7 October 2016

Sometimes a speech really needs no further comment. Here is Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, speaking on 15 March 2016, the Hungarian National day. All I did is to highlight  some passages in old. For the rest, please trust me: this is worth reading.


15 March 2015, Budapest – speech on the occasion of Hungary’s national holiday

“Salutations to you, Hungarian freedom, on this the day you are born!”

Ladies and Gentlemen, Compatriots, Hungarians around the World,

With a cockade sewn by Júlia Szendrey pinned to his chest, a volume of poems in his pocket, and the still thrilling experience of the Revolution in his head, these are the words with which the poet Sándor Petőfi welcomed the fifteenth of March in his journal. Salutations to you, Hungarian freedom, on this the day you are born! And today also, one hundred and sixty-eight years later, it is with unfettered joy, the optimism of early spring, high hopes and an elevated spirit that across the Carpathian Basin we celebrate – from Beregszász to Szabadka, from Rimaszombat to Kézdivásárhely: every Hungarian with one heart, one soul and one will.

Just as then in the decisive battles of the Freedom Fight, now also Hungarian hearts are cheered by the fact that we have with us a Polish legion. I welcome the spirited successors of General Bem: we  welcome the sons of the Polish nation. As always throughout our shared thousand-year history, now, too, we are standing by you in the battle you are fighting for your country’s freedom and independence. We are with you, and we send this message to Brussels: more respect to the Polish people, more respect to Poland! Greetings to you. It is a sign of the shared fate of Poland and Hungary that another glorious revolution of ours – that of 1956 – was born between the Bem Statue and Kossuth tér in Budapest. It rose up with the unstoppable force of our glorious ancestors, and by the evening it had dragged the Soviet generalissimo out of his boots.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


By nature, Hungarians stand up for what is right when the need arises. What is more, they fight for it if needs be, but do not seek out trouble for its own sake. They know that they can often achieve more through patience than through sabre-rattling. This is why those like us are rarely given to revolutions. We have only gone down that path twice in one hundred and seventy years. When we did follow that path, we had reason to do so: we felt that our lungs would burst if we could not breathe in freedom. We threw ourselves into it, and once we had started a revolution, we did so in style. Modern European history has preserved both Hungarian revolutions among the glorious memories of the world: two blazing stars, two national uprisings bursting forth in 1848 and 1956 from Hungarian aspirations and Hungarian interests. Glory to the heroes, honour to the brave. Chroniclers have also recorded the revolution of 1918–19, but the memories of that period are not preserved on the pages of glory; indeed, not only are those memories written on different pages, but they appear in a different volume altogether. The 1918–19 revolution can be found in the volume devoted to Bolshevik anti-Hungarian subversions launched in the service of foreign interests and foreign ambitions; it features under the heading “appalling examples of intellectual and political degeneracy”. Yes, we Hungarians have two revolutionary traditions: one leads from 1848, through 1956 and the fall of communism, all the way to the Fundamental Law and the current constitutional order; the bloodline of the other tradition leads from Jacobin European ancestors, through 1919, to communism after World War II and the Soviet era in Hungary. Life in Hungary today is a creation of the spiritual heirs and offspring of the ’48 and ’56 revolutions. Today, as then, the heartbeat of this revolutionary tradition moves and guides the nation’s political, economic and spiritual life: equality before the law, responsible government, a national bank, the sharing of burdens, respect for human dignity and the unification of the nation. Today, as then, the ideals of ’48 and ’56 are the pulse driving the life force of the nation, and the intellectual and spiritual blood flow of the Hungarian people. Let us give thanks that this may be so, let us give thanks that finally the Lord of History has led us onto this path. Soli Deo gloria!


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Not even the uplifting mood of a celebration day can let us forget that the tradition of 1919, too, is still with us – though fortunately its pulse is just a faint flicker. Yet at times it can make quite a noise. But without a host animal, its days are numbered. It is in need of another delivery of aid from abroad in the form of a major intellectual and political infusion; unless it receives this, then after its leaves and branches have withered, its roots will also dry up in the Hungarian motherland’s soil, which is hostile to internationalism. And this is all well and good.


A decent person who raises their children and works hard to build the course of their life does not usually end up as a revolutionary. The right-thinking person who stands on their own two feet and has control over their future knows that upheavals and the sudden upending of the ordinary course of life rarely ends well. The person of goodwill who seeks a life of serene and peaceful progress knows that trying to take two steps at once leads to you tripping over your own legs, and instead of moving forward, you will land flat on your face. And yet these right-thinking people of goodwill, these upstanding citizens of Pest instantly rallied to the call of our revolutions, marching at the front, right behind the university students. They formed the backbone of the revolutions and freedom fights, and they were to pay with their own blood for the honour of the Hungarian people. Every revolution is like the people who make it. On the committee which oversaw order during the 15 March revolution, in the shadow of the colossal figures of Petőfi and Vasvári, we find the furrier Máté Gyurkovics, and the button-maker György Molnár. Our revolutions were led by respectable citizens, military officers, lawyers, writers, doctors, engineers, honest tradespeople, farmers and workers with a sense of national duty: Hungarians who embodied the nation’s best aspects, our homeland’s very best. Hungarian revolutionaries are not warriors for hare-brained ideologies, deranged utopias or demented, unsolicited plans for world happiness; in Pest you find no traces of the illusory visions of quack philosophers or the raging resentment of failed intellectuals. The revolutionaries of 1848 did not want to salvage stones from the ruins of absolutist oppression in order to build a temple to yet another tyranny; therefore the Hungarian revolution’s songs were not written in honour of the steel blade of the guillotine or the rope of the gallows. Our songs are not sung by lynch mobs or execution-thirsty crowds; the Pest revolution is not a hymn to chaos, revenge, or butchery. The 1848 Revolution is a solemn and dignified moment in our history, when the wounds of the glorious Hungarian nation opened once again. Springing from constitutional roots, it demanded the granting and return of the rights seized from and denied to the nation. It is exhilarating, but sober; ecstatic but practical; glorious, but temperate. It is Hungarian to the core.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Three weeks before his death in battle, in his last letter to János Arany, Sándor Petőfi asked the following question: “So what are you going to do?” When we, his modern descendants, read this, it is as if he is asking us the same question. So what are you going to do? How will you make use of your inheritance? Are the Hungarian people still worthy of their ancestors’ reputation? Do you know the law of the Hungarians of old – that whatever you do should not only be measured by its utility, but also by universal standards? This is because your deeds must pass the test not only here, but also in eternity.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


