I attended this event at Open Society Institute, Open Forum: Kazakhstan ’s Chairmanship, Unfulfilled Promises.
- Vladimir Shkolnikov, formerly of the office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
- Anthony Pahigian, Deputy Director in the State Department Office of European Security and Political Affairs
Unfortunately, while an "open forum" and "open to the public" at "Open Society," the meeting was off the record and cannot be quoted, although apparently a public interview with Shkolnikov is coming soon.
So here's what I can say about it, as a good Soviet journalist:
"The meeting took place in a comradely atmosphere with a full and frank exchange of opinions."
OK, here's what I can say about it as a modern and transparent cheerleading Twittering blogger:
"The State Department is fully engaged with the OSCE process and identifying and meeting the challenges."
Erk, was it better under Pravda?
In my long experience with government
officials and diplomats, I find that when they reach the point where
they have "off the record" meetings with NGOs, they are usually at the
point where their policy is "cooked" and not "half-baked" and in about
2-4 weeks they are going to say exactly the same things they said to you
to the press -- or maybe even tomorrow -- and it will all seem rather
OK, as there is "nowhere to go" with this, let me tell you my own personal opinion about these subjects, which is of course unsolicited, and unrelated to this event:
The Kazakh chair is going around everywhere pushing an OSCE summit as we
know, and even passing off even passive conversations off the record
with the Kazakh foreign minister as "support for the summit". Watch out.
2. The Russians appear to be for this summit but more because they badly want to renegotiate Helsinki and get a new European security treaty that is to their advantage. Sergei Viktorovich may sometimes feign world-weariness with OSCE in order to fit in with the cool kids, but there's no doubt that Russia backs the KZ chair even more than the U.S.
3. Look, the
OSCE has summits -- that's what big unwieldly multilateral institution
*do*. The UN has the heads of states or at least the foreign ministers
meet every year at the General Assembly. Multilateral institutions also
have chairs that aren't always the greatest -- if you have a
multilateral institution with rotating chairs, you have to put up with
that. It's been 10 years since the last summit in Istanbul, where the
European security charter among other things were "accomplished" but not
followed up, so it seems time for another one and likely there *will*
be another one, and likely it will not be without the U.S., as
grandstanding and not coming (a la Durban Review) is likely too big a
statement to make.
rather than digging in and saying "we aren't for having this summit" or
"no substance, no summit" and so forth, the U.S. and other hold-outs
(and the U.S. is undoubtedly not alone in this) should meet the
challenge and say, "Yes...and here our the conditions." Or "Yes, we'll
talk, but we will definitely have conditions from the other baskets."
Let's hope they do that soon.
Ben Cardin has already articulated the conditionality approach that
says, yes, have the summit, but have some conditions that would involve
upholding past OSCE modalities for conferences, human right issues,
6. OK, but now what
should those human right conditions be? There's the topics on the
agenda, and here, once again, we need to make sure that softies at the
State Department and the Kazakh foreign ministry who push the 3T soft
topics like "transparency" and "trafficking" and "tolerance" don't
prevail (BTW, these topics are anything but soft if done properly by
human rights NGOs, but they can transmogrify into meaningless and happy
little seminars for resolutionaries very quickly).
7. So that means topics like "torture" (the
other "T") or freedom of the media or freedom of association --
Aside from being Nazarbayev's 70th birthday this year, it's the 20th
anniversary of the Copenhagen conference that negotiated standards for
freedom of association and political parties for elections.There doesn't
seem to be any good histories of this conference written or online
anywhere (does anyone know of any?) but what's operative to remember is
this: even in 1990, which was before the defeat of the August coup,
before the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Reshetov still reigned,
these principles for a free society were negotiated and passed. And that
counts for something now, and that means they should be reemphasized
without fear of renegotiation -- none of the OSCE countries rampantly
violating freedom of association now are going to dare to go below the
level set by the Soviet Union in 1990. Sure, they will invoke extremism,
terrorism, economic straits as justification to curb freedom of
association but they will not deny the principles.
8. There are two parts to these summits, the
review conference, and the actual summit, both of which afford ample
change not only for actual review, but deal making. Political prisoner
releases. Access for opposition to state media in elections. These deals were definitely done around Istanbul, and the bar should be set no lower
for Astana (I'm assuming that for Nazarbayev's birthday gift for July 6,
the event has to be in Kazakhstan). There are all kinds of things one
can put in a wish list: Zhovtis' case, rolling back Kazakhstan's
Internet law, and so forth. Let's start making the list now.
There's not an awful lot of time to organize
this summit, and the U.S. doesn't quite have its OSCE ambassador in
place (Ian Kelly is nominated by the Obama Administration and was
supposed to be confirmed at a Senate hearing February 24).
9. All of this reminds us of the questions: what is OSCE for? And what does the U.S. want it to be for? And among the many answers: it's for the West to deal with Central Asia on issues besides oil and gas. With NATO fighting the war in Afghanistan and needing the Central Asian countries mainly as a pass-through route, with the individual EU nations and the U.S. establishing energy relations and dealing with these countries through energy czars, special representatives, oil executives and a former president's sons rather than ambassadors, OSCE is desperately needed as the venue to talk about all the other stuff.