Thursday, July 29, 2010

Has Moscow Had Enough Of Belarus's Lukashenka?

Has the Kremlin finally had enough of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka? The past two months have featured a gas war between Moscow and Minsk and a televised mudslinging match between Lukashenka and the Kremlin.

Lukashenka had long been one of Moscow's most reliable partners in the former Soviet space. But in recent years he has increasingly become an irritant, cozying up to the West, refusing to recognize the independence of Georgia's pro-Moscow separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and demanding cut-rate prices for Russian natural gas.

And now there are increasing signs that the Kremlin has had enough.

'The Godfather'

On July 4, the Gazprom-owned television station NTV broadcast the first installment of an unflattering documentary about Lukashenka titled "The Belarusian Godfather."

"Until recently, the Western press referred to Lukashenka as 'Europe's last dictator,'" the narrator says as the documentary begins. "He has compared himself both with Hitler and Stalin, and considers himself the godfather of all Belarusians."

The program covered the suspicious deaths and disappearances of Belarusian opposition figures in the late 1990s, suggesting that they were victims of a government-run death squad. It delved into Lukashenka's private life. It reminded viewers of the billions of dollars in support Russia has given to Belarus:

On July 15, Lukashenka hit back, airing an interview on state-controlled television with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a bitter foe of the Kremlin.

Saakashvili thanked Lukashenka for not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia and accused the Russian authorities of waging a "propaganda war" against Belarus.

Citing the still-unsolved killings of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, the Georgian leader said Russia was in no position to criticize any country's human rights record.

The tit-for-tat continued on July 16, when NTV aired the second installment of "The Belarusian Godfather," which linked Lukashenka to self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and ousted former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Backing The Opposition

The mudslinging follows a nasty dispute over gas prices in June. It also comes as Lukashenka prepares to seek a fourth term as president in elections slated for early next year.

Alyaksey Yanukevich, leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, says the documentaries are a clear sign that Moscow is considering forcing Lukashenka from power.

And he believe that "in any case it benefits Russia for Lukashenka to be weak. This policy the Kremlin is carrying out is to weaken and personally humiliate Lukashenka." Yanukevich says the "Godfather" is only the first "of what will be regular information attacks."

Some analysts note how opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin -- a former political prisoner who ran against Lukashenka for president in 2006 -- was quoted heavily in the documentary. Andrey Dynko, editor in chief of the Minsk-based Belarusian-language weekly "Nasha Niva," says this may be a sign that Moscow may look kindly on a fresh bid by Kazulin to oust Lukashenka in the 2011 election.

"In general, I think these two films have strongly cheered the opposition political forces up, because they have seen a new field for activity," Dynko says. "They have been given new hope."

Or Just A Warning?

Leonid Zaika, director of the Minsk-based think tank Strategia, says it appears that the Kremlin has prepared a "fine-tuned operation" to oust Lukashenka by depriving him of the economic aid and cheap energy that keeps the Belarusian economy afloat and by stealthily backing an alternative candidate for president.

The coup de grace, Zaika predicts, will come if Lukashenka fixes the vote and Moscow joins the West in refusing to recognize Lukashenka's reelection as legitimate.

"If Washington, Brussels, and Moscow all don't recognize the election results, then the situation changes completely," Zaika says. "They don't need to do anything else. They don't need any conspiracies. The Kremlin can act legitimately and lawfully."

Analysts caution, however, that Moscow would not make a serious move to oust Lukashenka unless they were certain they could control the transition and install a pliant president in his place.

Pavel Sheremet, a political analyst for the Russian daily "Kommersant," says a more plausible scenario is that Russia is attempting to frighten Lukashenka into being more obedient and deferential to the Kremlin.

"I would be wary to make the far-reaching conclusions that Moscow has a plan for a regime change in Belarus. It is quite possible, and we have already seen it many times, that it may be a pressure campaign not to oust Lukashenka but to make him take some actions in his presidential post," Sheremet says.

"He will keep his post, he will not be prevented from winning triumphant victories, but he will have to pay for this by making concessions in the customs union or the political union with Russia."

By RFE/RL. Published on 19 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Georgia: PACE rapporteurs welcome democratic developments but stress need for continued efforts to maintain public trust

Kastriot Islami (Albania, SOC) and Michael Aastrup Jensen (Denmark, ALDE), co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Georgia by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), have expressed their satisfaction with the positive political developments that have taken place following the recent local elections in Georgia.

