She – they – deserve a prize from the EU. But which prize should it be?
Celebrate the courage of Euromaidan! Honor its activists! Support democratic Ukraine! Remind Europeans everywhere just how important events in the largest country of Eastern Europe are for the future of the continent.
There are good reasons to doubt that it is. These reasons have nothing to do with what happened in Ukraine in early 2014, but rather what is not happening in the EU now. Tens of thousands of Euro and a ceremony on TV is not the prize that Ukrainians have fought for, and will do little for them in this dark hour.
What is a real prize?
Let us first ask: what do Ukrainians need from the European Union today?
With their country under attack, their territory occupied, their people displaced and their soldiers locked in battle with Russian and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian society hopes for substantive support from the EU – material, financial and moral. This includes credible and sustained sanctions against Russia, holding them accountable for the annexation of swaths of Ukrainian territory. It includes economic aid, assistance in coping with rising numbers of internally displaced and support for the cold winter that is looming. And, perhaps most important of all, it includes the promises made in Article 49 of the Treaties of the European Union: that once Ukraine meets the specified criteria, it might also have the chance to join the European Union, without any neighbouring country holding the right to veto. Just as the Baltics and Poland have.
It was in order to keep such a perspective alive that many Ukrainians risked their lives last winter, waving the blue European flag. To sustain the momentum of the Maidan protests, the Ukrainian people voted for political parties that promised to work towards a European future. During his inauguration, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, again referred to the goals of Euromaidan. The European People’s Party also spoke of the movement’s vision, when it met in Dublin earlier this year.
This democratic vision is what the new European Parliament should be supporting today – through policy reform and concrete action. It is a vision that needs to be sold actively, both on the international stage and to European constituencies. The goals and ideals born out of Euromaidan need to be defended in the face of both indifference and skepticism. A strong restatement of this vision from the European Parliament – and meaningful and tangible support – would remind Ukrainians of what they are fighting for.
Of course, awarding a prize is much more simple than implementing palpable change. Standing on a podium next to people who have already become global stars in their own right, is easy. Perhaps it is too easy. It appears as a gesture of solidarity, but it is one without substance. At a moment when Ukrainians feel abandoned by Europe, a prize and accolades are not likely to reassure them.
There are other, more effective steps that could be taken to support Euromaidan, instead of giving the Sakharov Prize. For instance, the European Parliament could recognize the efforts of the Ukrainian people by bestowing a real award – the lifting of visa requirements for all Ukrainians. This is something that would truly benefit the people of Ukraine, carrying a strong promise of future EU integration.
By contrast, a symbolic gesture by the new European Parliament, at a time when Ukraine is facing profound existential threats, is a substitute for real action. This is not the first time such empty gestures have been made on the part of the European Parliament, though. In 2011, the EP took the obvious step of giving the Sahkarov prize to the activists of the Arab uprisings. The prize raised the hopes of brave activists for sustained support from Europe as they, like the activists in Ukraine, faced a watershed moment in their countries. But these expectations were never fulfilled.
An Egyptian prize winner was asked in 2011: “What could the EU and EP do to support the transition to democracy in the Arab world?” She noted: “I am against any form of foreign intervention, but I think the EP should insist on the application of universal humanitarian laws.” Today, many of the Tahrir Square activists are in prison, their organisations banned. The only European country that reacted strongly to this repression was Turkey.
Another 2011 Sakharov Prize winner, from Libya, explained: “[The Sakharov Prize] will be of great help to me and the Libyan people, because this is the first time that a Libyan received such a prize. So if you help me to do my job properly, it will help the Libyan people.” Today, Libya is in chaos.
The Syrian activist, Razan Zaitouneh, was a recipient in 2011 as well. Then in hiding, Zaitouneh was a human rights lawyer who had created the blog, “”Syrian Human Rights Information Link” (SHRIL), (which has since been taken down). On her blog she publicly revealed murders and human rights abuses committed by the Syrian army and police. Zaitouneh is quoted as saying: “The most beautiful part of the Syrian revolution is the high spirits of the Syrian people, who turned the protests into carnivals of song, dancing and chants of freedom, despite the bullets, arrests and tanks.” Since then, millions of refugees have Syria – although it is not the European Union that has given them shelter. On 9 December 2013, Zaitouneh, along with three other Syrian activists were kidnapped east of Damascus, in the city of Duma.
It was an easy decision to award a prize to courageous Arab activists in 2011. It was much more difficult to find practical ways to protect them and uphold their ideals. Awarding the Sakharov Prize was a gesture that failed to meet the expectations of long-repressed populations – much like the Arab Spring itself.
Shining the spotlight of attention
Euromaidan was the central story in Europe in 2014. The people who led it – Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko and others – will be featured heavily in any review of this year’s events. They are famous, and they deserve to be.
In other words, by awarding them a personal prize, the European Parliament will add little to what the media and European leaders have already said. It will not bring the change that is now needed in Ukraine – Euromaidan is past the point where paying lip service and attention to their cause will solve the problems their country is facing. It is similar to awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the first African-American president, right after he was elected. The White House suspected that the award was more about getting Obama to visit Oslo, than the achievements of a newly elected president. It certainly left the world – and human rights – unchanged. Is this really what human rights prizes are for?
Making a difference?
Alternatively, one should ask the question: what can awarding such a prize actually accomplish? Can – and should – the Sakharov Prize be used to make a real difference? Not just to the way we look at the past, but also to the future?
Today, human rights are under assault across Eastern Europe, from Russia to Azerbaijan. Ukrainian political prisoners have fortunately been released as a result of Euromaidan. But 2014 has also seen dozens of dissidents elsewhere become targets of persecution.
In Azerbaijan, there are dozens of activists in prison; not victorious, but languishing; not celebrated, but isolated and unknown to much of the world. They are there for defending the values of free speech – the core idea behind the Sakharov Prize. They are paying the price for protecting the European Convention of Human Rights, but remain largely ignored by democratic Europe.
By nominating these human rights defenders for the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament would celebrate the same values for which Ukrainians took to the streets. But it would also do something that has been difficult to achieve thus far. Something that Azerbaijani civil society is in desperate need of.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not getting the attention or media coverage that Euromaidan has. Both causes are undoubtedly worthy of recognition. However, bringing attention to the plight of Azerbaijani activists by nominating them for the Sakharov Prize will result in substantive change, more so than would nominating Euromaidan. Ukraine is instead in need of a much different reaction from the European Parliament. It would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of the power that the Sakharov Prize can have. The EP was successful in using the award to raise awareness about a dire situation in 2006, when it drew the attention of the world to the fate of Alexander Milinkevich, leader of the opposition in Belarus.
In this way, the European Parliament would also assert the value of human rights in petro-states, such as Azerbaijan – even those that have already invested millions in buying friends throughout Europe. After assuming chairmanship of the Council of Europe in May 2014, Azerbaijan has used its influence in the Council to launch an unprecedented assault on civil society. It is an autocracy with the same values and the same approach to “freedom” as Russia under Vladimir Putin. And we have seen what can come from such leaders, should they ostensibly be allowed to run free with their repressive tactics.
So, will European parliamentarians take a path that is obvious and uncontroversial? Or will they send a signal that could make a real difference? Honouring dissidents in Azerbaijan could have real impact. It might even save lives. It would be acting with a strong voice, not reacting passively.
Let me repeat: this is not about the relative merits of the various candidates. Euromaidan deserves the highest recognition. It deserves a prize from the EU. So this is our proposal: recognise Ukraine’s struggle with actions that will truly benefit its people, with the kind of support that is appropriate for where Ukrainians are in their fight towards liberalisation: put Ukraine on the white Schengen list and grant visa-free travel. And give the Sakharov Prize to the forgotten activists of today; human rights defenders who are suffering in the shadows as you read this, in prison for speaking out on behalf of others.
Sometimes a simple idea has the potential to have a lot of impact. Here is one simple idea for the day, split into three concrete recommendations:
a. the European Commission – and in particular DG enlargement – ask all Western Balkan countries to take the regular PISA tests of the OECD, as one important way to assess whether in the future their economies will be able to “withstand competitive pressure” – which is one of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria.
b. the European Commission includes the scores of PISA as one of its main indicators in the annual progress report section on economic criteria – and includes a table comparing the performance of countries in the region with the rest of the EU.
c. civil society organisations in Balkan countries use this as a trigger to launch a broader debate in their countries on the quality and importance of education in national debates. Both of which are currently – to put it mildly – sub-optimal for countries trying to converge with a much more prosperous European Union.
