of women is directly dependent on the eradication of environmental disasters, which can only come about with the end of capitalism. Along with this, they claim that “capitalism is incompatible with real democracy and peace” (Thesis 10) and thus this system obliterates the decision-making capabilities of people in global matters and in defining the connection between social reproduction and capitalist production. In the capitalist system, the power holders in the system replace the majority as decision makers. In addition, according to the co-authors, the imperialistic nature of capitalism stimulates powerful nations to plunder weaker ones, to embezzle their wealth, impose debt burdens on them and make the dependent by threatening military invasion or political and economic sanctions (Arruzza et al. 2021, 64). Due to these and other policies, Feminism for 99 Percent resolves that capitalism is not able to provide genuine democracy. To resolve the above problems, they write that “feminism for the 99 percent calls on all radical movements to join together in a common anticapitalist insurgency” (Thesis 11) and believes that a merger of all the anti-capitalistic, environmental, antiracist, anti-imperialist factions, LGBTIQ+ movements and trade-unions are necessary. 

Reception of the Manifesto

Feminism for 99 Percent was accepted with enthusiasm and was supported by feminists because the Manifesto encompasses all the fields as a unified concept. Still critics have addressed shortcomings in the Manifesto’s content and have critiqued its main ideas (See: March 2020; D´Atri and Murillo 2019). Their criticism has largely noted the limited ability of strikes to address social and reproductive freedoms, the extent to which its addressed participants can be organized to carry out the Manifesto’s goals, etc. In other words, the Manifesto has been criticized for its incomplete strategies, superficiality of analyses and resemblance to populist rhetoric (Fuchs 2021, 158). While criticizing Manifesto’s march strategy, leftist author Urte March writes that “if feminism for the 99% considers the marches a catalyst for the anti-capitalist revolution, then the working class must be the center and the leading force” (March 2020). He supposes that “it will no doubt need allies from other oppressed and exploited classes, but the working class must be the hegemonic class, because if, as history has shown, the working-class renounces capitalism, capitalism cannot survive without it.” (March 2020).

To these kinds of questions, Fuchs responds that “the manifesto does not require detailed analysis, the authors already cover a wide range of theses and systematically list the analyses accordingly.” (Fuchs 2021, 159). In his article published in Femina Politica, she emphasizes that the Feminism for 99 Percent Manifesto is written “with a great passion and rage” and then asks of the authors “what other liberal achievements must be made in the struggle against the capitalist system, such as human and civil rights, because we know that capitalism and its central apparatus will not leave the field voluntarily and peacefully” (Fuchs 2021, 159).

Is the transformation of feminism and the advance of the F99-Movement in Azerbaijan possible?

In order to answer this question, we need to analyze the development phases and historical transformation of feminism in Azerbaijan. Only after that we will be able to come to some conclusions about perspectives for Feminism for 99 Percent in Azerbaijan. This will also help readers make their own conclusions.

The Transformation of Feminism in Azerbaijan

According to some researchers, feminism in Azerbaijan took root and was politicized between 1990s and 2010s (Aliyeva 2020; Namazov 2021a). However, both essence of this conclusion and its timeframe are questionable. First of all, feminism is intrinsically a political phenomenon and its politicization can only mean revealing publicly and thus politicizing matters of to-that-point private concern. Second, the feminist initiatives implemented in Azerbaijan during the immediate post-Soviet period can only be thought of as a minor modification to the role of women in the context of the nation and state and realized only a limited modernization of how women were imagined in Azerbaijan. The primary intention of women’s movement activities during that 30-year period was the advancement of the notion of the “educated modern mother” rather than the “liberty and equality of women” (Abbasov 2021). Third, it is necessary to specify the periodization; A feminist wave in Azerbaijan emerged only in 2019. Until then there was no feminist wave as a movement. As Abbasov (2021) notes that, until that time, the idea of advancing women was strictly a nationalist one, focused on creating an obedient, modern woman “according to the visions of national bourgeoisie and enlighteners on modernization of woman.” State institutions, such as The State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues, seek to propagandize this kind of women’s advancement, alongside GONGOs (government operated NGOs) and representations of UN agencies. They focus their activities on such issues as advocacy, microcredits, empowerment and leadership. That is, they pursue only those activities that are not manifestations of antagonism against patriarchal society and structural injustice. These ideas can be seen as an Azerbaijani manifestation of liberal feminism because, like the liberal feminism defined by F99, they do not challenge capitalist, militarist, and nationalist exploitation.

