Aserbaidschan übernimmt den Vorsitz im Europarat – und der ignoriert die Menschenrechtsverletzungen des Regimes in Baku auf eine Weise, die Fragen nach Sinn und Zweck dieser Organisation aufwirft / Von Michael Martens
ISTANBUL, 13. Mai. An diesem Mittwoch übernimmt Aserbaidschan den Vorsitz im Europarat. „Europas führende Organisation für Menschenrechte“, wie sich der Europarat mit Sitz in Straßburg selbst nennt, hat 47 Mitgliedsstaaten (nur Weißrussland und das Kosovo gehören nicht dazu), mehr als 2.200 Angestellte und ein Jahresbudget von etwa 400 Millionen Euro. Die bekannteste Einrichtung des Europarats ist der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte. Dort können Bürger aller Mitgliedsländer Klage gegen ihre Staaten einreichen, wenn diese gegen die europäische Menschenrechtskonvention verstoßen haben. Denn um Mitglied im Europarat zu werden, muss ein Staat diese Konvention unterzeichnet haben und sich daran halten – theoretisch zumindest.
Nun wird also Aserbaidschan den Europarat repräsentieren, und in Baku werden in den kommenden Monaten aufwendige Konferenzen über die Bedeutung der Menschenrechte abgehalten. Viele Gäste werden kommen, denn obwohl Aserbaidschan kaum mehr als neun Millionen Einwohner hat, ist es für den Westen (und für Europa insbesondere) politisch wichtig. Eine geplante Gasleitung von Aserbaidschan über Georgien, die Türkei und Griechenland bis nach Italien könnte ein wichtiger Baustein zur Verringerung der europäischen Energieabhängigkeit von Russland werden. Ein „demokratischer Lieferant“ wäre Aserbaidschan allerdings ebenfalls nicht. Aserbaidschans Präsident Ilham Alijew, der das höchste Staatsamt von seinem Vater erbte, einem ehemaligen KGB-Agenten, ist ein Diktator, der mit eiserner Faust über sein Land herrscht und Oppositionelle verfolgen lässt. Dieser Tage hat „Reporter ohne Grenzen“ (ROG) aufgelistet, wie es aserbaidschanischen Journalisten, die das Regime in Baku zu kritisieren wagen oder gar zu Machtmissbrauch und Menschenrechtsverletzungen recherchieren, reihenweise ergeht: Sie werden durch die vom Regime kontrollierte Justiz zu Haftstrafen wegen Rauschgiftbesitzes, Spionage für Armenien, Anstiftung zu Unruhen, Waffenschmuggels oder ähnlicher fingierter Delikte verurteilt. „Aserbaidschan übt in den kommenden sechs Monaten ein herausragendes Amt innerhalb Europas aus, doch gleichzeitig tritt die Regierung unter Präsident Alijew die Pressefreiheit mit Füßen“, stellt ROG dazu fest.
Auch das State Department äußert sich in seinem jährlichen Menschenrechtsbericht deutlich und stellt unter anderem fest, dass das Regime in Aserbaidschan nicht nur gewaltsam gegen Journalisten und Menschenrechtsaktivisten vorgehe, Wahlbeobachter kriminalisiere oder mit Ausreiseverboten belege, sondern auch Übergriffe gegen Regierungsgegner nicht ahnde. Die Privatsphäre von Oppositionellen werde verletzt (eine Journalistin sollte mit in ihrem Schlafzimmer aufgenommenen Bildern erpresst werden, die sie beim Geschlechtsverkehr mit ihrem Partner zeigen), die Religionsfreiheit eingeschränkt. Mehrere Dutzend junge Männer kamen während ihrer Wehrdienstzeit unter ungeklärten Umständen ums Leben. Die Menschenrechtsorganisation „Human Rights Watch“ stellt es ähnlich dar: „Die Regierung Aserbaidschans schränkt systematisch jede Art von regierungskritischem Verhalten ein.“ Über die aserbaidschanischen Präsidentenwahlen im Oktober fällte die Wahlbeobachtermission der Organisation für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa (OSZE) ein vernichtendes Urteil: Einschränkungen der Presse- und Versammlungsfreiheit sowie die Einschüchterung von Wählern und Oppositionskandidaten gehörten gleichsam zum Standardprogramm des Regimes. Am Wahltag selbst wurden die Beobachter auch Zeugen unverfrorener Manipulationen. In Wahllokalen wurden die Urnen mit gefälschten Wahlzetteln vollgestopft, in fast 60 Prozent der beobachteten Fälle war die Stimmauszählung von Betrug begleitet und wurde als „schlecht“ oder „sehr schlecht“ bewertet. Unter anderen wurden Stummzettel „umgeschrieben“.
Aserbaidschan ist reich an Rohstoffen und arm an Rechtstaatlichkeit. Mitte April traten acht aserbaidschanische Männer in einen Hungerstreik, um gegen einen Schauprozess zu demonstrieren, dessen Ausgang von vornherein feststand. In der vergangenen Woche wurden die Männer zu Haftstrafen von bis zu acht Jahren verurteilt. Es handelt sich nicht um Islamisten oder Rauschgifthändler, sondern um Bürgerrechtler und Mitglieder einer demokratischen Jugendgruppe. „Leider sieht es so aus, als sei Alijew mit seiner Kampagne zur Unterminierung europäischer Standards und der sie tragenden Institutionen erfolgreich“, sagt Gerald Knaus von der „Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative“, einer in Berlin und Istanbul beheimateten Denkfabrik, die sich seit Jahren mit der Lage in Aserbaidschan befasst. „Es ist erschreckend, dass sich junge aserbaidschanische Demokraten unmittelbar vor der Übernahme des Vorsitzes im Europarat durch Aserbaidschan in einem verzweifelten Versuch, die Außenwelt auf ihre Lage aufmerksam zu machen, zu einem Hungerstreik gezwungen sehen“, so Knaus.
Sogar ehemalige aserbaidschanische Mitarbeiter des Europarats sind unter den Verhafteten. Doch im Europarat selbst ist es nicht möglich, die Dinge beim Namen zu nennen. Jedenfalls lehnte die Parlamentarische Versammlung des Europarats im vergangenen Jahr die Annahme eines umfangreichen Berichts zur Lage politischer Gefangener in Aserbaidschan mit 125 zu 79 Stimmen und zum Teil haarsträubenden Begründungen ab. Warum schweigt der Europarat zur desaströsen Menschenrechtslage in einem seiner Mitgliedsstaaten? Man soll sich Verschwörungstheorien hüten, aber drei Umstände sind bedenkenswert. Erstens: Der sogenannte südliche Korridor könnte Gaslieferungen Aserbaidschans über die Türkei in die EU-Staaten Griechenland und Italien (und von dort in weitere Mitgliedsländer) sicherstellen. Zweitens: Die Annahme eines Berichts über die desolate Lage politischer Gefangener in Aserbaidschan durch die Abgeordneten der parlamentarischen Versammlung des Europarats wurde nicht nur von den üblichen Verdächtigen (Russland, Aserbaidschan, Türkei) abgelehnt, sondern mehrheitlich auch von den Abgeordneten aus Italien und Griechenland, so von der ehemaligen griechischen Außenministerin Dora Bakogiannis. Drittens: Zur gleichen Zeit, als in Straßburg mit Hilfe der griechischen und italienischen Abgeordneten ein vom Europarat in Auftrag gegebener kritischer Bericht über Aserbaidschans Umgang mit Regimegegnern niedergestimmt wurde, führte der staatliche aserbaidschanische Energiekonzern Socar bereits Verhandlungen mit der Regierung Griechenlands über den Kauf des griechischen Gasnetzwerks Desfa. Im Dezember 2013 wurde in Athen der Abschluss verkündet. Socar unterzeichnete eine Vereinbarung zum Kauf von 66 Prozent der Anteile an Desfa für 400 Millionen Euro.
Zwischen diesen Entwicklungen muss kein Zusammenhang bestehen, aber ignorieren muss man sie auch nicht. Fest steht, dass das Regime in Baku seinen Sieg bei der Abstimmung im Europarat zu Hause für eine neue Verhaftungswelle genutzt hat. Die Nachricht des Regimes an alle Gegner in Gefängnissen und vor der Verhaftung lautete: Ihr habt keine Chance, denn wir sind gegen euch – und der Westen ist mit uns. Schon als Aserbaidschan 2001 in den Europarat aufgenommen wurde, war es alles andere als eine solide Demokratie, doch die fromme Hoffnung lautete, die Lage in dem Kaukasusstaat werde sich mit der Zeit verbessern und der Europarat werde Aserbaidschan europäisieren. Stattdessen ist es Baku offenbar gelungen, die Mehrheit des Europarats zu aserbaidschanisieren. Die Menschenrechtslage in Aserbaidschan hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren nicht nur nicht verbessert, sondern verschlechtert. Eigentlich sollte Aserbaidschans Vorsitz eine Debatte darüber entfachen, wie ernst der Europarat seine eigenen Konventionen noch nimmt. Jedenfalls haben jene Mitgliedsstaaten, die echte Demokratien sind, Anlass zu der Frage, was diese Institution noch sein kann und soll – und was ihre Gründungsmitglieder dafür tun können, um die Werte aufrechtzuerhalten, in deren Namen die Organisation einst gegründet wurde. Derzeit ist die Lage des Europarates ebenso bedenklich wie die Lage Aserbaidschans.