We have our inheritance, the Hungarian people still exist, Buda still stands, we are who we were, and we shall be who we are. Our reputation travels far and wide; clever people and intelligent peoples acknowledge the Hungarians. We adhere to the ancient law, and also measure our deeds by universal standards. We teach our children that their horizon should be eternity. Whether we shall succeed, whether finally we see the building of a homeland which is free, independent, worthy and respected the world over – one which was raised high by our forebears from 1848, and for which they sacrificed their lives – we cannot yet know. We do know, however, that the current European constellation is an unstable one, and so we have some testing times ahead. The times in which we live press us with this question, which is like a hussar’s sabre held to our chest: “Shall we live in slavery or in freedom?” The destiny of the Hungarians has become intertwined with that of Europe’s nations, and has grown to be so much a part of the union that today not a single people – including the Hungarian people – can be free if Europe is not free. And today Europe is as fragile, weak and sickly as a flower being eaten away by a hidden worm. Today, one hundred and sixty-eight years after the great freedom fights of its peoples, Europe – our common home – is not free.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Europe is not free, because freedom begins with speaking the truth. In Europe today it is forbidden to speak the truth. A muzzle is a muzzle – even if it is made of silk. It is forbidden to say that today we are not witnessing the arrival of refugees, but a Europe being threatened by mass migration. It is forbidden to say that tens of millions are ready to set out in our direction. It is forbidden to say that immigration brings crime and terrorism to our countries. It is forbidden to say that the masses of people coming from different civilisations pose a threat to our way of life, our culture, our customs, and our Christian traditions. It is forbidden to say that, instead of integrating, those who arrived here earlier have built a world of their own, with their own laws and ideals, which is forcing apart the thousand-year-old structure of Europe. It is forbidden to say that this is not accidental and not a chain of unintentional consequences, but a planned, orchestrated campaign, a mass of people directed towards us. It is forbidden to say that in Brussels they are constructing schemes to transport foreigners here as quickly as possible and to settle them here among us. It is forbidden to say that the purpose of settling these people here is to redraw the religious and cultural map of Europe and to reconfigure its ethnic foundations, thereby eliminating nation states, which are the last obstacle to the international movement. It is forbidden to say that Brussels is stealthily devouring ever more slices of our national sovereignty, and that in Brussels today many are working on a plan for a United States of Europe, for which no one has ever given authorisation.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today’s enemies of freedom are cut from a different cloth than the royal and imperial rulers of old, or those who ran the Soviet system; they use a different set of tools to force us into submission. Today they do not imprison us, they do not transport us to camps, and they do not send in tanks to occupy countries loyal to freedom. Today the international media’s artillery bombardments, denunciations, threats and blackmail are enough – or rather have been enough so far. The peoples of Europe are slowly awakening, they are regrouping, and will soon regain ground. Europe’s beams laid on the suppression of truth are creaking and cracking. The peoples of Europe may have finally understood that their future is at stake: not only are their prosperity, their comfort and their jobs at stake, but their very security and the peaceful order of their lives are in danger. The peoples of Europe, who have been slumbering in abundance and prosperity, have finally understood that the principles of life upon which we built Europe are in mortal danger. Europe is a community of Christian, free and independent nations; it is the equality of men and women, fair competition and solidarity, pride and humility, justice and mercy.


This danger is not now threatening us as wars and natural disasters do, which take the ground from under our feet in an instant. Mass migration is like a slow and steady current of water which washes away the shore. It appears in the guise of humanitarian action, but its true nature is the occupation of territory; and their gain in territory is our loss of territory. Hordes of implacable human rights warriors feel an unquenchable desire to lecture and accuse us. It is claimed that we are xenophobic and hostile, but the truth is that the history of our nation is also one of inclusion and the intertwining of cultures. Those who have sought to come here as new family members, as allies or as displaced persons fearing for their lives have been let in to make a new home for themselves. But those who have come here with the intention of changing our country and shaping our nation in their own image, those who have come with violence and against our will, have always been met with resistance.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


At first, they are only talking about a few hundred, a thousand or two thousand relocated people. But not a single responsible European leader would dare to swear under oath that this couple of thousand will not eventually increase to tens or hundreds of thousands. If we want to stop this mass migration, we must first of all curb Brussels. The main danger to Europe’s future does not come from those who want to come here, but from Brussels’ fanatics of internationalism. We cannot allow Brussels to place itself above the law. We shall not allow it to force upon us the bitter fruit of its cosmopolitan immigration policy. We shall not import to Hungary crime, terrorism, homophobia and synagogue-burning anti-Semitism. There shall be no urban districts beyond the reach of the law, there shall be no mass disorder or immigrant riots here, and there shall be no gangs hunting down our women and daughters. We shall not allow others to tell us whom we can let into our home and country, whom we will live alongside, and whom we will share our country with. We know how these things go. First we allow them to tell us whom we must take in, then they force us to serve foreigners in our country. In the end we find ourselves being told to pack up and leave our own land. Therefore we reject the forced resettlement scheme, and we shall tolerate neither blackmail, nor threats.