At the end of a five-day visit to Tbilisi (12-16 July 2010), the co-rapporteurs said: “The efforts of both authorities and part of the opposition to maintain a constructive dialogue and to secure the opposition’s rightful place in the governance of the country are an important step for the consolidation of democracy in Georgia.” They underscored that the planned electoral and constitutional reforms should be based on an all-inclusive process: “A wide political consensus and solid public consultation process on the direction of these reforms are essential to ensure public trust, not only in the electoral process, but in the political system as such.”

On human rights in Georgia, the co-rapporteurs welcomed the overall improvements with regard to the judiciary and judicial system. However, they expressed concern about problems brought to their attention regarding the administration of justice and guarantee of a fair trial: “Further efforts by the authorities in this field are necessary as even the perception that justice is selective, or that obstacles to the right of a fair trial could exist in this country, undermine public trust in the justice system and ultimately in the authorities themselves.” They highlighted the positive role played by the Public Defender in this field and urged the authorities to swiftly address the concerns expressed in his forthcoming report to the Parliament of Georgia.

They also extensively discussed the reforms in the penitentiary system and welcomed the overall direction of these reforms. However, they cautioned that the continuing increase in the number of prisoners in Georgia, already high, could undermine these reforms. In addition, they noted that concerns with regard to the treatment of prisoners as well as their healthcare remain, and encouraged the authorities to address these areas as a priority.

During their visit the co-rapporteurs also visited the Kaheti region to familiarise themselves with the impact of reforms regarding local self-government as well as minority populations. “During our visit to an ethnic Ossetian village in Kaheti, all ethnic Ossetians we met stressed the improvements made with regard to the living conditions of the minority population since 2003, as well as minority relations in general,” said the co-rapporteurs. “The fact that they feel fully integrated into Georgian society is especially important in the light of some questions raised recently with regard to the multi-ethic character of Georgia,” they added.

The co-rapporteurs will present an information note on this visit to the Monitoring Committee during its meeting in Paris on 9 September 2010.

Source: PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 27 July 2010.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Eastern Europe's Frozen Conflicts Look To Kosovo Ruling

The International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia was legal is of direct interest to other countries with secession crises or frozen conflicts.

The ICJ has said its ruling approving Kosovo's declaration of independence is unique to Kosovo.

That essentially means the justices do not want it to stand as a precedent for the world's many other places where regions have seceded or want to secede from their home countries.

But as the instant reaction of many governments to the July 22 decision makes clear, the court's ruling is being regarded -- rightly or wrongly -- in more universal terms. And nowhere more so than by parties involved in secession crises or frozen conflicts themselves.

'Guidance' For Bosnia's Serbs

Among the first to react to the court's ruling affirming Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia was the leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska.
Prime Minister Milorad Dodik suggested that if Kosovo's secession from Serbia did not violate international law, then the same standard should be applied to the Bosnian Serb entity's long-standing desire to leave Bosnia.

"For a long time, we in the Republika Srpska have not been happy in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Dodik told reporters in Banja Luka late on July 22.

"We respect the Dayton agreement [that ended the war in Bosnia], but the ICJ decision can serve us as guidance for our continuing fight over our status and our future."

Haris Silajdzic, a Bosniak who is the chairman of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, immediately responded that the country's borders were immutable.

"Any attempt at disintegration will be prevented, as it was the last time," he added.

The Serbian entity has never made a secret of its aspiration to join Serbia proper, a desire that directly contributed to the four-year war in Bosnia. The war ended after the intervention of NATO with the Dayton peace agreement in 1995 creating Bosnia as a federation of Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats.

Legal Limbo

Dodik's regarding the ICJ ruling as "guidance" for the future may be a measure of how much secessionist movements will regard the ruling as vindicating their efforts -- despite the court's own deliberately narrow interpretation.

The ICJ ruled that international law contained no "prohibition on declarations of independence" and so Kosovo's declaration "did not violate international law."

But the court avoided ruling on whether Kosovo's statehood was legal under international law, leaving the decision on whether to recognize the territory's independence to individual countries.

Thus far, 69 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, including the United States and many European Union members.

Several major powers -- including Russia, China, and Spain -- concerned about secessionist regions of their own, have not recognized Kosovo.

No Change In Transdniester

In Moldova, officials of the breakaway Transdniester region have yet to comment publicly on the ICJ's decision.