This morning I met senior people in DG Enlargement in Brussels and made this proposal. I also made it in many recent presentations with EU ambassadors and EU officials in Paris, Skopje, Zagreb, The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Ankara and Istanbul. And as a result of some feedback I am increasingly hopeful on the first and second recommendation above. (This in turn will help with recommendation three.)
For more on all this see our forthcoming report on how to assess in future progress reports whether a candidate has a “functioning market economy”. For those impatient now, here are a few core facts:
Background: candidates, potential candidates and PISA
It seems obvious: one of the most important factors contributing to future development of an economy is the quality of the national education system. And one of the most straightforward ways to launch a debate on this is to look at the OECD’s PISA tests, taken since 2000, every three years in some 65 countries.
These tables raise many fascinating and important policy questions:
1. How can Albania and Montenegro close the serious gap (serious even compared to other countries in the region)?
2. How can all these countries learn from Estonia or Poland, some of the best performers among former communist countries?
3. Where would Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina stand if they took the test? (Macedonia took the test in 2000: 381 in math, 401 in science, 373 in reading – abysmal scores I discussed in a recent Rumeli Observer; it is now taking it again for the first time this year).
Of course it would also be useful to have other credible education statistics from ALL candidates and potential candidates that allow for EU-wide and Europe-wide comparisons.
They might also – if properly highlighted – trigger more important policy debates.
4 YEAR OLDS IN SCHOOL
How many 4 year old are in primary or pre-primary education? In the EU
“91.7 % of four year-olds were in pre-primary or primary education across the whole of the EU-27 in 2010. Participation rates of four year-olds in pre-primary or primary education were generally high — national averages of over 95 % in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; as well as in Iceland and Norway. By contrast, Greece, Poland and Finland reported that fewer than 70 % of four year-olds were enrolled; lower rates were also recorded in the EFTA countries of Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as well as in the acceding and candidate countries of Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.”
“Only national data are available for Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (data for 2010), where rates stood at 57.4 % and 24.0 % respectively. More than half of the 25 level 2 Turkish regions reported that less than 20.0 % of four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education in 2011. The lowest participation rate was recorded for the southern Turkish region of Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Kilis (9.7 %), while the second lowest rate was recorded for İstanbul (10.9 %).”
17 YEAR OLDS IN EDUCATION
“The number of students aged 17 in education (all levels combined) in the EU-27 in 2010 was 5.2 million, equivalent to 91.7 % of all 17-year-olds. The age of 17 is important as it often marks the age at which young people are faced with a choice between: remaining in education; following some form of training; or looking for a job. The number of 17 year-olds in education relative to the population of 17 year-olds exceeded 80 % in the vast majority of the regions within the EU in 2011, and this pattern was repeated across all of the EFTA regions … As such, for one reason or another, the vast majority of young people aged 17 remained in the education system at or even after the end of compulsory schooling.”
This indicates, for instance, a clear problem in Turkey:
“Among the acceding and candidate country regions, the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was above 80.0 % in Croatia (national data) and three Turkish regions (including the capital city region of Ankara and two north-western regions of Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik and Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli). There were four Turkish regions where the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was 50.0 % or lower — they were all in the south and east of the country, namely: Sanlıurfa, Diyarbakır; Mardin, Batman, Sırnak, Siirt; Ağri, Kars, Iğdir, Ardahan; and Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkari. The lowest ratio of 17 year-olds remaining in education was recorded in Van, Mus, Bitlis, Hakkari, where the share was only slightly more than one third (35.5 %) in 2011.”
“An indicator that presents information about early leavers from education and training tracks the proportion of individuals aged 18–24 who have finished no more than a lower secondary education, and who are not involved in further education or training: some 13.5 % of 18–24 year-olds in the EU-27 were classified as early leavers from education and training in 2011, with a somewhat higher proportion of male early leavers (15.3 %) compared with female early leavers (11.6 %). Europe’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, has set an EU-27 target for the proportion of early leavers from education and training to be below 10 % by 2020; there are individual targets for each of the Member States that range from 5 % to 29 %.”
“Tertiary education is the level of education offered by universities, vocational universities, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees or professional certificates. In 2010 (the 2009/10 academic year), the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in the EU-27 stood at 19.8 million; this was equivalent to 62.7 % of all persons aged 20–24.”
In candidate countries:
“In Turkey there was a particularly high concentration of tertiary students in Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik — this may be attributed to there being an open university in Eskişehir, where a high proportion of students are enrolled on distance learning courses. Otherwise, the ratio of students enrolled in tertiary education to residents aged 20–24 was below 60 % for all of the remaining regions in the candidate and accession countries.”
“In 2011, for the EU-27 as a whole, just over one third (34.6 %) of 30–34 year-olds had completed tertiary education. These figures support the premise that a rising proportion of the EU’s population is studying to a higher level — in keeping with one of the Europe 2020 targets, namely, that by 2020 at least 40 % of persons aged 30–34 in the EU-27 should have attained a tertiary level education.”
Again Turkey is backward:
“Bati Anadolu (23.6 %) — which includes the Turkish capital city of Ankara — was the only Turkish region to report that more than one in five of its residents aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education. By contrast, the lowest ratios … were recorded for the north-east of Turkey (Kuzeydoğu Anadolu), where only just over 1 in 10 (10.2 %) of the population aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education.”
One thing should be obvious: if PISA rankings and such tables are seriously discussed in candidate countries, everyone would benefit. And if the EU can manage to encourage a focus on such issues – through its own regular assessments – everyone would gain.
So let us hope that this simple idea will indeed be picked up.
 Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong excluded as cities.
Why this is so important is illustrated by the following true story.
MMB is a respected professor of International Relations and European Integration (she is a Jean Monnet Chair) at Sabanci University in Istanbul. We recently met at a conference in Berlin. Her husband is a professor of Economics and the former dean of the faculty at which MMB teaches.
Recently MMB was invited to speak at a NATO seminar in Italy on 15-17 May. She needed a new visa. So, on 29 April, she went to the intermediary agent, IDATA, which Italy had hired to handle visa applications.
(Nowadays most Schengen country consulates no longer receive visa applications themselves, but use intermediary agents who collect the applications, bring them with the passports to the consulates, later pick up the passports with the visas and hand them back to the applicants. The costs for this service, which saves consulates of lot of work, are charged to the applicants – MMB had to pay 30 Euro for it, in addition to the 60 Euro for the visa itself.)
For her visa application, MMB had filled out the application form and put together the necessary documentation: the invitation letter signed by a NATO general, her flight ticket and hotel booking, excerpts from her bank accounts showing that she has a regular income and sufficient funds for the trip, evidence of her social security payments in Turkey, a current certificate from the civil registry, all the current contracts for her work with the European Commission, evidence that she is an affiliated professor at the University of Stockholm as well as copies of her previous passports that are full of Schengen visas. In her current passport too, she has an expired two-year multiple-entry Schengen visa, a 10-year multiple-entry visa for the UK and a 10-year multiple-entry visa for the US.
To any reasonable person, all this leaves no doubt that MMB is a person that travels a lot for professional reasons, has never abused any of her visas, and has a good job and family in Turkey. There is no risk that she would not come back and prefer to become an illegal migrant in Italy. In fact, MMB was hoping this time to get a 5-year multiple-entry Schengen visa.
Then the IDATA clerk explained to her that the NATO invitation letter is not valid unless the person issuing the invitation – a NATO general – has his signature validated and certified by a notary. MMB was reluctant to ask the NATO general for this. So she had to sign a statement declaring that she “knowingly” submitted “an incomplete application”.
For nine days, she did not receive any information about the status of her application despite regular phone calls to IDATA and the Italian consulate. Then the consulate was very helpful and informed her that she had been given a multiple-entry visa for three years. In the end she received her passport with the visa only four days before her flight.
An isolated case? MMB’s husband MB did not fare any better. He was invited to a seminar at Freie Universität Berlin on 28 April.
