“Straight out, the only reason why I ultimately decided to invest in Georgia is because the country undertook many of the reforms suggested by Doing Business.” (Hans Gutbrod)
A few weeks ago we wrote about the 2015 World Bank Doing Business survey: Pumpkins, outliers and the Doing Business illusion (4 November 2014). We looked in particular at countries we know well, Georgia and Macedonia, and at their astonishing rise through these rankings:
“In January 2013, one of Germany’s leading papers, FAZ, wrote a long article about our analysis on Georgia. And we set out to take a closer look at Macedonia. We focused on these two amazing results: how it was possible for Georgia to have a better business climate than Germany – not only for one year, but in consecutive reports, year after year – and how Macedonia managed to beat Switzerland.”
We also examined how the aggregate position in these rankings is generated. And we concluded:
“Overselling Doing Business can do harm, if it suggests that the key problems facing a country like Macedonia are easy to identify and to address without any real understanding of local comparative advantages or disadvantages, of existing businesses and industrial legacies. Doing Business authors argued that their research “defies the often used saying, ‘one size doesn’t fit all.'” This implies that it is straightforward both to diagnose the illness and to prescribe the right medicine. It remains true today, as it was in 2004, that Georgia and Macedonia have much more to learn from Germany and Switzerland (or Poland and Slovakia, countries in “Danubia”) than vice versa.
We started by noting that rankings are both useful and inescapable. This means that their authors have a responsibility to present the findings in such reports in a sober way. Here the Doing Business report still has some way to go.”
This is an important debate, all the more because rankings are inescapable. So we invited some experts we highly respect, who understand the region we discuss and the way the World Bank works, to comment on our findings, in order to launch a wider debate on the future of rankings in general and on Doing Business in particular.
The series starts with Hans Gutbrod, who has worked as a regional director for the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), covering Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. With CRRC, Hans has occasionally worked for World Bank projects, among 30+ other donors. He was not involved with Doing Business, and is not working on World Bank projects at this point. Next to working in policy research and on transparency issues, he co-founded an agriculture company in Western Georgia in 2009. Hans holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
If you are interested to contribute to this debate, please write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doing Business: The Path out of Kleptocracy – a response by Hans Gutbrod
The recent publication of the Doing Business report by the World Bank brought a new round of debate on the value of these rankings. As in recent years, critics have pointed out a number of methodological concerns, as has the European Stability Initiative. From my point of view, these criticisms are mostly misplaced. I think that I bring a perspective that can add to the debate: for more than six years, I ran a research organization doing many dozens of projects across the Caucasus and beyond. This research often grappled with how to quantify economic, political and social change. Together with colleagues, I have also set up rating systems that have received some degree of attention. Moreover, for more than five years I have been active in business in Georgia, setting up, with two Georgian colleagues, one of the first larger-scale export-oriented agriculture ventures. In other words, I have an understanding of social science methodology — and I have actually been doing business.
Straight out, the only reason why I ultimately decided to invest in Georgia is because the country undertook many of the reforms suggested by Doing Business. It’s easy to set up a company, the tax structure is clear, we have been fully compliant, and in an environment of significant political and geopolitical risks, we do not have to worry about cumbersome or predatory regulation. The flexibility of the labor code matters, too. It is so desperately difficult to make things work in these environments that — unless you have huge amounts of money, which I do not — you should be able to hire people quickly, without adding long-term cost burdens. We want our workers to commit, so we pay them a good salary. Our salaries are very significantly above minimum wage, for work that can be done in combination with other jobs. I am not saying that all businessmen take this approach. Yet the idea that little labor legislation automatically implies exploitation does not make sense, from my perspective. You get good work by paying a fair wage.
Small tweaks matter, too. Georgia allows its notaries to do transactions via Skype. If, prior to this reform, you have ever chased around Ottawa in a Canadian winter to get a permission to apply for water rights notarized (notary), apostilled (Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade), verified (local Georgian Embassy), and then shipped (DHL, at the cost of an expensive dinner for two) you will learn to value the kinds of reforms that Georgia undertook. Doing Business indeed highlighted that Georgia went on the right track.
Are the Doing Business indicators sufficient? No, of course not. But they are necessary. Let me unpack that argument: under the very government that undertook a number of excellent reforms, we were worried about heavy-handed tax police and about unchecked rogue elements in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. These excesses were not fully reflected by the Doing Business rankings. It is seen as a weakness of Doing Business that it does not fully account for such realities. At the same time, is this a fair criticism? Doing Business sells itself as focusing on the kind of business regulation that serves as an instrument for obstructing (and usually fleecing) entrepreneurs. Doing Business fulfills on that promise. Yet of course this angle only captures one aspect of the total business environment. It is, however, a critical angle, without which only the very rich, or the very well-connected, can get things done.