But top advisers to Moldova's government say the ruling will not change any of the main players' views of the crisis, including those of Transdniester's main backer, Russia.

"On the Transdniester side, we all know what their statements over the last 18 years have been [demanding full independence], so I don't see how the ICJ decision could change that," says Nicu Popescu, a foreign-policy adviser to Moldova's Prime Minister Vlad Filat.

"As for Russia's statements and policies, Russia has constantly supported Moldova's territorial integrity and I'm absolutely sure that this stance will continue, and there's no reason at all why Russia's support for Moldova's territorial integrity should change."

The predominantly Russian-speaking population of Transdniester attempted in 1990 to secede from Moldova and since then has maintained a separate but unrecognized government with Moscow's support.

Georgian Stalemate

The Georgian government, which has lost two regions to secessionist movements backed by Moscow, also sees the court decision as doing little to change the status of its frozen conflicts.

"I think the decision probably will be used by regimes that are encouraging such kinds of small separatist regions," explains Kote Kublashvili, the chairman of Georgia's Supreme Court.

"Because prior to the decision, those regimes already used the situation very well and officially declared that [the Kosovo] case will affect other would-be-recognized separatist regions. Today's decision and those which have been made before [regarding recognition of Kosovo] will be widely debated first in terms the legal but also the political point of view."

South Ossetia fought a war of secession from Georgia in 1991-92, and Abkhazia did the same in 1992-93. Both have been recognized as independent by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru -- but no other countries -- in the wake of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Leading figures in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia say they are encouraged by the court's ruling.

"The fact that Kosovo has been recognized in accordance with international law can be seen as a definitive precedent for Abkhazia, and I think it will serve as an important precedent for Abkhazia," says Irakly Khintba, a Sukhumi-based political analyst.

"I'm not saying that Abkhazia will be recognized simply because it recognized Kosovo. But it is a serious political and historic step [for Abkhazia], that demonstrates that, in the current political environment, it is possible to recognize a state in spite of the will of the 'master state' that it is trying to separate from."

The deputy speaker of South Ossetia's parliament, Valery Dzitsoity, says he regards Pristina's situation as directly comparable to Tskhinvali's. "And moreover, I believe that South Ossetia has more of a foundation to expect recognition of its independence from the West than Kosovo," he adds.

Dzitsoity says that this is because "South Ossetia declared its independence at a time [September 1990] when Georgia was only recognized by Ukraine and was not a member of the UN. And Kosovo is separating from an internationally recognized state and a member of the UN."

No Agreement In Nagorno-Karabakh

Yet another frozen conflict whose parties may look to the ruling is Nagorno-Karabakh, the predominantly ethnic Armenian region that broke away from Azerbaijan following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The head of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation parliamentary faction, Vahan Hovhannisian, hailed the ICJ ruling.

"The judgment clearly states that a unilateral proclamation of independence cannot be viewed as unlawful. For this, of course, there should be prerequisites, and Karabakh has at least the same prerequisites as Kosovo, if not more," Hovhannisian said.

"It means that now we get a new instrument, a new opportunity to struggle for the international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic."

But Baku says it does not consider the Kosovo ruling pertinent to the Karabakh conflict.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Elxan Poluxov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Azerbaijan believed the ICJ's decision applied "only to Kosovo."

"Conflicts differ and there is no single solution for all conflicts," Poluxov added. "We don't see that the decision may somehow affect the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and negotiations on this conflict should have their own format."

Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fought a war of secession from Azerbaijan in 1991-94, backed by Yerevan.

Most of the region of Nagorno Karabakh today is governed by the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic, while the territory remains internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

By Charles Recknagel. Published on 23 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ukraine An 'Example Of Democratization' To Region, But 'Threats To Progress Emerging'

The Washington-based organization Freedom House, which measures the degree of liberty in countries around the world, says Ukraine is setting an example for its region in the progress it is making in democratization.

But Freedom House's director of studies, Christopher Walker, warns of possible dangers ahead in an interview with RFE/RL.

RFE/RL: You have said that the success or failure of democratization and the development of civil society in Ukraine has a significance that goes beyond its own borders. Please explain this potential to influence the region.

Christopher Walker:
The success or failure of Ukraine as a democratic state in a region which is more defined by a scarcity rather than an abundance of such states is important because demonstration effects can matter, and Ukraine has managed -- certainly in the context of the non-Baltic former Soviet Union -- to make some very important headway in a number of key areas, to the extent that if we start to see reversals or erosion of some of the institutions we have seen [emerge] over the past decade or in particular over the past half-decade, this would be a damaging signal to other countries in the region that may look to Ukraine as an example in a very difficult environment.