Since independence in 1991, the Azerbaijani state has been plagued by mismanagement, corruption and budget plundering, which has in turn infested local NGOs as well. Based on my personal observations, I can say that mishandling of funds received both from the state and the West, embezzlement, exploitation of labor, nepotism and pro-forma activities have become widespread phenomena in Azerbaijani NGOs and their feminist-oriented work has gradually failed. Amendments to the Law of Azerbaijan Republic on Non-Governmental Organizations made in 2014 became the nail in the coffin to the advancement of even the liberal feminist agenda by these organizations (Law 2014). Thus, tokenist feminist activities funded by the Azerbaijani government and Western institutions have declined significantly since 2014.

In 2019 genuine feminist initiatives appeared in Azerbaijan, the highlight of which was a series of marches which took place on March 8th, International Women’s Day, of that year. A change in the nature of Azerbaijani feminism and its turning to right path, in other words, its transformation, is not accidental. That transformation is connected to the revival of the transformative and radical marches and strikes of the 1970s, the first revival of which took place in 2016 in Poland, the Black Friday strike, and then spread to other countries. A new transnational feminist wave reached Azerbaijan within three years. Inspired and encouraged by global trends, Azerbaijani feminists started developing adequate reactions (strikes and marches) to local problems. Exactly these reactions created space for feminist causes, a space which local and international organizations had failed to produce for years, and for the first time, gender-oriented issues were publicized and politicized. As a result, problems such as gender-based violence, murder of women, sexual harassment, bullying and other issues related to sexism, which the state and society have always considered private matters, began to be scandalized, publicized and politicized with marches, protests and demonstrations.

Namazov (see 2021b) classified marches, their demands, goals and slogans which took place in 2019-2021. In the aforementioned three years, four scandalous, non-authorized protest marches against gender violence and women killings took place. At the same time multiple feminist internet portals publishing fiction, art, popular science and academic articles with feminist content were created. The first Stop Violence Against Women mass campaign organized jointly by the UN and Azerbaijani Government in 2021 happened due to the feminist demands expressed in marches, protests and other forms since 2019. Although that 2021 UN and Azerbaijani mass campaign retains the same liberal feminist and tokenist nature of previous years, it still proves two important things which should be emphasized: 1) the NGO-ization of activities with feminist content had zero impact on state policies; 2) while the impact of activities of new Azerbaijani feminists, with worker and working-class background and roots in the capital, other cities as well as villages, who echoed new world feminist wave started in 2016, is real.

In the first case, the NGO-ization of feminist-oriented activities did not pose any threat to the patriarchal state. The government did not treat these activities in a repressive manner and understood feminism in the context of enlightenment of women. The second case managed to change both the patriarchal state and patriarchal society’s perception of women’s rights and women’s freedom and attempted to challenge authoritarian stability with marches and protests. This change happening in the authoritarian context entails the following processes:

By opposing marginal feminist power with repressions, the authorities politicized gender problems further. In addition, since 2019, the dynamics of society and the state’s approach to issues has changed dramatically against the background of the creation of a new wave of feminism in Azerbaijan, which has expressed itself not only through marches, but also literary, artistic, popular science and academic content, as well as popularization of feminism as a topic of discussion on social media; a) Anti-feminist and anti-gender segments of society have revealed themselves, b) the state retooled its policies with the aim to revitalize image of patriotic and obedient woman and men, traditional gender roles,  patriarchal family institutions. In his speech during the commemoration of the centenary of Baku State University, President Ilham Aliyev for the first time[2] officially and publicly delineated an orientation toward re-traditionalization:

“We are building our state based on traditional values. There are traditional relations between elders and youth; we have to preserve this. I would like youth to listen to what I am saying: they have to take into account traditional elder-youth relations. Nowadays, in some countries it is not important. They do not see the difference between women and men. However, we live and should live in a traditional society. We have to respect women, protect and defend them. They should not us; we should them. There is gender equality and we accept that. Yet we cannot live without traditional mindset, and the young generation must know this” (Aliyev 2019).

