One of our many newsletters on the Council of Europe
On the 70th anniversary of an institution worth saving
As the Council of Europe reaches the robust age of 70 today some might ask whether there is all that much to celebrate.
After all, at this moment the Council of Europe is in the middle of a serious crisis. Looking only at the past few years this is the trend: it is failing in Russia. It is failing in Azerbaijan. It is failing in Turkey. It has made far too weak an impact on arresting the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland. It is facing serious internal and external threats to its credibility. It has yet to deal seriously with the biggest corruption scandal in its history.
The Council of Europe is in a worrying shape despite the fact that there are very committed people in PACE, where the past two years have seen an uprising of a virtuous coalition of members; despite the fact that there are very committed people in the secretariat; and despite the fact that there are (far too few) countries taking the CoE as seriously in the Committee of Ministers as it deserves.
At the same time, the current leadership in the secretariat in Strasbourg has failed the institution far too long. Mostly, the Committee of Ministers is weak and indecisive. And even in PACE old networks that want to get back to the bad old days of Pedro Agramunt have not given up. (Just check how few MPs are complying with declarations on possible conflicts of interest.)
In the coming months the credibility crisis of the institution could get a lot worse. There are budget cuts planned that could do lasting damage. These are imposed because of blackmail by a big member mocking the values of the institution. The Council of Europe is facing threats today that could destroy it as a force for good.
This would be tragic. For there is a lot that is worth defending – from the ECtHR and the Venice Commission to Greco, the CPT and the Human Rights Commissioner’s office. There is also a lot to be inspired by in the idea of a club of imperfect European democracies holding each other to the highest standards – and focusing on core human rights. There is a real need for such an institution today, as human rights are coming under attack across Europe, in old and new democracies.
ESI has written many reports, newsletters and papers about the Council of Europe in recent years. We advocated on a number of issues – from political prisoners to corruption, from resisting blackmail to protecting the court. Sometimes we even saw results after long efforts. At times it seemed quixotic – there were not that many other think tanks in Europe working on the institution itself with such obsessive focus.
We would not have done this, had we not been convinced that the Council of Europe matters hugely. That it is truly an institution representing values and embodying ideals worth fighting for. And yet, there is one more thing we have also learned since 2012: never assume that anything will sort itself out without effort and vigilance. And any impact requires a huge coalition of people who care enough to take risks – in and outside the institution. Here civil society organisations have an important role of play.
So this is our anniversary present: links to newsletters we sent out on the Council of Europe since 2012, joined by our hope that the reports which we will write about developments in Strasbourg in the coming decade will be more uplifting.
And with this hope, we wish a very happy anniversary!
As Italy votes – the case for a humane migration policy that works
John Dalhuisen and Gerald Knaus
“Those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse.”
Just over a year ago, the Italian government struck a deal with the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. Following the arrival of half a million refugees and migrants in just three years, the centre-left Democratic Party – the same party that set up the ambitious search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, back in 2013 – decided that it had to act. A short Memorandum of Understanding was followed by a string of agreements with Libyan mayors and tribal leaders negotiated – often personally – by Italy’s Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti. The policy had an immediate effect: arrivals in the second half of 2017 were down 70 percent compared to the same period the year before, and deaths at sea declined equally sharply.
Italy’s Libya strategy was backed by the rest of the EU but has been roundly criticised by NGOs and UN agencies for trapping thousands of migrants in a lawless country, in which they risk torture, extortion and slavery, sometimes at the hands of the very groups these agreements were struck with. The Libyan coast guard stands accused of handing over those it intercepts to inhumane detention centres, where abuse is common.
And yet, as Italians head to the polls today one thing looks certain: whichever coalition forms the next government, it is likely to continue the policy of the current minister of the interior, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the country. No political party polling more than a few percent is opposed to the policy. In an election dominated by migration, promising to control borders is a pre-requisite for success.
This sobering reality highlights the true challenge for those who care about the right of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya. It is this: how can one persuade those who will shape Italy’s Mediterranean policy in the coming years that a policy that combines control with empathy, effectiveness with humanity, and reduced irregular migration with human rights is not only possible but also electorally preferable for the next Italian government?
A humane policy must aim for zero deaths at sea. It must ensure that all those rescued by European boats have access to a fair, effective asylum procedure. It must ensure that nobody who is intercepted by the Libyan coast guard ends up in inhumane detention centres. And it must protect those in need of protection from being pushed back into danger in their home countries.
How can these goals be met? The next Italian government should propose to its European partners a realistic plan that includes the following four elements.
First, a common effort is needed to ensure sufficient search and rescue capacity beyond Libya’s territorial waters. In the first six months of 2017 more than 2,500 refugees and migrants drowned. 600 people still drowned in the second half of the year despite the reduction in departures. Instead of demonising NGO rescue boats or leaving it to the Libyan coast guard or the Italian authorities, all European countries should make an even bigger effort.
Second, Western support to the Libyan coast guard and the Libyan authorities should be linked to a clear condition: that anybody intercepted/rescued by its boats and taken back to Libya should be offered immediate evacuation to Niger by IOM. The numbers involved make this possible: in 2017 the Libyan coast guard intercepted less than 1,500 people a month on average. In Niger, those who choose not to apply for asylum should be offered assisted return to their countries of origin via IOM. Those who do should be resettled to a safe country if found to be in need of protection. The same should happen with all those (around 5,000) currently held in Libyan detention centres.
Third, securing European agreements with key African countries of origin for the return of all failed asylum seekers arriving after an agreed date should be a priority. The challenge is to find a humane, legal way of reducing irregular economic migration. This can best be achieved by changing the incentives that currently exist for would be economic migrants. Currently the only disincentives to travelling to Europe are the cost and the risk of the journey. The vast majority of migrants who make it to Italy can be confident that they will be able to stay, whether they are granted international protection or not. Last year 130,000 people applied for asylum in Italy, a majority from West African countries. The same year 12,000 applicants were granted international protection. But (almost) everybody stays in Europe, regardless of their asylum status. One obvious reason for this is the reluctance of countries of origin to cooperate in the identification and return of their citizens. In 2016 more than 100,000 people arrived in Italy from six West African nations; around 4,300 citizens of these countries were granted international protection. And 255 returned, voluntarily or by force. Successive Italian authorities have found it easiest to allow migrants to either move on to other European countries, or integrate, however precariously, into Italy’s thriving black economy. Countries of origins should be offered an annual contingent of regular visas (not just by Italy) for work or study. Such agreements will only work if they are found to be in the interests of countries of origin.
Fourth, seriously discouraging irregular economic migration also requires a quick, but fair, asylum process that should seek to award a protection status or move to deport those found to have no claim within two to three months at most. This need not come at the expense of quality: the Netherlands have one of the best systems in Europe and it consistently delivers informed decisions within this timeframe. It may require keeping most asylum-seekers in closed centres for this duration. It would certainly require the financial and administrative support of other EU countries, which should relocate recognized asylum seekers. This would not be cheap to run, or easy to set up, but as a joint European effort it is doable.
