12 October 2014

Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki

Sometimes you meet a person that is a force of nature. A person of convictions, with the modesty that comes from true charisma and the confidence that comes from not having to pretend. A person inspiring others by personal example, making words like engagement, citizenship and dignity shine in all their splendour. Somebody who makes you feel proud to belong to their generation. And who makes you wonder whether you are really doing enough yourself.

In recent weeks I felt this sense of awe working on old and new European dissidents. Meeting Khadija Ismayil and other human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, has this effect. So does rereading the writings of Havel, of the Russian Memorial generation of human rights defenders, of Adam Michnik and other Poles of his generation.

And so does meeting the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, to talk about what is possible in local politics at a moment of deep crisis. In a city shaped by decades of deep conservatism and fear of neighbours, from the Cold War to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and later. 72 years old, chain-smoking, with an ear-ring and tatoos, for decades a succesful entrepeneur, a recovered alcoholic, a long time civic and environmental activists, and now twice elected mayor of Greece’s second city.

I have come here this Sunday at the invitation of the Navarino network, a local civic organisation which has worked for a long time to open Thessaloniki to the world. I am to speak about the state of the Balkans in 2014, about false confidence and complacency.

I tell the tragic story of Soviet dissidents like Sergei Kovalev, who went to jail under Brezhnev, then became government human rights officials, and in 2014 face renewed pressure from their state. It is a tragic story with no happy end, with Russia like that fabled creature from Greek mythology, the Ouroboros: a snake that devours itself. Often history is like this. Too often.

Ouroboros – societies sometimes resemble this ancient creature,
devouring themselves

 I also speak about what Greece – and Thessaloniki – might do to prevent future vicious circles in the Balkans. In the end  I present the ESI proposal for how to address the name dispute with Macedonia.  (see in the annex of this report:  Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje. A fictional conversation on trust and standards and a plea on how to break a vicious circle) The only – encouraging – reaction I get from a big auditorium full of Thessaloniki dignitaries and young people is one comment: “Greece is ready to do this, do you think Skopje is ready?”


Then I meet with Boutaris for an interview. This was already a rich and memorable Sunday. It only got better.

Boutaris explains the value of civic engagement, voluntarism and how he strives to make his city embrace a multiethnic past. He explains how even conservatives silently tell him that they approve of his open support for gay pride … though lack the courage to say so openly. He explains why opening to Turkey, Israel and Jews across the world is vital for his city, given its history. And why having a Holocaust museum (at a cost of an estimated 25 million Euro, the design has already been done) will be so important.

How he is happy to have a Durres Park in the city now, and hopes to build many more links with other Balkan cities. How reaching out to Izmir is vital – proposing to have “days of Izmir” in Thessaloniki, and “days of Thessaloniki” there. Why having a Muslim cemetary is the most obvious thing in a city like Thessaloniki. How “Turks are our bothers and Europeans are our partners.” And how, as a Vlach, he recognises the common regional heritage when he visits the village of his ancestors in today’s Republic of Macedonia near Krusevo.

He explains how it is possible to cut the public administration (from 5,000, when he came into office in 2011 to 3,500 today) and reduce the deficit, while moving towards green urbanism and a different traffic policy. How he is encouraged that the number of bicycle shops has gone from 2 to more than 20 in a few years. And how much remains to be done.  How he has worked to encourage budget flight connections and direct links by ferries to his city, with increasing success. How this has resulted in sharply rising numbers of foreign visitors.

How his political goal is to make people proud of this, their liberal and open city. With the new slogan “I love my city and adopt my neighbourhood.” How he hopes city employees will be able to walk in the streets and citizens will respect them for their honesty and competence.

Remember: this is Greece, the EU country in its deepest economic and social crisis in decades. This is the country where the self-proclaimed fascists of Golden Dawn won 16 percent in recent local elections in Athens. With a prime minister who made his name by fostering nationalism in the early 1990s. A country all too often described in the foreign press as a hopeless case, a patient at best, an ungrateful recipient of aid at worst.

But this is also now the Greece of Boutaris and the cosmopolitanism of the new Thessaloniki.

When he became mayor, he tells me, Thessaloniki had a number of big taboos, including Turkey and the Jewish history of the town (where Jews were the largest ethnic group until 1912 and the port was closed on the Sabbath). Not long ago the City Council declared Mark Mazower, author of the great book Salonica, symbolically a persona non grata – for having described the multiethnic past of the city. This was the time when the local bishop called on people not to vote for Boutaris.

Now Boutaris looks forward to the day when citizens of Thessaloniki will be proud of the history of their city, as described in Mazower’s book. The book ends with the observation, true for all of Europe:

“As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the largest learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures may require other pasts.

The history of the nationalists is all about false continuities and convenient silences, the fictions necessary to tell the story of the rendez-vous of a chosen people with the land marked out for them by destiny. It is an odd and implausible version of the past …”

As Boutaris tells it, being open to the past and to others is simple good sense: “if you accept differences, life is better”. This explains his support for gay pride in this orthodox city, and how he sees attidues changing. He talks about this priorities for the second term: moving towards a green city, a city in which “rich people are proud to take public transport” instead of poor people required to have a car.

When we made the 2008 ESI film on Thessaloniki Boutaris was still in opposition. Now he has been twice elected. The first time by the narrrowest of margins (some 300 votes). The second time with a clear and strong majority and 58 percent. In some elections ever single vote matters. Civic engagement matters. Having convictions matters. And fighting for them for decades can bring results.

If Bosnia had just one mayor like this in one of its big cities, ideally young and full of eneregy, so that he or she could then go on to show what is possible: the country might be a different place If only Greece or Turkey had more independents, former entrepreneurs and social activists, entering politics like this.

Thessaloniki, thank you for the inspiration. It is great to be back.


PS: Some further reading:

Thessaloniki’s exemplary revival:

“The mayor’s greatest legacy, however, may be the city’s much-improved performance in tourism. However, his unconventional approach has made him some enemies among traditionalists. Between end-2010 and end-2013, Thessaloniki achieved 19% growth in tourist arrivals according to data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), compared with a decline of 13% for Athens over the same period.

To a great extent, this has been achieved through approaching a “traditional enemy” such as Turkey as a potential tourism market, leading to allegations that the mayor was “serving foreign interests”. Mr Boutaris is unapologetic about his bid to present Thessaloniki as a Balkan “melting pot”, stressing the city’s multi-ethnic history, a place where Greeks, Turks, Jews and Slavs lived together until the upheavals of the early 20th century, when the Turks left, the Greeks from Asia Minor arrived and the Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. The attraction of Thessaloniki to Turkish visitors stems from the fact that it is the birthplace of Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish state. In addition, the Boutaris administration has made much of the fact that for centuries Thessaloniki had a large and vibrant Sephardic Jewish community. In broadening the city’s tourism profile, a previously rather claustrophobic city is starting to become a more open one, embracing its multicultural past.

The rebranding of Thessaloniki based on this new perception of its past has managed to increase the influx of visitors from Turkey and from Israel. Overnight stays at the city’s hotels increased during the past four years by 226% for Turks and 358% for Israelis, reaching 80,000 and 50,000, respectively, by the end of 2013. Coinciding with a period of deepening national economic crisis, the tourism revival has been welcome. The shift in public opinion in the city has been radical, and previous detractors now firmly support a similar rapprochement with all neighbouring countries … “

Meeting the Mayor


Presenting on the Balkans in 2014



7 October 2014

While European institutions are finally recognising the heroism of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – thus making clear that their struggle is of global significance – every single political prisoner so far rewarded remains in jail. Our attention needs to shift to the only real prize: to get international institutions and states to act and to sanction.

It is time for a really broad-based campaign … targetted not the authorities in Baku, who are beyond shame, but human rights institutions betraying human rights defenders. Note: Azerbaijan, the current chairman of the Council of Europe, holds in its jails today the men and women winning or considered for the very highest prizes in the field of human rights in the world. And so far the Council of Europe – including its general secretary – acts as if this has nothing to do with them.

Mr. Jagland has issued a press release on the events in Ferguson, Missouri … how about issuing a press release congratulating Anar Mammadli, the winner of the Vaclav Havel Prize 2014, who used to work with the Council of Europe, and is in jail today?

Mr. Jagland has met the Azerbaijani president already three times in recent months. How about cancelling all participation of the Council of Europe secretariat in events in Baku until there is news about the situation of Ilgar Mammadov … who is in jail, but disappeared more than a week ago, has no contact with lawyers … and who also worked for and with the Council of Europe? Or until Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and so many other human rights defenders are released?

Mr Jagland: if you think doing nothing remains an option for your institutions you underestimate the strength and moral purpose of the broad-based coalition that is currently emerging across Europe.

The case of Leyla Yunus

Here is the most recent email ESI sent to all the members of the European Parliament who decided on 7 October 2014 on the final short list of three candidates for the 2014 Sakharov Human Rights Prize.

Now that Leyla Yunus has been chosen, these arguments remain valid as the European Parliament will chose the 2014 winner.   


Honourable Member of the European Parliament,

Today you will decide on the finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize 2014.