RFE/RL: How do you rate Ukraine's efforts at democratization over the past decade? Have they managed to build stable institutions and a degree of accountability into their system?

If you look at the post-Soviet period, there were hopes certainly that in the immediate aftermath of that time that things would move forward swiftly. [But the situation] became in the end -- certainly in the period of [President Leonid] Kuchma -- it became rather difficult on a number of counts, including press freedom. This was exemplified to the outside world by the murder of the [investigative journalist] Heorhiy Gongadze, and those events about a decade ago led many to believe that meaningful reform would be extremely difficult.

But then the events of the Orange Revolution opened the door to a different way of doing things, and I think what has been notable since that time has been the institutionalization of open, competitive elections, the ability of civil society to function and play a meaningful role, and the news media. In a wilderness of unfreedom, Ukraine's news media has been a very notable exception, one which now needs to be safeguarded.

RFE/RL: Is the progress in democratization and civil society now under threat from the government of Moscow-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych? In what ways?

We've been hearing from colleagues and our analysts that a number of developments in the early months of this year, since the government took over, create some causes for concern, and our feeling is that to the extent there has been progress in a number of areas, that threats in those areas would be rather damaging to Ukraine's longer-term prospects for building a rules-based and open state.

In particular, pressures on civil society and news media which we gather have started -- they may not have reached full force, but the indicators are that there have been some growing pressures in those areas.

RFE/RL: How can the Western democracies help Ukraine?

The key steps which can be taken are first, to help safeguard the progress which has been made in recent years. This, I think, will be important for European and U.S. officials to consistently raise; it was very valuable for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise these issues during her visit to the community of democracies meeting in Krakow.

At the same time, its important to ensure that the sort of support that Ukraine has gotten more broadly is not cut off too quickly, because it's clear that there are a set of emerging challenges that may argue for assistance for a variety of sorts, political and otherwise, for the foreseeable future.

By RFE/RL. Published on 13 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, July 16, 2010

EU Special Reps To Caucasus, Moldova To Get New Lease On Life, For Now

The European Union appears on the brink of reversing a controversial plan to scrap its 12 special representatives to places ranging from the South Caucasus, Moldova, and Central Asia to Afghanistan and the Great Lakes of Africa, officials in Brussels say.

EU ambassadors met today for the third time this month to decide the envoys' futures. Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity say broad agreement is emerging among the 27 member states that the mandates of all 12 will be extended by at least six months and their long-term fates left open, pending later debate.

If confirmed by EU foreign ministers at their next meeting in Brussels on July 26, the decision would mean a reprieve for the bloc's South Caucasus envoy Peter Semneby, the Moldovan special representative Kalman Miszei, and their colleagues in Macedonia and the Middle East. According to diplomats four were singled out in May by the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to lose their jobs in short order.

'Proper Representation'

EU diplomats say Ashton wanted to settle the issue by bureaucratic fiat but that news reports of her plans provided the affected countries and EU members who opposed the move an opportunity to force it onto the broader political agenda. The diplomats say Ashton had secured the backing of larger states but had hoped to avoid a wider debate.

Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, told RFE/RL that the EU is currently looking into ways to integrate the special representatives into the European External Action Service (EEAS), the bloc's new unified diplomatic arm, which was established by the Lisbon Treaty and headed by Ashton. The EEAS is expected to be operational on January 1.

Kocijancic said the debate within the EU continues, adding that there is no decision yet. Ashton's aim, her spokeswoman said, is to assure that the EU has "proper representation" in partner countries.

Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Italy have been among the countries pushing strongly for an extension of the mandates of all 12 EU special envoys without prejudice to their eventual fate.

Reports that the envoys were about to be recalled and replaced by lower-level officials located in Brussels caused an outcry in Georgia and Moldova. EU diplomats, too, noted privately that the moves would amount to downgrading the affected countries and regions -- as well as their conflicts -- on the EU list of priorities. It would also send an encouraging signal to rival powers.

Ashton's spokeswoman rejected suggestions that the changes suggested by the EU's top diplomat entail the dilution of the bloc's presence anywhere in the world.

"The EU wants its foreign policy to be more active and more effective in the world," Kocijancic said. The heads of EU representations in partner countries will be strengthened under the EEAS.