Germany uses the same intermediary agent like Italy, IDATA. So MB went to the IDATA office well in advance of the seminar, on 20 March, equipped with the same long pile of documents that MMB had to submit. However, the IDATA clerk was not satisfied. He asked him for civil registry extracts for his entire family, including his parents and his child. MB got these and delivered them to IDATA.
The saga continued. This time, the clerk was not satisfied with the evidence of income and social security payments that MB had submitted. The evidence was an attestation from the university. The clerk wanted to have an attestation from the Turkish social security provider, covering the previous 20 years.
If MB had not promised a colleague in Berlin that he would come, he would have given up, but due to this promise he decided to spend another day on the application, getting the certificate and bringing it to IDATA.
In the end, he received only a 3-month Schengen visa, so he faces the same trouble again in three months. Like MMB, he travels a lot and has previous Schengen visas and a 10-year UK and a 10-year US visa in his passport. But this apparently did not make any impression on IDATA.
If two respected and busy professors who travel extensively and have a good income are treated in this way, how are ordinary citizens treated? What about the promise of EU member states “to promote the regular mobility of bona fide travellers between Turkey and the EU and its Member States” given in December 2012? It cannot get more “bona fide” than in MMB’s and MB’s case, and their experience, in MMB’s words, has been “horrendous”.
When it comes to less well-established Turkish citizens, the situation is worse. In the end, wrote MMB, “it is not me that is the issue here, I always get a visa, but my colleagues, my students they all suffer.” She posted a tweet about her experience.
“My students and younger colleagues immediately responded saying this is a major problem for them. There are many academicians who cannot go to meetings abroad because their visas are either rejected or not prepared in time. This is a key concern for young scholars. Also, consider this: most of these young researchers are earning relatively little money, and each application costs around 300 Turkish lira – about 100 Euro – which is a lot considering their monthly income.”
EU member states ought to have systems in place that make failures such in MMB’s and MB’s cases impossible, and they need to work on making the visa burden for all Turkish citizens as light as possible. In our paper “Trust and travel. Easing the visa burden for Turks in five steps (24 February 2014, we recommended that EU member states commit to five goals to support the visa liberalisation process:
1. REJECTION RATES – GOAL LESS THAN 2 PERCENT
Reject as few Turkish visa applications as possible, striving to achieve a rejection rate of 2 percent or less. Some EU member states (Greece, Italy, Hungary) already achieve this.
2. LONG TERM VISA – MORE THAN 90 PERCENT
Issue at least 90 percent of the visas as long-term multiple-entry visas valid 3 to 5 years. Member states currently vary on this issue greatly.
3. REDUCE COSTS AND EFFORT
Allow proxies to submit visa applications on behalf of Turkish applicants; waive the visa fee of 60 Euros in as many cases as possible and consider removing it altogether; waive individual document requirements wherever possible.
4. SOLVE THE ERASMUS PROBLEM
Commit to issuing long-term visas for all Turkish students and researchers in time for the beginning of their studies and projects.
Make all improvements visible and advertise them; start to provide information on all aspects of visa policy so that progress can be easily monitored.
It is time that improvements become visible, and not that the visa application procedure becomes more difficult.
In the end MMB still felt grateful to the Italian Consulate in the end. When contacted they were prompt, efficient and helpful. Without their help the application would certainly have taken even longer.
This is an unusual post in two respects: it is personal (about two grandfathers in World War I) and it is not by me but by the next generation: my daughter produced this for a school project in France, researching the family history in World War I. It was an excellent way to reflect on this anniversary, and we all learned some new things.
I hope those who understand German agree that this is interesting to share, as another generation comes to grips with the madness of nationalism in Europe in the very recent past. These lessons remain as relevant today as ever.
Zwei junge Männer, zwei Fronten, zwei Gefangenschaften
Fanny Knaus (Paris)
Viele Mitglieder meiner Familie haben im ersten Weltkrieg gekämpft. Das ist die Geschichte von Gottlieb und Alfons, meinen beiden Urgrossvätern, die an unterschiedlichen Fronten kämpften.
Gottlieb Knaus ist 1895 in Schladming in den österreichischen Alpen geboren. In jungen Jahren arbeitete er in einem Kohlebergwerk.
Mit 19 Jahren zog er 1914 in den Krieg. Er kämpfte an der Ostfront gegen Russland. Dort kam er in Gefangenschaft. Er wurde in Sibirien bei einem Bauern (Kulaken) zur Zwangsarbeit eingeteilt. Es ging ihm relativ gut. Er spielte viel Schach und lernte perfekt Russisch. Nach 40 Monaten, nach der russischen Revolution, gelang ihm die Flucht und er kam zurück nach Österreich.
Gottlieb Knaus in Sibirien als Kriegsgefangener
Später gab er seiner ältesten Tochter den russischen Namen Ludmilla. In meiner Familie nimmt man an, dass er sich in Sibirien in eine Ludmilla verliebt hatte.
Alfons Schwärzler (der meine Grossmutter adoptierte) wurde 1898 in einem Bergdorf in Vorarlberg in Österreich geboren. Er kam aus einer armen Familie. Er hatte sechs Brüder und drei Schwestern. Als Bub musste er ins Schwabenland ziehen und dort schon als Kind auf einem fremden Hof arbeiten, da seine Familie ihn nicht ernähren konnte.
1916, als er 17 Jahre alt war, wurde er von der Armee eingezogen. In einem Brief vom 18 Mai 1916, den ich gefunden habe, erzählt er Details aus der Zeit der Vorbereitung auf den Krieg in einer Kaserne: er wurde erstmals geimpft; er hoffte seinen Anzug, den er abgeben musste, nach Kriegsende bald wieder zurückzubekommen; und er bat seine Familie ihm seine Pfeife zu schicken. Er erzählte auch, dass viel exerziert wurde und es „in wenigen Wochen nach Italien geht, um den Katzelmachern [ein Schimpfwort für Italiener] einen Denkzettel zu geben [sie zu bestrafen]“.
Gottlieb Schwärzler als junger Soldat während der Ausbildung 1916
Nach der kurzen Ausbildung wurde er in die Alpen geschickt. Er verbrachte zwei Jahre in den Dolomiten hoch oben in den Bergen. Hier kämpfte Österreich-Ungarn gegen Italien. Der Alpenkrieg war sehr gefährlich. Berggipfel und Höhlen wurden gesprengt. Man kämpfte oft im Schnee.
Einmal, beim Essenholen, geriet Alfons in eine Lawine. Er konnte sich an einen Baum klammern und überlebte. Alle litten schrecklich Hunger in den Bergen.
Nach Friedenschluss kam Alfons von den Bergen ins Tal. Trotz des Friedens wurde er nun, wie viele andere, von den Italienern gefangengenommen. Alfons erging es dabei viel schlechter als Gottlieb in Sibirien. Er war über ein Jahr in Gefangenschaft wo er schrecklich Hunger hatte, weil es jeden Tag nur dünne Reissuppe gab. Die Gefangenen lebten in Zelten. Sie froren und es gab viele Krankheiten. Alfons hatte danach ein Leben lang einen Lungenschaden.
Ich fand eine Postkarte an ihn von seiner Familie aus dieser Zeit. Sie ist addressiert an den „Kriegsgefangenen Soldaten aus Österreich“ [prigioniere di guerra soldato austriaco Alfonso Schwärzler].
Sehr interessant finde ich, dass sowohl für Alfons Schwärzler wie auch für Gottlieb Knaus 1918 der Krieg noch lange nicht vorbei war. Durch ihre Gefangenschaft waren sie noch viele Jahre von ihren Familien getrennt.
Heute kann ich diese sinnlosen Kämpfe nicht verstehen. Mein Vater und meine Tante haben beide in Italien studiert. Mein Grossvater und mein Vater haben Russisch gelernt und mein Vater in der Ukraine gearbeitet. Heute lernen meine Mutter und ich beide Russisch. In Italien war ich schon, aber nach Sibirien muss ich noch fahren.
Rashadat Akhundov, NIDA activist, sentenced to eight years in jail in May 2014 with seven other activists.
A graduate of the Central European University in Budapest.