We appeal to you to give your vote to Leyla Yunus – on behalf of all other human rights defenders and dissidents in Azerbaijan. Almost 100 of them are imprisoned like Leyla (see this list), the others face a chilling wave of repression.

These Azerbaijanis stand in the tradition of those who fought for human rights during Soviet rule. Distinguished Russian activists, some of them former political prisoners, underline this in a joint letter to the European Parliament that was published last week (available in English andRussian). Three of them – Lyudmila Alekseeva, Sergei Kovalyov and Oleg Orlov – shared the EP’s Sakharov Prize in 2009.

Oleg Orlov, Lyudmila Alekseeva and Sergei Kovalyov receiving the Sakharov Prize 2009

 Oleg Orlov, Lyudmila Alekseeva and Sergei Kovalyov receiving the Sakharov Prize 2009

Photo: European Parliament

Your vote for Leyla will be a vital sign to Azerbaijan’s besieged human rights community that they are not alone.

It will be a sign that the European Union, led by the Parliament, does not close its eyes to repression anywhere on our continent.

It could be crucial also for this generation of human rights defenders. The fate of Leyla, one of the most respected human rights activists in the country, is telling. Prison conditions in Azerbaijan are appalling. At age 58, Leyla suffers from diabetes and has caught a flu in her cold cell. She has been repeatedly beaten. Last Saturday, her lawyers stated that her health “has extremely deteriorated” and “that there is no guarantee that Leyla will survive until the end of this year”.

The authorities are now going after the handful of remaining lawyers who defend human rights defenders, and torture has returned to jails in Azerbaijan.

There is hardly any news of Leyla’s husband Arif Yunus, a historian and peace activist, who was arrested in early August, a few days after Leyla, and is held at a facility notorious for torture of inmates.

Leyla and her husband Arif Yunus, both imprisoned by the Azerbaijani authorities

Leyla and her husband Arif Yunus, both imprisoned by the Azerbaijani authorities

For 10 days, there has been absolutely no news of Ilgar Mammadov. All food parcels sent to him by his family have been turned down. The director of the Council of Europe’s School of Political Studies in Baku intended to run against President Aliyev in the elections in October 2013, but was arrested beforehand and sentenced to 7 years in prison last March. The European Parliament demanded his immediate release already last year. Lately he announced that he faces serious pressure to write an open letter of apology to the government. Then he disappeared.

Ilgar Mammadov
Ilgar Mammadov

The “crime” of Mammadov, the Yunuses and the other Azerbaijani political prisoners is their desire for a pluralist society, for respect of human rights, for peace – for the values on which the EU has been built.

Azerbaijan is member (currently even chair) of the Council of Europe. It has accepted the Paris Charter for a new Europe. It is formally committed to all the norms on which Europe’s post-cold war order is built. To watch one regime dismantle all civil liberties with impunity and make any human rights work impossible, and to let it happen, creates a terrible precedent. It undermines the norms on which European security rests.

Today you can take a step to prevent it from happening.

With the very kindest of regards,

Gerald Knaus

Gerald Knaus,
Chairman of European Stability Initiative (ESI)


Attachments area
Preview attachment Memorial – Letter to the European Parliament – Sakharov Prize Leyla Yunus 2014 – EN.pdf

Memorial – Letter to the European Parliament – Sakharov Prize Leyla Yunus 2014 – EN.pdf

Leyla Yunus for 2014 Sakharov Prize


29 September 2014

Azerbaijani human rights activist and defender of the right to free and fair elections, Anar Mammadli, is the 2014 winner of the Vaclav Havel Prize.

This is a promising, fair, and even courageous decision by the jury members in charge of awarding this prize, for it also highlights a dramatic failure – by the very institution on whose behalf this prize is awarded, the Council of Europe (CoE).

It is imperative that the Council of Europe act now, following this strong signal. At the very least the following should happen immediately:

  • All activities of the Azerbaijani chairmanship of the Council of Europe should be boycotted or suspended until Anar Mammadli (winner of the 2014 the Havel Prize winner) and Ilgar Mammadov (former chair of Council of Europe School of Politics and, according to ECtHR, a political prisoner) are released. It is unacceptable that a Council of Europe chair is under serious suspicion of systematic repression.
  • The secretary general of the Council of Europe should appoint a panel of respected European judges to examine the list of Azerbaijani political prisoners and reports by eminent human rights organisations, and report back to the Committee of Ministers (CoM) of the Council of Europe and to PACE with their findings.
  • Members of the Committee of Ministers in the CoE should sternly warn Azerbaijan about its treatment of prisoners, and demand full and unconditional cooperation with international monitors, including full access for outsiders to visit prisoners, given the serious allegations of abuse.

Awarding Anar Mammadli with the Vaclav Havel prize is a strong signal and critical first step. But without further action by the Council of Europe, handing out an award is meaningless – and will definitely not save this institution’s soul. Recent months and this award have also made it obvious just how far the Committee of Ministers, PACE, and the Secretariat have diverged from their original mission to protect and ensure human rights.

The time to correct this is now.

Anar Mammadli


Background on why the Havel Prize 2014 was given to the right person

In recent months, it has become obvious that the Azerbaijani government has decided to finish, once and for all, any opposition in the country.

New NGO laws make the critical work of civil society organisation impossible. Dozens of NGOs have had their bank accounts frozen, including those with grants by the European Union. Staff members of human rights organisations are in prison, in hiding, or expecting criminal charges. International organisations such as Transparency International, Open Society Foundations, NED, NDI, IREX, etc. have not been spared in this onslaught. Reports and accounts of torture in jails are multiplying. Monitoring mechanisms have long since broken down. Recently, a UN team sent to investigate cases of torture had to cut its visit short due to obstruction by the Azerbaijani authorities.

It is obvious that the Aliyev regime expects to get away with all of this, emerging unscathed. The government in Baku ignores the occasional complaints, viewing them as no more than a nuisance, (a non-binding resolution in the European Parliament here, another report or statement from an NGO there). Azerbaijan’s government rests assured that when senior officials from Western Europe and the United States come to visit, the issue of human rights remains very low on their agenda.

In this regard, the failure of the mechanisms within the Council of Europe is particularly disheartening. Ever since PACE rejected the January 2013 resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan (See: Azerbaijan debacle: The PACE debate on 23 January 2013), all dams have burst:

  • There were the arrests of NIDA activists in 2013, who were detained for protesting violence against conscripts in the military. The young activists were sentenced to jail-terms of up to 8 years – on the very day Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in May 2014. (See: NIDA’s “Live not by Lies” Baku Court Speech – May 2014)
  • There was the arrest of Ilgar Mammadov, who was head of the Council of Europe School of Politics at the time of his arrest. Mammadov was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March this year. The fact that his case has been identified as a politically motivated by the ECtHR has not made any difference.
  • There was the arrest and sentencing of Anar Mammadli, the former advisor of the rapporteur on political prisoners, arrested just before the UK Foreign Secretary arrived in Baku in autumn 2013.
  • Then this past summer came the arrests of Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov – the very people who coordinated Azerbaijan’s civil society to draw up a comprehensive list of political prisoners – despite the risk and despite lack of support from the Council of Europe. Almost immediately after releasing this list, Leyla, her husband, and Rasul were all arrested. (The list is a document of shame: www.esiweb.org/thelist)

These prominent arrests are only the tip of an iceberg. The government is blackmailing activists and journalists with sex tapes, pressuring their family members (who end up losing jobs or are threatened with arrest themselves), illegally seizing files related to cases brought to the ECtHR, and intimidating and threatening the few remaining lawyers who still take on political cases. And all of this is happening while Azerbaijan holds the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

Additionally, PACE appointed Spanish PP member Pedro Agramunt as the new rapporteur on political prisoners. Agramunt is a man who has solidified his reputation as an apologist for the government in Baku, speaking out and voting against the adoption of a standard definition of political prisoners, presented in 2012. (See: Showdown in Strasbourg: The political prisoner debate in October 2012). Agramunt also voted against a January 2013 resolution that would have addressed the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaiijan — a resolution that Anar Mammadli helped prepare. The appointment of Agramunt as rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan adds insult to injury. (See also: A Portrait of Deception. Monitoring Azerbaijan or why Pedro Agramunt should resign).

A debate on the recent wave of repression has emerged within the Committee of Ministers recently. However, there has been no serious reaction by member states in the CoM or by the secretariat. It seems that everyone is waiting for the end of the Azerbaijani chairmanship, hoping that by then the limited interest in Azerbaijan’s human rights record will dissipate completely.

Perhaps the government will even release one or two political prisoners (its carousel policy), and claim that the “mechanisms” of protection are indeed working. However, as long as the Aliyev government is allowed to continue its repression, it may eventually succeed in destroying one of the most courageous human rights movements in Europe. Furthermore, with the 2015 parliamentary elections – and another corrupt and unfair electoral process – the authoritarian consolidation will have been completed.

Will awarding Anar Mammadli the 2014 Vaclav Havel prize mark the point at which the Council of Europe becomes aware of what is actually occurring – the capture of an established European institution tasked with protecting human rights – and start changing? One can only hope so.