Doing Business has another desirable feature, one that is also the subject of criticism that ultimately is shortsighted. Doing Business creates many winners, in that it marks progress according to different categories. In that way, Georgia can do better than Germany, and Azerbaijan, otherwise not exactly a role model of reform, can also make progress. That is, of course, a sacrifice of rigor, but conversely an excellent application of research (or parental experience): if you want change, creating winners is an attractive strategy.
From what I have seen over the years, Doing Business is one of the best tools that the World Bank has come up with. It is extraordinarily powerful, in pointing in a direction that helps the world move away from kleptocracy. Not everyone in the World Bank is happy about this success, as departments that have not invented Doing Business want more attention for the concerns that they are seeking to advance. From their perspective, the methodological shortfalls of Doing Business are particularly glaring. And these concerns are relevant: it is likely that some (small) improvements to Doing Business are possible. Yet in this discussion, let’s keep the big picture in mind.
Doing Business helps to advance an important cause. If people have an even better system, it would be great to hear about it and to have spelled out how it works. But let’s understand all that Doing Business does before getting stuck on what finally are marginal quibbles. Actually doing business is not just about academic rigor, it is about creating opportunity and jobs in tough environments where those typically are in short supply.
Heading to Strasbourg this week – Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the EU
RIDDLE OF THE WEEK
Dear friends, here is a riddle to begin your week:
Why is Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani ambassador and head of its mission to the EU, heading for Strassburg this week for the next session of the European Parliament? Who will he meet and what will he try to achieve in the interest of his country?
Tomorrrow the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament will chose this year’s Sakharov Prize winner. One of the leading contenders is one of the most inspiring human rights activists in the world today: Azerbaijani Leyla Yunus.
There is support for Leyla Yunus across the different party groups. And there is growing concern in Baku. More and more of the great people held in its prisons today are being recognised for their courage and awarded international human rights prizes. Millions spent on lobbying firms, on invitations, on hosting events, on paying “experts” to say how oil matters more than a handful of prisoners … all undermined by a few human rights prizes?
The prospect of an Azerbaijani woman being named together with Nelson Mandela, Wei Jingsheng, Aung San Suu, Memorial, Reporters without borders or Malala Yousafzai should delight Azerbaijani patriots. Already being nominated as one of three finalists in 2014 is a huge distinction for Leyla Yunus.
We hope the Ambassador, heading to Strassburg, will spare a moment to read this latest letter by Leyla Yunus – in jail, separated from her husband, who is also held in isolation, as are so many of her fellow human rights defenders:
“They didn’t just arrest us as a married couple. By doing so they restored a “glorious” Stalin tradition. They indicted us to such a bouquet of fantastic accusations (even Yezhov and Vishinki would lag behind), including a life sentence… While in detention, I clearly understood their goal is not just the destruction, but brutal torture, insults, and physical torment, when death becomes the desired escape from the terrible suffering. This is our reality, and I clearly realize it. In other words, our work received the highest mark on the highest scale… Arif I feel so lonely without you! For 36 years we were shoulder to shoulder, and were hoping to celebrate our 40th anniversary but they are so afraid of us… Good Lord, how could a small, weak, sick woman scare the ruling government? With what?! I know you would say, “traveler will tell the Lacedaemon, that here we lie, true to the Law”. But I still think Leonidas had it easier, simpler… One of 300s.”
And perhaps he will reflect, as he meets these MEPs, about what really serves his country’s interest.
“… they know from their own experience in 1968, and from the Polish experience in 1980-1981, how suddenly a society that seems atomized, apathetic and broken can be transformed into an articulate, united civil society. How private opinion can become public opinion. How a nation can stand on its feet again. And for this they are working and waiting, under the ice.”
Timothy Garton Ash about Charter 77 in communist Czechoslovakia, February 1984
“How come our nation has been able to transcend the dilemma so typical of defeated societies, the hopeless choice between servility and despair?”
Adam Michnik, Letter from the Gdansk Prison, July 1985
We then studied the puzzle of increasing repression / decreasing criticism on the part of the Council of Europe, and the strange pattern of international election monitoring in Azerbaijan:
There have also been a number of newsletters – many making the case for greater support to Azerbaijani human rights defenders, arguing that their fate matters to everyone concerned about the future of human rights in Europe:
Thomas de Waal is one of the leading experts in the world today on the Caucasus, author of “Black Garden, Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War” and “The Caucasus: An Introduction” and a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. He also knows all the key actors in the region for decades, including Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, two of the most impressive intellectuals and human rights defenders in Europe today. The fact that both are in jail in the Azerbaijan of Ilham Aliyev tells you almost everything you need to know about this regime.