The time has come to ring the warning bell. The time has come for opposition and resistance. The time has come to gather allies to us. The time has come to raise the flag of proud nations. The time has come to prevent the destruction of Europe, and to save the future of Europe. To this end, regardless of party affiliation, we call on every citizen of Hungary to unite, and we call on every European nation to unite. The leaders and citizens of Europe must no longer live in two separate worlds. We must restore the unity of Europe. We the peoples of Europe cannot be free individually if we are not free together. If we unite our forces, we shall succeed; if we pull in different directions, we shall fail. Together we are strength, disunited we are weakness. Either together, or not at all – today this is the law.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


In 1848 it was written in the book of fate that nothing could be done against the Habsburg Empire. If then we had resigned ourselves to that outcome, our fate would have been sealed and the German sea would have swallowed up the Hungarians. In 1956 it was written in the book of fate that we were to remain an occupied and sovietised country until patriotism was extinguished in the very last Hungarian. If then we had resigned ourselves to that outcome, our fate would have been sealed, and the Soviet sea would have swallowed up the Hungarians. Today it is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old and national. They will blend cultures, religions and populations, until our many-faceted and proud Europe will finally become bloodless and docile. And if we resign ourselves to this outcome, our fate will be sealed, and we will be swallowed up in the enormous belly of the United States of Europe. The task which awaits the Hungarian people, the nations of Central Europe and the other European nations which have not yet lost all common sense is to defeat, rewrite and transform the fate intended for us. We Hungarians and Poles know how to do this. We have been taught that only if you are brave enough do you look danger in the face. We must therefore drag the ancient virtue of courage out from under the silt of oblivion. First of all we must put steel in our spines, and we must clearly answer the foremost, the single most important question determining our fate with a voice so loud so that it can be heard far and wide. The question upon which the future of Europe stands or falls is this: “Shall we live in slavery or in freedom?” That is the question – give your answer!


Go for it Hungary, go for it Hungarians!


Filed under: Uncategorized — Gerald @ 5:14 pm
22 January 2016

Merkel Plan B – Der nötige Befreiungsschlag


Wenn der türkische Premierminister Ahmet Davutoglu diese Woche nach Berlin kommt geht es um viel: die Zukunft europäischer Asylpolitik, die Glaubwürdigkeit Deutschlands in der Flüchtlingskrise, und die Frage, ob Angela Merkel einen Plan hat, der funktionieren kann. Regierungschefs in Europa beschuldigen Merkel sie habe Hunderttausende „eingeladen“ und wisse nicht weiter. Ehemalige Verfassungsrichter und Bundeskanzler beklagen Planlosigkeit. Dabei hat Merkel einen Plan: er beruht auf der Erkenntnis, dass sich Kontrolle über Europas Außengrenze nur in Zusammenarbeit mit der Türkei zurückgewinnen lässt. Dafür muss die EU der Türkei etwas bieten: die geregelte Übernahme von Flüchtlingen, Finanzhilfen, Visumfreiheit. Dafür setzt sich Merkel seit Oktober ein.

Hat sie sich geirrt? Nichts deutet darauf hin, dass sich 2016 weniger Menschen über die Ägäis auf den Weg machen werden als im letzten Jahr. Oder dass weniger Kinder ertrinken werden. Dennoch ist die deutsche Kanzlerin ihren Kritikern voraus. Wer deren Alternativen durchdenkt, erkennt, wie wenig Substanz sie haben. Manche träumen von einem Zaun nach israelischem Vorbild an der deutsch-österreichischen Grenze; oder von Australien, wo Flüchtlinge, die über das Meer kommen, auf Inseln gebracht werden. Doch der israelische Zaun wird von Soldaten mit Schussbefehl bewacht; der Bau hatte Jahren gebraucht. Und die EU hat im Gegensatz zu Australien keine Nachbarn wie Nauru, wo sie Flüchtlinge absetzten könnte. Von rechtlichen, politischen, moralischen Fragen einmal abgesehen: wie das „Schließen“ der Grenzen Deutschlands praktisch aussehen solle sagen Merkels Kritiker nicht.

Denn Merkel hat grundsätzlich recht: wenn Europa die Kontrolle über seine Grenzen wiedergewinnen will, geht das nur mit Hilfe der Türkei. Doch ihre Kritiker haben auch recht, wenn sie an der derzeitigen Strategie zweifeln. So wie man sich in Brüssel die Zusammenarbeit mit Ankara vorgestellt hat wird sie nicht gelingen. Versprechen sind zu vage. Es fehlt an Vertrauen und an klaren Signalen.