Ilham Aliyev

More reading on this crisis:

Filed under: Azerbaijan,Council of Europe — Gerald @ 2:08 pm
11 September 2014

She – they – deserve a prize from the EU. But which prize should it be?

Celebrate the courage of Euromaidan! Honor its activists! Support democratic Ukraine! Remind Europeans everywhere just how important events in the largest country of Eastern Europe are for the future of the continent.

These are all things the European Union and the European Parliament can and should do. They have many tools at their disposal to do so. But is giving the 2014 Sakharov Prize to Euromaidan, as the EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament, has now proposed, the most effective tool to use?

There are good reasons to doubt that it is. These reasons have nothing to do with what happened in Ukraine in early 2014, but rather what is not happening in the EU now. Tens of thousands of Euro and a ceremony on TV is not the prize that Ukrainians have fought for, and will do little for them in this dark hour.


What is a real prize?

Let us first ask: what do Ukrainians need from the European Union today?

With their country under attack, their territory occupied, their people displaced and their soldiers locked in battle with Russian and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian society hopes for substantive support from the EU – material, financial and moral. This includes credible and sustained sanctions against Russia, holding them accountable for the annexation of swaths of Ukrainian territory. It includes economic aid, assistance in coping with rising numbers of internally displaced and support for the cold winter that is looming. And, perhaps most important of all, it includes the promises made in Article 49 of the Treaties of the European Union: that once Ukraine meets the specified criteria, it might also have the chance to join the European Union, without any neighbouring country holding the right to veto. Just as the Baltics and Poland have.

It was in order to keep such a perspective alive that many Ukrainians risked their lives last winter, waving the blue European flag. To sustain the momentum of the Maidan protests, the Ukrainian people voted for political parties that promised to work towards a European future. During his inauguration, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, again referred to the goals of Euromaidan. The European People’s Party also spoke of the movement’s vision, when it met in Dublin earlier this year.

This democratic vision is what the new European Parliament should be supporting today – through policy reform and concrete action. It is a vision that needs to be sold actively, both on the international stage and to European constituencies. The goals and ideals born out of Euromaidan need to be defended in the face of both indifference and skepticism. A strong restatement of this vision from the European Parliament – and meaningful and tangible support – would remind Ukrainians of what they are fighting for.

Of course, awarding a prize is much more simple than implementing palpable change.  Standing on a podium next to people who have already become global stars in their own right, is easy. Perhaps it is too easy. It appears as a gesture of solidarity, but it is one without substance. At a moment when Ukrainians feel abandoned by Europe, a prize and accolades are not likely to reassure them.

There are other, more effective steps that could be taken to support Euromaidan, instead of giving the Sakharov Prize. For instance, the European Parliament could recognize the efforts of the Ukrainian people by bestowing a real award – the lifting of visa requirements for all Ukrainians. This is something that would truly benefit the people of Ukraine, carrying a strong promise of future EU integration.

By contrast, a symbolic gesture by the new European Parliament, at a time when Ukraine is facing profound existential threats, is a substitute for real action. This is not the first time such empty gestures have been made on the part of the European Parliament, though. In 2011, the EP took the obvious step of giving the Sahkarov prize to the activists of the Arab uprisings. The prize raised the hopes of brave activists for sustained support from Europe as they, like the activists in Ukraine, faced a watershed moment in their countries. But these expectations were never fulfilled.

An Egyptian prize winner was asked in 2011: “What could the EU and EP do to support the transition to democracy in the Arab world?” She noted: “I am against any form of foreign intervention, but I think the EP should insist on the application of universal humanitarian laws.” Today, many of the Tahrir Square activists are in prison, their organisations banned. The only European country that reacted strongly to this repression was Turkey.

Another 2011 Sakharov Prize winner, from Libya, explained: “[The Sakharov Prize] will be of great help to me and the Libyan people, because this is the first time that a Libyan received such a prize. So if you help me to do my job properly, it will help the Libyan people.” Today, Libya is in chaos.

The Syrian activist, Razan Zaitouneh, was a recipient in 2011 as well. Then in hiding, Zaitouneh was a human rights lawyer who had created the blog, “”Syrian Human Rights Information Link” (SHRIL), (which has since been taken down). On her blog she publicly revealed murders and human rights abuses committed by the Syrian army and police. Zaitouneh is quoted as saying: “The most beautiful part of the Syrian revolution is the high spirits of the Syrian people, who turned the protests into carnivals of song, dancing and chants of freedom, despite the bullets, arrests and tanks.” Since then, millions of refugees have had to leave Syria – although it is not the European Union that has given them shelter. On 9 December 2013, Zaitouneh, along with three other Syrian activists were kidnapped east of Damascus, in the city of Duma.

It was an easy decision to award a prize to courageous Arab activists in 2011. It was much more difficult to find practical ways to protect them and uphold their ideals. Awarding the Sakharov Prize was a gesture that failed to meet the expectations of long-repressed populations – much like the Arab Spring itself.


Shining the spotlight of attention

Euromaidan was the central story in Europe in 2014. The people who led it – Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko and others – will be featured heavily in any review of this year’s events. They are famous, and they deserve to be.

In other words, by awarding them a personal prize, the European Parliament will add little to what the media and European leaders have already said. It will not bring the change that is now needed in Ukraine – Euromaidan is past the point where paying lip service and attention to their cause will solve the problems their country is facing. It is similar to awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the first African-American president, right after he was elected. The White House suspected that the award was more about getting Obama to visit Oslo, than the achievements of a newly elected president. It certainly left the world – and human rights – unchanged. Is this really what human rights prizes are for?

Making a difference?

Alternatively, one should ask the question: what can awarding such a prize actually accomplish? Can – and should – the Sakharov Prize be used to make a real difference? Not just to the way we look at the past, but also to the future?

Today, human rights are under assault across Eastern Europe, from Russia to Azerbaijan. Ukrainian political prisoners have fortunately been released as a result of Euromaidan. But 2014 has also seen dozens of dissidents elsewhere become targets of persecution.

In Azerbaijan, there are dozens of activists in prison; not victorious, but languishing; not celebrated, but isolated and unknown to much of the world. They are there for defending the values of free speech – the core idea behind the Sakharov Prize. They are paying the price for protecting the European Convention of Human Rights, but remain largely ignored by democratic Europe.

By nominating these human rights defenders for the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament would celebrate the same values for which Ukrainians took to the streets. But it would also do something that has been difficult to achieve thus far. Something that Azerbaijani civil society is in desperate need of.

The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not getting the attention or media coverage that Euromaidan has. Both causes are undoubtedly worthy of recognition. However, bringing attention to the plight of Azerbaijani activists by nominating them for the Sakharov Prize will result in substantive change, more so than would nominating Euromaidan. Ukraine is instead in need of a much different reaction from the European Parliament. It would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of the power that the Sakharov Prize can have. The EP was successful in using the award to raise awareness about a dire situation in 2006, when it drew the attention of the world to the fate of Alexander Milinkevich, leader of the opposition in Belarus.

In this way, the European Parliament would also assert the value of human rights in petro-states, such as Azerbaijan – even those that have already invested millions in buying friends throughout Europe. After assuming chairmanship of the Council of Europe in May 2014, Azerbaijan has used its influence in the Council to launch an unprecedented assault on civil society. It is an autocracy with the same values and the same approach to “freedom” as Russia under Vladimir Putin. And we have seen what can come from such leaders, should they ostensibly be allowed to run free with their repressive tactics.

So, will European parliamentarians take a path that is obvious and uncontroversial? Or will they send a signal that could make a real difference? Honouring dissidents in Azerbaijan could have real impact. It might even save lives. It would be acting with a strong voice, not reacting passively.

Let me repeat: this is not about the relative merits of the various candidates. Euromaidan deserves the highest recognition. It deserves a prize from the EU. So this is our proposal: recognise Ukraine’s struggle with actions that will truly benefit its people, with the kind of support that is appropriate for where Ukrainians are in their fight towards liberalisation: put Ukraine on the white Schengen list and grant visa-free travel. And give the Sakharov Prize to the forgotten activists of today; human rights defenders who are suffering in the shadows as you read this, in prison for speaking out on behalf of others.

For more information:

ESI on Ukraine 2014


ESI on Azerbaijani human rights defenders

Filed under: Azerbaijan,Council of Europe,Europe,Ukraine — Gerald @ 3:33 am
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
18 June 2014


Sometimes a simple idea has the potential to have a lot of impact. Here is one simple idea for the day, split into three concrete recommendations:

a. the European Commission – and in particular DG enlargement – ask all Western Balkan countries to take the regular PISA tests of the OECD, as one important way to assess whether in the future their economies will be able to “withstand competitive pressure” – which is one of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria.

b. the European Commission includes the scores of PISA as one of its main indicators in the annual progress report section on economic criteria – and includes a table comparing the performance of countries in the region with the rest of the EU.

c. civil society organisations in Balkan countries use this as a trigger to launch a broader debate in their countries on the quality and importance of education in national debates. Both of which are currently – to put it mildly – sub-optimal for countries trying to converge with a much more prosperous European Union.