Rashadat Akhundov, NIDA activist, sentenced to eight years in jail in May 2014 with seven other activists.
A graduate of the Central European University in Budapest.
This morning Azerbaijan’s most courageous investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, published (unfortunately expected) bad news from Baku: the verdict in the case against NIDA youth activists in Azerbaijan:
“Verdict is announced. Democracy activists from Nida! Civic Union are sentenced for exercising their right of freedom of assembly:
Rashadat Akhundov = 8 years
Zaur Gurbanli = 8 years
Ilkin Rustemzade = 8 years
Bakhtiyar Guliyev = 7 years
Mammad Azizov = 7.5 years
Rashad Hasanov = 7.5 years
Uzeyir Mammadli = 7 years
Shahin Novruzlu = 6 years”
This verdict comes on the eve of the visit to Azerbaijan by the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, and almost exactly one week before Azerbaijan takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.
On this sad day for human rights in Europe – on this truly shameful day for the Council of Europe and its member states, who have failed dissidents and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – the best is to let the NIDA activists speak for themselves. Here is the speech they delivered in court on 5 May. These voices will not be silenced:
We, as defendants, have decided to represent ourselves as one person for our last speech to the court. The reason for this is that the government does not see us as individuals, but rather targets the NIDA civil movement that we are members of and subjects it to repression. You may consider our last plea as coming both from the eight NIDA activists present here and other NIDA activists who are either free or under arrest.
Usually, defendants ask for mercy from the court, and sometimes express their regret. We don’t need mercy, nor do we feel regretful, since we have not done anything to regret. Nor do we expect justice from the court that is hearing this fabricated lawsuit, as it is not capable of maintaining the sanctity of the law and making independent and just decisions. The hollowness and meaninglessness of this lawsuit have been unconditionally proven by the truths we have told, the statements made by witnesses, as well as other evidence presented by the defense in their high quality speeches.
The start of the smear campaign against NIDA was made obvious during the first days of the arrests – when Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev and Shahin Novruzlu were forced to sign completely slanderous texts, memorize them and then recite them in front of cameras after being subjected to physical violence and torture. During this, TV channels continuously disseminated videos provided to them by the Interior Ministry, and government spokespeople and members of parliament made statements implying NIDA aims to create chaos in society.
Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan since 2003.
There was no doubt that these repressions were politically motivated after President Ilham Aliyev named us as criminals during the YAP (New Azerbaijan Party) assembly on June 7, 2013, when investigations were still ongoing and no valid court verdict had been issued. This statement was the decision that sealed our fate. This decision framed the judicial investigation.
Under such circumstances, we are aware of the fact that neither the state prosecutor, nor you, the judges, have any other options to pursue. Your responsibilities in the court are limited to acting as notaries to legitimize this politically motivated order. Even if the law and your conscience demand you to act otherwise, you shall not dare stray from this order. We should also mention that we are not the sole victims of the regime in this trial. Your appointment as the judge and the prosecutor also makes you victims of this fabricated court case. Indeed, we – behind bars and you – at liberty are all hostages and victims in this big prison called Azerbaijan.
That’s why it is difficult to demand anything from you. How can one prisoner help another one?
We do not intend to go deeply through all the details of the case. Because it’s already obvious that even as a pseudo case they could not manage to organize it more maturely and systematically. Nevertheless, we will go through several issues.
The prosecution claims we were arrested due to a protest on March 10. This is partly true.
Why partly and why true? And why shouldn’t we regret this?
Let’s begin from the very first question. As to the prosecution’s testimony, they imprisoned us due to our social activity and particularly for our activity within the NIDA civic movement. But it was not because of events on March 10. NIDA managed to involve mature and active youth in its membership. At the time we hadn’t announced that we were totally opposed to the government. Meanwhile, the government was already against us. Because this regime is an enemy to all active and valuable people who want to spoil its plans for society to remain passive, villainous, obedient and enslaved. Thus, the government is a direct foe to the youth who are indicators of activism, dynamism and who are against slavery. As we see, the government doesn’t chase us because we are criminals. On the contrary, if we committed a crime, we would be friends of this regime. Because they themselves are of a criminal nature. Thus, they arrested us not only because we protested the death of our brothers on March 10, but also because of our nonviolent struggle, which is not forbidden by law.
If there is any sign of a tendency for violence, solely the government is responsible for it. As the government creates unlawful conditions, people become more aggressive and want revenge. Of course, it encourages a bias towards violence. Being a civic movement, we did our best to prevent physical confrontation and propagate nonviolent struggle. We used numerous examples from global experience that prove that nonviolent struggle is far better than violence. Ironically however, we were accused of violence. Our criminal case took its place at the top of the list of ridiculous crimes in the world.
And shall we regret it?!
We are arrested for and proud of demanding freedom, rule of law, and human rights for the nation we belong to, for the land we are residents of.
Everyone has clearly seen the torture and abasement that the first three arrested activists have encountered. But unfortunately, the court didn’t even attempt to investigate the case. The court process is enough to eliminate these testimonies from the list of evidence. But of course only an independent and fair court could precisely evaluate and take the necessary course in this way, not you!
Observers [of this trial] probably remember the testimony of Anar Abbasov, the main witness of the prosecution, whose addiction to drugs and mental problems was evident even without a professional examination. His testimony became an exercise in contradiction. He couldn’t describe the Venice café [where according to the indictment, he witnessed the activists’ discussion of their plan for violent action], he didn’t even know what NIDA! (exclamation) means, he couldn’t recognize the people, whom, according to the indictment, he identified as participants of the violence-planning meeting, he couldn’t remember anyone’s name, his testimony was a bunch of nonsensical words about NIDA and Venice. That witness was in fact the best proof of our innocence.
The government accuses us of cooperation with foreign groups. Just imagine, the accusation of using violence comes from the government, which came to power via a military coup, which used arms for violence against its own people including the events of October 15-16, 2003, the assassinations of dozens of the best thinkers, like Elmar Huseynov, Ziya Bunyadov, Rafik Tagi. It comes from the government that has its own people’s blood on its hands. And yes, it is the irony of history.
Unlike the YAP members who would trade away Azerbaijan’s interests to foreign countries, who would do anything in order to maintain the dominance of the ruling party, we NIDA activists have never been slaves of the Russian KGB, nor have we worshipped the U.S. or European oil magnates’ money, nor followed the Iranian mullah’s and Turkish Nurchu’s ways. NIDA activists are patriots ready to sacrifice their youth and lives for the sake of the nation without the slightest hesitation. The charges imposed on us are simply the government projecting its ugly nature onto us.
Having touched upon the foreign affairs issues, we would like to share our opinion on the case of the Ministry of National Security stealing AZN 94,000 from Shahin Novruzlu’s father and calling it a crime. There was enough evidence provided by the witnesses at the hearing to prove that this money belonged to Shahin’s family. We can compare this to another incident. 12 September 1980, the junta that came to power by military coup in Turkey, staying loyal to their methods, executed 17-year-old Erdal Eren. A great republic with 100 years of history like Turkey still is not able to clean the stain called Erdal Eren. After 33 years, in Azerbaijan Erdal’s peer Shahin is being accused by YAP, and loyal to their values they stole Shahin’s father’s money. The military men do what they are used to – murder, YAP members do what they are used to do – theft.
While governments are transitory, be sure of the fact that Shahin’s arrest and the theft of his family’s, in particular his aunt’s hard-earned money will hang over Azerbaijan’s shoulders like the Sword of Damocles, and we as a nation and a country in general will always be ashamed of it.
Two of us have been charged with hooliganism because of a simple dance. However, this dance doesn’t have any signs of hooliganism, not to mention any criminal implications. The evidence provided and the defense speeches have proven this. Therefore, in our final speech we would rather talk about the main reason for the arrests than the legal aspects. The objective of introducing this article to our case is to present us as “immoral” to society. This is precisely why the host of the disgraceful Lider TV, who has previously presented pornographic scenes shot by secret cameras, now misinformed the public by making fun of our alleged participation in the dance (deliberately misrepresenting the facts as if the eight people sitting here are in fact the eight people who are seen in the Harlem Shake video). However, despite their cheap and meaningless efforts, the dance cannot be considered as immoral. Immorality is to steal or sell parliamentary seats, falsify elections, be an oligarch or rip off the nation of its last piece of bread. The fight against this immorality is the most honourable, glorious and moral job to do.
Our court case, with each of its details, has discredited the government and shown its real face. Please pay closer attention to the above-mentioned witness, Anar Abbasov. He is a bright example of the zombie population that Aliyev’s regime has been trying to bring up for the last 21 years. This “new Azerbaijani” is meant to be cowardly and sinful, his morality must be tainted with slavery and sycophancy, he should be able to slander even his own brother when the time comes, he should be corrupt enough not to dare to stand against even a slight injustice with a life credo of adulation of the authorities and hypocrisy. In the past 21 years, the ruling party was considerably successful with their mission of creating this “new breed of Azerbaijanis”.