The Responsibility of a Politician: Leyla Yunus and the Heirs of Andrei Sakharov
Thomas de Waal
October 11, 2014
In 1989 during some of the most tumultuous days of perestroika, Andrei Sakharov stood up in the Soviet Union’s first popularly elected parliament, the Congress of People’s Deputies, and called for the end of the monopoly on power of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Sakharov was an influential voice, but also a lonely one, speaking amidst a cacophony of old Communist Party nomenklatura officials on the one hand and aspiring nationalists on the other.
At the same time, in the Soviet Union’s non-Russian republics, a few brave activists were inspired by the courage of Sakharov and others. They stepped forward and spoke out about the rights of their republics to win independence and achieve democracy.
These activists were strongest in the three Baltic republics and the three republics of the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In Azerbaijan, the struggle was especially difficult. The Communist Party apparatus clung tenaciously to power. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan had a radical nationalist wing that was ready to use violence. All the while the mutually suicidal conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh was heating up.
A small band of academics and intellectuals in the city of Baku were the first to talk about democracy, the first to warn about the dangers of “provocations” and the first to speak up about the defence of the Armenian minority still living in Azerbaijan. They combined courage with intellectual insight about where their republic was heading.
Leyla Yunus, a young historian, was one of that band, together with her husband, Arif, also a historian and scholar. Yunus was one of the half-dozen founders of Azerbaijan’s Popular Front, an organization that modeled itself on the Popular Fronts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, even as they knew how much harder the struggle was in their country.
As 1989 unwound, Leyla and her colleagues warned that two extremes–the dinosaurs of the Communist nomenklatura and the nationalist radicals–were feeding off one another in a dangerous game of bluff and provocation.
The sad culmination of these mutual provocations came in January 1990–Baku’s terrible “Black January” and the bloodiest episodes of Mikhail Gorbachev’s entire rule as Soviet leader. First the city’s remaining Armenians were subjected to pogroms and expulsion. Then Soviet tanks rolled in to the city, fired on apartment buildings and crushed demonstrators to death.
At the end of Black January, around 90 Armenians were dead and thousands had fled, 130 Azerbaijanis had been killed. Leyla Yunus spoke up again, this time in print. In an essay entitled “The Degree of a Responsibility of a Politician,” published in the journal Istiklal in April 1990, she described the situation with devastating clarity.
In the essay, she begins by praising the bravery of those who stood in the streets to face down the tanks in Baku:
They stood with linked arms. “Freedom!” The word rang over Communist Street, which would soon lose its name, along with so much that lost its meaning that night. They did not step away from the path of the armoured personnel carriers and tanks, whose tracks were already crimson with the blood of the people they had crushed on Tbilisi Avenue, Square of the XIth Red Army and other places. But even the bloodied tanks stopped before this never-before-seen unity. “Freedom!”
Yunus calls Moscow’s military intervention “red fascism”
Forty five years ago, practically unarmed–how much the armament campaign of 1941 cost us!–our people stopped the tanks of brown Fascism. On the night of January 20, the armour of red Fascism went through the streets of Baku–the very same Fascism which had crushed and overpowered the peoples of the Union after October 1917.
Until then, Leyla Yunus tells us, Azerbaijanis had been “lucky”–to a degree.
Our people saw this regime in April 1920 and experienced its charms most acutely in the 1930s. Fortunately, we did not meet the fate of the Crimean Tatars, Balkars or Volga Germans, who were deported wholesale in cattle cars to destruction. We did not lose our homeland as the Meskhetian Turks did. We did not lose a third of our population, as the Estonians did, we felt the famine of 1933-34 less than did Belarus or Ukraine. We were lucky enough to be spared Chernobyl. But all the rest that this prison-house order gave to our peoples we experienced to the full. Collectivization, the genocidal destruction of the intelligentsia, the economic theft of our riches, the transformation into a mono-cultural colony…
Only now, it seems, had Azerbaijanis woken up to the nature of the regime they lived under, but they should have known earlier…
Which of you, who threw away their Communist Party cards today, rejected the “Ruling and Guiding” Party in 1968 when our sons were sent to crush the Prague Spring? Which of you spoke out, when our boys were dispatched to Afghanistan?