This morning Azerbaijan’s most courageous investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, published (unfortunately expected) bad news from Baku: the verdict in the case against NIDA youth activists in Azerbaijan:
“Verdict is announced. Democracy activists from Nida! Civic Union are sentenced for exercising their right of freedom of assembly:
Rashadat Akhundov = 8 years
Zaur Gurbanli = 8 years
Ilkin Rustemzade = 8 years
Bakhtiyar Guliyev = 7 years
Mammad Azizov = 7.5 years
Rashad Hasanov = 7.5 years
Uzeyir Mammadli = 7 years
Shahin Novruzlu = 6 years”
This verdict comes on the eve of the visit to Azerbaijan by the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, and almost exactly one week before Azerbaijan takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.
On this sad day for human rights in Europe – on this truly shameful day for the Council of Europe and its member states, who have failed dissidents and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – the best is to let the NIDA activists speak for themselves. Here is the speech they delivered in court on 5 May. These voices will not be silenced:
We, as defendants, have decided to represent ourselves as one person for our last speech to the court. The reason for this is that the government does not see us as individuals, but rather targets the NIDA civil movement that we are members of and subjects it to repression. You may consider our last plea as coming both from the eight NIDA activists present here and other NIDA activists who are either free or under arrest.
Usually, defendants ask for mercy from the court, and sometimes express their regret. We don’t need mercy, nor do we feel regretful, since we have not done anything to regret. Nor do we expect justice from the court that is hearing this fabricated lawsuit, as it is not capable of maintaining the sanctity of the law and making independent and just decisions. The hollowness and meaninglessness of this lawsuit have been unconditionally proven by the truths we have told, the statements made by witnesses, as well as other evidence presented by the defense in their high quality speeches.
The start of the smear campaign against NIDA was made obvious during the first days of the arrests – when Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev and Shahin Novruzlu were forced to sign completely slanderous texts, memorize them and then recite them in front of cameras after being subjected to physical violence and torture. During this, TV channels continuously disseminated videos provided to them by the Interior Ministry, and government spokespeople and members of parliament made statements implying NIDA aims to create chaos in society.
Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan since 2003.
There was no doubt that these repressions were politically motivated after President Ilham Aliyev named us as criminals during the YAP (New Azerbaijan Party) assembly on June 7, 2013, when investigations were still ongoing and no valid court verdict had been issued. This statement was the decision that sealed our fate. This decision framed the judicial investigation.
Under such circumstances, we are aware of the fact that neither the state prosecutor, nor you, the judges, have any other options to pursue. Your responsibilities in the court are limited to acting as notaries to legitimize this politically motivated order. Even if the law and your conscience demand you to act otherwise, you shall not dare stray from this order. We should also mention that we are not the sole victims of the regime in this trial. Your appointment as the judge and the prosecutor also makes you victims of this fabricated court case. Indeed, we – behind bars and you – at liberty are all hostages and victims in this big prison called Azerbaijan.
That’s why it is difficult to demand anything from you. How can one prisoner help another one?
We do not intend to go deeply through all the details of the case. Because it’s already obvious that even as a pseudo case they could not manage to organize it more maturely and systematically. Nevertheless, we will go through several issues.
The prosecution claims we were arrested due to a protest on March 10. This is partly true.
Why partly and why true? And why shouldn’t we regret this?
Let’s begin from the very first question. As to the prosecution’s testimony, they imprisoned us due to our social activity and particularly for our activity within the NIDA civic movement. But it was not because of events on March 10. NIDA managed to involve mature and active youth in its membership. At the time we hadn’t announced that we were totally opposed to the government. Meanwhile, the government was already against us. Because this regime is an enemy to all active and valuable people who want to spoil its plans for society to remain passive, villainous, obedient and enslaved. Thus, the government is a direct foe to the youth who are indicators of activism, dynamism and who are against slavery. As we see, the government doesn’t chase us because we are criminals. On the contrary, if we committed a crime, we would be friends of this regime. Because they themselves are of a criminal nature. Thus, they arrested us not only because we protested the death of our brothers on March 10, but also because of our nonviolent struggle, which is not forbidden by law.
If there is any sign of a tendency for violence, solely the government is responsible for it. As the government creates unlawful conditions, people become more aggressive and want revenge. Of course, it encourages a bias towards violence. Being a civic movement, we did our best to prevent physical confrontation and propagate nonviolent struggle. We used numerous examples from global experience that prove that nonviolent struggle is far better than violence. Ironically however, we were accused of violence. Our criminal case took its place at the top of the list of ridiculous crimes in the world.
And shall we regret it?!
We are arrested for and proud of demanding freedom, rule of law, and human rights for the nation we belong to, for the land we are residents of.
Everyone has clearly seen the torture and abasement that the first three arrested activists have encountered. But unfortunately, the court didn’t even attempt to investigate the case. The court process is enough to eliminate these testimonies from the list of evidence. But of course only an independent and fair court could precisely evaluate and take the necessary course in this way, not you!
Observers [of this trial] probably remember the testimony of Anar Abbasov, the main witness of the prosecution, whose addiction to drugs and mental problems was evident even without a professional examination. His testimony became an exercise in contradiction. He couldn’t describe the Venice café [where according to the indictment, he witnessed the activists’ discussion of their plan for violent action], he didn’t even know what NIDA! (exclamation) means, he couldn’t recognize the people, whom, according to the indictment, he identified as participants of the violence-planning meeting, he couldn’t remember anyone’s name, his testimony was a bunch of nonsensical words about NIDA and Venice. That witness was in fact the best proof of our innocence.
The government accuses us of cooperation with foreign groups. Just imagine, the accusation of using violence comes from the government, which came to power via a military coup, which used arms for violence against its own people including the events of October 15-16, 2003, the assassinations of dozens of the best thinkers, like Elmar Huseynov, Ziya Bunyadov, Rafik Tagi. It comes from the government that has its own people’s blood on its hands. And yes, it is the irony of history.
Unlike the YAP members who would trade away Azerbaijan’s interests to foreign countries, who would do anything in order to maintain the dominance of the ruling party, we NIDA activists have never been slaves of the Russian KGB, nor have we worshipped the U.S. or European oil magnates’ money, nor followed the Iranian mullah’s and Turkish Nurchu’s ways. NIDA activists are patriots ready to sacrifice their youth and lives for the sake of the nation without the slightest hesitation. The charges imposed on us are simply the government projecting its ugly nature onto us.
Having touched upon the foreign affairs issues, we would like to share our opinion on the case of the Ministry of National Security stealing AZN 94,000 from Shahin Novruzlu’s father and calling it a crime. There was enough evidence provided by the witnesses at the hearing to prove that this money belonged to Shahin’s family. We can compare this to another incident. 12 September 1980, the junta that came to power by military coup in Turkey, staying loyal to their methods, executed 17-year-old Erdal Eren. A great republic with 100 years of history like Turkey still is not able to clean the stain called Erdal Eren. After 33 years, in Azerbaijan Erdal’s peer Shahin is being accused by YAP, and loyal to their values they stole Shahin’s father’s money. The military men do what they are used to – murder, YAP members do what they are used to do – theft.
While governments are transitory, be sure of the fact that Shahin’s arrest and the theft of his family’s, in particular his aunt’s hard-earned money will hang over Azerbaijan’s shoulders like the Sword of Damocles, and we as a nation and a country in general will always be ashamed of it.
Two of us have been charged with hooliganism because of a simple dance. However, this dance doesn’t have any signs of hooliganism, not to mention any criminal implications. The evidence provided and the defense speeches have proven this. Therefore, in our final speech we would rather talk about the main reason for the arrests than the legal aspects. The objective of introducing this article to our case is to present us as “immoral” to society. This is precisely why the host of the disgraceful Lider TV, who has previously presented pornographic scenes shot by secret cameras, now misinformed the public by making fun of our alleged participation in the dance (deliberately misrepresenting the facts as if the eight people sitting here are in fact the eight people who are seen in the Harlem Shake video). However, despite their cheap and meaningless efforts, the dance cannot be considered as immoral. Immorality is to steal or sell parliamentary seats, falsify elections, be an oligarch or rip off the nation of its last piece of bread. The fight against this immorality is the most honourable, glorious and moral job to do.