This morning I met senior people in DG Enlargement in Brussels and made this proposal. I also made it in many recent presentations with EU ambassadors and EU officials in Paris, Skopje, Zagreb, The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Ankara and Istanbul. And as a result of some feedback I am increasingly hopeful on the first and second recommendation above. (This in turn will help with recommendation three.)

For more on all this see our forthcoming report on how to assess in future progress reports whether a candidate has a “functioning market economy”. For those impatient now, here are a few core facts:

Background: candidates, potential candidates and PISA

It seems obvious: one of the most important factors contributing to future development of an economy is the quality of the national education system.  And one of the most straightforward ways to launch a debate on this is to look at the OECD’s PISA tests, taken since 2000, every three years in some 65 countries.

Take a look at some recent findings:

PISA results – mathematics 2012

Taiwan (top country)[1]

Netherlands (top EU15 country) 523
Estonia (top EU13 country) 521
Croatia 471
Serbia 449
Turkey 448
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 439
Montenegro 410
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – reading 2012

Japan (top country)[2] 538
Finland (top EU15 country) 524
Poland (top EU13 country) 518
Croatia 485
Turkey 475
Serbia 446
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 436
Montenegro 422
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – science 2012

Japan (top country)[3] 547
Finland (top EU15 country) 545
Estonia (top EU13 country) 541
Croatia 491
Turkey 463
Serbia 445
Cyprus (lowest EU country) 438
Montenegro 410
Albania 397
Bosnia and Herzegovina


These tables raise many fascinating and important policy questions:

1. How can Albania and Montenegro close the serious gap (serious even compared to other countries in the region)?

2. How can all these countries learn from Estonia or Poland, some of the best performers among former communist countries?

3.  Where would Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina stand if they took the test? (Macedonia took the test in 2000: 381 in math, 401 in science, 373 in reading – abysmal scores I discussed in a recent Rumeli Observer; it is now taking it again for the first time this year).

Of course it would also be useful to have other credible education statistics from ALL candidates and potential candidates that allow for EU-wide and Europe-wide comparisons.
Here are some good statistics which already exist for the EU and some of the candidate countries. Again, they raise interesting policy issues.

They might also – if properly highlighted – trigger more important policy debates.



How many 4 year old are in primary or pre-primary education? In the EU

91.7 % of four year-olds were in pre-primary or primary education across the whole of the EU-27 in 2010. Participation rates of four year-olds in pre-primary or primary education were generally high — national averages of over 95 % in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; as well as in Iceland and Norway. By contrast, Greece, Poland and Finland reported that fewer than 70 % of four year-olds were enrolled; lower rates were also recorded in the EFTA countries of Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as well as in the acceding and candidate countries of Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.”

Only national data are available for Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (data for 2010), where rates stood at 57.4 % and 24.0 % respectively. More than half of the 25 level 2 Turkish regions reported that less than 20.0 % of four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education in 2011. The lowest participation rate was recorded for the southern Turkish region of Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Kilis (9.7 %), while the second lowest rate was recorded for İstanbul (10.9 %).”[4]


“The number of students aged 17 in education (all levels combined) in the EU-27 in 2010 was 5.2 million, equivalent to 91.7 % of all 17-year-olds. The age of 17 is important as it often marks the age at which young people are faced with a choice between: remaining in education; following some form of training; or looking for a job. The number of 17 year-olds in education relative to the population of 17 year-olds exceeded 80 % in the vast majority of the regions within the EU in 2011, and this pattern was repeated across all of the EFTA regions … As such, for one reason or another, the vast majority of young people aged 17 remained in the education system at or even after the end of compulsory schooling.”

This indicates, for instance, a clear problem in Turkey:

“Among the acceding and candidate country regions, the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was above 80.0 % in Croatia (national data) and three Turkish regions (including the capital city region of Ankara and two north-western regions of Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik and Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli). There were four Turkish regions where the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was 50.0 % or lower — they were all in the south and east of the country, namely: Sanlıurfa, Diyarbakır; Mardin, Batman, Sırnak, Siirt; Ağri, Kars, Iğdir, Ardahan; and Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkari. The lowest ratio of 17 year-olds remaining in education was recorded in Van, Mus, Bitlis, Hakkari, where the share was only slightly more than one third (35.5 %) in 2011.

“An indicator that presents information about early leavers from education and training tracks the proportion of individuals aged 18–24 who have finished no more than a lower secondary education, and who are not involved in further education or training: some 13.5 % of 18–24 year-olds in the EU-27 were classified as early leavers from education and training in 2011, with a somewhat higher proportion of male early leavers (15.3 %) compared with female early leavers (11.6 %). Europe’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, has set an EU-27 target for the proportion of early leavers from education and training to be below 10 % by 2020; there are individual targets for each of the Member States that range from 5 % to 29 %.”

Tertiary education:

“Tertiary education is the level of education offered by universities, vocational universities, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees or professional certificates. In 2010 (the 2009/10 academic year), the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in the EU-27 stood at 19.8 million; this was equivalent to 62.7 % of all persons aged 20–24.

In candidate countries:

“In Turkey there was a particularly high concentration of tertiary students in Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik — this may be attributed to there being an open university in Eskişehir, where a high proportion of students are enrolled on distance learning courses. Otherwise, the ratio of students enrolled in tertiary education to residents aged 20–24 was below 60 % for all of the remaining regions in the candidate and accession countries.”

Tertiary attainment

“In 2011, for the EU-27 as a whole, just over one third (34.6 %) of 30–34 year-olds had completed tertiary education. These figures support the premise that a rising proportion of the EU’s population is studying to a higher level — in keeping with one of the Europe 2020 targets, namely, that by 2020 at least 40 % of persons aged 30–34 in the EU-27 should have attained a tertiary level education.”

Again Turkey is backward:

“Bati Anadolu (23.6 %) — which includes the Turkish capital city of Ankara — was the only Turkish region to report that more than one in five of its residents aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education. By contrast, the lowest ratios … were recorded for the north-east of Turkey (Kuzeydoğu Anadolu), where only just over 1 in 10 (10.2 %) of the population aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education.


One thing should be obvious: if PISA rankings and such tables are seriously discussed in candidate countries, everyone would benefit. And if the EU can manage to encourage a focus on such issues – through its own regular assessments – everyone would gain.

So let us hope that this simple idea will indeed be picked up.


[1] Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong excluded as cities.

[2] Sic.

[3] Sic

[6] Croatia, 2002; Serbia, 2004.

[7] Albania, 2007.

[8] Albania, 2009.


7 June 2014


Една од државите во светот за која сигурно очекувате да биде на врвот на сите национални рангирања сигурно е Финска. Не е важно што се мери – среќа, креативност, одржливост, родова еднаквост, благосостојба на децата…Финска секогаш завршува како глобален лидер.

Минатото лето патував во Финска за да научам повеќе за финската експертиза во менаџирањето на границите. Патував низ земјата со еден фински генерал и ги посетувавме границите со Русија, крајбрежната стража и аеодромот во Хелсинки учејќи за новите технологии и алатки за меѓународна комуникација во регионот на Балтичкото море.

Тоа беше една импресивна демонстрација на финската компетенција и потсетник за тоа како една мала нација е изложена геополитички со векови. Но, отвори и прашања – како финската нација станала толку просперитетна? Дали нивната приказна на напредокот и просперитетот содржи пошироки лекции и за други мали европски држави со проблематично минато и комплицирано соседство? Што би и требало на Македонија (Косово, Албанија, Босна или Србија) за да станат богати и просперитетни како Финска во некое време во иднина? Зошто Македонија не е Финска?

Во обид да „ископам“ што е можно повеќе за Финцките се обидов да ја најдам и прочитам сета достапна литература на германски и англиски. Се надевам дека моите фински пријатели ќе ме поправат доколку текстот содржи површни импресии и коментари и ќе ги додадат и своите гледишта.

Колку за споредба

Прво, нешто околу тоа како се мери успехот на земјата. Ако проучувате колку многу и колку различни интернационални рангирања постојат, сигурно ќе бидете во право ако решите да не ги земате пресериозно. Како и да е, земени како група рангирањата можат да раскажат интересна приказна. Еве една колекција од повеќе интернационали рангирања кои ги погледнав за минатата година пред да тргнам на пат кон Северот.

Постои Индексот на среќа на Обединетите нации кој е базиран на работата на Глобалниот институт на Џефри Сачс.