Strategic Question Marks

Diplomats say during the ambassadorial debates held behind closed doors in Brussels on July 1 and 12, Ashton and her right-hand man, the British diplomat Robert Cooper, argued that in the future the EU should nominate special representatives only in three specific cases: for events or crises where the EU has no representation on the ground; to regions which need strategic attention; or for exceptional countries or crises, such as in Burma.

Ashton and Cooper, however, did not directly address the strategic implications of retracting existing envoys, diplomats say. Officials say Ashton repeatedly alluded to the fact that some of the existing envoys -- without naming any -- pose problems with their independent views. This is understood to reflect the concerns of some of the larger member states which feel envoys like Semneby complicate their relations with partners such as Russia.

Ashton also opposes suggestions that the EU could upgrade some of the envoys by replacing them with political heavyweights hand-picked from the ranks of former foreign ministers.

Ashton has suggested the French diplomat Pierre Morel, the EU's special envoy to Central Asia as well as the Georgian-Russian Geneva talks, be retained in his present duties, operating out of Brussels. Conflict resolution in the South Caucasus is formally part of Semneby's job description.

Fallout For Ashton?

Ashton's plans are part of a larger drive to bring all of the EU's diplomatic corps under the control of the EEAS.

But member states critical of the plans have pointed out that EU special representatives are appointed by the member states and can thus only be removed by the member states. Also, some capitals point out, the envoys whose positions will not disappear, will not join the EEAS but will continue to report directly to member-state ambassadors in Brussels. Consequently, officials say there has been strong pressure to exclude Ashton and her representatives from the debates on the future of the special representatives.

Ashton has been publicly criticized in a number of member states for being susceptible to pressure from Berlin and Paris, particularly in staffing decisions. The top civil servant in the EEAS will come from France, his deputies in turn from Germany and Poland. France and Germany are also said to have carved up between themselves some of the most lucrative EU ambassadorial positions outside the bloc.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 13 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Top U.S. Human Rights Diplomat: 'Democracy Takes Time'

Following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip last week to Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus, RFE/RL’s Washington correspondent Heather Maher asked U.S Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, the top U.S. diplomat for human rights and democracy, for an assessment of what Clinton accomplished and of the rights situation throughout the region as a whole.

RFE/RL: How is Secretary Clinton's trip to Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus being assessed within the State Department?

Michael Posner: I would say, in general, I think people felt very good about the trip. It was a chance -- and in cases, her first [chance] as secretary of state -- to visit some key countries in the region, both to discuss shared interests and concerns and to strengthen relationships, but at the same time, to reach out to civil society and to express concerns about differences.

So I think she accomplished both. I think there was a sense that the visit and the personal contacts served a purpose in strengthening relationships and the shared agenda, but also there was a clear theme throughout: that we do believe strongly in, and are going to keep pressing on, the human rights and democracy and civil society issues as a routine part of the relationship.

RFE/RL: In her "Community of Democracies" speech in Krakow, Clinton said the following: "In Russia, while we welcome President [Dmitry] Medvedev's statements in support of the rule of law, human rights [activists] and journalists have been targeted for assassination, and virtually none of these crimes have been solved." In view of the success of the U.S.-led “reset” in relations with Russia, what is the White House prepared to do to keep the pressure on Moscow to bring the people responsible for these crimes to justice?

About a month ago, I was in Moscow and Vladimir for a civil society dialogue that Mike McFaul [the special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council] and the National Security Council co-chaired with [Vladislav] Surkov [Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff and a top aide to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.] And in the context of that dialogue, we raised cases, but I also met with people in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow following the dialogue.

I think the answer is, whether it's the [Anna] Politkovskaya case or the Natalya Estemirova case, we have and we will continue to raise concerns both privately and diplomatically, but also publicly. And also, on a third track, to continue to work with Russian civil society, human rights groups like Memorial, and the Sakharov Center and others to continue to press our concerns.

I think the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 16 cases in the last few years of journalists who've been killed. So this is not just one case. Politkovskaya has gotten probably the most attention, and she was a U.S. citizen, so we've raised that consistently. But I think it's imperative that we keep raising our concerns, again, privately and publicly. We are engaged. We have a range of issues and interests with the Russians, and we will continue to be engaged, but part of our engagement is on human rights.