Und auch an Realismus. Selbst wenn türkische Politiker etwa regelmäßig versprechen, die Ägäis für Migration schließen zu wollen, wird ihnen das nicht gelingen und es genügt auch nicht zu versichern, dass sie „sich bemühen“. Notwendig ist eine Zusammenarbeit zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei wie es sie noch nie zuvor gab. Die Türkei müsste sich bereit erklären, jeden Flüchtling, der die griechischen Inseln erreicht, zurückzunehmen. Dafür gibt es schon das griechisch-türkische Rücknahmeabkommen; es ist kein rechtliches, sondern ein politisches Problem. Denn es fehlen noch zwei Voraussetzungen: die Türkei müsste im Einklang mit dem griechischen Recht ein sicherer Drittstaat sein, und dafür ihr Flüchtlingsgesetz, das seit 2014 in Kraft ist, umsetzen und bereits gestellte Asylanträge im Land sofort bearbeiten. Und Griechenland müsste sich logistisch vorbereiten, um jeden, der etwa nach dem 31. Januar Lesbos und andere Inseln erreicht, in die Türkei zurückschicken zu können. Das wäre sinnvoller als Hotspots für die Verteilung von Flüchtlingen aus Griechenland in andere EU Staaten, denn letzteres würde an der Zahl der Ankommenden nichts ändern. Die Planung müsste heute beginnen. Dafür bräuchte Athen Hilfe und die erklärte Bereitschaft der Türkei. Dann ginge es um zählbare Ergebnisse: wie viele Asylverfahren werden in der Türkei abgewickelt? Wie viele Leute werden von Griechenland jeden Tag zurückgenommen? Die Umsetzung türkischer Zusagen könnte man täglich überprüfen.

Warum sollte die Türkei darauf eingehen? Hier kommt Deutschland ins Spiel. Es ist unvorstellbar, dass die Türkei in den nächsten Monaten jeden Flüchtling, der Griechenland erreicht, zurücknehmen wird ohne konkrete, substantielle und sofortige Hilfe. Es fehlt in Ankara an Vertrauen in die Zusagen der EU, und dafür gibt es gute Gründe. Von den drei

Milliarden Euro Hilfe für Flüchtlinge ist nichts zu sehen. Das Versprechen auf Visaliberalisierung ist unverbindlich. Der Plan, Kontingente von Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei aufzunehmen, ist derzeit so wenig glaubwürdig wie der blamabel scheiternde Plan 160,000 Flüchtlinge innerhalb der EU zu verteilen. Bei der Kontingentlösung versteckt sich Deutschland hinter der Europäischen Kommission, und diese hinter dem Flüchtlingskommissariat der UN. Man kann eine richtige Idee auch durch schlechte Planung ad absurdum führen.

Denn auch hier gilt: Versprechen genügen nicht. Wenn Deutschland will, dass die Türkei ab dem nächsten Monat Flüchtlinge zurücknehmen soll, dann muss Deutschland bereit sein in diesem Jahr hundertausende Syrer direkt aus der Türkei aufzunehmen. Das kann gelingen, wenn deutsche Behörden dies direkt mit den Behörden in Ankara planen. Dafür bedarf es weder der Europäischen Kommission noch der UN. Merkel könnte Davutoglu anbieten, in einem ersten Schritt bis April 100,000 anerkannte syrische Flüchtlinge direkt aus den türkischen Flüchtlingslagern aufzunehmen. Diese sind bereits erfasst, man kennt ihre Nationalität, es kämen Familien, nicht nur Männer, und man könnte die Fingerabdrücke mit europäischen Datenbanken abgleichen. Dann könnte die Türkei täglich zählen, wie viele Flüchtlinge ihr abgenommen werden. Es gibt auch keinen guten Grund, warum Deutschland oder Schweden ihren Anteil an den 3 Milliarden Hilfe nicht direkt über nationale Organisationen ausgeben sollen, ohne Umweg über Brüssel. Es geht darum Schulen und Kliniken für Flüchtlinge noch in diesem Jahr zu bauen, Lehrer zu bezahlen. Wo Vertrauen fehlt, wie heute zwischen Ankara und der EU, müssen konkrete Resultate dieses erst aufbauen.

Bedeutet dies, dass sich Deutschland damit von einer notwendigen Reform des europäischen Asylwesens abwendet? Nein, im Gegenteil. Eine solche Reform kann nur gelingen, wenn die akute Krise unter Kontrolle ist. Erst dann kann Berlin fordern, dass ab jetzt in jedem Jahr bis zu 100,000 Flüchtlinge, die die EU erreichen, verteilt werden, als Preis für Schengen und Ersatz für das Dublin-regime. Dies entspräche der Anzahl von Menschen, die vor 2014 im Durchschnitt jedes Jahr die EU Außengrenzen überwunden haben. Gelingt es Merkel aber nicht in den nächsten Wochen einen Plan zu entwickeln, der Ergebnisse zeigt, dann führt dies zum weiteren Erstarken jener Kräfte in der EU, die das Asylrecht überhaupt abschaffen wollen; jener die gegen Flüchtlinge, die EU, die Türkei, für Putin und gegen Muslime agitieren.

Deutschland, Europa und die Türkei brauchen einen Merkel Plan B. Darüber müssen Merkel und Davutoglu reden. Davon muss Berlin Ankara überzeugen.

Filed under: Border revolution,Germany,Greece,Refugees,Turkey,Uncategorized — christian @ 1:23 pm
29 November 2015

How the November refugee summit can fail – and how to get a deal that works

In recent days ESI presented versions of this paper and these arguments to European policy makers. 

Gerald Knaus speaking at the OSCE expert panel. Photo: ESI

Presenting ESI proposal at OSCE expert panel in Warsaw

On Sunday 29 November the EU and Turkey will meet at an extraordinary summit in Brussels. The objective of this meeting is to make commitments that will stop the unregulated influx of currently more than 200,000 refugees per month into the EU from Turkey.