This plan would not end all arrivals in Europe – which is not the goal – but it would sharply reduce numbers – which is. It would create legal channels for refugees and economic migrants. It would reduce deaths at sea and not condemn people to torture in Libyan detention centres. It would guarantee access to asylum for those who do reach Italy and uphold the core principles of the Refugee convention for those who do not.
But would such a “Rome plan” be in the interest of the next Italian government? We believe that it would. Italian politics highlights realities which are true for most of the EU today. Any political party that fails to promise to control borders renders itself unelectable. At the same time there are a lot of voters who care about the right to asylum and do not want to see those who cross borders treated inhumanely. Offering such policies would distinguish mainstream parties, on the left and on the right, from racists on the far-right.
And the human rights community? Many will welcome the commitment to legal paths, but baulk at the prospect of more returns, faster procedures and closed asylum processing centres. But those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse. Demagogues are best defeated by demonstrating – with conviction and through effective policies – that a world in which empathy has a central place, is possible.
Such a plan is in Italy’s interest. The EU should back it. So should anyone who cares about human rights in the Mediterranean and about the welfare of those so desperately trying to cross it.
John Dalhuisen is ESI Senior Fellow and former director for Europe @ Amnesty International; Gerald Knaus is ESI founding chairman
Sometimes a speech really needs no further comment. Here is Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, speaking on 15 March 2016, the Hungarian National day. All I did is to highlight some passages in old. For the rest, please trust me: this is worth reading.
“Salutations to you, Hungarian freedom, on this the day you are born!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Compatriots, Hungarians around the World,
With a cockade sewn by Júlia Szendrey pinned to his chest, a volume of poems in his pocket, and the still thrilling experience of the Revolution in his head, these are the words with which the poet Sándor Petőfi welcomed the fifteenth of March in his journal. Salutations to you, Hungarian freedom, on this the day you are born! And today also, one hundred and sixty-eight years later, it is with unfettered joy, the optimism of early spring, high hopes and an elevated spirit that across the Carpathian Basin we celebrate – from Beregszász to Szabadka, from Rimaszombat to Kézdivásárhely: every Hungarian with one heart, one soul and one will.
Just as then in the decisive battles of the Freedom Fight, now also Hungarian hearts are cheered by the fact that we have with us a Polish legion. I welcome the spirited successors of General Bem: we welcome the sons of the Polish nation. As always throughout our shared thousand-year history, now, too, we are standing by you in the battle you are fighting for your country’s freedom and independence. We are with you, and we send this message to Brussels: more respect to the Polish people, more respect to Poland! Greetings to you. It is a sign of the shared fate of Poland and Hungary that another glorious revolution of ours – that of 1956 – was born between the Bem Statue and Kossuth tér in Budapest. It rose up with the unstoppable force of our glorious ancestors, and by the evening it had dragged the Soviet generalissimo out of his boots.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By nature, Hungarians stand up for what is right when the need arises. What is more, they fight for it if needs be, but do not seek out trouble for its own sake. They know that they can often achieve more through patience than through sabre-rattling. This is why those like us are rarely given to revolutions. We have only gone down that path twice in one hundred and seventy years. When we did follow that path, we had reason to do so: we felt that our lungs would burst if we could not breathe in freedom. We threw ourselves into it, and once we had started a revolution, we did so in style. Modern European history has preserved both Hungarian revolutions among the glorious memories of the world: two blazing stars, two national uprisings bursting forth in 1848 and 1956 from Hungarian aspirations and Hungarian interests. Glory to the heroes, honour to the brave. Chroniclers have also recorded the revolution of 1918–19, but the memories of that period are not preserved on the pages of glory; indeed, not only are those memories written on different pages, but they appear in a different volume altogether. The 1918–19 revolution can be found in the volume devoted to Bolshevik anti-Hungarian subversions launched in the service of foreign interests and foreign ambitions; it features under the heading “appalling examples of intellectual and political degeneracy”. Yes, we Hungarians have two revolutionary traditions: one leads from 1848, through 1956 and the fall of communism, all the way to the Fundamental Law and the current constitutional order; the bloodline of the other tradition leads from Jacobin European ancestors, through 1919, to communism after World War II and the Soviet era in Hungary. Life in Hungary today is a creation of the spiritual heirs and offspring of the ’48 and ’56 revolutions. Today, as then, the heartbeat of this revolutionary tradition moves and guides the nation’s political, economic and spiritual life: equality before the law, responsible government, a national bank, the sharing of burdens, respect for human dignity and the unification of the nation. Today, as then, the ideals of ’48 and ’56 are the pulse driving the life force of the nation, and the intellectual and spiritual blood flow of the Hungarian people. Let us give thanks that this may be so, let us give thanks that finally the Lord of History has led us onto this path. Soli Deo gloria!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Not even the uplifting mood of a celebration day can let us forget that the tradition of 1919, too, is still with us – though fortunately its pulse is just a faint flicker. Yet at times it can make quite a noise. But without a host animal, its days are numbered. It is in need of another delivery of aid from abroad in the form of a major intellectual and political infusion; unless it receives this, then after its leaves and branches have withered, its roots will also dry up in the Hungarian motherland’s soil, which is hostile to internationalism. And this is all well and good.