Our court case, with each of its details, has discredited the government and shown its real face. Please pay closer attention to the above-mentioned witness, Anar Abbasov. He is a bright example of the zombie population that Aliyev’s regime has been trying to bring up for the last 21 years. This “new Azerbaijani” is meant to be cowardly and sinful, his morality must be tainted with slavery and sycophancy, he should be able to slander even his own brother when the time comes, he should be corrupt enough not to dare to stand against even a slight injustice with a life credo of adulation of the authorities and hypocrisy. In the past 21 years, the ruling party was considerably successful with their mission of creating this “new breed of Azerbaijanis”.
Solshenitsyn (in Soviet prison)
Solshenitsyn in his “Live Not By Lies” wrote about despotic regimes’ dependence on everyone’s participation in the lies. He wrote that the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. This is what NIDA does.
The NIDA civic movement tried to resist and prevent a complete victory of this government’s policy. Our and other members’ ongoing arrests, openly demonstrated anger and irritation we came across prove that we are on the right track to hamper this policy. Our determined resistance, persistent position and speaking the truth (despite the benefits of the government’s side) couldn’t have been achieved in any other way.
There is something they do not realize. If there is an evil happening in one place, even if everyone turns their faces away, those who are humane have to face it. We as free men cannot turn a blind eye to evil, immorality, and in general the government’s misdeeds; we will only bow in front of a righteous power. The ideology of the Republic sees it as evil to live under someone else’s despotic regime (will), because slavery creates the worst of its consequences- a state of vagrancy and sycophancy. We as true republicans, despite the dangers, will not trade freedom for the comforts of slave lives!
Therefore, the regime’s police and other power structures’ violent and brutal actions disguised as “service to law”, presenting our constitutional right of freely gathering as a riot, calling our peaceful struggle a violent act, and our fabricated arrests do not scare us and will not make us back away from our position. The clarity of our fundamental principles, and our loyalty to them, our complete rejection of radicalism, immorality and violence are the reasons why hundreds of people with a similar ideology joined our cause in the course of the past year.
As mentioned earlier, our participation in this court is a mere formality. Our plea to be acquitted from these falsified criminal charges is also a formality. But we are confident that acquittal will come not from the court but from our people and history. There is another reason for coming to the court and giving this “final speech”. We value the court system as a foundation of the state and guarantor of social justice. We respect and honour the splendour carried in the word – court. Therefore, despite the fact that the standards of this court falls far below these criteria, out of respect to the judge and the court we are obeying the formal procedures and continue to strive to do so.
Sahin Novruzlu, the youngest activist, was 17 at the time of his arrest
The final word has yet to be uttered. The final word will sooner or later come from the nation that stands for the arrested ten [meaning the eight NIDA activists in this case and Abdul Abilov and Omar Mammadov – two Facebook prisoners facing trumped-up drug charges] NIDA activists, and our counterparts.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was brought to court under the accusation that he was poisoning the thoughts of youths. He could have left the country or accepted to stay silent, to not spread his ideas. Otherwise, he knew that he would be executed. At the trial, Socrates declared that he would not sacrifice the truth for his freedom and life, and chose death. We will also not sell the truth for anything – whether we’re free or jailed.
We are not alone. Our determined intellectuals and public figures – the Chairman of “REAL” Ilgar Mammadov, Deputy Chairman of “Musavat” Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, Gurban Mammadov, Anar Mammadli, main representative of the believers in Azerbaijan, Taleh Baghirzade, our falsely accused young friends Ebdul Ebilov, Omar Mammadov, Elsever Murselli, Rashad Ramazanli, journalists Rauf Mirgadirov, Perviz Heshimli and dozens of other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, are kept in jail under false pretences, specifically for telling the truth. This government has to understand that, even if there is only one person in the country with a conscience, he will continue the resistance against their atrocious anti-people politics. Finally, the truth will triumph over lies.
Even though we have reached a level of corruption that has no parallels, we know that the exams for the selection of the judges and prosecutors for our cases are challenging. Because of that, our judges and prosecutors, usually, have to possess some knowledge of law. We do not doubt that the current panel of judges and the public prosecutor in front of us also possess a high degree of legal literacy. This is also evident from the fact that Azerbaijan’s strongest lawyers are defending us and you have specifically been chosen to go against them, the political order of making a case for these absurd allegations has been given specifically to you.
The ultimate aim of the law is to provide justice. You, also, possess the qualifications to professionally determine justice. It is impossible for you not to see that these allegations are frivolous and this, we are sure, you do not doubt. Because of that, it will be very hard for you to give us our sentence. Because the trial of conscience that comes forward from the honour of one’s profession and humanity is harder than the trial of this sort. Despite this, comfort will conquer conscience and you will read out our conviction. For this reason, we do not ask anything from you. Quite the opposite, in order to calm your conscience, to give you comfort, we are letting you know that the years that are being taken from our lives with your sentencing are not going to waste. It is a capital investment in the freedom of Azerbaijan. So, even though you may be an anti-hero, you are also doing something for this country.
We took into consideration that we are a capital investment in freedom when we started this journey. Now, can we be sorry for the accusations, for the thoughts and actions which we did not commit?!
We declare once again that we are confident and you should be confident, that because of our desire for freedom for this nation of which we are part of, this region in which we are residing, because freedom, democracy, rule of law are of the highest value and the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country should be respected, because of our efforts in this sphere we have been arrested and of this we are proud.
We ask our friends, peers, and specifically our parents to be ready for a heavy sentence and not to give way to hysteria, damnation, or insults. Everyone aside from the foreigners are victims in this courtroom and it is inconsequential and meaningless for a victim to curse out another victim.
We say thank you to everyone who took part in defending us, including those who share our beliefs, to our family that is always with us, to little Araz, to our lawyers who selflessly defended us. We express our gratitude to the local and international human rights organizations, parties, and other organizations, foreign states and their embassies working towards restoring our rights. We are grateful to the representatives of foreign embassies and international organizations who have participated in our trial for half a year, because they have also proven that the Western values which we have been defending are not based on oil, or geostrategic material interest, but on freedom and justice.
Lastly, from here we want to reach out to the NIDA fighters outside. During Soviet times, a seven-member organization called “Ildirim” [“Thunder”], of which all seven members were jailed for their anti-Soviet efforts, Ismikhan Rahimov-a member turned to his relatives after his sentence was read, while being placed in a vehicle and said: “We are leaving, but we will be back.”
Now, we are delivering to you the words of Sir Ismakhan in another form: We are not going anywhere and coming back. Because we exist anyway, we are here, with you. Even if ten members of NIDA are in jail, those of you who are free are replacing us. We call on you to continue the fight for us with even more principal and relentlessness. Do not ever surrender to slander! Hold your heads high, your wills strong!
Down with dictatorship and despotism!
Long live the people who do not bow to oppression and injustice!
Call on President Ilham Aliyev to give amnesty to Ilgar Mammadov, Anar Mammadli and the eight young activists on hunger strike before Azerbaijan assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 14 May 2014;
Call on the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to travel to Azerbaijan urgently, and speak out strongly and forcefully on behalf of these and many other political prisoners;
Support an initiative to appoint a new rapporteur on political prisoners to investigate the trend of imprisonment in Azerbaijan since the vote in January 2013.
Now at least one of these things appears to be happening: Mr. Jagland is going to Baku.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan will be one of the main topics on the agenda of the upcoming May 8th visit to Baku of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland. It is learned from sources in Strasbourg that Yangland will also affect the situation with the detention of IPD director Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunusov and pressure on them. Also touched upon will be the political prisoners and the need to address this problem due to commence in May of the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers. “
Of course, it remains to be seen what will come out of this visit. However, the mere fact of Mr. Jagland going to Baku should raise expectations. Mr. Jagland has a legacy to defend. He has been secretary general since September 2009. He is also running for reelection for a second term in a few weeks’ time.
There is little that a secretary general can do directly to prevent member states of the Council of Europe from violating human rights. However, one thing a secretary general must do is speak out openly about systemic violations of human rights in a member state. Today the credibility of the whole institution is at stake as a result of Azerbaijan’s years of abuse of its principles. It is thus crucial that Mr. Jagland achieves something on his forthcoming visit to Baku.