There are two ways in which this summit might fail. One would be the absence of any agreement. Since this would send a bad signal to the publics in EU member states, every effort will be made to avoid this.

However, there is a second way in which the summit can go wrong. It is even more dangerous. This is a scenario where the EU and Turkey agree on a deal, but merely set the stage for failure in the coming months, because the influx of refugees coming into the EU from Turkey will not be reduced. Both sides will then blame each other. Frustration will erode already abysmally low levels of trust. Precious time will be wasted and it might become harder to reach a workable deal later.

For the EU to avoid such a “disastrous success” on Sunday, member states need to understand why neither the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan (from 15 October) nor the current draft statement to be agreed on 29 November will make any significant difference to the flow of refugees. The devil really lies in the detail.


What is wrong with the current draft statement

The current draft concluding statement for the Sunday summit has eleven paragraphs. What do they contain?

There are many references to aside commitments for Turkey and the EU to “meet and talk” more – at regular annual summits; at regular political dialogue meetings; at regular high-level meetings on thematic issues; at regular Association Council meetings; at a meeting at the end of 2016 to upgrade the existing customs union. More meetings and talking might be good, or bad, or meaningless, depending on the results, but it does not change things on the ground, and certainly not in the short term.

This leaves four “substantive” paragraphs: one on visa liberalisation and readmission; one on accession talks; one on EU financial assistance for Turkey; and one on “activating” the October 2015 EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan. To see why these measures will make no real difference to the flow of refugees in the Aegean, let us take a closer look at each.

Visa and readmission

The EU and Turkey launched a formal visa liberalisation process in December 2013. The goal of this process is to remove the requirement for Turkish citizens to obtain a visa for short (up to three months) visits of the EU’s Schengen zone as tourists or for business.

According to the EU roadmap on which this process is based, Turkey has to meet 72 requirements to qualify for visa-free travel. In an October 2014 assessment the European Commission found for 27 requirements that Turkey was “far from meeting this benchmark” or that there were “no particular positive developments to address them.”[1] (see below)

There was always a simple principle: once Turkey meets the conditions of the visa roadmap (at least as much as other countries from the Balkans did who received visa liberalisation in recent years) the Commission will propose to lift the visa requirement.

At present the EU and Turkey aim to agree on the following this Sunday:

“The European Commission will present a second progress report on the implementation by Turkey of the visa liberalization roadmap by early March 2016.”

The European Commission will “present its third progress report in autumn 2016 with a view to completing the visa liberalisation process i.e. the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by October 2016 once the requirements of the Roadmap are met.”

Note: this does not add anything to what was always the case! It was always true that the European Commission would ask member states to lift (by a qualified majority) the visa requirement once the requirements of the roadmap are met. There is no “concession” here. Nor is there any commitment by member states on how they will vote on this in October.

Which raises the question: would it not be better for the EU to see Turkey meet all criteria by March 2016? Especially if this is essential to reduce the flow of migrants across the Aegean?

In return for this non-concession, Turkey is expected to do something that looks superficially important but that will also make no difference:

The EU and Turkey “agree that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement will become fully applicable from June 2016.”

A track record of implementation of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is one of the 72 conditions in the visa roadmap. The readmission agreement states that Turkey is to take back all third country nationals three years after the entry into force of the readmission agreement, which will be on 1 October 2017.

However, what does it really mean if Turkey agrees to make it “fully applicable” from June 2016? What will be the concrete impact on movements in the Aegean? Most people who reach the EU through the Greek islands are Syrians. Anyone who reaches the EU and applies for asylum cannot be returned to Turkey unless their asylum application is processed and rejected (i.e. they are found to be “economic migrants”, the language the draft statement uses). In 2014, only 5 percent of Syrian asylum seekers were rejected across the EU. Now the rejection rate might be even lower. The rejection cognition rates for other nationalities reaching the EU in high numbers, Afghanis and Iraqis, were also low in 2014.

This significantly reduces the number of people that could be returned. An asylum procedure is usually also a lengthy process since asylum seekers rejected at first instance can appeal and are allowed to stay until the court makes its decision. This often takes a year or more.

There is another problem. Very few migrants apply for asylum in Greece. They apply in Germany or Sweden or other EU countries further north. However, if they reach these countries through the Western Balkans, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement no longer applies. It requires that persons to whom it is applied “illegally and directly entered the territory of the Member States after having stayed on, or transited through, the territory of Turkey” (Art. 4). Those who take the Balkan route enter the EU “directly” from Serbia, not Turkey.

In fact, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is unnecessary. What really matters is that Turkey already has a readmission agreement in force with Greece since 2002. Between 2002 and the end of last year, Greece asked for the readmission of 135,000 irregular migrants. Turkey accepted 13,100 of these, and in the end 3,800 (3 percent) were returned to Turkey. In 2015, Turkey has accepted more requests. But so far, only 8 people have actually been returned to Turkey this year – by the time Turkey is ready to admit them, they are usually no longer in Greece.[2]

Readmission of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey

Year Migrants whose readmission Greece requested Migrants accepted by Turkey Migrants actually readmitted
2012 20,464 823 113
2013 3,741 370 35
2014 9,691 470 6
Jan-Sept 2015 8,727 2,395 8


This means concretely that the full entry into force of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement in summer 2016 does not add anything to what the Greece-Turkey readmission agreement already provides for. It does not apply to those who apply for asylum and are waiting for the decision. It does not apply to those who obtain asylum. And legally it does not apply to rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrant who have reached EU territory after transiting through the Western Balkans.