Did it really have to take the rivers of blood spilled in beautiful Baku for every decent person to decide that it was morally unacceptable for him to stay in the ranks of a criminal party? There is an easy human explanation for this–it is one thing to hear and to know something, and another to see all the horror with your own eyes, to feel it on yourself. However, in my view, this epiphany which even today has come to too few people, came too late and cost us too much…
She rebukes the extreme nationalists of the Popular Front for fomenting hatred against Baku’s defenceless Armenians.
On January 13, on Freedom Square the rally was still continuing, and in the building opposite people were already assaulting Armenians. Woe, disgrace, dishonour came to our town.. The pogromshchik has no nationality. The looter and murderer does not have the right to belong to any people…
And she warns against those who want to soak Azerbaijan’s movement for independence in blood.
The responsibility of a politician is comparable to the responsibility of a doctor. In both cases lack of professionalism leads to death and injury. And if someone writes, “Sacrifice cleanses the nation! You know how much we needed this cleansing… ” it is absolutely clear to me where this patriot-politician can lead us.
Why, in the name of a falsely understood unity of the nation should we march like a herd, behind first one, then another organization, behind this “father-leader” or behind another one?
But she still hopes for the release of political prisoners and the triumph of democracy:
My greatest desire is to see the Popular Front of Azerbaijan as a single powerful organization speaking out from a position of democracy, defending with the help of lawyers today with human rights organizations everyone who has been arrested.
I dream of an overwhelming victory by the democratic forces of the Azerbaijani people headed by the Popular Front of Azerbaijan in the elections.
Our tree of freedom will not bloom soon, and we need to water it with reason and not with a pool of blood.
Leyla Yunus’ essay was so powerful, clear-sighted and morally cogent that it persuaded hundreds of young Azerbaijanis to support the country’s Social Democratic Party, which became the most progressive and democratic part of the opposition.
Leyla Yunus subsequently briefly served in the Popular Front government of 1992-3, where she was a moderating influence. In 1993 former Soviet leader Heidar Aliev returned to power as president of independent Azerbaijan. In 1996 she founded the Institute of Peace and Democracy. The list of issues they worked on was dizzying: rule of law, defence of those arrested, national minorities, land-mines. Later they founded Azerbaijan’s first women’s crisis center. In the mean time Arif Yunus was Azerbaijan’s foremost expert on a host of issues, including the plight of refugees and the rise of political Islam.
In recent years, under the presidency of Heidar Aliev’s son Ilham, Leyla and her colleagues were increasingly targeted by the authorities. They were called strident, aggressive and difficult. And they were.
In the past year, the situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated rapidly. The old nomenklatura mindset is back in full force. The list of political prisoners Leyla Yunus compiled—now including her and Arif—has 98 names on it. Most of them are secular pro-Western activists. In April, Leyla and Arif Yunus were detained at the airport as they were about to board an international flight. They were hit with all sorts of ludicrous charges, most notably–and with the scariest echo of Soviet times– espionage on behalf of the enemy, the Armenians.
In prison, Leyla Yunus, who has diabetes and other health problems, has been subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Arif Yunus, who has a heart condition, has been kept in complete isolation in the cells of the national security committee, the heir to the KGB.
In the same week, the Russian Ministry of Justice applied to have Memorial–Russia’s strongest human-rights organization and the winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize–shut down.
In 1989 and 1990, these people had a vision, even as they recognized with the same clarity all the dangers that lay ahead, the narrow path that needed to be trod between different forces, if the former Soviet republics were to achieve European-style democracy.
Now, unfortunately, 25 years later, in both Russia and Azerbaijan some of the worst fears are coming to pass. That increases our responsibility to support people like Leyla Yunus and Memorial, as they are punished for having that vision.
Here is a nice book for the summer: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation. Johnson writes:
“We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified tradition.
But ideas are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape. We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory, but in reality they’ve been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.”
Since good ideas are the results of networks, any think tank’s success to remain fresh and innovative over a period of time depends above all on the quality of its networks. Any series of interesting reports are the result of the effort of many individuals collecting spare parts, and many long nights trying to cobble them together.
This summer it is fifteen years since we set up ESI in Sarajevo in summer 1999. Since then we have been tinkering with ideas.
The real birthday: launch meeting in Sarajevo in summer 1999.
By now we have produced a few thousand of pages of writing under the ESI logo.
Are you still short of summer reading? Then take a quick look at any of these, perhaps one strikes your interest.
Some recommendations were picked up directly by decision makers. In 2001 we wrote a report – in cooperation with Martti Ahtisaari – recommending that the Stability Pact for South East Europe focus on regional energy integration; our second recommendation then, to focus on visa liberalisation, was picked up much later by the European Commission.