Solshenitsyn (in Soviet prison)
Solshenitsyn in his “Live Not By Lies” wrote about despotic regimes’ dependence on everyone’s participation in the lies. He wrote that the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. This is what NIDA does.
The NIDA civic movement tried to resist and prevent a complete victory of this government’s policy. Our and other members’ ongoing arrests, openly demonstrated anger and irritation we came across prove that we are on the right track to hamper this policy. Our determined resistance, persistent position and speaking the truth (despite the benefits of the government’s side) couldn’t have been achieved in any other way.
There is something they do not realize. If there is an evil happening in one place, even if everyone turns their faces away, those who are humane have to face it. We as free men cannot turn a blind eye to evil, immorality, and in general the government’s misdeeds; we will only bow in front of a righteous power. The ideology of the Republic sees it as evil to live under someone else’s despotic regime (will), because slavery creates the worst of its consequences- a state of vagrancy and sycophancy. We as true republicans, despite the dangers, will not trade freedom for the comforts of slave lives!
Therefore, the regime’s police and other power structures’ violent and brutal actions disguised as “service to law”, presenting our constitutional right of freely gathering as a riot, calling our peaceful struggle a violent act, and our fabricated arrests do not scare us and will not make us back away from our position. The clarity of our fundamental principles, and our loyalty to them, our complete rejection of radicalism, immorality and violence are the reasons why hundreds of people with a similar ideology joined our cause in the course of the past year.
As mentioned earlier, our participation in this court is a mere formality. Our plea to be acquitted from these falsified criminal charges is also a formality. But we are confident that acquittal will come not from the court but from our people and history. There is another reason for coming to the court and giving this “final speech”. We value the court system as a foundation of the state and guarantor of social justice. We respect and honour the splendour carried in the word – court. Therefore, despite the fact that the standards of this court falls far below these criteria, out of respect to the judge and the court we are obeying the formal procedures and continue to strive to do so.
Sahin Novruzlu, the youngest activist, was 17 at the time of his arrest
The final word has yet to be uttered. The final word will sooner or later come from the nation that stands for the arrested ten [meaning the eight NIDA activists in this case and Abdul Abilov and Omar Mammadov – two Facebook prisoners facing trumped-up drug charges] NIDA activists, and our counterparts.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was brought to court under the accusation that he was poisoning the thoughts of youths. He could have left the country or accepted to stay silent, to not spread his ideas. Otherwise, he knew that he would be executed. At the trial, Socrates declared that he would not sacrifice the truth for his freedom and life, and chose death. We will also not sell the truth for anything – whether we’re free or jailed.
We are not alone. Our determined intellectuals and public figures – the Chairman of “REAL” Ilgar Mammadov, Deputy Chairman of “Musavat” Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, Gurban Mammadov, Anar Mammadli, main representative of the believers in Azerbaijan, Taleh Baghirzade, our falsely accused young friends Ebdul Ebilov, Omar Mammadov, Elsever Murselli, Rashad Ramazanli, journalists Rauf Mirgadirov, Perviz Heshimli and dozens of other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, are kept in jail under false pretences, specifically for telling the truth. This government has to understand that, even if there is only one person in the country with a conscience, he will continue the resistance against their atrocious anti-people politics. Finally, the truth will triumph over lies.
Even though we have reached a level of corruption that has no parallels, we know that the exams for the selection of the judges and prosecutors for our cases are challenging. Because of that, our judges and prosecutors, usually, have to possess some knowledge of law. We do not doubt that the current panel of judges and the public prosecutor in front of us also possess a high degree of legal literacy. This is also evident from the fact that Azerbaijan’s strongest lawyers are defending us and you have specifically been chosen to go against them, the political order of making a case for these absurd allegations has been given specifically to you.
The ultimate aim of the law is to provide justice. You, also, possess the qualifications to professionally determine justice. It is impossible for you not to see that these allegations are frivolous and this, we are sure, you do not doubt. Because of that, it will be very hard for you to give us our sentence. Because the trial of conscience that comes forward from the honour of one’s profession and humanity is harder than the trial of this sort. Despite this, comfort will conquer conscience and you will read out our conviction. For this reason, we do not ask anything from you. Quite the opposite, in order to calm your conscience, to give you comfort, we are letting you know that the years that are being taken from our lives with your sentencing are not going to waste. It is a capital investment in the freedom of Azerbaijan. So, even though you may be an anti-hero, you are also doing something for this country.
We took into consideration that we are a capital investment in freedom when we started this journey. Now, can we be sorry for the accusations, for the thoughts and actions which we did not commit?!
We declare once again that we are confident and you should be confident, that because of our desire for freedom for this nation of which we are part of, this region in which we are residing, because freedom, democracy, rule of law are of the highest value and the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country should be respected, because of our efforts in this sphere we have been arrested and of this we are proud.
We ask our friends, peers, and specifically our parents to be ready for a heavy sentence and not to give way to hysteria, damnation, or insults. Everyone aside from the foreigners are victims in this courtroom and it is inconsequential and meaningless for a victim to curse out another victim.
We say thank you to everyone who took part in defending us, including those who share our beliefs, to our family that is always with us, to little Araz, to our lawyers who selflessly defended us. We express our gratitude to the local and international human rights organizations, parties, and other organizations, foreign states and their embassies working towards restoring our rights. We are grateful to the representatives of foreign embassies and international organizations who have participated in our trial for half a year, because they have also proven that the Western values which we have been defending are not based on oil, or geostrategic material interest, but on freedom and justice.
Lastly, from here we want to reach out to the NIDA fighters outside. During Soviet times, a seven-member organization called “Ildirim” [“Thunder”], of which all seven members were jailed for their anti-Soviet efforts, Ismikhan Rahimov-a member turned to his relatives after his sentence was read, while being placed in a vehicle and said: “We are leaving, but we will be back.”
Now, we are delivering to you the words of Sir Ismakhan in another form: We are not going anywhere and coming back. Because we exist anyway, we are here, with you. Even if ten members of NIDA are in jail, those of you who are free are replacing us. We call on you to continue the fight for us with even more principal and relentlessness. Do not ever surrender to slander! Hold your heads high, your wills strong!
Down with dictatorship and despotism!
Long live the people who do not bow to oppression and injustice!
Call on President Ilham Aliyev to give amnesty to Ilgar Mammadov, Anar Mammadli and the eight young activists on hunger strike before Azerbaijan assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 14 May 2014;
Call on the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to travel to Azerbaijan urgently, and speak out strongly and forcefully on behalf of these and many other political prisoners;
Support an initiative to appoint a new rapporteur on political prisoners to investigate the trend of imprisonment in Azerbaijan since the vote in January 2013.
Now at least one of these things appears to be happening: Mr. Jagland is going to Baku.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan will be one of the main topics on the agenda of the upcoming May 8th visit to Baku of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland. It is learned from sources in Strasbourg that Yangland will also affect the situation with the detention of IPD director Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunusov and pressure on them. Also touched upon will be the political prisoners and the need to address this problem due to commence in May of the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers. “
Of course, it remains to be seen what will come out of this visit. However, the mere fact of Mr. Jagland going to Baku should raise expectations. Mr. Jagland has a legacy to defend. He has been secretary general since September 2009. He is also running for reelection for a second term in a few weeks’ time.
There is little that a secretary general can do directly to prevent member states of the Council of Europe from violating human rights. However, one thing a secretary general must do is speak out openly about systemic violations of human rights in a member state. Today the credibility of the whole institution is at stake as a result of Azerbaijan’s years of abuse of its principles. It is thus crucial that Mr. Jagland achieves something on his forthcoming visit to Baku.
Developments in recent days have added to this urgency. There has been further harassment of distinguished Azerbaijani human rights defenders – and this at the very moment when Azerbaijan presented its program for the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (see below). In the next six months the Azerbaijani government proposes to host events to discuss the role of human rights education, the work of judges in defending human rights, the future of youth … while at the same time it hosts show trials against human rights defenders, journalists and youth activists. Can any of these events be taken seriously while Azerbaijan engages in this cynical behaviour?
Recent days saw: the arrest of journalist Rauf Mirkadirov. The arrest of Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus. The persecution of critical thinkers on espionage charges. With rare exceptions, such as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, most European policy makers have remained silent. (See also this statement by Catherine Ashton and Stefan Füle).
In contrast, the NIDA youth activists, on hunger strike for two weeks, made a remarkable statement at the close of their trial in Baku last week. Their moral courage in the face of injustice puts to shame the current ineffective human rights protection machinery in Strasbourg. It also casts a shadow over the very notion of Azerbaijan as a chairman of the Council of Europe. In their final speech in court, after 15 days of hunger strike, the NIDA activists evoked the great dissidents of the Soviet period to explain their motivation:
“Solschenitzyn in his “Live Not By Lies” wrote about despotic regimes’ dependence on everyone’s participation in lies. He wrote that the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: in personal non-participation in lies. This is what Nida does.
Nida civil movement tried to resist and prevent a complete victory of this government’s policy. Our and other members’ ongoing arrests, openly demonstrated anger and irritation prove that we are on the right track to hamper this policy.”