Especially after this speech, MPs made statements profiling western and non-Muslim women, while discussing gender-based issues and even called on religious institutions to intervene and protect traditional values. For instance, the MP and leader of the Unity (Vəhdət) Party Tahir Kerimli said that it is unacceptable to give in to feminist demands and change the Family Code of the Azerbaijani Republic according to the Istanbul Convention.[3] He called on religious institutions to mobilize to defend family values. (Karimli 2021). Another MP of the National Assembly, Eldar Guliyev mocked Western women and said that it is unacceptable to allow Azerbaijani women to become like them (Quliyev 2021). President Ilham Aliyev in his interview given to Italian La Repubblica and published on 13 October 2021, in answering to a question regarding his family’s business as exposed in the Pandora Papers, used so-called traditional values to reject the accusations and ridiculed family and inheritance relations in the West, making exceptions for patriarchal Italian Catholic families. His exact wording was as follows: “You will probably understand me, unlike some other people in the West, who dedicate all their fortune to their cats and dogs, in Italy and Azerbaijan we value family values.” (Aliyev 2021).

In addition, The State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues jointly with the state-affiliated Social Research Center launched a series of discussions of the results of the survey Existing Family Relations in Azerbaijan: Socio-psychological Analyses. Participants used these discussions to discuss ways the state can protect the patriarchal family and to idealize the gender roles, instead of discussing difficulties caused by political and economic factors (Təhlil 2021). Until 2019 there were no vocal, publicized feminist demands in the country; there was no need for re-traditionalization policies in a society which already possesses many patriarchal characteristics. However, since 2019, reacting to feminist mobilization, the authoritarian government has launched re-traditionalization policies, and in this regard, it has adopted anti-European discourse. State institutions, MPs, state media, television channels and others have started idealizing and glorifying traditional gender roles, and in its turn, society has confronted political feminist activism with hatred and rejection. “Thus “feminists/feminism” became the farthest other and the most visible at the same time. Local power relations rendered them the most hated, a group that received critique from almost all active segments of society, including those in the opposition and academia who were regarded as independent” (Namazov 2021a).

Possibilities for the Establishment of an F99-Movement in Azerbaijan

Although many theoretical aspects of feminism for the 99% theory are important for paving the way for this movement to gain ground in Azerbaijan, I think three of them can be considered the most important among them: 1) Azerbaijani feminists must adapt an anticapitalist feminist position; 2) leftists must unite with the Azerbaijani feminists; 3) this union must appeal to the working class. Because the F99-Movement is ideologically anticapitalist and anti-patriarchal the leading forces of the movement are feminists, leftists and the working masses. So, the existence of these three basics contributes to the second transformation of feminism and to the formation of an F-99 Movement.