A decent person who raises their children and works hard to build the course of their life does not usually end up as a revolutionary. The right-thinking person who stands on their own two feet and has control over their future knows that upheavals and the sudden upending of the ordinary course of life rarely ends well. The person of goodwill who seeks a life of serene and peaceful progress knows that trying to take two steps at once leads to you tripping over your own legs, and instead of moving forward, you will land flat on your face. And yet these right-thinking people of goodwill, these upstanding citizens of Pest instantly rallied to the call of our revolutions, marching at the front, right behind the university students. They formed the backbone of the revolutions and freedom fights, and they were to pay with their own blood for the honour of the Hungarian people. Every revolution is like the people who make it. On the committee which oversaw order during the 15 March revolution, in the shadow of the colossal figures of Petőfi and Vasvári, we find the furrier Máté Gyurkovics, and the button-maker György Molnár. Our revolutions were led by respectable citizens, military officers, lawyers, writers, doctors, engineers, honest tradespeople, farmers and workers with a sense of national duty: Hungarians who embodied the nation’s best aspects, our homeland’s very best. Hungarian revolutionaries are not warriors for hare-brained ideologies, deranged utopias or demented, unsolicited plans for world happiness; in Pest you find no traces of the illusory visions of quack philosophers or the raging resentment of failed intellectuals. The revolutionaries of 1848 did not want to salvage stones from the ruins of absolutist oppression in order to build a temple to yet another tyranny; therefore the Hungarian revolution’s songs were not written in honour of the steel blade of the guillotine or the rope of the gallows. Our songs are not sung by lynch mobs or execution-thirsty crowds; the Pest revolution is not a hymn to chaos, revenge, or butchery. The 1848 Revolution is a solemn and dignified moment in our history, when the wounds of the glorious Hungarian nation opened once again. Springing from constitutional roots, it demanded the granting and return of the rights seized from and denied to the nation. It is exhilarating, but sober; ecstatic but practical; glorious, but temperate. It is Hungarian to the core.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Three weeks before his death in battle, in his last letter to János Arany, Sándor Petőfi asked the following question: “So what are you going to do?” When we, his modern descendants, read this, it is as if he is asking us the same question. So what are you going to do? How will you make use of your inheritance? Are the Hungarian people still worthy of their ancestors’ reputation? Do you know the law of the Hungarians of old – that whatever you do should not only be measured by its utility, but also by universal standards? This is because your deeds must pass the test not only here, but also in eternity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have our inheritance, the Hungarian people still exist, Buda still stands, we are who we were, and we shall be who we are. Our reputation travels far and wide; clever people and intelligent peoples acknowledge the Hungarians. We adhere to the ancient law, and also measure our deeds by universal standards. We teach our children that their horizon should be eternity. Whether we shall succeed, whether finally we see the building of a homeland which is free, independent, worthy and respected the world over – one which was raised high by our forebears from 1848, and for which they sacrificed their lives – we cannot yet know. We do know, however, that the current European constellation is an unstable one, and so we have some testing times ahead. The times in which we live press us with this question, which is like a hussar’s sabre held to our chest: “Shall we live in slavery or in freedom?” The destiny of the Hungarians has become intertwined with that of Europe’s nations, and has grown to be so much a part of the union that today not a single people – including the Hungarian people – can be free if Europe is not free. And today Europe is as fragile, weak and sickly as a flower being eaten away by a hidden worm. Today, one hundred and sixty-eight years after the great freedom fights of its peoples, Europe – our common home – is not free.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe is not free, because freedom begins with speaking the truth. In Europe today it is forbidden to speak the truth. A muzzle is a muzzle – even if it is made of silk. It is forbidden to say that today we are not witnessing the arrival of refugees, but a Europe being threatened by mass migration. It is forbidden to say that tens of millions are ready to set out in our direction. It is forbidden to say that immigration brings crime and terrorism to our countries. It is forbidden to say that the masses of people coming from different civilisations pose a threat to our way of life, our culture, our customs, and our Christian traditions. It is forbidden to say that, instead of integrating, those who arrived here earlier have built a world of their own, with their own laws and ideals, which is forcing apart the thousand-year-old structure of Europe. It is forbidden to say that this is not accidental and not a chain of unintentional consequences, but a planned, orchestrated campaign, a mass of people directed towards us. It is forbidden to say that in Brussels they are constructing schemes to transport foreigners here as quickly as possible and to settle them here among us. It is forbidden to say that the purpose of settling these people here is to redraw the religious and cultural map of Europe and to reconfigure its ethnic foundations, thereby eliminating nation states, which are the last obstacle to the international movement. It is forbidden to say that Brussels is stealthily devouring ever more slices of our national sovereignty, and that in Brussels today many are working on a plan for a United States of Europe, for which no one has ever given authorisation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s enemies of freedom are cut from a different cloth than the royal and imperial rulers of old, or those who ran the Soviet system; they use a different set of tools to force us into submission. Today they do not imprison us, they do not transport us to camps, and they do not send in tanks to occupy countries loyal to freedom. Today the international media’s artillery bombardments, denunciations, threats and blackmail are enough – or rather have been enough so far. The peoples of Europe are slowly awakening, they are regrouping, and will soon regain ground. Europe’s beams laid on the suppression of truth are creaking and cracking. The peoples of Europe may have finally understood that their future is at stake: not only are their prosperity, their comfort and their jobs at stake, but their very security and the peaceful order of their lives are in danger. The peoples of Europe, who have been slumbering in abundance and prosperity, have finally understood that the principles of life upon which we built Europe are in mortal danger. Europe is a community of Christian, free and independent nations; it is the equality of men and women, fair competition and solidarity, pride and humility, justice and mercy.
This danger is not now threatening us as wars and natural disasters do, which take the ground from under our feet in an instant. Mass migration is like a slow and steady current of water which washes away the shore. It appears in the guise of humanitarian action, but its true nature is the occupation of territory; and their gain in territory is our loss of territory. Hordes of implacable human rights warriors feel an unquenchable desire to lecture and accuse us. It is claimed that we are xenophobic and hostile, but the truth is that the history of our nation is also one of inclusion and the intertwining of cultures. Those who have sought to come here as new family members, as allies or as displaced persons fearing for their lives have been let in to make a new home for themselves. But those who have come here with the intention of changing our country and shaping our nation in their own image, those who have come with violence and against our will, have always been met with resistance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At first, they are only talking about a few hundred, a thousand or two thousand relocated people. But not a single responsible European leader would dare to swear under oath that this couple of thousand will not eventually increase to tens or hundreds of thousands. If we want to stop this mass migration, we must first of all curb Brussels. The main danger to Europe’s future does not come from those who want to come here, but from Brussels’ fanatics of internationalism. We cannot allow Brussels to place itself above the law. We shall not allow it to force upon us the bitter fruit of its cosmopolitan immigration policy. We shall not import to Hungary crime, terrorism, homophobia and synagogue-burning anti-Semitism. There shall be no urban districts beyond the reach of the law, there shall be no mass disorder or immigrant riots here, and there shall be no gangs hunting down our women and daughters. We shall not allow others to tell us whom we can let into our home and country, whom we will live alongside, and whom we will share our country with. We know how these things go. First we allow them to tell us whom we must take in, then they force us to serve foreigners in our country. In the end we find ourselves being told to pack up and leave our own land. Therefore we reject the forced resettlement scheme, and we shall tolerate neither blackmail, nor threats.
The time has come to ring the warning bell. The time has come for opposition and resistance. The time has come to gather allies to us. The time has come to raise the flag of proud nations. The time has come to prevent the destruction of Europe, and to save the future of Europe. To this end, regardless of party affiliation, we call on every citizen of Hungary to unite, and we call on every European nation to unite. The leaders and citizens of Europe must no longer live in two separate worlds. We must restore the unity of Europe. We the peoples of Europe cannot be free individually if we are not free together. If we unite our forces, we shall succeed; if we pull in different directions, we shall fail. Together we are strength, disunited we are weakness. Either together, or not at all – today this is the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1848 it was written in the book of fate that nothing could be done against the Habsburg Empire. If then we had resigned ourselves to that outcome, our fate would have been sealed and the German sea would have swallowed up the Hungarians. In 1956 it was written in the book of fate that we were to remain an occupied and sovietised country until patriotism was extinguished in the very last Hungarian. If then we had resigned ourselves to that outcome, our fate would have been sealed, and the Soviet sea would have swallowed up the Hungarians. Today it is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old and national. They will blend cultures, religions and populations, until our many-faceted and proud Europe will finally become bloodless and docile. And if we resign ourselves to this outcome, our fate will be sealed, and we will be swallowed up in the enormous belly of the United States of Europe. The task which awaits the Hungarian people, the nations of Central Europe and the other European nations which have not yet lost all common sense is to defeat, rewrite and transform the fate intended for us. We Hungarians and Poles know how to do this. We have been taught that only if you are brave enough do you look danger in the face. We must therefore drag the ancient virtue of courage out from under the silt of oblivion. First of all we must put steel in our spines, and we must clearly answer the foremost, the single most important question determining our fate with a voice so loud so that it can be heard far and wide. The question upon which the future of Europe stands or falls is this: “Shall we live in slavery or in freedom?” That is the question – give your answer!