They also directly addressed the judges and prosecutors:
“… in order to calm your conscience, to give you comfort, we are letting you know that the years that are being taken from our lives with your sentence are not going to waste. It is a capital investment for the freedom of Azerbaijan. So, even though you may be an anti-hero, you are also doing some things for this country.”
Andrei Sacharov – Nobel Prize Winning former political prisoner
This makes it all the more poignant that the recent increase in repression and in the number of arrests of human rights defenders are happening at a time when the secretary general of the Council of Europe is also the Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
We hope that Mr. Jagland will achieve something next week.
We hope that the game of cat and mouse that Azerbaijan has been playing with political prisoners will come to an end.
100 years ago: arrests could not break them: Suffragette in London
East European dissidents are not the only proud tradition which events in Baku bring to mind today.
One hundred years ago, in 1913, the British government passed what became known as the Cat and Mouse Act to break the will of a group of courageous women – the suffragettes – fighting for the right to vote. The law was called the Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health Act:
“The Liberal government of Asquith had been highly embarrassed by the hunger strike tactic of the Suffragettes. Many of the more famous Suffragettes were from middle class backgrounds and were educated. When some suffragettes were arrested they would go on hunger strike. This was a deliberate policy to bring attention to their cause and also to embarrass the government.To counter this, the government resorted to force-feeding those women on hunger-strike – an act usually reserved for those held in what were then called lunatic asylums. This simple act greatly embarrassed the government.
To get around this, the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ was introduced. The logic behind this was simple: a Suffragette would be arrested; she would go on hunger strike; the authorities would wait until she was too weak (through lack of food) to do any harm if in public. She would then be released ‘on licence’. Once out of prison, it was assumed that the former prisoner would start to eat once again and re-gain her strength over a period of time. If she committed an offence while out on licence, she would be immediately re-arrested and returned to prison. Here, it was assumed that she would then go back on hunger strike … The nickname of the act came about because of a cat’s habit of playing with its prey (a mouse) before finishing it off.”
The suffragettes were fighting for a then radical idea – women having the same political rights as men – just as NIDA activists are defending the radical idea that the European Convention on Human Rights and its provisions also apply to Azerbaijan. The goal of the British government at the time was to break their will, without too much embarrassment, by playing cat and mouse. The same is happening in Baku today.
In the end, history was not on the side of the British government . Today, history is not on the side of the regime in Baku. Mr. Jagland might evoke the long tradition of political prisoners his Nobel Peace Prize Committee has honoured. He might also recall the history of the Suffragettes. And tell president Ilham Aliyev that he is on the wrong side of history. It might not work this time. But at the very least, the Council of Europe should not be on the wrong side of history too.
Suffragette poster – UK early 20th century
PS: Is it possible for a dictatorship, imprisoning its own human rights defenders, to plan a full Council of Europe chairmanship programme, without ever drawing attention to its own abysmal human rights record? And if it is, what does this tell us about the state of the institution?
Find below the draft program of the Azerbaijani Council of Europe chairmanship. Will any of the participants from across Europe even blush when they are being welcomed by the regime of Aliyev to discuss the following?
20 to 21 May: Meeting of coordinators of the Council of Europe Charter of Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights
22 to 23 May: Meetings of the PACE Bureau and Standing Committee
1 to 30 June: Conference on Public service delivery in the context of human rights and good governance
17 June: Meeting of the CLRAE Bureau
18 to 20 June: Baku Conference of European Ombudspersons
20 to 21 June: Conference on the new “Council of Europe Platform on the Impact of Digitisation on Culture”
30 June to 1 July: High-level conference on combating corruption
3 to 4 July: Plenary meeting for the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice
1 to 2 September: Annual exchange meeting on religious dimension of intercultural dialogue
1 to 30 September: Platform meeting on youth foundation and financing structures
10 to 11 September: Seminar to review the Council of Europe Social Cohesion Strategy and Action Plan
18 to 21 September: High-level conference on the Council of Europe Neighbourhood Policy
1 to 5 October: Event within the “No hate speech movement” of the Council of Europe
6 to 9 October: Celebration of European Heritage Days 2014
10 to 11 October: High-level conference on the role of national judges on enhancing domestic application of the ECHR
20 to 26 October: The 4th regional ministerial meeting on the implementation of the European Higher Education Area
28 to 30 October: UN Global Forum on Youth
30 to 31 October: Cultural Routes Advisory Forum Policy
So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.
And from that day onward he:
Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.
Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately talk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed. Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.
No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.
Es sollte eigentlich ans baltische Meer gehen, doch dann sperrte die Fakultät in Riga kurzfristig ihre Tore. Wie wäre es mit der Ukraine, wurde ich gefragt: auch hier suchte man 1993, kurz nach dem Auseinanderbrechen der Sowjetunion, junge Leute mit Interesse daran, einer post-sowjetischen Generation westliche Wirtschaftslehre nahezubringen. So landete ich im Sommer 1993 in Czernowitz, im Grenzgebiet zu Rumänien und Moldau, Hauptstadt der nördlichen Bukowina.
Ich hielt Vorlesungen zur Volkswirtschaft und international political economy, vor dem Hintergrund von Hyperinflation und dem Zusammenbruch aller Strukturen. Und ich entdeckte dabei ein mir bis dahin vollkommen unbekanntes Land.
Da war die Armut, das Gefühl von Isolation gerade eine Tagesreise von Wien entfernt. Der Zusammenbruch von sowjetischer Infrastruktur und Industrie. Ein Jahr lang kein Warmwasser, manchmal tagelang keinen Strom. Die Kopiermaschine, die ich aus Wien mitgebracht hatte, gab ihren Geist auf, nachdem hungrige Mäuse in meinem Schlafzimmer alle Kabel durchgebissen hatten. Im Winter wurde der Unterricht abgesagt, denn die Räume der Universität konnten nicht mehr beheizt werden.
Czernowitz Herrengasse – A young Austrian teaching economics in 1993
Da war die Verzweiflung einer ex-sowjetischen Mittelklasse. Und die Entdeckung der Vergangenheit einer Region, die der Historiker Timothy Snyder als Bloodlands bezeichnete: Mittelosteuropa, das wie keine andere Region im frühen 20. Jahrhundert unter Besatzungen, Vertreibungen, Völkermord und totalitären Regimen gelitten hatte.
An die mitteleuropäische Vergangenheit erinnerte nicht nur die Architektur der Stadt – Universität, Herrengasse, Schlossplatz, Volksgarten – sondern vor allem zwei ältere jüdische Damen, noch in der k. u. k. Monarchie geboren. Zwei Freundinnen, Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann, die seit Jahrzehnten jeden Tag miteinander telefonierten. Ich besuchte sie mindestens einmal die Woche in ihren Wohnungen. Deutsch war ihre Muttersprache, Europa ihre geistige Heimat. Lydia hatte Mitleid mit der Ukraine, diesem “armen geschundenen Land”. Von ihrer Rente konnte sie nicht leben, und so unterrichtete sie weiterhin Sprachen; Französisch und Deutsch, in ihrer winzigen Wohnung neben dem Volksgarten. An der Wand das Portrait von Thomas Mann, im Regal die Romane der russischen Schriftsteller, die sie verehrte. Sie liebte die russische Literatur ebenso sehr wie die deutsche.
Beide hatten im zweiten Weltkrieg Angehörige in faschistischen Lagern verloren. Beide waren selbst nach Transnistrien verschleppt worden. Rosa und Lydia erinnerten sich allerdings auch an ein Europa mit offenen Grenzen, so wie jenes, in dem es einst ihren Eltern möglich war, bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg ohne großen Aufwand von Czernowitz nach Wien zu reisen. Damals war hier die östlichste Universtät des Habsburgerreiches, und ein junger Ökonom war damals ebenfalls auf die Idee gekommen es doch zunächst einmal in der Provinz zu versuchen (Joseph Schumpeter). Diese Zeit lag fern, die Bevölkerung jener Stadt war vertrieben oder ermordet. Lydia hoffte dennoch dass nun, mit dem Ende des Kommunismus’ und der Sowjetunion, eines Tages auch die Ukraine zu einem neuen freien, demokratischen Europa gehören würde.
Rosa Zuckermann, mentor in Czernowitz
Und so hatte jede Generation hier Erinnerungen an den Fall von grossen Reichen. Melancholie lag auf der Stadt. Die Industrie war zusammengebrochen. Der grosse jüdische Friedhof der Stadt oberhalb des Prut war überwachsen. In der Stadt kannte damals kaum jemand Westeuropa – kaum jemand konnte reisen. Wir befanden uns dabei weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von der rumänischen Grenze entfernt, doch Rumänien zählte damals noch nicht zu Europa. Zu absurd die Grenze, zu arm das Land dahinter.
Zwei Jahrzehnte sind seit damals vergangen. Ich besuchte Lydia noch einmal kurz vor ihrem Tod mit meiner zukünftigen Frau – Lydia hatte mir zur Hochzeit geraten, sie war die erste Person, der wir von einer Telefonzelle vom Hauptbahnhof in Rom aus nach dem Heiratsbeschluss von unseren Plänen erzählten. Unsere Tochter heißt, nach ihr, Fanny Lydia.