Women from privileged families and feminist groups representing them, feminist teams financed by upper-class funds, or obedient women from upper and working class which are authorized in authoritarian system – none of these have made progressive changes in country’s public life. Those who make a difference and contribute to the raising of awareness are non-obedient women belonging exclusively to the working classes, LGBTIQ+ communities and very small number of progressive left-wing men. These three groups are active in promoting anticapitalist, anti-patriarchal, antimilitarist, environmentalist, anti-war and anti-imperialist values. (See: Feminist Peace Collective Publications 2021, Femiskop Publications 2021). Although Azerbaijani feminists, from time to time, have appealed to these values, strict lines distinguishing anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and antiracist positions have not yet been drawn (except by the Feminist Peace Collective). The authoritarian system in Azerbaijan, exploitation of labor, nature and natural resources, the obedience of social reproduction to the capitalist production, the low cost of labor, as well as the poverty and inequality in the country, the high tuition in education, the corrupt healthcare, militarization and the combined threat these realities impose on rights and freedom of women justify the development of an anticapitalist position for Azerbaijani feminists. Therefore, Feminism for the 99%, by encompassing anticapitalist, anti-patriarchal antimilitarist and environmentalist feminist concepts, urges feminists to unite under a common banner with the oppressed and the working classes. Here starts moment of truth for the second phase of transformation of feminism in Azerbaijan: either feminists choose to fight only for women in positions of power, without opposing the capitalist system, which reinforces the gender-based violence and suppression of the authoritarian state, or they choose to fight against traditional gender roles, the patriarchal family, gender, race, class-based discrimination and patriarchy in general by uniting with women of poor and working classes. Despite the fact that Azerbaijani women, who comprise 50.1% of the population (DSK 2021), have generally been apolitical, there is the enormous political potential of working-class women’s power to overcome androcentric (patriarchal and masculine) oppositional political parties and mobilize as forebearers of the struggle for freedom against the authoritarian regime. Still the power of the working class can be achieved by unity between feminists and the left.

Due to the negative memories and practices of the Soviet past, as a post-Soviet people Azerbaijanis are skeptical of leftist ideologies. In addition, society does not have enough information about leftist ideologies. There are attempts at stigmatization of leftist ideas and common portrayals of leftists as untrustworthy. As is the case with feminists, the left is a marginal power in Azerbaijan. Although they are not as active as feminists in popularizing and politicizing problems, but the left has the potential to mobilize resistance. Unlike that of feminists, the political agenda of leftists does not (always) clash with the political and economic views of the masses who are critical of the government. The fact that left is primarily represented by men does not alienate them from the predominantly patriarchal masses. Observations of various societies have shown that men are generally more trusted than women in political and public participation. It is the same in Azerbaijan. It also should be added that the left is more informed about their ideologies in comparison with other political and public activists. Under current circumstances, Azerbaijani feminists have poorly evaluated gender problems from a leftist point of view, while the left evaluates gender problems as caused by material inequality. These kinds of evaluations cause rifts between the two groups. Instead of exacerbating antagonistic relations against one another, they can deepen their knowledge about each other i.e., gender and anti-capitalism, and thus create transformative power, which will be marginal only in the beginning of the endeavor.

Convincing working class to join the struggle of a common feminist and leftist union is a relatively difficult task in an authoritarian society because an apolitical and political identityless working class has become the main pillar of sustainability for the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan (Nahmadova 2021). However, contemporary and historic experiences demonstrate that convincing working class to join the struggle is possible. Worsening economic and political conditions in the country have hollowed out this working class in recent years. Under these circumstances intensification and amplification of activities of an F-99 Movement aiming to galvanize the working class can produce effective results. Apart from this there is a need for alternative political ideas and left-feminist concepts in Azerbaijani society.

Conclusion

This article discussed Feminism for the 99 Percent, a manifesto which was inspired by the transnational strikes and protests by women in 2016 and produced a new political action plan for leftist feminists. The article discussed how well such a plan might work  in Azerbaijan. This feminism is more radical, progressive and transformative in that it appeals to working class both in the northern and southern hemispheres. Due to the problems caused by the capitalist system, Azerbaijan is a society where Feminism for the 99 Percent, an F99-Movement can take hold. The recent transformation of feminism in Azerbaijan to a strike and march orientation has created grounds for its integration into anticapitalist feminism.

 

Notes:

[1] “Carseral feminism is a type of feminism that advocate for enhancing and increasing prison sentences that deal with feminist and gender issues.” This is the editorial note in the Azeri translation of this manifest (for the translation, see Arruzza et al. 2021, 42)

[2] This was Aliyev’s first speech in the context of re-traditionalization. Until now, he has given fragmentary interpretations of traditional content.

[3] The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Agreed upon in Istanbul, 11 May 2011.

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