In 2002 we called for a big summit on the Balkans under the Greek EU presidency, advocating also that “the states of the Western Balkans could join Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey within the responsibility of a post-2004 Directorate for Enlargement.” And we worked closely with friends in the Greek foreign ministry at the time preparing ideas for the Thessaloniki summit.
For more than a decade we shared our writing experience with others: with ESI fellows, and in capacity building seminars to help new think tanks emerge, from Albania to Kiev. Quite a number have emerged, and prosper today.
In Kosovo we published on the impact of migration on households and families (Cutting the Lifeline), on economic development in Peja and Pristina, on the failure of privatisation and on the future of Kosovo Serbs, arguing against the Spirit of Lausanne. Currently we are working on schools and education policy in Kosovo.
All of this was possible because of donors who believed that by funding our research, they could contribute usefully to policy debates. Here are the five most important ones in recent years: ERSTE Stiftung. Open Society Foundations. The Swedish government. The UK government. And Stiftung Mercator.
If this inspires you and you want to join us as a Junior Fellow, please apply here! We look forward to hear from you. (In August the ESI office in Berlin handling applications shuts down. However, you can send in the meantime send any complete applications to me directly: email@example.com.)
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!
You have been involved in a major project titled “The White List Project” on visa liberalization for the Western Balkans and been credited for contributing to its success. Would you tell us about it?
I have lived and worked many years in Bulgaria and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I remember well the frustrations that the visa requirement brought, particularly for young people. For two decades governments and civil society in those countries complained about visa to the EU.
However, when we started our White List Project in 2006 we realized that you never obtain anything on such a sensitive issue by complaining. To lift visa you need enough votes in the EU Council to change the visa regulation! To get the votes you need to address the fears that EU ministers have about what happens after visa are lifted. If they feel that nothing bad will happen, if they feel they can trust a country, they will take the political risk.
And so we started to do research on how to reduce the risk. We even formed an advisory group of former interior ministers of big EU countries – Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom. When they said that there was only limited risk their colleagues would listen. And we started reaching out to public opinion, and hundreds of articles were written about the White List Project. And in the end this approach worked.
Will it also work with Turkey?
The latest I learned last week is that there is now a proposal on the desk of Foreign Minister Davutoglu that could work: a proposal how to respond to a recent offer by the EU to open a visa dialogue on liberalisation. It has the backing of key Turkish officials and experts, but would also be acceptable to the Commission. So a breakthrough is still possible this year. My hope is that there will be a visa liberalisation process starting in 2013.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the Demirkan vs. Germany case that Turkish citizens may not travel to EU countries without a visa to receive services. With this verdict, do you think the ECJ closes the doors for visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union member states?
No, I do not think so. One door has been closed by the ECJ: it is now clear that it will not be possible to obtain visa free travel for Turks through the courts. But another way, the one taken in recent years by all other countries of South East Europe, remains open, and that is to get rid of visa through a process of negotiations between Turkey and the EU, a “visa dialogue.” The sooner this process starts now, the better.
The image of many of these Balkan countries in 2008 in some EU member states was very bad. They were seen as a source of all problems: illegal migration, organized crime, instability. Each of these countries is small but remember: there were then an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants in the EU just from small Albania. No other region generated as many refugees to the EU in recent decades.
So the key challenge for the Balkans was to build trust, and the way to do so was through reforms, yes, but above all through contacts with EU counterparts, in the police, in customs, in interior ministries, on the working level. And so the Balkan governments made fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap a top priority. And then they surprised skeptics. When German or French interior ministry officials came to Albania or Macedonia as part of the visa dialogue to check what was happening, and left impressed by what they had seen, this was worth more than ten speeches on visa by a Balkan foreign minister.
What is the importance of the roadmap given to Turkey by the Council of the European Union at the end of last year toward a visa-free regime?
There is absolutely no reason that exactly the same happens in Turkey as happened in the Balkans if a visa liberalization dialogue would finally begin, which it has not yet! Sometimes I am told in Ankara that Turkey is different from the Balkans: it is bigger, there are more prejudices in the EU, etc …But in reality Turkey is different in a way that is good for Turkey: the per capita GDP in Turkey is higher than in allBalkan countries which had the visa lifted, including Bulgaria and Rumania. And the EU allows already now more than 1 million holders of Turkish green passports visa free travel and there are no problems.
The real difference between the Balkans and Turkey is how governments approach the visa dialogue. The Balkan countries took the roadmap, set out to fulfill the conditions, and made very effective advocacy to convince skeptics in Berlin and Paris and Brussels. Until now Turkey feels that the EU cannot be trusted and hesitates to even sit down. The other difference, of course, lies in the results of these two approaches: today all Albanians, Macedonians, Serbs travel without a visa.