As currently formulated, the commitments to visa liberalisation and readmission appear strong and raise expectations but are in fact weak and inconsequential. They set the stage for another round of mutual recriminations, acrimony and disappointment. And they will not change the dynamic of refugees crossing the Aegean.

Accession process “acceleration”

At the summit, the EU will also commit to open one chapter in the EU accession talks, in December. This sounds good, but what does it actually mean?

Note that this does not actually constitute an “acceleration” of Turkey-EU accession talks. More than one decade after the start of the accession talks, 14 out of 34 negotiating chapters have been opened.  In the first five years (2005-2010), 13 chapters were opened; in the second five years (2010-2015) 1 chapter was. Now 1 more will bring the total number to 15. This is still an excruciatingly slow process.

Note also that this is the only commitment concerning enlargement that the EU is planning to make. While there is “language” (as diplomats might say) referring to five other chapters, which have been blocked by Cyprus for many years, all the EU promises here is that the Commission will do “preparatory” work “without prejudice to the position of member states”. In plain language this means that the preparatory work may lead to nothing at all if Cyprus maintains its blockage.

In fact, the problem goes deeper. What does opening a chapter in December mean for Turkish citizens? The chapter concerned is “Economic and monetary policy” (chapter 17). One of the main issues that the chapter covers is the independence of central banks.

According to the recently published 2015 Turkey Progress Report, the past year has seen “increased political pressure on the central bank [which] undermines its independence and credibility.” Will this change just because the chapter will be opened? For the Turkish government, having influence on the central bank is convenient. Maintaining it comes at no cost as long as there is no real prospect of joining the EU. But carrying out reforms is acrtually the only real way for Turkey to “reenergize” the EU accession process. Everything else is political theatre.

Financial assistance

 The EU also promises money for the refugees in Turkey:

“The EU will provide immediate and continuous humanitarian assistance in Turkey. It will also expand significantly its overall financial support.

A Refugee Facility for Turkey was established by the Commission to coordinate and streamline actions financed in order to deliver efficient and complementary support to Syrians under temporary protection and host communities in Turkey.

The EU is committed to provide an initial 3 billion euros of additional resources from the Union’s budget and contributions from Member States. The need for and nature of this funding will be reviewed in the light of the developing situation.”

Note: the money is not yet available, even though the EU is committed to mobilising it and working on it. 500 million are to come out of the EU budget and 2.5 billion from member states. If and when they will provide this sum of money is unknown. Member states have also committed to increasing funding for the EU’s Syria Trust Fund, which addresses the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey and other countries of the region. Since September, they have pledged only 49 of 500 million.[3]

The Refugee Facility will become operational on 1 January 2016. A Steering Committee will provide strategic guidance, coordinate with other funding mechanisms, and decide on which actions will be financed. Turkey will be represented on this committee in an advisory capacity.[4] This is commendable. Many Syrian refugees in Turkey are in need of humanitarian assistance, and many of their children are in need of school education; only 200,000 of the 700,000 school-age children actually go to school, due to the language barrier and limited capacities of Turkish schools.

However, even if the education problem were resolved and all Syrian refugees in need received humanitarian aid, would this convince them to stay in Turkey? Many refugees are looking for a place where they can start new lives after many years of waiting – where they can work (in Turkey they are not allowed to), re-train if needed, where there is assistance if they do not find a job straight away, where their children receive good education, which offers them a long-term perspective. In this regard, Germany will remain more attractive in many ways.

The language in the current draft declaration on what Turkey promises to do in order to offer a credible perspective to Syrians in the country remains vague and general (“…Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”). This will not keep any Syrians from moving to the EU.


Activating the joint action plan

There is one more point in the statement that promises more than it can deliver:

“Turkey and the EU have decided to activate the Joint Action Plan that had been agreed until now ad referenda on 15 October 2015, to step up their cooperation for support of Syrians under temporary protection and migration management to address the crisis created by the situation in Syria. The EU and Turkey agreed to implement the Joint Action Plan which will bring order into migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration.”

How the joint action plan will help to stem irregular migration is not really explained. The draft statements mentions three specific points, all vague. One is cooperation on “economic migrants”:

“As a consequence, both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on economic migrants, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU, ensuring the application of the established bilateral readmission provisions and swiftly returning economic migrants to their countries of origin.”

The problem is obvious again: in order to determine who is an economic migrant, an asylum procedure must be completed. How many asylum applications can Greece deal with, and how long will this take? Germany with a huge administration has been able to issue 32,000 decisions on asylum in October. If Greece takes too long this will not have any “immediate effect.”

There is also the – vague – promise to improve the condition of Syrians now in Turkey:

“Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”

Finally, there is the commitment every EU country makes in every similar statement, from Greece to Croatia to Slovenia, fighting people smugglers. It is not clear why Turkey should be more successful in this endeavour than any other states in South East Europe, in particular since everyone who travels to Greece and is stopped is able to try again until it works.