Wenn der türkische Premierminister Ahmet Davutoglu diese Woche nach Berlin kommt geht es um viel: die Zukunft europäischer Asylpolitik, die Glaubwürdigkeit Deutschlands in der Flüchtlingskrise, und die Frage, ob Angela Merkel einen Plan hat, der funktionieren kann. Regierungschefs in Europa beschuldigen Merkel sie habe Hunderttausende „eingeladen“ und wisse nicht weiter. Ehemalige Verfassungsrichter und Bundeskanzler beklagen Planlosigkeit. Dabei hat Merkel einen Plan: er beruht auf der Erkenntnis, dass sich Kontrolle über Europas Außengrenze nur in Zusammenarbeit mit der Türkei zurückgewinnen lässt. Dafür muss die EU der Türkei etwas bieten: die geregelte Übernahme von Flüchtlingen, Finanzhilfen, Visumfreiheit. Dafür setzt sich Merkel seit Oktober ein.
Hat sie sich geirrt? Nichts deutet darauf hin, dass sich 2016 weniger Menschen über die Ägäis auf den Weg machen werden als im letzten Jahr. Oder dass weniger Kinder ertrinken werden. Dennoch ist die deutsche Kanzlerin ihren Kritikern voraus. Wer deren Alternativen durchdenkt, erkennt, wie wenig Substanz sie haben. Manche träumen von einem Zaun nach israelischem Vorbild an der deutsch-österreichischen Grenze; oder von Australien, wo Flüchtlinge, die über das Meer kommen, auf Inseln gebracht werden. Doch der israelische Zaun wird von Soldaten mit Schussbefehl bewacht; der Bau hatte Jahren gebraucht. Und die EU hat im Gegensatz zu Australien keine Nachbarn wie Nauru, wo sie Flüchtlinge absetzten könnte. Von rechtlichen, politischen, moralischen Fragen einmal abgesehen: wie das „Schließen“ der Grenzen Deutschlands praktisch aussehen solle sagen Merkels Kritiker nicht.
Denn Merkel hat grundsätzlich recht: wenn Europa die Kontrolle über seine Grenzen wiedergewinnen will, geht das nur mit Hilfe der Türkei. Doch ihre Kritiker haben auch recht, wenn sie an der derzeitigen Strategie zweifeln. So wie man sich in Brüssel die Zusammenarbeit mit Ankara vorgestellt hat wird sie nicht gelingen. Versprechen sind zu vage. Es fehlt an Vertrauen und an klaren Signalen.
Und auch an Realismus. Selbst wenn türkische Politiker etwa regelmäßig versprechen, die Ägäis für Migration schließen zu wollen, wird ihnen das nicht gelingen und es genügt auch nicht zu versichern, dass sie „sich bemühen“. Notwendig ist eine Zusammenarbeit zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei wie es sie noch nie zuvor gab. Die Türkei müsste sich bereit erklären, jeden Flüchtling, der die griechischen Inseln erreicht, zurückzunehmen. Dafür gibt es schon das griechisch-türkische Rücknahmeabkommen; es ist kein rechtliches, sondern ein politisches Problem. Denn es fehlen noch zwei Voraussetzungen: die Türkei müsste im Einklang mit dem griechischen Recht ein sicherer Drittstaat sein, und dafür ihr Flüchtlingsgesetz, das seit 2014 in Kraft ist, umsetzen und bereits gestellte Asylanträge im Land sofort bearbeiten. Und Griechenland müsste sich logistisch vorbereiten, um jeden, der etwa nach dem 31. Januar Lesbos und andere Inseln erreicht, in die Türkei zurückschicken zu können. Das wäre sinnvoller als Hotspots für die Verteilung von Flüchtlingen aus Griechenland in andere EU Staaten, denn letzteres würde an der Zahl der Ankommenden nichts ändern. Die Planung müsste heute beginnen. Dafür bräuchte Athen Hilfe und die erklärte Bereitschaft der Türkei. Dann ginge es um zählbare Ergebnisse: wie viele Asylverfahren werden in der Türkei abgewickelt? Wie viele Leute werden von Griechenland jeden Tag zurückgenommen? Die Umsetzung türkischer Zusagen könnte man täglich überprüfen.
Warum sollte die Türkei darauf eingehen? Hier kommt Deutschland ins Spiel. Es ist unvorstellbar, dass die Türkei in den nächsten Monaten jeden Flüchtling, der Griechenland erreicht, zurücknehmen wird ohne konkrete, substantielle und sofortige Hilfe. Es fehlt in Ankara an Vertrauen in die Zusagen der EU, und dafür gibt es gute Gründe. Von den drei
Milliarden Euro Hilfe für Flüchtlinge ist nichts zu sehen. Das Versprechen auf Visaliberalisierung ist unverbindlich. Der Plan, Kontingente von Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei aufzunehmen, ist derzeit so wenig glaubwürdig wie der blamabel scheiternde Plan 160,000 Flüchtlinge innerhalb der EU zu verteilen. Bei der Kontingentlösung versteckt sich Deutschland hinter der Europäischen Kommission, und diese hinter dem Flüchtlingskommissariat der UN. Man kann eine richtige Idee auch durch schlechte Planung ad absurdum führen.
Denn auch hier gilt: Versprechen genügen nicht. Wenn Deutschland will, dass die Türkei ab dem nächsten Monat Flüchtlinge zurücknehmen soll, dann muss Deutschland bereit sein in diesem Jahr hundertausende Syrer direkt aus der Türkei aufzunehmen. Das kann gelingen, wenn deutsche Behörden dies direkt mit den Behörden in Ankara planen. Dafür bedarf es weder der Europäischen Kommission noch der UN. Merkel könnte Davutoglu anbieten, in einem ersten Schritt bis April 100,000 anerkannte syrische Flüchtlinge direkt aus den türkischen Flüchtlingslagern aufzunehmen. Diese sind bereits erfasst, man kennt ihre Nationalität, es kämen Familien, nicht nur Männer, und man könnte die Fingerabdrücke mit europäischen Datenbanken abgleichen. Dann könnte die Türkei täglich zählen, wie viele Flüchtlinge ihr abgenommen werden. Es gibt auch keinen guten Grund, warum Deutschland oder Schweden ihren Anteil an den 3 Milliarden Hilfe nicht direkt über nationale Organisationen ausgeben sollen, ohne Umweg über Brüssel. Es geht darum Schulen und Kliniken für Flüchtlinge noch in diesem Jahr zu bauen, Lehrer zu bezahlen. Wo Vertrauen fehlt, wie heute zwischen Ankara und der EU, müssen konkrete Resultate dieses erst aufbauen.