Developments in recent days have added to this urgency. There has been further harassment of distinguished Azerbaijani human rights defenders – and this at the very moment when Azerbaijan presented its program for the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (see below). In the next six months the Azerbaijani government proposes to host events to discuss the role of human rights education, the work of judges in defending human rights, the future of youth … while at the same time it hosts show trials against human rights defenders, journalists and youth activists. Can any of these events be taken seriously while Azerbaijan engages in this cynical behaviour?
Recent days saw: the arrest of journalist Rauf Mirkadirov. The arrest of Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus. The persecution of critical thinkers on espionage charges. With rare exceptions, such as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, most European policy makers have remained silent. (See also this statement by Catherine Ashton and Stefan Füle).
In contrast, the NIDA youth activists, on hunger strike for two weeks, made a remarkable statement at the close of their trial in Baku last week. Their moral courage in the face of injustice puts to shame the current ineffective human rights protection machinery in Strasbourg. It also casts a shadow over the very notion of Azerbaijan as a chairman of the Council of Europe. In their final speech in court, after 15 days of hunger strike, the NIDA activists evoked the great dissidents of the Soviet period to explain their motivation:
“Solschenitzyn in his “Live Not By Lies” wrote about despotic regimes’ dependence on everyone’s participation in lies. He wrote that the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: in personal non-participation in lies. This is what Nida does.
Nida civil movement tried to resist and prevent a complete victory of this government’s policy. Our and other members’ ongoing arrests, openly demonstrated anger and irritation prove that we are on the right track to hamper this policy.”
They also directly addressed the judges and prosecutors:
“… in order to calm your conscience, to give you comfort, we are letting you know that the years that are being taken from our lives with your sentence are not going to waste. It is a capital investment for the freedom of Azerbaijan. So, even though you may be an anti-hero, you are also doing some things for this country.”
Andrei Sacharov – Nobel Prize Winning former political prisoner
This makes it all the more poignant that the recent increase in repression and in the number of arrests of human rights defenders are happening at a time when the secretary general of the Council of Europe is also the Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
We hope that Mr. Jagland will achieve something next week.
We hope that the game of cat and mouse that Azerbaijan has been playing with political prisoners will come to an end.
100 years ago: arrests could not break them: Suffragette in London
East European dissidents are not the only proud tradition which events in Baku bring to mind today.
One hundred years ago, in 1913, the British government passed what became known as the Cat and Mouse Act to break the will of a group of courageous women – the suffragettes – fighting for the right to vote. The law was called the Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health Act:
“The Liberal government of Asquith had been highly embarrassed by the hunger strike tactic of the Suffragettes. Many of the more famous Suffragettes were from middle class backgrounds and were educated. When some suffragettes were arrested they would go on hunger strike. This was a deliberate policy to bring attention to their cause and also to embarrass the government.To counter this, the government resorted to force-feeding those women on hunger-strike – an act usually reserved for those held in what were then called lunatic asylums. This simple act greatly embarrassed the government.
To get around this, the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ was introduced. The logic behind this was simple: a Suffragette would be arrested; she would go on hunger strike; the authorities would wait until she was too weak (through lack of food) to do any harm if in public. She would then be released ‘on licence’. Once out of prison, it was assumed that the former prisoner would start to eat once again and re-gain her strength over a period of time. If she committed an offence while out on licence, she would be immediately re-arrested and returned to prison. Here, it was assumed that she would then go back on hunger strike … The nickname of the act came about because of a cat’s habit of playing with its prey (a mouse) before finishing it off.”
The suffragettes were fighting for a then radical idea – women having the same political rights as men – just as NIDA activists are defending the radical idea that the European Convention on Human Rights and its provisions also apply to Azerbaijan. The goal of the British government at the time was to break their will, without too much embarrassment, by playing cat and mouse. The same is happening in Baku today.
In the end, history was not on the side of the British government . Today, history is not on the side of the regime in Baku. Mr. Jagland might evoke the long tradition of political prisoners his Nobel Peace Prize Committee has honoured. He might also recall the history of the Suffragettes. And tell president Ilham Aliyev that he is on the wrong side of history. It might not work this time. But at the very least, the Council of Europe should not be on the wrong side of history too.
Suffragette poster – UK early 20th century
PS: Is it possible for a dictatorship, imprisoning its own human rights defenders, to plan a full Council of Europe chairmanship programme, without ever drawing attention to its own abysmal human rights record? And if it is, what does this tell us about the state of the institution?
Find below the draft program of the Azerbaijani Council of Europe chairmanship. Will any of the participants from across Europe even blush when they are being welcomed by the regime of Aliyev to discuss the following?
20 to 21 May: Meeting of coordinators of the Council of Europe Charter of Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights
22 to 23 May: Meetings of the PACE Bureau and Standing Committee
1 to 30 June: Conference on Public service delivery in the context of human rights and good governance
17 June: Meeting of the CLRAE Bureau
18 to 20 June: Baku Conference of European Ombudspersons
20 to 21 June: Conference on the new “Council of Europe Platform on the Impact of Digitisation on Culture”
30 June to 1 July: High-level conference on combating corruption
3 to 4 July: Plenary meeting for the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice
1 to 2 September: Annual exchange meeting on religious dimension of intercultural dialogue
1 to 30 September: Platform meeting on youth foundation and financing structures
10 to 11 September: Seminar to review the Council of Europe Social Cohesion Strategy and Action Plan
18 to 21 September: High-level conference on the Council of Europe Neighbourhood Policy
1 to 5 October: Event within the “No hate speech movement” of the Council of Europe
6 to 9 October: Celebration of European Heritage Days 2014
10 to 11 October: High-level conference on the role of national judges on enhancing domestic application of the ECHR
20 to 26 October: The 4th regional ministerial meeting on the implementation of the European Higher Education Area
28 to 30 October: UN Global Forum on Youth
30 to 31 October: Cultural Routes Advisory Forum Policy
So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.
And from that day onward he:
Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.
Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately talk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed. Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.
No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
Es sollte eigentlich ans baltische Meer gehen, doch dann sperrte die Fakultät in Riga kurzfristig ihre Tore. Wie wäre es mit der Ukraine, wurde ich gefragt: auch hier suchte man 1993, kurz nach dem Auseinanderbrechen der Sowjetunion, junge Leute mit Interesse daran, einer post-sowjetischen Generation westliche Wirtschaftslehre nahezubringen. So landete ich im Sommer 1993 in Czernowitz, im Grenzgebiet zu Rumänien und Moldau, Hauptstadt der nördlichen Bukowina.
Ich hielt Vorlesungen zur Volkswirtschaft und international political economy, vor dem Hintergrund von Hyperinflation und dem Zusammenbruch aller Strukturen. Und ich entdeckte dabei ein mir bis dahin vollkommen unbekanntes Land.
Da war die Armut, das Gefühl von Isolation gerade eine Tagesreise von Wien entfernt. Der Zusammenbruch von sowjetischer Infrastruktur und Industrie. Ein Jahr lang kein Warmwasser, manchmal tagelang keinen Strom. Die Kopiermaschine, die ich aus Wien mitgebracht hatte, gab ihren Geist auf, nachdem hungrige Mäuse in meinem Schlafzimmer alle Kabel durchgebissen hatten. Im Winter wurde der Unterricht abgesagt, denn die Räume der Universität konnten nicht mehr beheizt werden.
Czernowitz Herrengasse – A young Austrian teaching economics in 1993
Da war die Verzweiflung einer ex-sowjetischen Mittelklasse. Und die Entdeckung der Vergangenheit einer Region, die der Historiker Timothy Snyder als Bloodlands bezeichnete: Mittelosteuropa, das wie keine andere Region im frühen 20. Jahrhundert unter Besatzungen, Vertreibungen, Völkermord und totalitären Regimen gelitten hatte.