Rosa besuchte ich später auch zu ihrem neuzigsten Geburtstag, eine 28 stündige Zugreise war dazu notwendig, aus Wien mit Umsteigen in Lemberg. Sie kam zu jener Zeit durch einen wunderbaren Film – Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann – in ihren letzten Lebensjahren zu einer gewissen Bekanntheit in Deutschland. Das amusierte sie sehr. Ich hatte sie und Herr Zwilling oft in ihrem kleinen Haus in der Klara Zetkin Straße besucht und tatsächlich sehe ich sie heute noch, winkend von ihrem Balkon beim Verabschieden, nach außen fröhlich und resolut, im Inneren melancholisch und besorgt.
Mittlerweile sind Lydia und Rosa beide auf dem überwachsenen jüdischen Friedhof von Czernowitz bestattet. Europa hat sich seit jenen Jahren dramatisch verändert.
Nicht nur Österreich, auch Polen und Rumänien sind der Europäischen Union beigetreten. Wer heute aus der Ukraine nach Polen blickt, kann die Veränderung dort oft kaum fassen. Ein Europa der offenen Grenzen, ohne politische Gefangene, kein Abholen von Kritikern des Nachts durch die Geheimpolizei, ohne Angst vor Kriegen, Revolutionen oder neuen Vertreibungen. Dieses Europa ist heute weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von Czernowitz entfernt an der rumänischen Grenze, die zur Grenze der Europäischen Union geworden ist. Und doch hat sich eines nicht geändert: die Ukraine gehört weiterhin nicht dazu.
Die politische Hoffnung der beiden jüdischen Freundinnen, eine europäische, demokratische Ukraine, sie ist bislang nicht in Erfüllung gegangen.
Will man verstehen warum im November 2013 erst Tausende, dann Zehntausende Menschen aller sozialen Gruppen und Generationen in Kiew auf die Straße gingen, um mit europäischen Fahnen in der Hand für ein Assoziationsabkommen zu demonstrieren, das kaum einer von ihnen im Detail gelesen haben dürfte, dann muss man sich die Verschiebungen der politischen Grenzen in Europa vor Augen halten. Ich vermute es gab nicht viele Ukrainer, die davon motiviert waren sich von Russland abzugrenzen, ein Nachbar der hier – auch bei Rosa und Lydia – viel weniger als Bedrohung empfunden wurde als in den meisten Ländern Mitteleuropas. Daher gab es auch in Umfragen bis zu den Protesten nie Mehrheiten für eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft der Ukraine, ganz anders als in Polen, dem Baltikum oder Georgien.
Was es gab, vor allem bei der jungen Generation, war ein wachsender Konsens darüber, dass die Ukraine sich nicht noch einmal zwei Jahrzehnte auf der Suche nach einem Sonderweg leisten konnte. Die Plünderwirtschaft großer Oligarchen, ein von Korruption zersetztes politisches System, eine Gesellschaft ohne Perspektiven, das Gefühl, vor verschlossenen Grenzen zu stehen … all das trieb viele einer Generation, die zum Zeitpunkt des Zusammenbruchs der Sowjetunion oft noch gar nicht geboren war, auf die Straße. Auch die Enttäuschung über das Versagen der letzten Proteste, der Orangenen Revolution 2004.
Als ich im Winter 2013 nach Kiew kam, bemerkte ich bei jungen ukrainischen Studenten großes Interesse an den Erfahrungen ihrer westlichen Nachbarn, Interesse selbst für die arme, kleine Republik Moldau, die die Ukraine auf dem Weg zum Erlangen der begehrten Visafreiheit für Schengen-Staaten überholt hatte. Und auch Angst, dass die Ukraine erneut den Anschluss zu verlieren drohte. Als schließlich Ende des Jahres auf russischen Druck hin ein schon zu diesem Zeitpunkt enorm unbeliebter, weil korrupter Präsident das Assoziationsabkommen mit der EU verweigerte, schien eine weitere Hoffnung auf ein irgendwann besseres Leben zu schwinden.
Tatsächlich waren die meisten der Demonstranten auf dem Maidan vor allem für eine andere Ukraine, eine europäische, ähnlich dem heutigen Litauen oder Polen, auf die Strasse gegangen (Von westukrainischen extremen Nationalisten, die niemals die Mehrheit stellten, einmal abgesehen). Was war auch die alternative Vision der Herren im Kreml, und ihrer ukrainischen Verbündeten? Warnungen vor einem dekadenten Westen, der ehrbaren Slawen die Homosexuellenehe aufzwingen wollte? Zumindest in dieser Frage stimmten Putin und ukrainische Nationalisten überein.
Der Kreml verhöhnte die EU, von der politischen Klasse in Moskau schon lange als impotent, künstliches Konstrukt, machtlos, dekadent, abgeschrieben. Doch bot Russland selbst keine Hoffnung. Mit einer Wirtschaft, deren wertvolle Rohstoffe Europa zwar auf dem Weg durch die Ukraine erreichten, deren Nutznießer ihren Reichtum dann allerdings sofort nach London, Paris, Wien oder Nikosia überwiesen. Dieser im westlichen Europa gelagerte Reichtum ist heute die Achillesverse, aber auch ein Machtinstrument des Kremls. Denn nun, nach der Besetzung der Krim, nach Ultimaten, Drohungen mit Einmarsch und Krieg und der Verletzung aller eingegangenen internationalen Verpflichtungen, die Souveränität der Ukraine zu respektieren, sind es auch wirtschaftliche Interessen, russische Milliarden, die Europa davon abhalten, auf das russische Verhalten entsprechend zu reagieren. Und das hieße: Druck auch auf die persönlichen Interessen der Herren im Kreml. Die von einer Wiederherstellung eines eurasischen Großreiches träumen, ihre Reichtum und ihre Familien aber in London oder Paris vor einem räuberischen Staat in Sicherheit bringen.
So kommt es heute in der Ukraine zu einem Aufeinandertreffen zweier Visionen. Da Herrscher, die unbeliebte Grenzen unter vorgeschobenen Argumenten mit Gewalt neu ziehen. Dort die Erfahrung von Integration und offenen Grenzen. Es geht um die Frage was die Werte der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention, später auch von Russland bei seinem Beitritt in den Europarat akzeptiert, heutigen Demokratien noch wert sind. Die heutige russische Elite fürchte – trotz ihrer Rhetorik – weniger die NATO als die Möglichkeit den eigenen Reichtum zu riskieren. Oder fürchtet gerade dies eben auch nicht: denn nicht nur ehemalige deutsche Bundeskanzler sind heute auf der Gehaltsliste kremlnaher Betriebe, sondern auch internationale Organisationen, wie der ebengenannte Europarat, wurden in den letzten Jahren von den Autokratien des Ostens unterwandert.
Dass es bei der Bewahrung dieser Werte letztlich um Zivilisation geht, um Sicherheit nicht nur für Ukrainer sondern für ganz Europa; das hätten Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann jedem jungen Europäer glaubwürdig dargelegt.
In recent months large numbers of Ukrainians braved first the cold, and then snipers, protesting and waving the blue star-spangled flag of Europe. This has angered leaders in the Kremlin and triggered the dramatic crisis over Crimea. It also left many in the EU confused how to respond. Should the EU, or future Ukrainian governments, withdraw their commitment to association and deeper integration in order to placate a grim and threatening Russia? Is Ukraine’s still undefined “European perspective” worth the risk of offending Russia?
In fact, by defending their right to ratify an Association Agreement with the EU – and the prospect for deeper integration in the future – Ukrainians kept open the single most promising path for a poor country like theirs to change their fate. Here is why.
Leave aside for one moment geopolitics. Focus on the situation of ordinary citizens, the lives of average households living between Lviv and Kharkiv. The most basic fact about Ukraine is that it is poor. In fact, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe; only Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are poorer. The Gross National Income per head in Ukraine is lower today than it is in Kosovo, which is the poorest country in the Balkans. See the table below:
Poverty gap: EU, Balkans and Ukraine
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate 2012
European Union (28 countries) Turkey Bulgaria (poorest EU member) Macedonia Kosovo Ukraine Georgia Moldova
Now look at the table below. It shows the forty-six richest countries in the world in 2012. The measure of wealth used here is Gross National Income per head (at market exchange rates, taking the average exchange rate over three years), using data published by the World Bank.
To be rich or poor is, of course, a matter of comparison. Here – following the example of Oxford economist John Kay – I take as a reference point the richest country in the world and consider countries to be prosperous if they have at least one eighth the Gross National Income per head of the frontrunner. In 2012 the richest country in the world was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark.
Table 1: The world’s richest countries in 2012
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
GNI per head between one half and
one quarter of Norway
GNI per head between one quarter and
one eighth of Norway
Netherlands Japan Austria Singapore Finland
Belgium Germany Kuwait (2010) France
United Kingdom Hong Kong SAR, China
United Arab Emirates (2011) Italy New Zealand (2011) Spain Israel (2011) Cyprus
A few things are remarkable in this list. First, most of the forty-six countries were already prosperous half a century ago (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia). The biggest exception to this is a group of petro-states (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain).