What developments have occurred since the Council of the European Union gave the roadmap to Turkey?
More time has been lost. In the case of the Balkans the visa liberalization dialogue lasted 2, at most 3 years before visa were lifted. Turkey was presented a roadmap in summer 2012, but there is still no dialogue. The main reason is that Turkey does not want to sign a readmission agreement with the EU, something all Balkan and all East European countries have done. A readmission agreement commits Turkey to take back from the EU illegal immigrants who cross into the EU through Turkey.
There is a fear in Ankara that this might involve tens of thousands of people. But this is just wrong. We did a detailed study of all readmission agreements in the world that the EU has made and the total of all readmission cases every year for all of them together are a few hundred. Even if there would be 4,000 readmission requests to Turkey in a year – which I do not believe – this would not be a problem. Turkey arrested tens of thousands of illegal migrants inside Turkey every year and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrians. In addition for the first three years the readmission agreement with the EU does not require Turkey to take back more illegal immigrants than it wants to, there is a three year transition phase! So our recommendation is: Turkey ratifies this agreement, starts the visa dialogue, sees how many requests come, sets its own limit on how many it will accept. It should also set the EU a deadline: if by the end of 2015 we do not have visa free travel, we will cancel the readmission agreement.
Turkey was also expected to fulfill some conditions for visa liberalization including biometric passport, integrated border management and signature of the readmission agreement. Where does Turkey stand in regards to what it’s been expected to do?
There is a lot that Turkey has done, and there is a lot that remains to be done. Take integrated border management. It is in Turkey‘s own interest to control its borders well. There is a lot of experience on this in the EU. I just returned from Finland, which has a very long land border and a sea border with Russia, and a very experienced Border Service. Turkish border officials know the Finnish system, they studied it, but so far they were not able to carry out the same reforms. Why? Because it involves changing the roles of the police, customs and especially the armed forces which still do a lot of the land border control in Turkey. And no institution likes to give up any influence. So the result is that Turkey has good plans but still has a very inefficient system. This can change, easily. If Albania or Serbia can reform border management, Turkey can do it for sure! But it requires a political push from above. It must be a priority.
In an article titled “The Future of European Turkey” on June 17, written on the Gezi protests, you expressed concern about Turkey’s future and its EU integration. Would you share those concerns with us?
It is normal for a democracy to see protests over big construction projects: this happens in Germany, in Austria, even in Sweden. Sometimes, when police intervenes to stop protests there are clashes also in European countries. I have lived in Berlin, where this happens every 1 May. What shocked European observers about the handling of the Gezi protests was the unnecessarily aggressive response by the police. Even on 1 May you do not see the whole center of Berlin under a huge cloud of tear gas for weeks. What also surprised many observers was an official rhetoric that described all these protesters as “terrorists.”
When such events happen in the middle of the tourist season in the center of one of the most visited cities in Europe it is obvious that media interest will be huge and the Gezi protests were headline news for weeks. And if read what was written in European papers you see a consensus, from the right to the left, from Turkey’s oldest friends to the biggest skeptics, that this was very badly handled by the authorities.
What do you observe about Turkish government’s and Turkish citizens’ attitudes about their beliefs in regards to a common European future?
I see a paradox.
On the one hand there is a tradition in Turkey of distrust of outsiders, rooted in history, in the education system and in political rhetoric. Remember, already in the late 1970s there was a great opportunity for Turkey to join the European Community, together with Greece. Then it was the left and the right, Ecevit and Erbakan, who were opposed to submitting even an application. This skepticism can be found across the political spectrum, then, and now.
But on the other hand you have a new Turkey: the new middle class that wants their children to learn foreign languages, that wants to travel, the new entrepreneurs who want to expand and compete and upgrade their technology, the tourism sector that is now world class and sees many more opportunities, and millions of students who want to do what European students do, get on a cheap flight and visit other European countries for a few days. In all these groups people are also frustrated with the EU, but they see that in many ways Turkey is already part of an integrating Europe. Europe is where most foreign direct investment, most tourists, and most ideas come from, and Europe is where most Turks who live abroad live today. It is Europe, not Syria or Egypt, that is the stable partner. So there will be a common European future, because there already is a common European present. The real question is whether the new generation of Turks can experience the rest of Europe easily, which is why the visa obligation is such a problem. If there are more contacts between people there will be more trust. This happened between Poland and Germany in the past two decades, and it can happen between Turkey and the EU as well
To find our more: recent ESI publications on the Turkish Visa issue:
Just finished a new ESI Report. The full report will be put online later today on the ESI website. If you want it sooner please write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Lost in the Bosnian labyrinth Why the Sejdic-Finci case should not block an EU application
In December 2009 the European Court of Human Rights found – in its judgement in the case Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina – that the constitution and election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina violate the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols. Bosnia’s laws require that political candidates identify themselves as “Bosniak”, “Croat” or “Serb” in order to be able to run for president or become a member of the upper house of the state parliament. Behind the international interest in this case lies a strong sense of moral outrage. How can a country in today’s Europe prevent a Roma or a Jew from running for head of state? Is this not a racist constitution?