Bedeutet dies, dass sich Deutschland damit von einer notwendigen Reform des europäischen Asylwesens abwendet? Nein, im Gegenteil. Eine solche Reform kann nur gelingen, wenn die akute Krise unter Kontrolle ist. Erst dann kann Berlin fordern, dass ab jetzt in jedem Jahr bis zu 100,000 Flüchtlinge, die die EU erreichen, verteilt werden, als Preis für Schengen und Ersatz für das Dublin-regime. Dies entspräche der Anzahl von Menschen, die vor 2014 im Durchschnitt jedes Jahr die EU Außengrenzen überwunden haben. Gelingt es Merkel aber nicht in den nächsten Wochen einen Plan zu entwickeln, der Ergebnisse zeigt, dann führt dies zum weiteren Erstarken jener Kräfte in der EU, die das Asylrecht überhaupt abschaffen wollen; jener die gegen Flüchtlinge, die EU, die Türkei, für Putin und gegen Muslime agitieren.
Deutschland, Europa und die Türkei brauchen einen Merkel Plan B. Darüber müssen Merkel und Davutoglu reden. Davon muss Berlin Ankara überzeugen.
How the November refugee summit can fail – and how to get a deal that works
In recent days ESI presented versions of this paper and these arguments to European policy makers.
Presenting ESI proposal at OSCE expert panel in Warsaw
On Sunday 29 November the EU and Turkey will meet at an extraordinary summit in Brussels. The objective of this meeting is to make commitments that will stop the unregulated influx of currently more than 200,000 refugees per month into the EU from Turkey.
There are two ways in which this summit might fail. One would be the absence of any agreement. Since this would send a bad signal to the publics in EU member states, every effort will be made to avoid this.
However, there is a second way in which the summit can go wrong. It is even more dangerous. This is a scenario where the EU and Turkey agree on a deal, but merely set the stage for failure in the coming months, because the influx of refugees coming into the EU from Turkey will not be reduced. Both sides will then blame each other. Frustration will erode already abysmally low levels of trust. Precious time will be wasted and it might become harder to reach a workable deal later.
For the EU to avoid such a “disastrous success” on Sunday, member states need to understand why neither the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan (from 15 October) nor the current draft statement to be agreed on 29 November will make any significant difference to the flow of refugees. The devil really lies in the detail.
What is wrong with the current draft statement
The current draft concluding statement for the Sunday summit has eleven paragraphs. What do they contain?
There are many references to aside commitments for Turkey and the EU to “meet and talk” more – at regular annual summits; at regular political dialogue meetings; at regular high-level meetings on thematic issues; at regular Association Council meetings; at a meeting at the end of 2016 to upgrade the existing customs union. More meetings and talking might be good, or bad, or meaningless, depending on the results, but it does not change things on the ground, and certainly not in the short term.
This leaves four “substantive” paragraphs: one on visa liberalisation and readmission; one on accession talks; one on EU financial assistance for Turkey; and one on “activating” the October 2015 EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan. To see why these measures will make no real difference to the flow of refugees in the Aegean, let us take a closer look at each.
Visa and readmission
The EU and Turkey launched a formal visa liberalisation process in December 2013. The goal of this process is to remove the requirement for Turkish citizens to obtain a visa for short (up to three months) visits of the EU’s Schengen zone as tourists or for business.
According to the EU roadmap on which this process is based, Turkey has to meet 72 requirements to qualify for visa-free travel. In an October 2014 assessment the European Commission found for 27 requirements that Turkey was “far from meeting this benchmark” or that there were “no particular positive developments to address them.” (see below)
There was always a simple principle: once Turkey meets the conditions of the visa roadmap (at least as much as other countries from the Balkans did who received visa liberalisation in recent years) the Commission will propose to lift the visa requirement.
At present the EU and Turkey aim to agree on the following this Sunday:
“The European Commission will present a second progress report on the implementation by Turkey of the visa liberalization roadmap by early March 2016.”
The European Commission will “present its third progress report in autumn 2016 with a view to completing the visa liberalisation process i.e. the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by October 2016 once the requirements of the Roadmap are met.”
Note: this does not add anything to what was always the case! It was always true that the European Commission would ask member states to lift (by a qualified majority) the visa requirement once the requirements of the roadmap are met. There is no “concession” here. Nor is there any commitment by member states on how they will vote on this in October.
Which raises the question: would it not be better for the EU to see Turkey meet all criteria by March 2016? Especially if this is essential to reduce the flow of migrants across the Aegean?
In return for this non-concession, Turkey is expected to do something that looks superficially important but that will also make no difference:
The EU and Turkey “agree that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement will become fully applicable from June 2016.”
A track record of implementation of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is one of the 72 conditions in the visa roadmap. The readmission agreement states that Turkey is to take back all third country nationals three years after the entry into force of the readmission agreement, which will be on 1 October 2017.
However, what does it really mean if Turkey agrees to make it “fully applicable” from June 2016? What will be the concrete impact on movements in the Aegean? Most people who reach the EU through the Greek islands are Syrians. Anyone who reaches the EU and applies for asylum cannot be returned to Turkey unless their asylum application is processed and rejected (i.e. they are found to be “economic migrants”, the language the draft statement uses). In 2014, only 5 percent of Syrian asylum seekers were rejected across the EU. Now the rejection rate might be even lower. The rejection cognition rates for other nationalities reaching the EU in high numbers, Afghanis and Iraqis, were also low in 2014.
This significantly reduces the number of people that could be returned. An asylum procedure is usually also a lengthy process since asylum seekers rejected at first instance can appeal and are allowed to stay until the court makes its decision. This often takes a year or more.
There is another problem. Very few migrants apply for asylum in Greece. They apply in Germany or Sweden or other EU countries further north. However, if they reach these countries through the Western Balkans, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement no longer applies. It requires that persons to whom it is applied “illegally and directly entered the territory of the Member States after having stayed on, or transited through, the territory of Turkey” (Art. 4). Those who take the Balkan route enter the EU “directly” from Serbia, not Turkey.
In fact, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is unnecessary. What really matters is that Turkey already has a readmission agreement in force with Greece since 2002. Between 2002 and the end of last year, Greece asked for the readmission of 135,000 irregular migrants. Turkey accepted 13,100 of these, and in the end 3,800 (3 percent) were returned to Turkey. In 2015, Turkey has accepted more requests. But so far, only 8 people have actually been returned to Turkey this year – by the time Turkey is ready to admit them, they are usually no longer in Greece.
Readmission of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey
Migrants whose readmission Greece requested
Migrants accepted by Turkey
Migrants actually readmitted
This means concretely that the full entry into force of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement in summer 2016 does not add anything to what the Greece-Turkey readmission agreement already provides for. It does not apply to those who apply for asylum and are waiting for the decision. It does not apply to those who obtain asylum. And legally it does not apply to rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrant who have reached EU territory after transiting through the Western Balkans.