„Според извештајот за среќа на ООН од 2 Април Финска е рангирана како втора најсреќна земја после Данска“

Потоа, тука е и Индексот за просперитет од 2012 година каде што Финска е седма:

1 Норвешка
2 Данска
3 Шведска
4 Австралија
5 Нов Зеланд
6 Канада
7 Финска
8 Холандија
9 Швајцарија
10 Ирска

Потоа го имаме Индексот на одржливост на општествата каде што Финска повторно е во првите десет:

Човекова благосостојба Економска благосостојба
2006 2008 2010 2012 2006 2008 2010 2012
Исланд 5 4 4 1 Швајцарија 9 1 1 1
Норвешка 2 1 1 2 Шведска 4 3 2 2
Шведска 1 2 2 3 Норвешка 12 9 3 3
Финска 3 3 3 4 Чешка 8 5 4 4
Австрија 6 5 5 5 Данска 1 6 6 5
Јапонија 4 6 6 6 Финска 6 7 7 6
Швајцарија 13 9 9 7 Естонија 5 2 9 7
Холандија 12 14 14 8 Словенија 3 4 5 8
Ирска 9 8 7 9 Австралија 11 13 10 9
Германија 7 7 8 10 Луксембург 2 12 8 10

Глобалниот индекс на креативноста се однесува на технологијата, талентите и толеранцијата. (Финска е прва во првите две категории):

1. Шведкса
2. САД
3. Финска
4. Данска
5. Австралија
6. Нов Зелан
7. Канада
8. Норвешка
9. Сингапур

Индексот за благосостојба на децата на УНИЦЕФ ја рангира Финска во првите 5 земји:

1. Холандија
2. Норвешка
3. Исланд
4. Финска
5. Шведска
6. Германија
7. Луксембург
8. Швајцарија
9. Белгија

Финска е и првата земја во светот која на жените им го дала правото на глас и правото да бидат бирани во парламентот. Првиот фински парламент во 1906 има 19 жени од 200 пратеници. Овој процент не беше достигнат во Турција се до 2011. Последниот Индекс за родовите разлики од 2012 покажува дека Финска се уште е лидер во однос на правата на жените и рамноправност на половите:

6.Нов Зеланд

Дури и неодамнешнио Индекс на земји со пријателска инфраструктура за велосипеди ја сместува Финска во топ петте земји:

1. Данска
1. Холандија
3. Шведска
4. Финска
5. Германија
6. Белгија
7. Австрија
8. Унгарија
9. Словачка
10.Обединето кралство


Конечно, рангирањата кои допринесуваат најмногу за тоа Финска да биде глобална сензација се ПИСА тестовите, односно Програмата за меѓународно оценување на учениците спроведена од Организацијата за економски развој и соработка (ОЕЦД). Тестовите мерат писменост, математика и научни вештини на 14 и 15 годишните ученици низ целиот свет. Финските резултати од овие тестови од 2001 наваму буквално донесоа илјадници делегати во северната земја кои сакаат да видат во што е тајната на финскиот успех.

Да, но зошто?

Накусо, на Финскаи оди добро. Очигледното прашање за Македонците, Албанците, Босанците и Србите кои гледаат на овие рангирања е дали тие воошто имаат некаква релевантност во нивните општества.

Која е причината и ефектот од ваквата успешна приказна? Дали е изненадување дека во општество во кое децата живеат добро и се здрави, растат во семејства чии родители живеат и работат во креативни градови и исто така, имаат добри училишта? Зарем не е очигледно дека држава каде што девојчињата живеат во околина која негува рамноправност на половите ќе биде подобра држава во однос на образованието што им се нуди на жените отколку патријархални општества каде што жените не можат да наследат земја како што е во случајот на Косово?! Дали финскиот успех е резултат на нивниот добар образовен систем…или е обратно?

Позади ова навидум нерешливо прашање лежи друго, поголемо прашање. Дали некој знае друга држава чиј што јазик го разбираат многу малку странци, а кои што успеале да произведат корисни патокази за домашните реформи?

“Ако племето од другата страна на реката преминало од камено во бронзено доба, тогаш вашето племе се соочува со изборот или да се држи до својата компаративна предност од каменото доба или да емулира со соседното племе во бронзената доба…стратегијата на емулација беше задолжителна премин-точка за сите нации кои денеска важат за богати“ (Ерик.С. Рејнерт)

Земете го образованието. Досега многу е напишано на тема „лекции од Финска“ и нивниот успех на ПИСА тестовите. Финските деца одат на училиште помалку часови од другите деца било каде на светот: 5.500 часа на возраст од 7 до 14 години споредено со повеќе од 7.000 часа во другите земји членки на ОЕЦД. Италијански петнаесетгодишник ќе оди на училиште две години подолго од негов фински врсник. Тие, исто така, тргнуваат две години порано на училиште. Италија е рангирана 32 во математика и наука и 27 во читање на ПИСА тестовите. Очигледно, успехот не е механички резултат на часовите поминати на училиште.

Ова покренува многу прашања. Што да се емулира? Што Финските ученици учат, кога тие не се во училиште? Во цело поглавје во неодамнешната книга за финското образование  се опишува за учењето во не-училишната средина,   улогата на музеите и библиотеките. Во 2010та година имало 790 главни  и филијални библиотеки во Финска. Годишно, имало по 53 милиони посетители во библиотеките, а просечниот број на  кредити по предметите годишно за секој Финец е 18. Би било интересно да се споредат статистиките од Македонија или Косово, почнувајќи со бројот на народните библиотеки и споредувањето на читателските навики Експертот за образование Паси Сахлберг, напиша:

Што прават учениците во Финска кога часовите им завршуваат порано за разлика од другите земји:? Во принцип, учениците слободно можат да си одат дома во попладневните часови, освен ако не им се нуди нешто во училиштето. Основните училишта се охрабруваат да организираат  активности за најмладите  после училиште и едуактивни или рекреативни клубови за постарите.

Тој додаде дека две третини од учениците на возраст од 10 до 14 години се дел од најмалку една младинска асоцијација.

Што се лекциите на политиката: Дали се тоа деца во земјите каде што има многу креативни симулации надвор од училиштето, па не треба да трошат премногу време за часовите… но, дали реверсот е точен во земјите кои немаат музеи или јавни библиотеки?  Дури и во  интернет ерата книгите и мрежата на јавни библиотеки е важна кога станува збор за симулирање на љубовта кон читањето? (Или, можеби  е уште поважно кои видови на детски книги ќе се најдат на нивниот јазик, откако тие стапнале во библиотека?

Од друга страна, ако сѐ работи, бидејќи „тоа трае село да се едуцираат дете”, дали учењето на поединечните аспекти  на финската политика нуди водич за македонскиот, косовскиот, албанскиот или босанскиот  Министер за образование?

Всушност, вистинската лекција – главната поента е да се нагласи и дискутира  од балканска  перспектива – може да биде поинаква и многу базична. Не дека е  најважен овој или оној аспект од финското образование, јавната администрација или социјалната политика. Тоа е општиот став кон напредокот и развојот, во смисла на она кои прашања најмногу значат, која обликува како да распределите дел од највредните ресурси … времето и вниманието.Реалната и значајна разлика меѓу Македонија и Финска се интересите на луѓето  – носители на одлуки, родителите, наставниците – со што тие сметаат дека е доволно важно за да се борат  сѐ додека не најдат поединечни подобрувања.


Sculpture in Helsinki overlooking the Baltic Sea Title: Happiness

Добро е познато дека финските учители се извонредно образовани. Во Финска наставниците во основно училиште мораат да имаат завршено магистерски студии и мораат да имаат направено вистинско истражување во образованието во рамки на студиите. Од нив се очекува да размислуваат сериозно за активностите во кои се впуштаат. Од нив се бара да размислуваат за основното образование, да поставуваат поинакви и нови прашања за тоа на што се базира и на што може да се базира успехот. На овој начин тие заземаат простор во широка национална диксусија.

Дали ова е дел од образованието на учителите низ Балканот? Дали учителите во Македонија или Косово имаат мислечки педагошки вештини? Дали образованието како такво е главен субјет на нивното образование?

А што е со креаторите на политики? Дали дебатите за образовните политики во Западен Балкан се продолжуваат на база на емириски истражувања? Дали реформите се темелат на реалните проценки на статус-кво? Дали образовните политики се дискутираат сериозно во националните парламенти?

Мислам дека повеќето од вас кои го читате ова ќе се посомневате дека воопшто постојат одговори на овие прашања. Но, како овие состојби можат да се променат? I

Да ги земеме резултатите од ПИСА од 2012 година и да ја споредиме Македонија со Финска:

ПИСА ресултати математика – 2012

Шангај – топ држава 613
Холандија (топ ЕУ 15) 523
Естонија (топ ЕУ 13) 521
Хрватска 471
Србија 449
Турција 448
Бугарија (најслаба ЕУ држава) 439
Црна Гора 410
Албанија 394
Босна и Херцеговина

ПИСА резултати – читање 2012

Шангај 570
Финска (топ ЕУ 15) 524
Полска (топ ЕУ 13) 518
Хрватска 485
Турција 475
Србија 446
Бугарија (најслаба ЕУ држава) 436
Montenegro 422
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

ПИСА резултати – наука 2012

Шангај – топ држава 580
Финска (топ ЕУ 15) 545
Естонија (топ ЕУ 13) 541
Хрватска 491
Турција 463
Србија 445
Кипар (најслаба ЕУ држава) 438
Црна Гора 410
Албанија 397
Босна и Херцеговина

Во 2012 Финска има најдобри резултати во наука и читање од сите членки на ЕУ. Полска и Естонија, исто така, имаат добри резултати. Србија е полоша од Турција. Албанија помина навистина лошо.