An die mitteleuropäische Vergangenheit erinnerte nicht nur die Architektur der Stadt – Universität, Herrengasse, Schlossplatz, Volksgarten – sondern vor allem zwei ältere jüdische Damen, noch in der k. u. k. Monarchie geboren. Zwei Freundinnen, Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann, die seit Jahrzehnten jeden Tag miteinander telefonierten. Ich besuchte sie mindestens einmal die Woche in ihren Wohnungen. Deutsch war ihre Muttersprache, Europa ihre geistige Heimat. Lydia hatte Mitleid mit der Ukraine, diesem “armen geschundenen Land”. Von ihrer Rente konnte sie nicht leben, und so unterrichtete sie weiterhin Sprachen; Französisch und Deutsch, in ihrer winzigen Wohnung neben dem Volksgarten. An der Wand das Portrait von Thomas Mann, im Regal die Romane der russischen Schriftsteller, die sie verehrte. Sie liebte die russische Literatur ebenso sehr wie die deutsche.
Beide hatten im zweiten Weltkrieg Angehörige in faschistischen Lagern verloren. Beide waren selbst nach Transnistrien verschleppt worden. Rosa und Lydia erinnerten sich allerdings auch an ein Europa mit offenen Grenzen, so wie jenes, in dem es einst ihren Eltern möglich war, bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg ohne großen Aufwand von Czernowitz nach Wien zu reisen. Damals war hier die östlichste Universtät des Habsburgerreiches, und ein junger Ökonom war damals ebenfalls auf die Idee gekommen es doch zunächst einmal in der Provinz zu versuchen (Joseph Schumpeter). Diese Zeit lag fern, die Bevölkerung jener Stadt war vertrieben oder ermordet. Lydia hoffte dennoch dass nun, mit dem Ende des Kommunismus’ und der Sowjetunion, eines Tages auch die Ukraine zu einem neuen freien, demokratischen Europa gehören würde.
Rosa Zuckermann, mentor in Czernowitz
Und so hatte jede Generation hier Erinnerungen an den Fall von grossen Reichen. Melancholie lag auf der Stadt. Die Industrie war zusammengebrochen. Der grosse jüdische Friedhof der Stadt oberhalb des Prut war überwachsen. In der Stadt kannte damals kaum jemand Westeuropa – kaum jemand konnte reisen. Wir befanden uns dabei weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von der rumänischen Grenze entfernt, doch Rumänien zählte damals noch nicht zu Europa. Zu absurd die Grenze, zu arm das Land dahinter.
Zwei Jahrzehnte sind seit damals vergangen. Ich besuchte Lydia noch einmal kurz vor ihrem Tod mit meiner zukünftigen Frau – Lydia hatte mir zur Hochzeit geraten, sie war die erste Person, der wir von einer Telefonzelle vom Hauptbahnhof in Rom aus nach dem Heiratsbeschluss von unseren Plänen erzählten. Unsere Tochter heißt, nach ihr, Fanny Lydia.
Rosa besuchte ich später auch zu ihrem neuzigsten Geburtstag, eine 28 stündige Zugreise war dazu notwendig, aus Wien mit Umsteigen in Lemberg. Sie kam zu jener Zeit durch einen wunderbaren Film – Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann – in ihren letzten Lebensjahren zu einer gewissen Bekanntheit in Deutschland. Das amusierte sie sehr. Ich hatte sie und Herr Zwilling oft in ihrem kleinen Haus in der Klara Zetkin Straße besucht und tatsächlich sehe ich sie heute noch, winkend von ihrem Balkon beim Verabschieden, nach außen fröhlich und resolut, im Inneren melancholisch und besorgt.
Mittlerweile sind Lydia und Rosa beide auf dem überwachsenen jüdischen Friedhof von Czernowitz bestattet. Europa hat sich seit jenen Jahren dramatisch verändert.
Nicht nur Österreich, auch Polen und Rumänien sind der Europäischen Union beigetreten. Wer heute aus der Ukraine nach Polen blickt, kann die Veränderung dort oft kaum fassen. Ein Europa der offenen Grenzen, ohne politische Gefangene, kein Abholen von Kritikern des Nachts durch die Geheimpolizei, ohne Angst vor Kriegen, Revolutionen oder neuen Vertreibungen. Dieses Europa ist heute weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von Czernowitz entfernt an der rumänischen Grenze, die zur Grenze der Europäischen Union geworden ist. Und doch hat sich eines nicht geändert: die Ukraine gehört weiterhin nicht dazu.
Die politische Hoffnung der beiden jüdischen Freundinnen, eine europäische, demokratische Ukraine, sie ist bislang nicht in Erfüllung gegangen.
Will man verstehen warum im November 2013 erst Tausende, dann Zehntausende Menschen aller sozialen Gruppen und Generationen in Kiew auf die Straße gingen, um mit europäischen Fahnen in der Hand für ein Assoziationsabkommen zu demonstrieren, das kaum einer von ihnen im Detail gelesen haben dürfte, dann muss man sich die Verschiebungen der politischen Grenzen in Europa vor Augen halten. Ich vermute es gab nicht viele Ukrainer, die davon motiviert waren sich von Russland abzugrenzen, ein Nachbar der hier – auch bei Rosa und Lydia – viel weniger als Bedrohung empfunden wurde als in den meisten Ländern Mitteleuropas. Daher gab es auch in Umfragen bis zu den Protesten nie Mehrheiten für eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft der Ukraine, ganz anders als in Polen, dem Baltikum oder Georgien.
Was es gab, vor allem bei der jungen Generation, war ein wachsender Konsens darüber, dass die Ukraine sich nicht noch einmal zwei Jahrzehnte auf der Suche nach einem Sonderweg leisten konnte. Die Plünderwirtschaft großer Oligarchen, ein von Korruption zersetztes politisches System, eine Gesellschaft ohne Perspektiven, das Gefühl, vor verschlossenen Grenzen zu stehen … all das trieb viele einer Generation, die zum Zeitpunkt des Zusammenbruchs der Sowjetunion oft noch gar nicht geboren war, auf die Straße. Auch die Enttäuschung über das Versagen der letzten Proteste, der Orangenen Revolution 2004.
Als ich im Winter 2013 nach Kiew kam, bemerkte ich bei jungen ukrainischen Studenten großes Interesse an den Erfahrungen ihrer westlichen Nachbarn, Interesse selbst für die arme, kleine Republik Moldau, die die Ukraine auf dem Weg zum Erlangen der begehrten Visafreiheit für Schengen-Staaten überholt hatte. Und auch Angst, dass die Ukraine erneut den Anschluss zu verlieren drohte. Als schließlich Ende des Jahres auf russischen Druck hin ein schon zu diesem Zeitpunkt enorm unbeliebter, weil korrupter Präsident das Assoziationsabkommen mit der EU verweigerte, schien eine weitere Hoffnung auf ein irgendwann besseres Leben zu schwinden.
Tatsächlich waren die meisten der Demonstranten auf dem Maidan vor allem für eine andere Ukraine, eine europäische, ähnlich dem heutigen Litauen oder Polen, auf die Strasse gegangen (Von westukrainischen extremen Nationalisten, die niemals die Mehrheit stellten, einmal abgesehen). Was war auch die alternative Vision der Herren im Kreml, und ihrer ukrainischen Verbündeten? Warnungen vor einem dekadenten Westen, der ehrbaren Slawen die Homosexuellenehe aufzwingen wollte? Zumindest in dieser Frage stimmten Putin und ukrainische Nationalisten überein.
Der Kreml verhöhnte die EU, von der politischen Klasse in Moskau schon lange als impotent, künstliches Konstrukt, machtlos, dekadent, abgeschrieben. Doch bot Russland selbst keine Hoffnung. Mit einer Wirtschaft, deren wertvolle Rohstoffe Europa zwar auf dem Weg durch die Ukraine erreichten, deren Nutznießer ihren Reichtum dann allerdings sofort nach London, Paris, Wien oder Nikosia überwiesen. Dieser im westlichen Europa gelagerte Reichtum ist heute die Achillesverse, aber auch ein Machtinstrument des Kremls. Denn nun, nach der Besetzung der Krim, nach Ultimaten, Drohungen mit Einmarsch und Krieg und der Verletzung aller eingegangenen internationalen Verpflichtungen, die Souveränität der Ukraine zu respektieren, sind es auch wirtschaftliche Interessen, russische Milliarden, die Europa davon abhalten, auf das russische Verhalten entsprechend zu reagieren. Und das hieße: Druck auch auf die persönlichen Interessen der Herren im Kreml. Die von einer Wiederherstellung eines eurasischen Großreiches träumen, ihre Reichtum und ihre Familien aber in London oder Paris vor einem räuberischen Staat in Sicherheit bringen.