Four years have passed since the ruling. Bosnia’s constitution and election laws have not changed. In December 2010 the Council of the EU told Bosnian leaders that the implementation of the ruling was a condition for a “credible application” for EU membership. Since then, the EU has warned that if the issue is not resolved, it will block the country’s path to the EU.
On 1 October 2013 Bosnia’s most influential politicians travelled to Brussels and agreed on “principles for finding an agreement”. They set a new deadline for reaching it – 10 October 2013. However, it is possible that once again no agreement will be reached. The looming question for the EU then becomes: what next? In this paper we argue that the current EU policy of blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina over this issue is unfair and counterproductive. There are three reasons why:
– This is not an issue of institutional “racism”.
Apartheid South Africa had a racist electoral system. Bosnia does not. Neither does Belgium or South Tyrol, although in both countries legislation requires
citizens to declare a community affiliation for certain purposes, similar to Bosnia. However, only in Bosnia is the ethnicity of any individual not defined in
official documents. By leaving it up to any individual to determine how to self-identify – and allowing any individual to change this self-identification
in the future – the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium’s or South Tyrol’s. Unlike in Cyprus, it is also not tied to any objective criteria such as religion or the ethnicity of parents. In fact, in 2004 the EU endorsed community-based voting and praised the UN Annan plan for Cyprus based on the very principles that Bosnia’s constitution embraces.
– Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights.
The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency – the most complicated issue to resolve – is not a violation of any rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention, which extends the applicability of non-discrimination from “the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention” to “any right set forth by law”. This protocol has so far been ratified by only 8 out of 28 EU member states.
– This is not an issue of Bosnia systematically violating its international obligations.
Bosnia’s record implementing European Court of Human Rights’ decisions is better than that of most current EU members.
For all these reasons, non-implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision cannot justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. The very reforms that the EU expects from Bosnia have not been asked of other EU applicants, much less of its own member states.
The summit on 10 October in Brussels should be the last of its kind. The best case outcome would be that Bosnia’s leaders agree to a solution. However, if they do not, the EU should rethink its current policy and demand that Bosnia and Herzegovina implements this decision as part of wider constitutional reforms that it will undertake during the accession process itself. It should not be a precondition. Making it one was a mistake.
As the news comes out from Brussels from the latest “agreement” (on principles) how to move ahead in the Bosnia and Herzegovina – EU accession talks, and on the eve of a debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe tomorrow I gave an interview to a Bosnia paper. Here is the English version. I also discussed the issue a few days ago in another interview in Dnevni Avaz. A full ESI report analysing the issue is coming out this week.
The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat.
Interview with Gerald Knaus
Political representatives of Bosnia are meeting commissioner Fule to discuss the Sejdic – Finci issue. How do you see that issue and some models of resolving it?
This issue raises a fundamental question for the country: What does it mean to be a „Bosniak”, a „Croat“ or a „Serb“ in 21st century BiH? I do not think that the categories of Bosniak, Croat or Serb will ever disappear in Bosnia. I also do not believe the solution lies in creating a fourth millet, such as another caucus in the House of Peoples or a seat for „ostali” in the presidency. I think the very concept of „ostali” is strange and not very pleasant. The pragmatic way forward lies in changing the meaning of what is a Bosniak or a Croat or a Serb. For this you do not need foreign diplomats and political leaders finding ever more complicated formulas. It can be done by all citizens, including intellectuals and civil society – today.
How can people change this when politicians have failed to agree for so long?
The goal is a Bosnia where it is normal to be a Catholic Serb, an Orthodox Bosniak, or a Muslim Croat. It is normal today to be a Muslim German or a Buddhist French. The parents of David Alaba, the most prominent player on the Austrian national football team, are from the Philippines and from Nigeria. Yet he is Austrian. This is what modernity means: identities that are fluid, open to change. This is what nationalists in the past have always tried to suppress. But modern Europe has to have a place for Catholic Greeks, Christian Turks, and Muslim Austrians.