А Македонија? Воопшто и не зема учество на тестот! And Macedonia? It did not even take the test! Сето ова е сè повеќе и повеќе збунувачки со оглед на драматичните резултати кога Македонија го направи тестот, еднаш и за последен пат, во 2000 година:

“На најдолниот крај од скалата, 18 отсто од учениците од земјите на ОЕЦД и над 50 отсто од учениците во Албанија, Бразил, Индонезија, Македонија и Перу имаат Ниво 1 вештин или подолу. Овие ученици, во најдобар случај можат да се справат само со најосновните задачи на читање. Студенти кои учествуваа во тестот не се случајна група”, се вели во известувањето од тестот на ОЕЦД.

Процентот на студенти со сериозни потешкотии при читањето во 2000 е следниов:


Level 1 and below!
Финска 7
Полска 15
Унгарија 23
Грција 25
Бугарија 40
Македонија 63
Албанија 71

Има и пошокантни детали:

под ниво 1 ниво 1 ниво 2 ниво 3 ниво 4 ниво 5
Македонија 35 28 24 11 2 0
Албанија 44 27 21 8 1 0
Бугарија 18 22 27 22 9 2
Грција 9 16 26 28 17 5
Унгарија 7 16 25 29 18 5
Финска 2 5 14 29 32 18
Полска 0 15 24 28 19 6


(Македонија токму сега по 14 поминати години реши да го земе учество во тестот по втор пат. Дали е ова можеби почеток на една поинаква дебата?)

Сите лидери имаат лимитиран буџет на внимание. Кои се мислите на премиерите и министрите кога си легнуваат навечер и кога се будат наутро? Кои прашања им ги поставуваат на странските гости? Таткото на модерниот менаџмент Питер Дракер, еднаш напиша:

“Ние со право сакаме да задржиме што е можно повече топки во воздухот како циркуските жонглери. Но, дури и тие го прават тоа околу 10 минути и не повеќе. Ако жонглерот пробуваше да го прави тоа подолго, сигурно кога тогаш ќе ги испуштеше топките“.

Најпосле, единствениот тотално нефлексибилен ресурс кај секој поединец е времето – родител или премиер – тоа е времето. Ова е се разбира точно и за политичката класа. На кои активности им се посветени? Што се дебатира во парламентот, во локалната самоуправа, во здруженијата на родители или наставници, што? Ако обрзованието не една од овие теми, тогаш е разбирливо зошто Македонија не може да фати чекор со остатокот од Европа. Може да се претпостави и дека моменталната генерација на млади кои излегуваат од училиштата нема да можат да се натпреваруваат со своите врсници низ Европа.

Но, како воопшто едно општество станало толку опседнато со човечкиот капитал, образованието и поттикнувањето на креативноста како што е оваа мала нордиска нација?



Во суштина, приказната за просперитетот и развојот на Финска е приказна за прераспределба на време и внимание. Тоа е приказна за фокус, за тоа како  со текот на времето, делумните промени можат да доведат до драматични трансформации.

Финска не е  отсекогаш успешна приказна за каква што ја знаеме  денес. Овој успех е резултат на визијата на националната политика. Тоа е приказна за неверојатен успех.

“Финска без дилеми може да претендира за еден од најголемите успеси на модерната ера,” вака почнува предговорот на Дејвид Кирби во книгата „Кратка историја на Финска“.

Тој додава:

“Трансформацијата на она што безмалку еден век претставуваше лошо земјоделско земјиште на северната периферија на Европа во една од најпросперитетните држави на Европската унија денес е една извонредна приказна, но тоа воопшто не значи дека приказната е спокојна”.

Фред Синглтон ја започнува својата Куса историја на Финска вака:

“Денес Финците се една од најпросперитетните, социјално прогресивни , стабилни и мирољубиви нации во светот“.

Но, ќе запише Синглтон „домот на Финците од прва воопшто не ветуваше дека може да биде база за една успешна држава“.

Зошто успехот на оваа држава се именува како „неверојатен“? Повеќето пресметки за предодреденоста на успехот започнуваат со епската тема – природата. Фред Синглтон за ова ќе забележи „во текот на историјата Финска не можеше да привлече освојучи или трговци во една далечна земја на езера и шуми со студени зими“.

Со други зборови, природните богатства не можат да објаснат зошто Македонија е полоша од Финска денес. Ниту пак, климата. Финска има долги, темни и студени зими. Тогаш морето, главниот начин на транспорт, замрзнува во 90 проценти па мора вештачки да се одрзмнува за да може да биде функционално. Оваа клима претставува сериозно ограничување во земјоделството. Во северниот дел снегот ја покрива земјата дури 22 дена.

Успехот не е ниту прашање на суровини. Во споредба со своите соседи, Норвешка и Русија, Финска има ограничена природни ресурси, настрана шумите од бор и смрека  кои покриваат половина од територијата. Поради студот, овде се е поскапо – од изградба на транспортни мрежа до фабрики за греење. Во 1918 година Финска уште беше првенствено земјоделски општество. Половина од нејзиниот БДП добиени од земјоделството. Повеќето не-земјоделски активности се фокусирани на дрво и пулпа.

А геополитиката? И дали балканските нации не се подеднакво „проколнати“ со својата географија?

Всушност, и геополитиката во Северна Европа во 20 век не е баш за оние со слабо срце. Со векови контролата врз Јужна Финска е од стратешко значење во големите борби за власт: помеѓу Шведска и Русија во 19 век; помеѓу Германија и Советскиот сојуз во 20 век.

Финците, исто така, се соочуваат со уште еден предизвик познат на балканските народи: јазичен конфликт. Со векови па до модерната ера, финскате елита зборуваше шведски. Финска икона од 20 век, генералот Густаф Манерхајм или финскиот ататурк – зборуваше многу подобро шведски од фински. На Финска и треба време за нејзината култура да биде признаена дури и од своите наблиски соседи, Швеѓаните.

Финците добиваат еднаков статус во администрацијата со Швеѓаните единствено во 1863. Кога еден барон во 1884 година на имот на благородништвото ќе се обрати на фински, тоа ќе предизвика сеопшт бес. Во 1880 помалку од една третина од училиштата се на фински јазик. Во 1900 тие се само две третини.

Реалноста на неодамнешното економско минато на Финска почива на длабока сиромаштија. Финците се соочуват со катастрафални времиња на глас во 1860 од кој што стотици илјади умираат. Слоганот по кој се живее во 1860 гласи „Природата го истура бесот врз нашиот народ. Емигрирај или умри!“ На почетокот на 20 век Финска е дом на земјоделци без земја и безимотни работници. почетокот на 20 век Финска беше дом на многу станари земјоделците и Безимотните работници. Во 1910 година повеќе од половина од фармите се помали од пет хектари, односно помали од минимумот со кој според прописите на Сенатот може да добијат субвенции. Ова ги потхранува политичките тензии и ги зголемува фрустрациите. Финските сиромашни селани се подготвени да ја излеат одмаздата кон побогатите земјоделци, па сето ова води до граѓанска војна веднаш по независноста во 1917 година.

Историјата на раната финска демократија е во знакот на конфликтите. Веднаш штом станува независна од руската импреија, Финска се втурнува во граѓанска војна помеѓу „Црвените“ и „Белите“. Исходот од војната само потврди дека германските трупи неминовно доаѓаат во Хелсинки. По инвазијата од страна на Русија во 1939 година, Финска беше принудена да ја отстапи територијата на посилниот сосед и да прифати поместување на 400.000 бегалци од Карелија. Потоа следи катастрофалниот сојуз на финската демократија со германските нацисти кога заедно се втурнуваат во „света војна„ за завземање на Карелија. Ова доведе од друга загуба на советсктите војници во 1944. Следи уште една војна против германските војници во Лапонија. На овој начин, во правата половина на 20 век Финците се бореа во три војни.

По втората светска војна Финска мораше да плати огромни репарации кон Советскиот сојуз. Повоена Финска беше принудена да расели стотици илјади, а остана и надвор од маршаловиот план и не доби американска помош. Финска дури не се ни приклучи кон Советот на Европа се до мај 1989 година.

По втората светска војна или непосредно пред навидум невозможната трансформација на грдото пајче во величествен лебед, финските лидери решаваат да ги напуштат сите поголеми геополитички аспирации. Тие се откажуваат од таканаречениот “Концепт на Голема Финска.” Нивните лидери сега го дефинирани финскиот национален карактер преку прагматизам. Манерхајм, генералот кој тогаш станува претседател, го предводеше патот:

“Манерхајм сфати дека Финска веќе не би можеле да биде бастион за судирите помеѓу христијанската цивилизација и варварските орди на болшевизмот. Немаше повеќе простор за крстоносните војни против исконските непријатели. Наместо тоа, имаше трезвени благодарност за тоа што ако Финска требаше да преживее и да успее како едно демократско општество, тогаш мораше да најде начин мора да опстојува во мир со џиновскиот источен сосед”, ќе забележи авторот Синглтон во книгата.

Синглтон ќе ја опише оваа точка на пресврт како вртење грб на романтичниот национализам.