Most emerging economies are not yet members of this club: not China, not Brazil, not India, not Turkey. Russia barely makes the list. Becoming prosperous relative to traditionally wealthy countries is very hard. It takes decades of stable growth. Still only a minority of the world’s population lives in these prosperous states: in 2012 about 1.3 billion people, out of an estimated global population of 7 billion.
Second, note all the countries highlighted in bold in the list above. They are the members of the European Union: twenty-four of forty-six countries! Luxembourg and Malta (not included in this table because they have less than 1 million inhabitants), would also qualify as rich. This means that all but two of the members of the enlarged EU of twenty-eight are currently members of the club of the world’s rich countries. There are only two exceptions: Bulgaria and Romania. If the past is any guide, one should expect these two countries to join the club of the rich within another decade.
Third, the most promising strategy to become part of this exclusive club is to make the effort to join the European Union. To see this, compare the above 2012 list of the world’s richest countries with that of 2002 below. This list contains forty-one countries, home to 1.1 billion people.
In the decade between 2002 and 2012, Mexico and Lebanon fell out of the list of the prosperous. And only seven newcomers broke through: two petrol states (Russia, Venezuela); Chile; and four European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
In 2002 thirteen of the forty-one richest countries in the world were members of the EU. Even then, many of the newcomers, countries that appeared among the rich for the first time in 2002, had focused for years on joining the EU.
Table 2: The world’s richest countries in 2002
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
United Arab Emirates Denmark Sweden United Kingdom Netherlands
Hong Kong SAR, China Finland Austria Ireland Belgium Germany
Fifth, once an EU member joins the club of rich nations it remains there, despite severe crises later. Portugal, Spain, Greece remain in the club of the prosperous top forty. Other countries, which are on their own, such as Mexico or Argentina, have dropped out of the list.
Take the case of Greece. Its recent economic plight has been seen by some as evidence of the limits of the European Union’s ability to bring about convergence.
Here is the story of the Greek economy, seen through Gross National Income per head since 1980 (Greece joined the EU in 1981). Greece’s GNI dropped in the first years after accession, then grew sharply, most spectacularly after 2000. Between 2010 and 2012 it dropped again: but this is still (despite the obvious hardship) a crisis in a country that has remained one of the most prosperous in the world (and the richest in the Balkans by far).
Historically, rich countries have formed contiguous geographical blocks. This remains true. Growth spreads through intense contact and exchange between neighbours. Of course, proximity alone is not enough: policies and institutions must allow for integration, as common standards facilitate beneficial exchange (in EU jargon the adoption of the so-called “European acquis”). Integration also encourages mutual learning and economic interaction.
These tables have strong implications for enlargement policy. The protestors on Maidan, Kiev’s central square, were right: the most promising strategy for ordinary Ukrainians to live a better life is not to stay on the sidelines or to look East, as they had done since gaining independence in 1991, but to integrate with their Western neighbours.
EU integration is not a magic wand. In the case of Greece it has taken a generation to become prosperous. EU integration also does not prevent future crises. But as a generational strategy to catch up it has worked, again and again, for countries from the Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea. This is because it is a process based on openness and on meeting standards, on learning from the most successful economies in the world and on receiving feedback from them.
Ukrainians, like Finns or Austrians during the Cold War, might well decide to remain neutral in terms of military alliances. NATO is also unlikely to offer Ukraine the kind of security guarantee it has offered to the Baltic States. However, no one interested in the welfare and long-term stability of the Ukrainian people can expect them to renounce the possibility to follow in the path of Poland or the Baltic states when it comes to EU integration. This also holds true for Moldovans and Georgians.
This is not a matter of geopolitics, spheres of influence, or the prestige of leaders: it is about better lives for millions of households. No one can legitimately ask Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians to give up their European perspective just to please the Kremlin. It would be far too big a sacrifice, with consequences for the next generation.
This article is part of a research project on the future of Europe funded by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna.
The inspiration for the tables above came from Oxford economist John Kay, one of the leading economists in the United Kingdom. His website: www.johnkay.com. I also strongly recommend his book The truth about Markets for a stimulating introduction to modern economics for non-economists: www.johnkay.com/books.
 These tables omit countries whose population falls under 1 million people: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Bermuda, Brunei Darussalam, Cyprus in 2002 (but not in 2012), Equatorial Guinea, Greenland, Iceland, The Isle of Man, Malta, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao SAR (China), Malta, Palau, San Marino, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis. These tables also omit Qatar; although it has a population of over 1 million and its GNI per head in 2011 was 76,010. However, the World Bank has no GNI per head figures for Qatar for either 2002 or 2012.
 Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators: Size of the economy (population data for 2012) http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/1.1
These publications were followed by many reactions.
A number of EU foreign ministers wrote to me to say that they fully agreed with the arguments. So did senior staff in the European Commission. So did senior diplomats in a number of EU member states. There have been a lot of Media reactions.
We argued that given other priorities facing Bosnia – social and economic reform being primary – focusing on this issue to the exclusion of almost everything else was simply not a good use of the time of the country’s leading politicians. Nor did it make sense to step into the fray in the way this had been done by the European Commission.
Since we published our reports the debate has started to move, but only very slowly.
Doubts among EU member states have grown.
The European Commission has since given up trying to mediate (we suggested this already in October, arguing that it was extremely unlikely to succeed).
We learned that lawyers working for the Council of Europe were asked to check whether our arguments were legally sound, and that they concluded – internally- that they were.
However, until today Bosnia remains stuck, held hostage by this condition.
In our first report we gave three reasons why we believed that the Commission was not treating Bosnia fairly. We believe they are still valid 5 months later:
This is not an issue of institutional “racism”. Apartheid South Africa had a racist electoral system. Bosnia does not. Neither does Belgium or South Tyrol, although in both countries legislation requires citizens to declare a community affiliation for certain purposes, similar to Bosnia. However, only in Bosnia is the ethnicity of any individual not defined in official documents. By leaving it up to any individual to determine how to self-identify – and allowing any individual to change this self-identification in the future – the Bosnian system is more liberal than either Belgium’s or South Tyrol’s. Unlike in Cyprus, it is also not tied to any objective criteria such as religion or the ethnicity of parents. In fact, in 2004 the EU endorsed community-based voting and praised the UN Annan plan for Cyprus based on the very principles that Bosnia’s constitution embraces.
Bosnia is not violating fundamental human rights.
The issue at stake in the election of the Bosnian presidency – the most complicated issue to resolve – is not a violation of any rights enumerated by the European Convention on Human Rights itself. It is a violation of Protocol 12 of the Convention, which extends the applicability of non-discrimination from “the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention” to “any right set forth by law”. This protocol has so far been ratified by only 8 out of 28 EU member states.
This is not an issue of Bosnia systematically violating its international obligations. Bosnia’s record implementing European Court of Human Rights’ decisions is better than that of most current EU members.
For all these reasons, we noted, non-implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision cannot justify blocking Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for EU membership. The very reforms that the EU expects from Bosnia have not been asked of other EU applicants, much less of its own member states.
Interestingly, our arguments were also taken seriously by another think tank focusing on Bosnia, DPC, which published a whole paper to address the arguments we made.
The title of the DPC paper is a bit complicated: “Legal Misunderstandings, False normative Hopes and the Ignorance of Political Reality – A Commentary on the recent ESI Report “Lost in the Bosnian Labyrinth”.
It is clear what is being meant: ESI got it wrong. However, if this was easy to understand, the same could not be said for the rest of the argument (found here: http://democratizationpolicy.org/uimages/DPCPolicyNoteNewseriesSejdicFinci.pdf).
So I sent an email to DPC on 20 November 2013 to take our mutual understanding of the issues one step further. Here it is:
I just read the DPC paper on our ESI paper on Sejdic Finci.
It is flattering to have a whole policy paper devoted to our paper, but there are some arguments in the text which are perhaps not totally convincing?
I quote a few passages and make a few remarks, wondering what you think.
1. “the paper appears to be an effort to provide an ideological framework for the EU to move beyond its continuing failures in BiH that have enabled local politicians to undo many of the highly-touted reforms put in place prior to 2006, when the EU assumed policy leadership.”
This is puzzling. The author first appears to argue that the EU has failed since 2006, and that our paper provides an “ideological framework” to “move beyond its continuing failures” .. but then he implies that this is bad? How can moving “beyond failure” be a bad thing? And what is an ideological framework here?
(Which “highly-touted” reforms have been undone? This is never explained, just stated.)
2. “ESI compares this case to voting and selection processes in other EU member states, including Belgium, Italy (South Tyrol) and Cyprus, and concludes that similar provisions (sometimes even stricter) are also applied in other EU member states. These states however, are not sanctioned by the EU. Legally speaking, this assessment is correct. However, the devil is in the details.”
If this is “legally speaking correct” – here we agree – how can “details” make it legally incorrect? Or is it “legally correct” but “politically incorrect”? How can that be?
3. “while the Belgian and the South Tyrolean examples also demonstrate some form of discrimination, it is nevertheless a form of positive discrimination. The aim of the power-sharing arrangements in both countries is to allow for minority groups to participate in decision-making. Hence, the legal framework has to be understood in the context of the intended aims of power-sharing mechanisms. In the case of Brussels, it is a mechanism to engage Flemish speakers in the officially bilingual but mainly French-speaking city, and in the case of South Tyrol it gives representation to German and Ladin speakers.”