RFE/RL: In that same speech, Clinton also announced a new U.S. initiative to, as she described it, “support the work of embattled NGOs.” The United States is contributing an initial $2 million to the fund and has invited other governments and private grant-making organizations to contribute as well. Can you give us any more details?

We've had, for a long time, what we call a “human rights defenders' fund,” which is small amounts of money to individual human rights advocates and their families when they get in trouble, or are put on trial, forced into exile, that sort of thing. That's really been a longstanding piece of what we support. And the idea here is to have a broader mandate, to have funds set aside to support civil society organizations, both in rapidly changing situations, but also to give them the opportunity to seek funds for projects and initiatives that are looking at broader issues.

So we're in the process now of sort of designing the criteria and so forth, but the commitment is $2 million from [the State Department's Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor budget,] and we hope that others in the [U.S.] government may also contribute and that other governments will also come in beside us and work in the same direction.

RFE/RL: Five years ago, the region Clinton just visited frankly seemed a little better off than it does today. A series of revolutions had brought reformers into power and there was hope that the old authoritarian ways had been shaken off for good. Today a glance around the region reveals that democratic progress seems to have slid backwards. What's your assessment of the progress, or lack thereof, in the region?

I'm reluctant to grade or rate countries. As a general matter I would say some of the exuberance about the “colored revolutions” -- certainly, there were very high expectations, some of which haven't been met.

But I think the lesson I draw is rather that the process of building democracy is not determined by a moment in time, or an election. It's building blocks over time that build sustainable democracies that endure. And maybe what we're seeing now, I think it is what we're seeing, the realization that it takes time and hard work and it's institution building. It's something you have to do, as the secretary said in Krakow, it's something you have to do 365 days a year.

So if you have an election but you don't have strong political parties, and you don't have a truly independent and open media, and you don't have Internet access for a huge percentage of the population, and you don't have an environment where, you know, empowerment of women is part of the picture, then all of the challenges that we've seen in some of these countries become more obvious.

And I sort of feel we're at a point now where everybody's taking a deep breath -- we're certainly doing that -- and saying, let's think practically about those building blocks, and what do we need to do to build something that's more sustainable over time?

RFE/RL: In the wake of Clinton's visit to Azerbaijan, opposition groups have complained that she didn't speak out as forcefully for civil society and media freedom as she did elsewhere. There's even a new joke going around the dissident community: President Ilham Aliyev is now saying, “Yes we can!” -- which is President Obama's old campaign slogan -- only Aliyev means, yes, Baku can imprison journalists and opponents of the government without suffering repercussions from Washington. The continued detention of the bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli for publishing satire of the government and the extension of journalist Eynulla Fatullayev's prison sentence just two days after Clinton left the country makes it seem that he's right. Is he?

I know she raised [Fatullayev's] case and the case of the bloggers. She expressed concerns about human rights in both private meetings and publicly. But I wasn't there, so it really probably would be better to talk to people who were actually with her in Baku.

RFE/RL: Staying on Azerbaijan, the United States has been making noticeable overtures toward Azerbaijan for its continued and possibly increased support as a key transit point for military supplies flowing into Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid a visit to Baku this spring that was seen as an attempt to warm up relations. How does the State Department square its efforts to press Aliyev on things like human rights and civil society with the Pentagon's apparently growing need for Aliyev’s cooperation with the war in Afghanistan?

Well, look, you know Azerbaijan is not unique in the sense that we both have military security interests and we also have a human rights agenda and concerns about violations. [Obama] has said [and] the secretary [Clinton] has said, “Our policy is going to be one of principled engagement.” Principled engagement means that we're going to be talking to and working with and have mutual interests with a number of countries where it's in our national interest to be engaged, but at the same time principled engagement means, where there are human rights problems and abuses, we're going to call them out and we're going to have those discussions in a straightforward way.

We can and need to be doing both, and we are doing both. And the nature of my job is that I'm either with the secretary or visiting places, supporting broad U.S. interests. But part of our interests, central to our interests, is the fact that we have a commitment to human rights and a universal set of standards. The same standard applies to every government, including ourselves.

By RFE/RL. Published on 10 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Discussions on Transdniestria settlement held in Vienna

two-day meeting of participants in the "5+2" process for settlement of the Transdniestria conflict concluded today. It was held in the presence of Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliyev, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for Protracted Conflicts.

The 5+2 includes the sides (the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria); the mediators (the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE); and the United States and the European Union as observers.

"This meeting represents a step forward for the negotiating process across a broad spectrum of issues," Ambassador Nurgaliyev said.