Финска мораше „да се соочи трезвено и без илузии со мрачната вистина дека единствениот пат кој опстанокот води во обратна насока од оној кој претходно го следеа. Романтичниот национализам од 19 век кој одигра витална улога во формирањето на финскат нација повеќе не можеше да понуди ниту комфорт ниту поддршка“

Сега финските елити се фокусирани на растот, и покрај несигурното геополитичко соседство. Земјата систематски ги развива своите компаративни предности од дизајнирање на апарати за домаќинство до развивање дрвни продукти. Синглтон ќе забележи:

„Емерсон сигурно би можел да мисли на Финска кога рекол дека „ако човек може да ја напише подобрата книга или да направи подобра стапица за глувци од неговиот сосед, тој, дури и ако ја изгради својата куќа длабоко во шумата, светот ќе бетонира патека до неговата врата“.

Клучно за една од „подобрите стапици за глувци“ е финскиот образовен систем сам по себе. Во 1952 година 9 од 10 Финци имаат завршено само основно образование (7 или 9 години). Кон крајот на 1970 три четвртини од возрасните Финци имаат завршено само базична форма на образование. Финска беше извозник на работна сила се до 1980 кога  бројот на Финци кои работат во Шведска изнесуваше 750.000 луѓе или најголемата емигрантска заедница во таа држава.

Да се образоваат луѓето најдобро што може, да се позајмуваат најдобрите идеи од другите и да се мотивираат луѓето во воспитно-образовниот процес….сето ова е центарот на финскиот идентитет. Класичната финска литература е интерпретирана токму во ова светло. Финската национална приказна е приказна за триумфот на образованието над сиромаштијата, триумф на умот над материјата. На наставниците во основните училишта се гледа како на носители на националните идеи. Тоа е наратив граден на морална бајка. Дури и финското национално движење од 19 век е интерпретирано низ образованието. Дури и на приказната од финскиот национален еп „Калевала“ се гледа како на славење на менталната агилност. Првата финска новела „Седум браќа“ е четиво кое ја слави вредноста на учењето.

Една симболична не-херојска приказна за креативноста насочена кон подобрувањето на животот доаѓа од учителката Маију Гебхард. Таа пресметала дека финските домаќинки поминуваат 30.000 часови од животот во перење и сушење на садови или еднакво на 3.5 години од нивниот живот. Така таа го измисли плакарот за сушење алишта кој денеска е инсталиран во секој фински дом. Финската фондација за иновации ова го смета за еден од најзначајните фински изуми на милениумот.


Креативност и секојдневен живот


Всушност, финската приказна е како бајките – од партали до богатство. Како детските приказни за обичните луѓе кои се отпишани од сите како помалку вредни, а кои одеднаш застануваат под светлото на сцената и се испоставува дека се исклучителни.

Се уште не знам многу за Финска, но чувствувам дека нивната приказна вреди да се раскажува на Балканот. Во овој пост-хероиче наратив на една малечка земја, образованието се смета за тајната состојка на националната трансформација, еквивалент на спанаќот кој го трансформира Попај морнарот или магичната ламба на сирачето Аладин.

Тука е и централната лекција која нема ништо заедничко со бајките. Штедење на време и напор преку едноставни изуми за секојдневниот живот, креирање елегантна керамика за домаќинствата, промислување на сите аспекти на образовниот систем – сето ова бара време, но и уште повеќе внимание. Фокус. Фокус од страна на лидерите, интелектуалците и обичните луѓе.


Скопје 2014

А сега погледнете го Западен Балкан низ призма на раниот 21 век.

Погледнете ги нештата со кои се опседнати лидерите во Скопје. Големи престижни проекти на кои се фокусирани нивното време и внимание.(Да, некој можеби ќе рече „ете и тие позајмуваат нешто од соседите Грци, но, сепак, модерна Грција не е Финска со причина).

Погледнете ги нештата за кои дискутираат интелектуалците, академиците и политичарите во Босна и Херцеговина. Многу ретко тие дебати се за „правање подобра стапица за глувче“, а многу повеќе – ако постоеја бајки ние ќе имавме нов устав и сите одеднаш ќе бевме среќни.

Погледнете како се насочени времето, енергијата и парите на Косово. Колку споменици на војници се направија…а колку се направија библиотеки каде што би можеле да се образоваат идните генерации?

Веројатно сега можеме да дадеме одговор на прашањето зошто Македонија не е Финска. Недостига национален наратив кој ќе го слави прагматизмот, обичниот човек, образованието и просветителите како нациоални херои на иднината. Македонија застана онаму каде што беше Финска пред еден век во однос на зајакнувањето на позицијата на жената. Македонија не бега од националниот романтизам, туку напротив, се уште го слави.

Еден ден на Западен Балкан ќе се појават лидери со кои ќе се гордееме, лидри кои ќе градат музеи на науката и дизајнот наместо храмови на мртви воини и бандити. Но, кога ова ќе се случи, останува да видиме.



Filed under: Education Policy,Finland,Macedonia — Gerald @ 12:00 am
1 June 2014

Today Monday, 2nd of June, at 4 pm in Berlin ESI, together with the German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights, organises  a public debate on the future of political prisoners in Europe. Our goal is to raise the awareness about this issue and about the current failure of international organisations. It is also to discuss concrete proposals on what to do next.

It certainly seems the right moment to focus on this issue. A few days ago I got a message from Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most respected human rights defenders:

“No support from CoE!

All of us hostages. procurator do not return our passports, which they took illegally!



Leyla Yunus Foto: Christian HassLeyla Yunus


We are hearing a lot from people already in prison in Azerbaijan about the economic hardships faced by their families as a result of their captivity. They also often rely on lawyers they cannot afford to pay and who therefore work pro bono, with a significant risk of later being harassed for this very work.

For all these reasons ESI and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have put together a set of concrete proposals for discussion in Berlin. We will share it at the conference, discuss it more on Tuesday with leading practitioners, and then put it online after receiving more ideas. Here are some of these concrete ideas – an excerpt from our paper – for your feedback:


In 2014 there are, once again, a growing number of people in Europe who are jailed for no other reason than for disagreeing with their government.

In Azerbaijan, we witness at this very moment a wave of repression against independent journalists, youth protesters, election observers, opposition leaders and Muslim believers, with many receiving long jail terms. In Russia, people who participated in peaceful protests in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square after Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2012 have received tough sentences. Many other activists and government critics have also been brought before the courts. Ukraine, until recently, held political prisoners. There are many political prisoners in Belarus.

Europe has the densest network of human rights NGOs in the world. All European states, with the exception of Belarus, are also members of the Council of Europe. They have thus signed and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. They have committed themselves to respecting fundamental rights and freedoms. Belarus has accepted the human rights obligations of OSCE membership. But the problem persists, and is in fact getting much worse.

Proposal I: a European website on political prisoners

We propose to create a website on political prisoners in Europe, supported by a coalition of human rights NGOs. This could help focus and mobilise public attention.

The website would highlight all cases of people arrested for their views or on other politically motivated grounds in European countries.

In particular, it would include and consider as political prisoners for this project the following individuals, and make clear these sources:

–          all prisoners of conscience recognized by Amnesty International,

–          all presumed political prisoners identified by PACE rapporteurs,

–          all other relevant cases identified by reputable human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19, as well as leading national human rights organisations, which have a methodology and resources and a definition to establish their lists.

Such a website would feature prisoners’ photos, biographies and information on developments in their cases. The aim would help raise awareness of political prisoners among the European public.

There might also be a separate section on alleged political prisoners. NGOs and human rights activists can submit information to the website administrator on who in their view should be included in this category and whose case would deserve to be looked at more closely. These would add pressure on the Council of Europe to find ways examine these prisoners’ cases and establish whether there are systemic patterns of politically motivated persecutions.


Proposal II: Effective support mechanisms for families

and lawyers of political prisoners

How can one most effectively mobilize support for families of political prisoners and their lawyers? What existing aid channels are there, and which organizations have already been involved? Where do gaps exists? Are there opportunities for better cooperation in raising the awareness of the need for support among different NGOs?

There appears to be a need for new support mechanisms, for ordinary people to contribute to them and for better ways to advertise them.


Proposal III: Establish a standing Expert Commission on Political Prisoners

The Council of Europe needs a new professional and credible mechanism to address the issue of political prisoners. The mechanism must be potentially applicable to any member state where a systemic pattern of repression is suspected. Its work must be compatible with the work of other institutions (the Court and rapporteurs) and complement their work. A new Expert Commission on Political Prisoners could meet both requirements.

The initiative for creating such a panel can come from the Secretary General or the Committee of Ministers. The panel then would be set up by the Committee of Ministers, which is authorized to set up “advisory and technical committees or commissions.”This would require a two-thirds majority of votes cast with a minimum of 24 votes in favour. No member state would have a veto. This panel would become active if one of the following Council of Europe institutions finds a systemic pattern of politically motivated repression!

The proposed panel on political prisoners could be composed of 3 to 7 experts. These should be former judges, presidents of national courts or senior human rights lawyers. . They would act in their individual capacity. The panel would receive necessary resources and a budget for travel, translation, legal aid, and other expenses.

Several institutions would have the right to independently appeal to this Expert Commission to begin work and examine the situation and cases in any country where they are suspecting systemic repression.