How is this different from Bosnia where there is a Croat minority?
We note that all the current debates to find a solution to Sejdic Finci turn on how to help the Croats ensure that they can elect “their representative”. Is this so different from Belgium?
Note also that there are many other minorities, including the constituent (in Belgium) group of Germans or other EU residents in South Tyrol, who, in order to participate in some functions, have to declare that they belong to one of the categories presented to them. How is this different from Bosnia?
4. “A political system that is characterized by ethnically exclusive parties does not allow for flexibility.”
This is also puzzling, given that in Belgium all parties are either Flemish or Walloon, and in Bosnia, by contrast, Komsic was elected on the SDP ticket twice. A man from Ghana was the “Croat” ambassador in Japan for Bosnia. Sven Alkalaj, a Croatian citizen and Jew was also member of the government for a (Bosniac or Bosnian?) party. How then can Bosnia be considered less flexible than Belgium?
5. “. What ESI basically suggests is that EU’s conditionality, in particular the ocus on fundamental human rights, should not apply to BiH at this stage”
Where did we suggest this? Which “fundamental human right” should not apply?
6. “The Republika Srpska’s calls for secession have become louder, while Croats undermine the current constitutional framework with their demand for a de facto or de jure third entity. No reform that involves the current elites within the current framework will be able to cure these problems.”
How is this related to Sejdic-Finci? Here it seems that the RS is not the problem (and not even involved in the most recent rounds of talks). The solution that is likely to emerge in the end, and which would address the ECHR’s judgement, could well end up creating a Croat de facto electoral district in the Federation, no? Is this then good or bad?
And if it were true the current elites cannot solve this problem, what should happen instead? It is after all the current elites that are negotiating Sejdic-Finci implementation since 3 years. If they cannot agree and will not agree then everything just stays as it is now. Is this a solution?
7. “But this also means that the unwillingness to reform must be penalised and that Bosnian elites should be punished for non-compliance”
Who is to be punished over Sejdic Finci? Every party has made a proposal, and each proposal meets the conditions by the ECtHR … it is just that they cannot agree among each other on the one proposal to chose. Should all be punished now?
In short, we understand that there may be disagreements on how important Sejdic Finci is, but the irony is that a deal that might satisfy the EU and the ECtHR and that is actually in sight is one that makes the election of someone like Komsic less, not more, likely. Is this progress in your view?
And if any one of the proposals on the table now IS chosen in the end … would Bosnia”s constitutional or other problems of governance be solved in any meaningful way?
Was this worth the time and effort and resources spent on it for three years now? We doubt this. But if this is not worth it … why continue the current policy, where this has become the number one issue discussed by Bosnian leaders?
Thanks again for taking our paper seriously and taking the time to discuss it in detail, best wishes ,
I received a very polite response within a few days, promising some answers eventually. Since then I have not heard anything. Perhaps the responses will still come.
In the meantime we can just wait until all those in the EU – and inside the European Commission – who know that the current policy is counterproductive begin to speak out in public.
In October 1935 the Italian army invaded Abyssinia. In the same month the Abyssinians appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League condemned the attack. All League members were ordered to impose economic sanctions on Mussolini’s Italy. Then all resolve faltered.
Sanctions were half-hearted. They did not include vital materials such as oil. Britain kept open the Suez Canal, crucial as Italy supplied her armed forces. In December 1935 the British Foreign Secretary and the French Prime Minister met and presented a plan that gave large areas of Abyssinia to Italy. Mussolini accepted the plan.
The League’s involvement was a total failure.The capital, Addis Ababa, fell in May 1936 and Haile Selassie was replaced by the king of Italy. Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia became Italian East Africa. The League of Nations was a corpse even before it perished. It had no more legitimacy.
The Crimea crisis and events in Ukraine today pose a similar threat to the credibility of other European organisations … created, like the League, in the wake of a devastating war with high hopes of launching a new era. And one organisation already in the crosshair of the dictator’s assault, already reeling, which Russia was able to join under false pretext and then proceeded to capture with the support of other autocrats in the East and accomplices from the West is the Council of Europe.
Until a few weeks ago one could fear that the Azerbaijani presidency of the Council of Europe, set to begin a few weeks from now in Strasbourg, would mark the low-point in the history of this once proud organisation. And one might have hoped that, perhaps, it was still possible that the sight of a dictator at the helm of this club of democracies might produce a long overdue shock; wake up democrats across Europe, to pay attention to an institution once created to embody the values of post-war Europe (stated in the European Convention on Human Rights) and recently captured by autocrats from Europe’s east.
Until a few weeks ago I thought there was time to rescue these institutions. Certainly, that it was worth it Today there is good cause to wonder whether the Abyssinia moment has not now also come for Strasbourg.
Unless the Council of Europe reacts to the dramatic illegal occupation of one member state by another member state; unless PACE – the Parliamentary Assembly – issues a strong and unequivocal declaration; unless member states in the Committee of Ministers now take effective actions against Russia; it is hard to see how this “spiritual union” of European democracies can survive as more than a bureaucratic corpse.
It is not hard to envisage a future for the OSCE in this new, harsher, Europe: it will return to being a forum for debates between dictatorships and democracies, similar to the CSCE after the Helsinki Accords were ratified in the 1970s. It has long been obvious that countries such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, Russia or Azerbaijan are not democracies. The notion that they should participate in setting high standards for European democracies – which need these standards as much now as ever – debases everyone. Instead let diplomats meet in Vienna and talk (and exchange insults) about peace and common interests. Such a forum is useful as long as it does not serve to legitimize dictatorial rule as “democratic.”
The same is not true for the Council of Europe. Between the OSCE and the EU it has no future if it does not credibly defend the highest values of democracy. The demise of its credibility creates a void that also needs to be filled: most probably by the European Union, now called upon to define its own human rights acquis more explicitly.
The EU should make human rights central to its association agreements. It should spell out its “political criteria” much clearer, both for accession candidates and for its own members. It should find ways to cooperate with other genuine democracies, from Switzerland to Norway to Moldova in the East.
Of course it would be preferable to preserve the Council of Europe and see dictators such as Putin and Aliyev censured instead, until their countries change their ways. But this looks increasingly unlikely. Instead we will have an Azerbaijani presidency and not even symbolic sanctions against Russia after its aggression.
The Palace of Europe in Strasbourg
It is hard to see is how the Council of Europe can function much longer as a hostage of dictatorial and aggressive members. They pay an important share of its budget. They are bent on destroying the values it once stood for. And for some time now they have imposed their vision of the world with impunity.
It should also be noted that there would still be a lot worth rescuing from the burning house of the Palace of Europe, the Council of Europe’s headquarter in Strasbourg. Conventions, agreements, commissions, initiatives (such as the Venice Commission), all serving their members , all worthy of being preserved … but outside of the clutch of dictators. (The same is less obvious in the case of PACE, which appears increasingly superfluous next to the European Parliament on the one hand and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on the other).
The thread does not stop here, unfortunately. Other proud institutions might soon face a similar challenge: one is the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw. It has so far stood up, valiantly, to pressure from the East over its professional work on election monitoring. Why would Putin or Aliyev want credible election observation any more than rulers in Tashkent or Minsk? It is fighting tough battles over its budget. It soon faces a crucial choice over its future leadership. ODIHR’s independence and professionalism must be defended at all costs. In fact, should ODIHR be at risk of losing its credibility as a result of an ongoing Russian and Azerbaijani campaign, or should it be paralysed – then the EU and democracies like Switzerland should stand ready to fund it directly. To rescue valuable experience. To preserve it as the preeminent European election monitoring organisation, open to other European democracies.
It now seems only a matter of months before post-Maidan Europe will see a broader debate on the institutional architecture needed to preserve core values and safeguard the lessons from the 1930s and 40s. And we had better prepare for it. For it now seems increasingly likely that Russian troops in Crimea and Ukraine might have a similar effect on European institutions as Mussolini’s troops had when they embarked on their aggression in East Africa many decades ago.
Council of Europe
ESI background analysis: how the Council of Europe is losing credibility
Check out the upcoming issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly, edited by my colleague Nigar Goksel, here: Turkish Policy Quarterly
I gave an interview for this issue – before the dramatic turn of events in Ukraine last week – on “European values and continental geopolitics”: on why Samuel Huntington was wrong in 1993 and is still wrong today. Why European values have little to do with European history until 1945. Why the future of enlargement still depends most of all on the leaders of the countries that want to join. Why Moldova matters. Why the EU should not worry about “losing” Azerbaijan or Belarus to Russia. And what gay rights have to do with Turkish visa liberalisation.
Was Huntington right?
Huntington wrote, against the background of wars in the former Yugoslavia, about conflicts and the battle lines of the future. He explained these wars by reference to civilizational fault-lines. In fact, ideas like his are misleading, ahistorical, and dangerous. It is no surprise that in the Balkans they were most popular with autocrats and nationalists of all ethnic groups and religions to justify crimes –ethnic cleansing, suppressing minorities, suppressing basic rights of their own citizens– in the name of defending their “civilization.”