Representatives of the sides, the mediators and the observers discussed in depth approaches to resolve problems of freedom of movement that affect the daily lives of people on both sides of the River Dniestr/Nistru.

Representatives likewise reviewed various proposals regarding a system of guarantees for the negotiating process, including on the basis of documents signed in earlier years.

Representatives actively considered and made progress towards achieving the goal they set in March in Vienna and in their Astana meeting in May, with the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, of renewing official negotiations in the 5+2 format on a comprehensive political solution, which were suspended in 2006.

Participants of the 5+2 scheduled the next round of meetings in this process to take place in September in Chisinau, Tiraspol and Vienna.

Source: OSCE. Published in Vienna on 8 July 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Georgia’s Long Farewell To Stalin

On the night of June 25, the monument to Josef Stalin in the city of Gori was removed. It will be moved some 100 meters to the museum that was built around the house where he was born. And on the place in the city’s main square where the statue previously stood, the authorities will erect a memorial to the victims of Russian aggression and Soviet repression.

The symbolism of these actions is completely obvious. On the spot where the dictator and occupier once stood there will be a memorial to his victims – and to the victims of those who continue to follow his line today. But if this is all there is to it, then why has the statue not been taken down earlier? Why was the operation carried out at night amid heightened security?

The symbolism of changing monuments is an important part of any radical political change. In Georgia, this change has been characterized, on one hand, by the rejection of the communist regime and, on the other, by the assertion of its national independence. And the second factor is more important emotionally.

The first victim, more than 20 years ago, was the monument to Sergo Ordzhonikidze, an early Soviet Politburo member and close comrade of Stalin’s who was born in Georgia and played a role in the Sovietization of the country in 1921. For most Georgians, Ordzhonikidze is a traitor who helped the enemy conquer his own homeland.

Soon after, the monuments to Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin were swept from their pedestals. This marked the symbolic end of Soviet power.

But Stalin continued to stand in Gori, although his sins against Georgia were certainly no less than Ordzhonikidze’s. Why?

National Pride

The lingering cult of Stalin in Georgia does not symbolize adherence to the communist system but rather national pride. He was the most powerful Georgian in history, the main victor of the main war of the 20th century. The whole world trembled before him, particularly the nation that had ruled Georgia for the previous two centuries. In the absence of Georgian statehood, his power was psychological compensation for the country’s weakness.

As paradoxical as it may seem, the history of the mass national-liberation movement in Georgia dates back to March 9, 1956, when the people spontaneously protested against the policy of de-Stalinization that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced at the 20th Soviet Communist Party Congress. The demonstration was violently put down, but Stalin – rejected in Russia – became a symbol of the rejection of the official Soviet line. In the late Soviet period, his portrait could be found decorating the shops of Georgian cobblers and barbers; it became the sign of mass dissent.

But as soon as it became possible to be a genuine nationalist – that is, someone devoted to the idea of an independent Georgia – Stalin began to fade as a national symbol. More and more people came to understand that Stalin was a hero of the communist system and of Russian imperialism, not of Georgia.

But symbolic connections are living things. For many people, particularly the older generation, Stalin remained a revered figure. What’s more, when he ceased being a symbol of Georgian nationalism, Stalin became a symbol of local patriotism in Gori. At least, the loyalty of locals to their idol was the main justification for why even the new revolutionary reformist government of President Mikheil Saakashvili declined to touch the statue. What is the point in upsetting people for nothing, they said.

Of course, there was another opinion as well. Some wondered whether Georgia could really become a European democracy while at the same time continuing to glorify Stalin – even if only in one particular city. Could anyone imagine a democratic Germany that was home to even one monument to Adolf Hitler? The monument could not be reconciled with the image of a country that was trying to become part of the democratic West.

But the struggle against stone idols was not a priority for the Saakashvili government. It was too busy arresting corrupt officials and trying to build an army. So local guides on the state payroll continued to explain to astonished Western tourists what a great democrat Stalin was.


The August 2008 war with Russia changed everything. For the occupying army from the north, the statue of Stalin was a symbol of something important. If the Leader is still standing here, they thought, that means all is not lost. That means Georgia can still be saved from the NATO-Judeo-Masonic disaster. The monument became a sort of fifth column of the enemy.