A deal that works: Merkel Plan 2.0

In recent weeks ESI analysts presented an alternative plan in many European capitals (Berlin, Brussels, Stockholm, The Hague, Vienna, Warsaw). This was an elaboration of the Merkel Plan which ESI published on 4 October:

  1. The European Council on Sunday invites the European Commission to begin right away the process of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkey. This legal process will necessarily last a few months. It should hold out a concrete promise to Turkish citizens: “If Turkey implements the existing readmission agreements with Greece and Bulgaria in full and agrees to take back all new arrivals to these two countries from 1 January 2016, and implements a concrete set of other priority conditions from the roadmap till March, then Turkish citizens will be able to travel without a visa to the EU from 1 April 2016.”
  2. Turkey’s new asylum authority will start to issue decisions in response to asylum claims already in December. Following this Greece declares that it will consider Turkey a safe third country from 1 January 2016.
  3. Turkey and Greece, with support from others (Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office and other EU countries) prepare logistically for Greece to send back refugees to Turkey after 1 January 2016.
  4. Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and other countries in a coalition of the willing commit to take large contingents of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. The process of identifying refugee families will begin on 1 January 2016. The first refugees will leave Turkey in parallel to the first readmissions from Greece in early 2016.
  5. If this readmission to Turkey proceeds as planned, the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the European Parliament will vote in March in favour of lifting the visa requirement for Turkish citizens. The decision becomes effective on 1 April 2016.
  6. The EU and Turkey immediately conduct a joint needs assessment to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees in Turkey, with a focus on ensuring education for all school-age children (currently 500,000 out of 700,000 Syrian school-age children do not go to school). They identify the number of teachers needed, where they can be found, which buildings to use for classes, which equipment and textbooks are necessary, and how much all of this will cost. EU assistance will be visible to the Turkish public. In parallel Turkey will propose a gradual opening of the labour market to Syrians who enjoy protection in Turkey.


[1]             European Commission, Report on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap, 20 October 2014.

[2]             Data provided to ESI by the Hellenic Police.

[3]             European Commission press release, State of Play: Measures to Address the Refugee Crisis, Member States’ financial pledges since 23 September 2015, communicated as of 27 November 2015.

[4]             European Commission press release, EU-Turkey Cooperation: A €3 billion Refugee Facility for Turkey, 24 November 2015.

Interview with Gerald Knaus on "Quer". Photo: ESI

Interview on refugee issue on German TV

Filed under: Border revolution,Migration,Refugees,Sweden,Turkey,Uncategorized,Visa — Gerald @ 11:05 am
20 June 2015

Pro-Europe Greece

When the Syriza government fails this must not mean that the only alternative are the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.

There are pro-European and pro-reform Greeks who will make their voice heard. And there would be a huge reservoir of good-will across Europe for a Greek government that is serious about reforms, does not blame outside forces for its problems and really designs credible reform strategies to replace inchoate reforms proposed by foreigners.

Imagine the next Greek prime minister speaking like this, in Athens as well as in Berlin, in Thessaloniki as well as in Brussels, and also in Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Bratislava:

“As you all know Greece is going through an excruciating financial crisis. Under these conditions we need common sense …

… in Greece we are still hesitant to liberate the administration from the rule of the politicians. We are all embedded in a culture which resists the separation between politics and administration.

In the Greek state as a whole, this is the most important reform which is desperately needed. Unfortunately, in reality it has not advanced much.

The current system of a strikingly unreliable administration tends to reproduce itself. And this is clearly the responsibility of both the Greek government as well as of the EU since it hasn’t touched upon this during the last 34 years.

I dare to say that reforms and changes are not enough in the case of the Greek state. We need to revamp the state and its mentality almost from scratch! A new political culture needs to emerge in order to host a genuine separation of powers within the state.

The current institutional framework under which we operate is excessively centralist and any effort of decentralisation has proved to be inefficient. We are still unable to cooperate effectively with the private sector and increase our productivity. An inextricable web of laws determines the framework within which we are forced to operate.

The state needs to stop being hostile to its citizens. We need a government that will stop fooling citizens and proceeds immediately to some common sense action.

Greece is going through a crucial phase. After the biggest recession ever experienced by a developed country in the post-war period, people are in despair.

Political forces must form a united front on certain fundamental issues – like the state’s modernisation – and negotiate from a better position the country’s future.

The view that we can resort to excessive public spending in order to revive the prosperity of the past is not only surreal; it also ignores the current balance of power in our continent.

In order to distribute wealth you need to create favourable conditions in order to produce it. Unfortunately, there are too many Greek politicians suggesting that sustainable growth can come without radical reforms but in some magic way.

What Greece desperately needs, is radical transformation of its state which can in turn bring change to its political culture. This will be our task.”

PS: Note: this speech was actually delivered by a Greek politician in 2014. A politician who was elected on this platform in 2010 and reelected in 2014 in Greece’s second biggest city.

” … we have an obligation to act in order to preserve Greece’s stability and prosperity. This can only be attained within the Eurozone and the EU. In the unfortunate event that things will go astray, we should all unite and protect the people’s well-being from irresponsible political manoeuvring. Greece cannot afford to waste more time and consume itself in endless and irrational political conflict. I will do whatever I can in my power to avert this. If we manage to pass the dire straits of the immediate future, I am hopeful that our country will enter a phase of creative reform and sustainable growth. Greece has demonstrated in the past and Greeks have demonstrated abroad that if they work under decent conditions, they can definitely thrive.”


See also: ESI essay: Greece: The good news from Greece – Can Thessaloniki point the way?

Filed under: Europe,Greece,Uncategorized — Gerald @ 6:26 pm
20 October 2014


Heading to Strasbourg this week – Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the EU



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.

Leyla’s letter is here: http://www.meydan.tv/+y231z

More about the Azerbaijani mission to the EU is here: http://www.azembassy.be/?options=content&id=12

“Today the people of Azerbaijan, comprising various ethnic and religious groups, are working towards developing a modern and democratic state with free market and solid social institutions.”