–          PACE rapporteurs of any committee; the president of PACE; or the PACE bureau.

A new PACE rapporteur on political prisoners could also ask the Commission to examine – with more resources than a rapporteur will ever have – whether there is a pattern of systemic repression, which would make his or her political work easier.

–          The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

–          The Secretary General.

–          A number (to be determined) of member states of the Committee of Ministers

The commission’s work would consist of investigating individual cases in a quasi-judicial capacity, but not leading to legally binding judgements, to see if there is a systematic pattern of abuse. Suggestions for cases to examine would be submitted both by the Council of Europe’s own institutions and by local and international NGOs or human rights defenders.

The panel would select a limited number of pilot cases and examine them first. Then, it would complete draft opinions on whether these individuals are political prisoners according to the PACE 2012 definition and ask the authorities of the country for feedback. After this, it would finalize its opinions and set a reasonable deadline for the authorities to react by granting a release or retrial and carrying out reforms to stop systemic abuse of this kind.

After the deadline, either the Secretary General or a PACE rapporteur for political prisoners or the Commissioner for Human Rights should assess whether the authorities have acted on the findings of the experts.

If this is not the case, the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers should consider sanctions, including a boycott of official Council of Europe meetings in this country and loss of voting rights. Also, no such country would be able to assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe as long as the situation is not resolved.

A similar panel of legal experts was already successfully used by the Council of Europe in 2001-2004 for Azerbaijan. The combined efforts of the experts and PACE rapporteurs led to the determination that there were 62 presumed political prisoners in Azerbaijan and to the release of hundreds of alleged political prisoners in the country.

Currently in the case of Azerbaijan, PACE did already adopt a resolution on 23 January 2013 stating that there were not only individual cases but in fact a systemic pattern of arrests. The Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights has also identified “selective criminal prosecution” of dissenters in Azerbaijan. Either of these findings would in the future automatically trigger the Commission to look into the situation more closely.

Proposal IV: The future of the Russian delegation in PACE

In April 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military involvement in the Ukraine crisis, PACE voted to suspend the voting rights of the Russian delegation until the end of the year. It should be considered to link the restoration of voting rights to progress on other human rights issues, not limited to Ukraine, and in particular to addressing all concerns about political prisoners.

Proposal V: Azerbaijani chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers

On 14 May, Azerbaijan assumed the six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. There is consensus among human rights NGOs that the situation with political prisoners has markedly deteriorated in Azerbaijan. This has also been publicly confirmed by various institutions of the Council of Europe. On 29 April, the Council’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks issued a statement on Azerbaijan, in which he condemned “unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists and others who express critical opinions.”

On 22 May, Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland published an op-ed in European Voice, in which he conceded that Azerbaijan was “known in Western capitals for stifling journalists and locking up opposition activists” and maintained that the Council of Europe was not blind to violations. The same day, ECtHR issued a judgment saying that the Azerbaijani authorities had arrested opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov to “silence and punish” him for criticising the government.

On 23 May, PACE President Anne Brasseur spoke in Baku, mentioning a “more than worrying state of affairs” in Azerbaijan, criticising the deterioration of freedom of expression, assembly and association, and calling on the government to release Ilgar Mammadov.

There is a consensus on the seriousness of the problem. There should now also be an appropriate reaction. One clear measure to be considered now would be to hold no Council of Europe meetings and events in Azerbaijan until Ilgar Mammadov, on whom the ECtHR has already ruled, is released.

Secondly Azerbaijan should officially agree to the appointment of a new PACE rapporteur on political prisoners and commit itself to cooperation.

Thirdly, the Secretary General and the Committee of Ministers should establish an Expert Commission as outlined above.

Proposal VI: an EU visa panel for human rights violators

The European Union has the power to sanction human rights violators. One type of sanctions (“restrictive measures”) are travel bans. Traveling to the EU is not an inherent right. It is a privilege that governments are free to deny. Sanctions can be proposed by member states and the High Representative for Foreign Policy, who can also act together with the European Commission.

The body responsible for imposing sanctions is the Council of Ministers. It does so by adopting – unanimously – a document called a “decision”. For travel bans, no additional legislation is necessary, and member states are obliged to directly implement the Council’s decision. Travel is a privilege, not a right. The EU needs to develop a forward-looking policy of denying entry and visa to human rights violators from Russia, Azerbaijan and other states.

To do this, member states could sponsor an independent commission of senior former judges, who would make annual recommendations to the Council of Ministers on who should be barred from entry.

This proposal avoids two pitfalls: it is not summary justice and it provides a mechanism for appeal. The independent commission would review its recommended blacklist annually, providing room for appeal. The whole process would also ensure transparency. This would increase pressure on EU governments to act, spur debates, and create a credible process that human rights defenders can use.

Conclusion: a campaign “2015 For a Europe without political prisoners”

Many of the most respected human rights organisations have their roots in campaigns on behalf of political prisoners: Amnesty International (the 1961 letter by Peter Berenson on “The forgotten prisoners”), Human Rights Watch (the Helsinki committees to support dissident in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union).

After the end of the Cold War it seemed for a short moment as if this particular problem no longer haunts Europe. Now it has returned. This is a test of the ability and compassion of European civil society, and of the organisational capacity of human rights defenders. A reactive approach is clearly no longer enough.

Combined efforts pay off. Concrete initiatives and proposals can be brought together under the banner of a Europe-wide campaign “2015 For a Europe without political prisoners.” Such an effort would be a joint effort of different independent human rights NGOs. The strategy could encompass all these various elements:

–          highlighting stories of individual victims better;

–          mobilising support for victims, their families and lawyers;

–          mobilising think tanks and NGOs to monitor and analyse PACE and its members;

–          taking back and using existing mechanisms in the Council of Europe;

–          setting up a new mechanism in the Council of Europe to look into systemic imprisonments on political grounds in member states,

–          institutionalising a process for visa bans for human rights offenders by the EU.

In accordance with Article 17 of the Statute of the Council of Europe: “The Committee of Ministers may set up advisory and technical committees or commissions for such specific purposes as it may deem desirable.”

PACE Resolution 1917 (2013) “The honouring of obligations and commitments by Azerbaijan”, 23 January 2013, para. 14.


Azerbaijan - Chairman of “REAL” movement Ilgar Mammadov and Deputy chairman of Musavat Party Tofig Yagublu

Ilgar Mammadov and Tofiq Yagublu, two political prisoners in Azerbaijan

A few days ago a  relative of another political prisoner in Azerbaijan, Tofig Yagublu, forwarded me this appeal:

“I have been sentenced to prison term on absurd charges since I fight for democratization of Azerbaijan, for its transformation into the part of the progressive world. So that you have an idea about absence of any justification for charges against me, I would like to state that, those charges have as much relevance to you as it has to me.

Due to aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine the humanity is on the brink of its another tragedy. It is a problem of lack of democracy. Russia’s complacent, illogical and unfair actions are due to lack of democratic society and democratic government formed in accordance with popular will. Would Russia be able to act complacently and carelessly like this, had it had democratic societies in the countries surrounding it?

Therefore, one of the most effective ways of helping Russia is seriously supporting democratization process in surrounding former soviet countries. The Azerbaijani authorities are illegitimate and corrupt. The amount of money stolen by these authorities from the people is way more than the state budget. There have not been any free and fair elections in Azerbaijan since Aliyevs came to power in Azerbaijan. The OSCE ODIHR opinion on the presidential elections held in the autumn of 2013 was the most critical and strict among the opinions stated until present. But even this critical evaluation is lenient compared to the objective reality.

The statements of the authorities with regards to absence of democracy and human rights problems in Azerbaijan is similar to what the USSR leadership used to say on the same topic, and to what the North Korean leadership is saying now. The incumbent government is using energy resources and its important geographical location to refrain from carrying out its international obligations on democracy and human rights. Unfortunately, they have been successful in this until present.

Take into consideration that, political parties and civil society organizations fighting for democracy in Azerbaijan unambiguously see the happy future of Azerbaijan in integration to the West, to EU and NATO. Under such circumstances, the interests of the Azerbaijani people and the progressive world will be ensured more effectively and in a more guaranteed way, unlike in case of existence of the regime, which is staying in power through the Kremlin’s support.

Therefore, it is obvious that, significant pressure on the incumbent regime to start democratic reforms in Azerbaijan is an objective necessity. Under such circumstances, carrying out of the June session of OSCE PA in Baku is withdrawing in front of the Azerbaijani authorities, which have closed the Baku office of this organization and have declared war against the Warsaw bureau due to its negative opinion on the elections. It is difficult to understand this step.

The First European Olympic Games will be held in Baku in the summer of 2015. Shortly after this competition the parliamentary elections will be held in the country. It is very illogical and unfair that, such an event will be held in a country which lacks basic freedoms, prisons of which are full of political prisoners, where free press is mercilessly strangled, on the brink of another election fraud. Those Games shall be boycotted. Until the start of real democratic reforms under the monitoring and guarantee of the international organizations in Azerbaijan, all possible sanctions shall be applied against the Azerbaijani authorities.

Tofig Yagublu, political prisoner 17.03.2014 “


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