Despite growing calls to tear it down, the government moved slowly. After all, there were people on the streets calling for Saakashvili’s resignation and the authorities did not want to see them joined by legions from Gori. Then, in late May, there were local elections and the authorities did not want to lose them in this strategically important region. After the ruling party’s convincing victory in those elections, the excuses started to dry up. Summer, the heat, the World Cup…It was time.

And it turned out that the fears were exaggerated. Almost no one protested against the statue’s removal. The opposition didn’t even try to get the people to rise up. Georgia is now without Stalin and all is calm.

So what does this mean?

Two things, at least. First, Saakashvili’s government made what it thought was a risky move. That means it has recovered its self-confidence and, perhaps, is again capable of doing unpopular but necessary things. And second, now that Georgia knows it doesn’t have to love Stalin anymore, maybe it will develop some respect for itself as a state.

By Ghia Nodia. Published on 1 July 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs issue statement

The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassador Igor Popov of Russia, Bernard Fassier of France, and Robert Bradtke of the United States, released the following statement:

The Minsk Group Co-Chairs (Ambassador Bernard Fassier, France; Ambassador Robert Bradtke, United States; and Ambassador Igor Popov, Russia) visited Yerevan and Baku July 3-5. Ambassador Bradtke and Ambassador Popov also visited Nagorno-Karabakh July 2.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, Ambassador Bradtke and Ambassador Popov briefed the de facto authorities on the latest developments in the peace process, including the June 26, 2010 statement of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev, Barack Obama, and Nicolas Sarkozy. They also discussed the June 18-19 incident along the Line of Contact. They deplored this incident as an unacceptable violation of the ceasefire, and reiterated their regret over the senseless loss of life and their strong condemnation of the use of force. In Yerevan, the three Co-Chairs met President Serzh Sargsian, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, and Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan. In Baku, they met with President Ilham Aliyev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Defense Minister Safar Abiyev, and representatives of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

In their meetings in both Yerevan and Baku, the Co-Chairs stressed the commitment of their three countries to support a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karbakh conflict, based upon the Helsinki principles of non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples. In that respect, they noted the progress that has been made and the recognition by both sides that the elements articulated by their three Presidents in L'Aquila and repeated in their June 26, 2010 statement must be the basis of a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They urged the parties, in a spirit of constructive compromise, to take the next step and move towards completing work on the Basic Principles to enable the drafting of a peace agreement to begin. They called upon the sides to strictly observe the 1994 ceasefire and exercise restraint along the Line of Contact. During their visit, the Co-chairs also presented to the parties their plan to undertake a mission to the occupied territories in this fall, which was accepted in principle.

The Co-Chairs expect that a meeting will take place between the heads of their delegations and the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the margins of the OSCE Informal Ministerial in Almaty July 16-17.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Astana High-level Conference calls for implementation of commitments on tolerance and non-discrimination, increased co-operation with civil society

The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, State Secretary and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kanat Saudabayev, at the conclusion of the High-level OSCE Conference on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, expressed support for initiatives to strengthen dialogue and understanding, reaffirm respect for human rights and encouraged co-operation with civil society to prevent hate crimes and fight intolerance.

"Our conference clearly confirmed the commitment of Kazakhstan's OSCE Chairmanship and the OSCE community as a whole to strengthening tolerance, inter-ethnic and inter-religious accord," Saudabayev said.

Reading from the provisions of the Astana Declaration resulting from the conference, Saudabayev added:

"The OSCE Chairmanship reaffirms that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law is important in creating a context for intercultural, inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding, and is at the core of the OSCE comprehensive concept of security."

"Together with the OSCE participating States, we call for implementation of the OSCE commitments with a view to devising and implementing effective policy measures aimed at preventing and responding to manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination and intolerance, including against Christians, Muslims, members of other religions, Roma and Sinti, other ethnic and racial groups."

The Chairperson-in-Office emphasized that this could be done through legislation, law enforcement training, data collection and monitoring of hate crimes, education, media and constructive public discourse, as well as through the establishment of national institutions or specialized bodies.

He said OSCE participating States encouraged each other "to work with civil society in the prevention of hate crimes", and "to engage in co-operation with civil society and communities in inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-ethnic partnerships".

He said also of importance is the proposal put forward by the Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 29 June to establish an OSCE Centre for Tolerance and Non-discrimination.

The two-day High-Level Conference on Tolerance and Co-operation gathered around 600 participants from OSCE participating States, OSCE institutions and international and non-governmental organizations.

Source: OSCE. Published on 30 June 2010