As currently formulated, the commitments to visa liberalisation and readmission appear strong and raise expectations but are in fact weak and inconsequential. They set the stage for another round of mutual recriminations, acrimony and disappointment. And they will not change the dynamic of refugees crossing the Aegean.
Accession process “acceleration”
At the summit, the EU will also commit to open one chapter in the EU accession talks, in December. This sounds good, but what does it actually mean?
Note that this does not actually constitute an “acceleration” of Turkey-EU accession talks. More than one decade after the start of the accession talks, 14 out of 34 negotiating chapters have been opened. In the first five years (2005-2010), 13 chapters were opened; in the second five years (2010-2015) 1 chapter was. Now 1 more will bring the total number to 15. This is still an excruciatingly slow process.
Note also that this is the only commitment concerning enlargement that the EU is planning to make. While there is “language” (as diplomats might say) referring to five other chapters, which have been blocked by Cyprus for many years, all the EU promises here is that the Commission will do “preparatory” work “without prejudice to the position of member states”. In plain language this means that the preparatory work may lead to nothing at all if Cyprus maintains its blockage.
In fact, the problem goes deeper. What does opening a chapter in December mean for Turkish citizens? The chapter concerned is “Economic and monetary policy” (chapter 17). One of the main issues that the chapter covers is the independence of central banks.
According to the recently published 2015 Turkey Progress Report, the past year has seen “increased political pressure on the central bank [which] undermines its independence and credibility.” Will this change just because the chapter will be opened? For the Turkish government, having influence on the central bank is convenient. Maintaining it comes at no cost as long as there is no real prospect of joining the EU. But carrying out reforms is acrtually the only real way for Turkey to “reenergize” the EU accession process. Everything else is political theatre.
The EU also promises money for the refugees in Turkey:
“The EU will provide immediate and continuous humanitarian assistance in Turkey. It will also expand significantly its overall financial support.
A Refugee Facility for Turkey was established by the Commission to coordinate and streamline actions financed in order to deliver efficient and complementary support to Syrians under temporary protection and host communities in Turkey.
The EU is committed to provide an initial 3 billion euros of additional resources from the Union’s budget and contributions from Member States. The need for and nature of this funding will be reviewed in the light of the developing situation.”
Note: the money is not yet available, even though the EU is committed to mobilising it and working on it. 500 million are to come out of the EU budget and 2.5 billion from member states. If and when they will provide this sum of money is unknown. Member states have also committed to increasing funding for the EU’s Syria Trust Fund, which addresses the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey and other countries of the region. Since September, they have pledged only 49 of 500 million.
The Refugee Facility will become operational on 1 January 2016. A Steering Committee will provide strategic guidance, coordinate with other funding mechanisms, and decide on which actions will be financed. Turkey will be represented on this committee in an advisory capacity. This is commendable. Many Syrian refugees in Turkey are in need of humanitarian assistance, and many of their children are in need of school education; only 200,000 of the 700,000 school-age children actually go to school, due to the language barrier and limited capacities of Turkish schools.
However, even if the education problem were resolved and all Syrian refugees in need received humanitarian aid, would this convince them to stay in Turkey? Many refugees are looking for a place where they can start new lives after many years of waiting – where they can work (in Turkey they are not allowed to), re-train if needed, where there is assistance if they do not find a job straight away, where their children receive good education, which offers them a long-term perspective. In this regard, Germany will remain more attractive in many ways.
The language in the current draft declaration on what Turkey promises to do in order to offer a credible perspective to Syrians in the country remains vague and general (“…Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”). This will not keep any Syrians from moving to the EU.
Activating the joint action plan
There is one more point in the statement that promises more than it can deliver:
“Turkey and the EU have decided to activate the Joint Action Plan that had been agreed until now ad referenda on 15 October 2015, to step up their cooperation for support of Syrians under temporary protection and migration management to address the crisis created by the situation in Syria. The EU and Turkey agreed to implement the Joint Action Plan which will bring order into migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration.”
How the joint action plan will help to stem irregular migration is not really explained. The draft statements mentions three specific points, all vague. One is cooperation on “economic migrants”:
“As a consequence, both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on economic migrants, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU, ensuring the application of the established bilateral readmission provisions and swiftly returning economic migrants to their countries of origin.”
The problem is obvious again: in order to determine who is an economic migrant, an asylum procedure must be completed. How many asylum applications can Greece deal with, and how long will this take? Germany with a huge administration has been able to issue 32,000 decisions on asylum in October. If Greece takes too long this will not have any “immediate effect.”
There is also the – vague – promise to improve the condition of Syrians now in Turkey:
“Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”
Finally, there is the commitment every EU country makes in every similar statement, from Greece to Croatia to Slovenia, fighting people smugglers. It is not clear why Turkey should be more successful in this endeavour than any other states in South East Europe, in particular since everyone who travels to Greece and is stopped is able to try again until it works.
A deal that works: Merkel Plan 2.0
In recent weeks ESI analysts presented an alternative plan in many European capitals (Berlin, Brussels, Stockholm, The Hague, Vienna, Warsaw). This was an elaboration of the Merkel Plan which ESI published on 4 October:
The European Council on Sunday invites the European Commission to begin right away the process of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkey. This legal process will necessarily last a few months. It should hold out a concrete promise to Turkish citizens: “If Turkey implements the existing readmission agreements with Greece and Bulgaria in full and agrees to take back all new arrivals to these two countries from 1 January 2016, and implements a concrete set of other priority conditions from the roadmap till March, then Turkish citizens will be able to travel without a visa to the EU from 1 April 2016.”
Turkey’s new asylum authority will start to issue decisions in response to asylum claims already in December. Following this Greece declares that it will consider Turkey a safe third country from 1 January 2016.
Turkey and Greece, with support from others (Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office and other EU countries) prepare logistically for Greece to send back refugees to Turkey after 1 January 2016.
Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and other countries in a coalition of the willing commit to take large contingents of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. The process of identifying refugee families will begin on 1 January 2016. The first refugees will leave Turkey in parallel to the first readmissions from Greece in early 2016.
If this readmission to Turkey proceeds as planned, the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the European Parliament will vote in March in favour of lifting the visa requirement for Turkish citizens. The decision becomes effective on 1 April 2016.
The EU and Turkey immediately conduct a joint needs assessment to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees in Turkey, with a focus on ensuring education for all school-age children (currently 500,000 out of 700,000 Syrian school-age children do not go to school). They identify the number of teachers needed, where they can be found, which buildings to use for classes, which equipment and textbooks are necessary, and how much all of this will cost. EU assistance will be visible to the Turkish public. In parallel Turkey will propose a gradual opening of the labour market to Syrians who enjoy protection in Turkey.
When the Syriza government fails this must not mean that the only alternative are the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.