And these are the members of the Conference of Presidents who will decide on the winner of the 2014 Sakharov Prize tomorrow:

President of the Parliament: martin.schulz@europarl.europa.eu

European People’s Party (EPP, 221 members): Manfred Weber (Germany) – manfred.weber@europarl.europa.eu

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 191 members): Gianni Pitella (Italy) – gianni.pittella@europarl.europa.eu

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, 70 members): Syed Kamall (UK) – syed.kamall@europarl.europa.eu

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE, 67 members): Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium) – guy.verhofstadt@europarl.europa.eu

Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE, 52 members): Gabriele Zimmer (Germany) – gabriele.zimmer@europarl.europa.eu

Greens/European Free Alliance (50 members): Rebecca Harms (Germany) and Philippe Lamberts (Belgium) rebecca.harms@ep.europa.eu – philippe.lamberts@ep.europa.eu


BACKGROUND – ESI on Azerbaijan 

ESI’s work on Azerbaijan started with this publication on “Baku’s Facebook Generation” in 2011 – and the inspiring quotes on the tradition that has influenced young Azerbaijani’s since, the great Central and East European dissidents:

“… 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 been quite a few press reactions to “Caviar Diplomacy”. But there have not been nearly enough reactions on the part of the Council of Europe and other institutions.

We have also focused on the issue of political prisoners – in Azerbaijan and across Europe.

Recently we made a strong case to support Azerbaijani human rights defenders in jail:


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:











14 October 2014

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.

Tom wrote the following essay as part of our advocacy effort to convince the European Parliament to give Leyla Yunus the 2014 Sakharov Prize. She is already among the top three, a huge honour and recognition of her work. The final decision will be taken later this week.




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.

For her commitment to European values and human rights, Leyla Yunus was nominated for the 2014 Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament. Her condition and her heroism were recognized by four heirs of Sakharov: three dissidents who had worked with Sakharov, Sergei Kovalyov, Lyudmila Alexeeva and Svetlana Gannushkina and by Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial.

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.


26 July 2014

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.”

(if you are looking for an interesting short article to read this weekend, try this: The Genius of the Tinkerer.)

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.

Highlights and Disappointments over 15 years

Some of our reports have shaped debates: Islamic Calvinists. The European Raj. Caviar Diplomacy.

There have been some successful campaigns, such as our Visa White List Project. Or helping highlight injustices committed against ordinary Bosnian police officers. Or helping Turkey obtain a visa liberalisation process.

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.

Since 2007 we pushed for visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans, later including Moldova and Turkey. We organised a meeting with Balkan NGOs for a coordinated campaign in Novi Sad in October 2007. And pushed the idea of making this a major focus in COWEB in Brussels at the invitation of the Slovenian EU presidency in January 2008.

Since last summer we are working on how to make the current pre-accession process and methodology more effective and inspiring.

We had many disappointments. Advocating solutions for Mitrovica. Arguing for an Economic Development Strategy for Kosovo in 2004. Advocating for a change in Council of Europe policy on Azerbaijan.

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.

Since 1999 we produced many reports on Bosnia. Some widely debated: Bosnian Power Structures (1999). A state building agenda for Bosnia (2000). Making Federalism Work (2004). Post-Industrial Society and the Authoritarian Temptation (2004). A Bosnian Fortress (2007). Bosnian Visa Break Through (2009). Lost in the Bosnian Labyrinth – on Sejdic-Finci (2013).

We worked a lot on Macedonia: Ahmeti’s Village – on the political economy of Albanian-Macedonian conflict (2002). The economic crisis in the borderlands (2005). The need to give Macedonia candidate status in 2005. Recently the loss of credibility of the European Union today: Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje.

In Turkey we focused on issues ranging from the position of women in society (Sex and Power, 2007) to Turkey-EU relations (A very special relationship, 2010); from the Turkey debates in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany to murders and campaigns against missionaries; from the Erasmus generation (2014) to trials of military (in Kafka’s world, 2014)

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.

In Georgia we studied reforms and a libertarian revolution, a topic picked up by many other scholars. We looked at the genocide debate and Armenian-Turkish relations. We also did work on Montenegro. On Croatia. On Albania. On Slovenia. On Bulgaria. On Romania. On Serbia.

Finally, we produced documentaries, seen by millions of people on public and private television stations in more than 10 countries: these included 12 films in the series Return to Europe.

(Please check out our new country pages with links to all our work here – reports, picture stories, films)

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.

Thank you to Yana and Max

Two analysts are leaving us this summer. Both joined us as junior fellows: Yana Zabanova five years ago. She has since worked on a huge number of different ESI reports. And Maximilien Lambertson half a year ago. For their reflections on this experience go here.  Many many thanks!

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: g.knaus@esiweb.org.)




Filed under: Books,How ESI works,Uncategorized — Gerald @ 10:35 am
6 May 2014

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.

ESI has written a lot on this issue recently – and I have written on it here a few days ago.  We will publish more in the coming weeks.

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:

Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, Mahammad Azizov, Reshad Hasanov,  Rashadat Akhundov, Uzeyir Mammadli, Zaur Gurbanli, İlkin Rustemzade

Date: 01/05/2014

To the Baku Court on Grave Crimes


Dear Court,

Dear trial participants,

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!


NIDA trial


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!

Rashadat Akhundov

Rashad Hasanov

Uzeyir Mammadli

Zaur Gurbanli

Ilkin Rustamzade

Bakhtiyar Guliyev

Shahin Novruzlu

Mammad Azizov


Filed under: Azerbaijan,Europe,Human rights,Uncategorized — Gerald @ 11:22 am
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