What does this mean concretely for Dervo Sejdic and Jakob Finci? Can they become president without constitutional changes?
Yes, of course. I hope they run for president in the next elections. I hope they redefine what it means to be Croat or Bosniak. If Jakob Finci would say, „Look, I do not feel Bosniak today, but in the Bosnia of the future a Jewish, secular, European Bosniak should be normal … and I contribute to this now.” There are German Roma, French Roma, Italian Roma, etcetera. There should be Croat Roma, and Serb Roma. This would implement Sejdic-Finci, transform the country and give hope to others who feel uncomfortable about narrow ethnic categories. And I would hope that many people vote for them.
Is the EU’s approach to Sejdic-Finci right or wrong?
I have heard some Europeans suggest that it only takes “a little bit of political will” to implement Sejdić and Finci. Have they forgotten how politics works in Belgium? Or in South Tyrol, where you declare officially whether you are part of the German, Ladino or Italian speaking community? Identity questions are always hard. People care about their identity, and to consider them and the politicians they elect backward or incompetent is a sign of arrogance.
Are there specific issues where the EU is not treating Bosnia fairly?
Let me be concrete. The Sejdic-Finci judgement on the presidency relies on the fact that Bosnia ratified Protocol 12 against all forms of discrimination in 2002. You know how many EU members have ratified the same protocol? Eight. The EU also says that it will sanction Bosnia because it has not implemented a particular ECHR judgement. I checked the situation at the end of 2011. Do you know how many court decisions Italy had not yet implemented? 2,500. Bulgaria? 340. Bosnia? 17. What the EU shoulddo is find ways to encourage Bosnia to accommodate all its different identities. The best way to do this is to open accession talks as soon as possible, and integrate Bosnia into Europe.
Recently you pointed out that there are some countries in the EU that have an even more flawed constitutional structure then Bosnia. If that is so, why do the EU and the Council of Europe insist on the Sejdic-Finci issue in case of Bosnia?
Look at Cyprus. It is an EU member. There are also Muslim Roma in Cyprus. Now imagine that Dervo Sejdic had been born there in 1956. Under the constitution of 1960 every citizen of Cyprus belongs to one of two national groups, the Greeks or the Turks. On account of his religion, Sejdic would have been placed on the electoral roll of the Turkish community. His family would have had no choice. But after 1963 members of the Turkish community were no longer able to vote in the Republic. So for his whole adult life Dervo Sejdic, a Cypriot, would not have been allowed to stand for office or even to vote.
And what did the EU do? It opened accession talks with Cyprus in 1997, and accepted it as a member in 2004. The European Parliament praised the Annan Plan, which included the same ethnic principles as the Cypriot constitution. It even suggested it as a model for other countries. And one month after Cyprus joined the EU the ECHR issued a judgement saying it was unacceptable for Muslim citizens of the Republic to be unable to vote! Bosnia today is already better than Cyprus, because in Bosnia you can freely chose your identity at eachelection. This is crucial, this gives this country the potential to move away from the Ottoman millet tradition and towards a modern society.
Nonetheless, the EU and the CoE are sending messages on their readiness to cut or curb relations with Bosnia if Sejdic-Finci is not resolved soon.
These threats are very unfortunate. A visa ban for Bosnian politicians? For all politicians, for all party leaders, for all parliamentarians who have not yet voted for constitutional changes? I find it hard to understand the logic behind these threats. Why should the Council of Europe punish Bosnia, but not Russia or Azerbaijan, which have dozens of political prisoners and no free elections?
The EU has to accept that identity issues are hard to resolve always and everywhere. In Belgium. In Northern Ireland. In South Tyrol. In Cyprus. ESI is publishing a new report on how the EU missed a step in Bosnia this week, and where we argue in favour of a different, more promising approach than empty threats.
Is it a time for a new EU approach to Bosnia? More engaged, less demanding?
To become a modern country that can join the EU Bosnia needs to fundamentally change its economy, its institutions, everything from schools to environmental policy. It also needs to respect all identities and be open to change. But the way to achieve this is to demand from Bosnia what the EU has demanded from other countries that wanted to join. I wish Bosnian politicians, when they are in Brussels next time, take time to go to a bar and decide that – whatever else they disagree on – they will submit an application for EU accession immediately, now, in 2013. I hope they tell the EU, with one voice: “If Serbia is ready for candidate status, if Cyprus is a member, if Turkey is having accession talks, then Bosnia is ready to submit an application.” And then, when they come home, I hope they prepare for a serious accession process to start next year.