The curious thing: Huntington was popular with allegedly “Catholic” autocrats, like Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, and allegedly “Orthodox” autocrats, like Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. In reality, not only were both Tudjman and Milosevic former communists, but both also used the same rhetoric to justify crimes, claiming to defend “Europe”: Milosevic against “Turks” and Albanian Muslims and Tudjman against Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. It is an old rhetorical device.
In his declaration of war against the United States, Adolf Hitler declared in December 1941 that the war led by National Socialist Germany was a war in defense of “Europe.” At the same time, Hitler’s Germany reintroduced unimaginable torture, mass killings, and the slavery of millions of people on a continental scale. Not long ago, before the Second World War, the notion that “Europe” stood for a civilization based on the rule of law, the Enlightenment, and democracy would have seemed strange. From Italy to Spain, from Germany to Russia, from Portugal to Poland to Yugoslavia, dictators were in control.
What are “European values”?
When we talk today about “European values,” what we really mean is the aspiration, following the catastrophe of failed autocracy and war in the first half of the 20th century, that this continent should finally become a continent of liberal democracies.
It was a vision to escape from the past, and move towards a very different future. Take the European Convention on Human Rights from 1949: it is, or should be, as much at home in Warsaw, Bucharest, Madrid, or Ankara as in Berlin or Vienna. And the continental fault-line today is between societies which aspire to defend and respect these values and those who do not. Theories of civilization have nothing to do with this.
Is the EU’s influence on the continent waning?
We see two opposing trends. On the one hand, the last 25 years have seen the most astonishing peaceful geopolitical revolution in the history of this continent. The enlargement of the EU from 12 to 15 and then 28 countries. Taking in the former communist states of Central Europe and the Eastern Balkans has been an astonishing development. Take Poland, take the Baltic States: these have never been more secure, more democratic in their history. You can also compare the Balkans today with the Balkans in the 1990s. Military budgets are down, conflict between states has ended.
On the other hand, we see pushback. This dramatic, and fast, change has come at a price. There are many people in the older EU member states who feel that this change has been too quick. Today enlargement is an unpopular policy in Paris or The Hague. As a result, the EU today is no longer promising as clearly as it did after 1999 that it is ready to embrace future democracies on its doorsteps. In the Balkans, in Turkey, this has slowed down the enlargement process to a snail’s pace. It is undermining the EU’s influence.
Who gets to join the EU?
In the early 1990s, Germany was opposed to the Baltic states joining. There was long opposition to Bulgaria and Romania, and later Croatia. But in the Baltic states and later in Bulgaria, national elites decided to make joining the EU a top priority, and pushed for it against all odds. And in countries where leaders did not support EU accession, like Slovakia in the late 1990s, it was civil society and the opposition who campaigned and defeated the government on a platform of EU accession. The driving force, by far the most important single factor, was always the determination of countries who wanted to join. Where this will existed, they managed. Where this was absent, they have not. I believe that this is still the case today.
Values and geopolitics
We have autocratic regimes, in Minsk, in Moscow, which are not much different from previous dictatorial regimes, such as in Portugal or Spain. They fear their own people, and so they arrest dissidents, suppress civil society, and hold farcical elections. At the same time, such regimes are aware of their weak legitimacy. This is why they pretend to be democratic, pretend to hold free and fair elections, buy influence in the Council of Europe. And they cooperate among each other. The laws on NGOs or laws to suppress demonstrations in Russia, Azerbaijan, or Belarus are copies of one another.
Today the big question is: what will happen in Ukraine? There are some in Kiev who want Ukraine to be run along similar lines as Russia: a strong president, no checks and balances, a closed economy. And there are others in the country who oppose this, including some business people who realize the value of being next to the European Union, the biggest integrated market in the world. There is a clear choice: either the “managed democracy” model of Putin, which exports only raw material and the money of its elites, or real parliamentary democracy that every Ukrainian can see when visiting Poland.
It is in the EU’s interest to support democracy in Ukraine. Then, in free elections, Ukrainians can make their own choices. What the EU should oppose, however, is Russian interference and blackmail in its neighborhoods. Since Russia’s elite has much of what it values in the EU –its money, its houses, its families– the EU has enormous leverage (if it should chose to use it) to stop open interference. But the real choice between the Polish and the Russian model has to be made by the people in Ukraine in free and fair elections.
Will Moldova and Georgia “break out”?
In February 2013, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski praised Moldova on his visit to Chisinau as “the greatest hope of the Eastern Partnership.” Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the Republic of Moldova has perhaps demonstrated the greatest political will of all Eastern partners to adopt and implement reforms.” Very soon, Moldovans will be able to travel visa-free to the EU. And so this landlocked country with a population of only 3.5 million has become the surprising frontrunner in the Eastern neighborhood.
The policy question for the EU is whether it finally offers Moldova a true perspective of future integration later in 2014, which goes beyond the current association on the table. I very much hope it will. As for Georgia, I think everything the EU offered to Moldova needs to also be on the table for Georgia. The importance of a stable parliamentary democracy in Georgia for the South Caucasus cannot be overestimated.
The risk of losing ”Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan” to Russia?
Neither Poland nor Lithuania nor Germany is a threat to Belarus. What we see happening instead is that the Russian regime supports another autocracy in Minsk. It is in the EU’s interest for Belarus to be a democracy above all else. There is nothing wrong if the people of Belarus chose, freely and in fair elections, to remain neutral and non-aligned, like Switzerland. However, the EU should, in its own interest in lasting stability, support the democratization of all of its eastern neighbors. It should make travel for young people from Belarus to the EU as easy as possible. It should target the elites in these autocracies with visa bans. It should support independent media, just as this has been done by Radio Free Europe during the Cold War. Trying to appease the regime in Belarus will not wean it away from its alliance with Moscow; democratization would.
Russia also exploits the conflict in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan to its own benefit. This is a tragedy for both societies. It suggests that Russia has every interest in this frozen conflict to remain frozen, whatever the consequences for the people on the ground. But this should not stop other European democracies from defending the values to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves when they joined the Council of Europe in 2001. Let us not be naïve: to insist on human rights will not have an immediate effect. But let us also remember how insistence on basic human rights standards during the Cold War in Europe was used by dissidents in communist regimes to confront their regimes, and how this dissident thinking contributed to the changes in 1989. But why would pressure that Baku release its dissidents or allow free elections, if it wants to remain a member of the Council of Europe, drive the country into the arms of Russia? This is what we see today: autocrats exchanging experiences of how to suppress their own people. That has never brought stability anywhere.
LGBT rights and geopolitics
To many people’s surprise, the biggest challenge Moldova faced on its path towards visa liberalization concerned gay rights. One of the requirements of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan was to pass antidiscrimination legislation protecting minorities, including sexual minorities. However, some public figures across the political spectrum responded to the EU requirement with statements describing gay and lesbians as abnormal. The Communist Party, for example, joined forces with the Orthodox Church, and in February 2012, Balti –Moldova’s second largest city– enacted a local ban on “aggressive propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientations.”
All this had earlier happened in Russia as well. In contrast, however, the Moldovan Parliament adopted an anti-discrimination law in May 2012.
The law forbids all kinds of discrimination and explicitly refers to sexual orientation in relation to discrimination in the workplace. Further, in February 2013, the ban on “propaganda” was also struck down by a local appeals court as unconstitutional. This played a key role in convincing EU member states about the seriousness of the government in Moldova. It also holds important lessons for other countries that aspire to full visa -free travel, such as Georgia and Turkey.
Non-discrimination and Turkey
Now the visa roadmap has finally been handed over, last December. If the experience of other countries are taken as a benchmark, this might lead to full liberalization within two to three years.
At the same time, one of the most important challenges for Turkey will be to address the conditions concerning fundamental rights. The visa roadmap for Turkey states that “the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, of assembly and association in practice” needs to be ensured for visa liberalization to be granted.
While non-discrimination is not explicitly mentioned here, it has been central to every visa liberalization process in every other country, from the Balkans to Moldova and Georgia and Ukraine. It is also raised prominently in the EU’s latest progress report, with half a page alone focused on discrimination of sexual minorities. The current legislation in Turkey is clearly not in line with the acquis either.
Here is the potential for a win-win situation. If Turkey meets the technical conditions of the roadmap –concerning document security and border management– and continues to help the EU to reduce illegal migration across its borders into the EU –as it has done successfully in the past year– then meeting the human rights conditions becomes the ace to win over even reluctant parliaments in the EU.
If Turkey passes a non-discrimination law, and passes the other human rights reforms outlined above, it will have a very strong case when it comes to getting the necessary votes in the European Council, which –and this is crucial– decides on this by qualified majority, so no single EU member state has a veto.
In this way, everyone gains. For this to happen, efforts and advocacy by human rights and civil society organizations become crucial, in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe. Learning from Moldova’s experience here is actually a good starting point for Turkish NGOs as well.
Cutting the Visa Knot- How Turks can Travel freely to Europe, Esi Report, 21 May 2013, http://www.esiweb.org/pdf/esi_document_id_139.pdf
Documents and ESI analysis related to the visa liberalization processes of these countries and others can be found at: http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=483