There are pro-European and pro-reform Greeks who will make their voice heard. And there would be a huge reservoir of good-will across Europe for a Greek government that is serious about reforms, does not blame outside forces for its problems and really designs credible reform strategies to replace inchoate reforms proposed by foreigners.
Imagine the next Greek prime minister speaking like this, in Athens as well as in Berlin, in Thessaloniki as well as in Brussels, and also in Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Bratislava:
“As you all know Greece is going through an excruciating financial crisis. Under these conditions we need common sense …
… in Greece we are still hesitant to liberate the administration from the rule of the politicians. We are all embedded in a culture which resists the separation between politics and administration.
In the Greek state as a whole, this is the most important reform which is desperately needed. Unfortunately, in reality it has not advanced much.
The current system of a strikingly unreliable administration tends to reproduce itself. And this is clearly the responsibility of both the Greek government as well as of the EU since it hasn’t touched upon this during the last 34 years.
I dare to say that reforms and changes are not enough in the case of the Greek state. We need to revamp the state and its mentality almost from scratch! A new political culture needs to emerge in order to host a genuine separation of powers within the state.
The current institutional framework under which we operate is excessively centralist and any effort of decentralisation has proved to be inefficient. We are still unable to cooperate effectively with the private sector and increase our productivity. An inextricable web of laws determines the framework within which we are forced to operate.
The state needs to stop being hostile to its citizens. We need a government that will stop fooling citizens and proceeds immediately to some common sense action.
Greece is going through a crucial phase. After the biggest recession ever experienced by a developed country in the post-war period, people are in despair.
Political forces must form a united front on certain fundamental issues – like the state’s modernisation – and negotiate from a better position the country’s future.
The view that we can resort to excessive public spending in order to revive the prosperity of the past is not only surreal; it also ignores the current balance of power in our continent.
In order to distribute wealth you need to create favourable conditions in order to produce it. Unfortunately, there are too many Greek politicians suggesting that sustainable growth can come without radical reforms but in some magic way.
What Greece desperately needs, is radical transformation of its state which can in turn bring change to its political culture. This will be our task.”
PS: Note: this speech was actually delivered by a Greek politician in 2014. A politician who was elected on this platform in 2010 and reelected in 2014 in Greece’s second biggest city.
” … we have an obligation to act in order to preserve Greece’s stability and prosperity. This can only be attained within the Eurozone and the EU. In the unfortunate event that things will go astray, we should all unite and protect the people’s well-being from irresponsible political manoeuvring. Greece cannot afford to waste more time and consume itself in endless and irrational political conflict. I will do whatever I can in my power to avert this. If we manage to pass the dire straits of the immediate future, I am hopeful that our country will enter a phase of creative reform and sustainable growth. Greece has demonstrated in the past and Greeks have demonstrated abroad that if they work under decent conditions, they can definitely thrive.”
Heading to Strasbourg this week – Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the EU
RIDDLE OF THE WEEK
Dear friends, here is a riddle to begin your week:
Why is Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani ambassador and head of its mission to the EU, heading for Strassburg this week for the next session of the European Parliament? Who will he meet and what will he try to achieve in the interest of his country?
Tomorrrow the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament will chose this year’s Sakharov Prize winner. One of the leading contenders is one of the most inspiring human rights activists in the world today: Azerbaijani Leyla Yunus.
There is support for Leyla Yunus across the different party groups. And there is growing concern in Baku. More and more of the great people held in its prisons today are being recognised for their courage and awarded international human rights prizes. Millions spent on lobbying firms, on invitations, on hosting events, on paying “experts” to say how oil matters more than a handful of prisoners … all undermined by a few human rights prizes?
The prospect of an Azerbaijani woman being named together with Nelson Mandela, Wei Jingsheng, Aung San Suu, Memorial, Reporters without borders or Malala Yousafzai should delight Azerbaijani patriots. Already being nominated as one of three finalists in 2014 is a huge distinction for Leyla Yunus.
We hope the Ambassador, heading to Strassburg, will spare a moment to read this latest letter by Leyla Yunus – in jail, separated from her husband, who is also held in isolation, as are so many of her fellow human rights defenders:
“They didn’t just arrest us as a married couple. By doing so they restored a “glorious” Stalin tradition. They indicted us to such a bouquet of fantastic accusations (even Yezhov and Vishinki would lag behind), including a life sentence… While in detention, I clearly understood their goal is not just the destruction, but brutal torture, insults, and physical torment, when death becomes the desired escape from the terrible suffering. This is our reality, and I clearly realize it. In other words, our work received the highest mark on the highest scale… Arif I feel so lonely without you! For 36 years we were shoulder to shoulder, and were hoping to celebrate our 40th anniversary but they are so afraid of us… Good Lord, how could a small, weak, sick woman scare the ruling government? With what?! I know you would say, “traveler will tell the Lacedaemon, that here we lie, true to the Law”. But I still think Leonidas had it easier, simpler… One of 300s.”
And perhaps he will reflect, as he meets these MEPs, about what really serves his country’s interest.
“… they know from their own experience in 1968, and from the Polish experience in 1980-1981, how suddenly a society that seems atomized, apathetic and broken can be transformed into an articulate, united civil society. How private opinion can become public opinion. How a nation can stand on its feet again. And for this they are working and waiting, under the ice.”
Timothy Garton Ash about Charter 77 in communist Czechoslovakia, February 1984
“How come our nation has been able to transcend the dilemma so typical of defeated societies, the hopeless choice between servility and despair?”
Adam Michnik, Letter from the Gdansk Prison, July 1985
We then studied the puzzle of increasing repression / decreasing criticism on the part of the Council of Europe, and the strange pattern of international election monitoring in Azerbaijan:
There have also been a number of newsletters – many making the case for greater support to Azerbaijani human rights defenders, arguing that their fate matters to everyone concerned about the future of human rights in Europe:
Thomas de Waal is one of the leading experts in the world today on the Caucasus, author of “Black Garden, Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War” and “The Caucasus: An Introduction” and a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. He also knows all the key actors in the region for decades, including Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, two of the most impressive intellectuals and human rights defenders in Europe today. The fact that both are in jail in the Azerbaijan of Ilham Aliyev tells you almost everything you need to know about this regime.
The Responsibility of a Politician: Leyla Yunus and the Heirs of Andrei Sakharov
Thomas de Waal
October 11, 2014
In 1989 during some of the most tumultuous days of perestroika, Andrei Sakharov stood up in the Soviet Union’s first popularly elected parliament, the Congress of People’s Deputies, and called for the end of the monopoly on power of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Sakharov was an influential voice, but also a lonely one, speaking amidst a cacophony of old Communist Party nomenklatura officials on the one hand and aspiring nationalists on the other.
At the same time, in the Soviet Union’s non-Russian republics, a few brave activists were inspired by the courage of Sakharov and others. They stepped forward and spoke out about the rights of their republics to win independence and achieve democracy.
These activists were strongest in the three Baltic republics and the three republics of the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In Azerbaijan, the struggle was especially difficult. The Communist Party apparatus clung tenaciously to power. The Popular Front of Azerbaijan had a radical nationalist wing that was ready to use violence. All the while the mutually suicidal conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh was heating up.