So kommt es heute in der Ukraine zu einem Aufeinandertreffen zweier Visionen. Da Herrscher, die unbeliebte Grenzen unter vorgeschobenen Argumenten mit Gewalt neu ziehen. Dort die Erfahrung von Integration und offenen Grenzen. Es geht um die Frage was die Werte der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention, später auch von Russland bei seinem Beitritt in den Europarat akzeptiert, heutigen Demokratien noch wert sind. Die heutige russische Elite fürchte – trotz ihrer Rhetorik – weniger die NATO als die Möglichkeit den eigenen Reichtum zu riskieren. Oder fürchtet gerade dies eben auch nicht: denn nicht nur ehemalige deutsche Bundeskanzler sind heute auf der Gehaltsliste kremlnaher Betriebe, sondern auch internationale Organisationen, wie der ebengenannte Europarat, wurden in den letzten Jahren von den Autokratien des Ostens unterwandert.
Dass es bei der Bewahrung dieser Werte letztlich um Zivilisation geht, um Sicherheit nicht nur für Ukrainer sondern für ganz Europa; das hätten Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann jedem jungen Europäer glaubwürdig dargelegt.
In recent months large numbers of Ukrainians braved first the cold, and then snipers, protesting and waving the blue star-spangled flag of Europe. This has angered leaders in the Kremlin and triggered the dramatic crisis over Crimea. It also left many in the EU confused how to respond. Should the EU, or future Ukrainian governments, withdraw their commitment to association and deeper integration in order to placate a grim and threatening Russia? Is Ukraine’s still undefined “European perspective” worth the risk of offending Russia?
In fact, by defending their right to ratify an Association Agreement with the EU – and the prospect for deeper integration in the future – Ukrainians kept open the single most promising path for a poor country like theirs to change their fate. Here is why.
Leave aside for one moment geopolitics. Focus on the situation of ordinary citizens, the lives of average households living between Lviv and Kharkiv. The most basic fact about Ukraine is that it is poor. In fact, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe; only Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are poorer. The Gross National Income per head in Ukraine is lower today than it is in Kosovo, which is the poorest country in the Balkans. See the table below:
Poverty gap: EU, Balkans and Ukraine
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate 2012
European Union (28 countries) Turkey Bulgaria (poorest EU member) Macedonia Kosovo Ukraine Georgia Moldova
Now look at the table below. It shows the forty-six richest countries in the world in 2012. The measure of wealth used here is Gross National Income per head (at market exchange rates, taking the average exchange rate over three years), using data published by the World Bank.
To be rich or poor is, of course, a matter of comparison. Here – following the example of Oxford economist John Kay – I take as a reference point the richest country in the world and consider countries to be prosperous if they have at least one eighth the Gross National Income per head of the frontrunner. In 2012 the richest country in the world was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark.
Table 1: The world’s richest countries in 2012
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
GNI per head between one half and
one quarter of Norway
GNI per head between one quarter and
one eighth of Norway
Netherlands Japan Austria Singapore Finland
Belgium Germany Kuwait (2010) France
United Kingdom Hong Kong SAR, China
United Arab Emirates (2011) Italy New Zealand (2011) Spain Israel (2011) Cyprus
A few things are remarkable in this list. First, most of the forty-six countries were already prosperous half a century ago (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia). The biggest exception to this is a group of petro-states (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain).
Most emerging economies are not yet members of this club: not China, not Brazil, not India, not Turkey. Russia barely makes the list. Becoming prosperous relative to traditionally wealthy countries is very hard. It takes decades of stable growth. Still only a minority of the world’s population lives in these prosperous states: in 2012 about 1.3 billion people, out of an estimated global population of 7 billion.
Second, note all the countries highlighted in bold in the list above. They are the members of the European Union: twenty-four of forty-six countries! Luxembourg and Malta (not included in this table because they have less than 1 million inhabitants), would also qualify as rich. This means that all but two of the members of the enlarged EU of twenty-eight are currently members of the club of the world’s rich countries. There are only two exceptions: Bulgaria and Romania. If the past is any guide, one should expect these two countries to join the club of the rich within another decade.
Third, the most promising strategy to become part of this exclusive club is to make the effort to join the European Union. To see this, compare the above 2012 list of the world’s richest countries with that of 2002 below. This list contains forty-one countries, home to 1.1 billion people.
In the decade between 2002 and 2012, Mexico and Lebanon fell out of the list of the prosperous. And only seven newcomers broke through: two petrol states (Russia, Venezuela); Chile; and four European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
In 2002 thirteen of the forty-one richest countries in the world were members of the EU. Even then, many of the newcomers, countries that appeared among the rich for the first time in 2002, had focused for years on joining the EU.
Table 2: The world’s richest countries in 2002
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
United Arab Emirates Denmark Sweden United Kingdom Netherlands
Hong Kong SAR, China Finland Austria Ireland Belgium Germany
Fifth, once an EU member joins the club of rich nations it remains there, despite severe crises later. Portugal, Spain, Greece remain in the club of the prosperous top forty. Other countries, which are on their own, such as Mexico or Argentina, have dropped out of the list.
Take the case of Greece. Its recent economic plight has been seen by some as evidence of the limits of the European Union’s ability to bring about convergence.
Here is the story of the Greek economy, seen through Gross National Income per head since 1980 (Greece joined the EU in 1981). Greece’s GNI dropped in the first years after accession, then grew sharply, most spectacularly after 2000. Between 2010 and 2012 it dropped again: but this is still (despite the obvious hardship) a crisis in a country that has remained one of the most prosperous in the world (and the richest in the Balkans by far).
Historically, rich countries have formed contiguous geographical blocks. This remains true. Growth spreads through intense contact and exchange between neighbours. Of course, proximity alone is not enough: policies and institutions must allow for integration, as common standards facilitate beneficial exchange (in EU jargon the adoption of the so-called “European acquis”). Integration also encourages mutual learning and economic interaction.
These tables have strong implications for enlargement policy. The protestors on Maidan, Kiev’s central square, were right: the most promising strategy for ordinary Ukrainians to live a better life is not to stay on the sidelines or to look East, as they had done since gaining independence in 1991, but to integrate with their Western neighbours.
EU integration is not a magic wand. In the case of Greece it has taken a generation to become prosperous. EU integration also does not prevent future crises. But as a generational strategy to catch up it has worked, again and again, for countries from the Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea. This is because it is a process based on openness and on meeting standards, on learning from the most successful economies in the world and on receiving feedback from them.
Ukrainians, like Finns or Austrians during the Cold War, might well decide to remain neutral in terms of military alliances. NATO is also unlikely to offer Ukraine the kind of security guarantee it has offered to the Baltic States. However, no one interested in the welfare and long-term stability of the Ukrainian people can expect them to renounce the possibility to follow in the path of Poland or the Baltic states when it comes to EU integration. This also holds true for Moldovans and Georgians.
This is not a matter of geopolitics, spheres of influence, or the prestige of leaders: it is about better lives for millions of households. No one can legitimately ask Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians to give up their European perspective just to please the Kremlin. It would be far too big a sacrifice, with consequences for the next generation.
This article is part of a research project on the future of Europe funded by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna.
The inspiration for the tables above came from Oxford economist John Kay, one of the leading economists in the United Kingdom. His website: www.johnkay.com. I also strongly recommend his book The truth about Markets for a stimulating introduction to modern economics for non-economists: www.johnkay.com/books.
 These tables omit countries whose population falls under 1 million people: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Bermuda, Brunei Darussalam, Cyprus in 2002 (but not in 2012), Equatorial Guinea, Greenland, Iceland, The Isle of Man, Malta, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao SAR (China), Malta, Palau, San Marino, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis. These tables also omit Qatar; although it has a population of over 1 million and its GNI per head in 2011 was 76,010. However, the World Bank has no GNI per head figures for Qatar for either 2002 or 2012.
 Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators: Size of the economy (population data for 2012) http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/1.1