A small band of academics and intellectuals in the city of Baku were the first to talk about democracy, the first to warn about the dangers of “provocations” and the first to speak up about the defence of the Armenian minority still living in Azerbaijan. They combined courage with intellectual insight about where their republic was heading.
Leyla Yunus, a young historian, was one of that band, together with her husband, Arif, also a historian and scholar. Yunus was one of the half-dozen founders of Azerbaijan’s Popular Front, an organization that modeled itself on the Popular Fronts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, even as they knew how much harder the struggle was in their country.
As 1989 unwound, Leyla and her colleagues warned that two extremes–the dinosaurs of the Communist nomenklatura and the nationalist radicals–were feeding off one another in a dangerous game of bluff and provocation.
The sad culmination of these mutual provocations came in January 1990–Baku’s terrible “Black January” and the bloodiest episodes of Mikhail Gorbachev’s entire rule as Soviet leader. First the city’s remaining Armenians were subjected to pogroms and expulsion. Then Soviet tanks rolled in to the city, fired on apartment buildings and crushed demonstrators to death.
At the end of Black January, around 90 Armenians were dead and thousands had fled, 130 Azerbaijanis had been killed. Leyla Yunus spoke up again, this time in print. In an essay entitled “The Degree of a Responsibility of a Politician,” published in the journal Istiklal in April 1990, she described the situation with devastating clarity.
In the essay, she begins by praising the bravery of those who stood in the streets to face down the tanks in Baku:
They stood with linked arms. “Freedom!” The word rang over Communist Street, which would soon lose its name, along with so much that lost its meaning that night. They did not step away from the path of the armoured personnel carriers and tanks, whose tracks were already crimson with the blood of the people they had crushed on Tbilisi Avenue, Square of the XIth Red Army and other places. But even the bloodied tanks stopped before this never-before-seen unity. “Freedom!”
Yunus calls Moscow’s military intervention “red fascism”
Forty five years ago, practically unarmed–how much the armament campaign of 1941 cost us!–our people stopped the tanks of brown Fascism. On the night of January 20, the armour of red Fascism went through the streets of Baku–the very same Fascism which had crushed and overpowered the peoples of the Union after October 1917.
Until then, Leyla Yunus tells us, Azerbaijanis had been “lucky”–to a degree.
Our people saw this regime in April 1920 and experienced its charms most acutely in the 1930s. Fortunately, we did not meet the fate of the Crimean Tatars, Balkars or Volga Germans, who were deported wholesale in cattle cars to destruction. We did not lose our homeland as the Meskhetian Turks did. We did not lose a third of our population, as the Estonians did, we felt the famine of 1933-34 less than did Belarus or Ukraine. We were lucky enough to be spared Chernobyl. But all the rest that this prison-house order gave to our peoples we experienced to the full. Collectivization, the genocidal destruction of the intelligentsia, the economic theft of our riches, the transformation into a mono-cultural colony…
Only now, it seems, had Azerbaijanis woken up to the nature of the regime they lived under, but they should have known earlier…
Which of you, who threw away their Communist Party cards today, rejected the “Ruling and Guiding” Party in 1968 when our sons were sent to crush the Prague Spring? Which of you spoke out, when our boys were dispatched to Afghanistan?
Did it really have to take the rivers of blood spilled in beautiful Baku for every decent person to decide that it was morally unacceptable for him to stay in the ranks of a criminal party? There is an easy human explanation for this–it is one thing to hear and to know something, and another to see all the horror with your own eyes, to feel it on yourself. However, in my view, this epiphany which even today has come to too few people, came too late and cost us too much…
She rebukes the extreme nationalists of the Popular Front for fomenting hatred against Baku’s defenceless Armenians.
On January 13, on Freedom Square the rally was still continuing, and in the building opposite people were already assaulting Armenians. Woe, disgrace, dishonour came to our town.. The pogromshchik has no nationality. The looter and murderer does not have the right to belong to any people…
And she warns against those who want to soak Azerbaijan’s movement for independence in blood.
The responsibility of a politician is comparable to the responsibility of a doctor. In both cases lack of professionalism leads to death and injury. And if someone writes, “Sacrifice cleanses the nation! You know how much we needed this cleansing… ” it is absolutely clear to me where this patriot-politician can lead us.
Why, in the name of a falsely understood unity of the nation should we march like a herd, behind first one, then another organization, behind this “father-leader” or behind another one?
But she still hopes for the release of political prisoners and the triumph of democracy:
My greatest desire is to see the Popular Front of Azerbaijan as a single powerful organization speaking out from a position of democracy, defending with the help of lawyers today with human rights organizations everyone who has been arrested.
I dream of an overwhelming victory by the democratic forces of the Azerbaijani people headed by the Popular Front of Azerbaijan in the elections.
Our tree of freedom will not bloom soon, and we need to water it with reason and not with a pool of blood.
Leyla Yunus’ essay was so powerful, clear-sighted and morally cogent that it persuaded hundreds of young Azerbaijanis to support the country’s Social Democratic Party, which became the most progressive and democratic part of the opposition.
Leyla Yunus subsequently briefly served in the Popular Front government of 1992-3, where she was a moderating influence. In 1993 former Soviet leader Heidar Aliev returned to power as president of independent Azerbaijan. In 1996 she founded the Institute of Peace and Democracy. The list of issues they worked on was dizzying: rule of law, defence of those arrested, national minorities, land-mines. Later they founded Azerbaijan’s first women’s crisis center. In the mean time Arif Yunus was Azerbaijan’s foremost expert on a host of issues, including the plight of refugees and the rise of political Islam.
In recent years, under the presidency of Heidar Aliev’s son Ilham, Leyla and her colleagues were increasingly targeted by the authorities. They were called strident, aggressive and difficult. And they were.
In the past year, the situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated rapidly. The old nomenklatura mindset is back in full force. The list of political prisoners Leyla Yunus compiled—now including her and Arif—has 98 names on it. Most of them are secular pro-Western activists. In April, Leyla and Arif Yunus were detained at the airport as they were about to board an international flight. They were hit with all sorts of ludicrous charges, most notably–and with the scariest echo of Soviet times– espionage on behalf of the enemy, the Armenians.
In prison, Leyla Yunus, who has diabetes and other health problems, has been subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Arif Yunus, who has a heart condition, has been kept in complete isolation in the cells of the national security committee, the heir to the KGB.
In the same week, the Russian Ministry of Justice applied to have Memorial–Russia’s strongest human-rights organization and the winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize–shut down.
In 1989 and 1990, these people had a vision, even as they recognized with the same clarity all the dangers that lay ahead, the narrow path that needed to be trod between different forces, if the former Soviet republics were to achieve European-style democracy.
Now, unfortunately, 25 years later, in both Russia and Azerbaijan some of the worst fears are coming to pass. That increases our responsibility to support people like Leyla Yunus and Memorial, as they are punished for having that vision.