The World Forum on Democracy, which ran parallel to the ministerial conference on democracy in Warsaw earlier this week, provided an opportunity for NGO representatives and private citizens to discuss human rights and democratic freedoms. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten talked to the Kyrgyz and Tatar representatives about their work.
Warsaw. 30 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Marat Kayipov runs the Kyrgyzstan Lawyers Association, an NGO whose members often spend their time representing opposition politicians and activists who run into legal trouble with the authorities.
Kayipov spoke to RFE/RL about how it felt to be one of the few representatives of his country at the world gathering:
"It is a hurtful, shameful and bitter experience to see that there is no official Kyrgyz delegation in this forum, because the organizers considered that the official government of Kyrgyzstan has abandoned the principle of democracy."
Kayipov was asked why he thought Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev has apparently abandoned his earlier democratic commitment.
"Maybe the president's advisers, his close advisers, in this way want to crush the beginnings of democracy in Kyrgyzstan and win presidential elections this fall -- to take the Kazakh and Uzbek road. But I am deeply convinced that such paths are unsuited for Kyrgyzstan -- if only because Kyrgyzstan has no great economic potential to offer other countries and the world community. Our only achievement was that we were the leader in democracy among Central Asian countries. We were an open society."
Kayipov said that in his view, Akaev still has an opportunity to demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan has not strayed from the democratic path.
"If the president makes a political decision to demonstrate some will and announces new elections in the electoral districts where the rights of the voters were violated, and if he punishes the true violators, we -- that is to say, myself and the voters -- will believe in the president as a democrat. Only then can the actions of the president be considered democratic. Otherwise, today, the overwhelming majority of voters do not believe that the president had no role to play [in electoral violations.]"
Tolekan Ismailova, also from Kyrgyzstan, heads a coalition of NGOs that calls itself For Democracy and Civil Society. She said that the example of Poland, which just over a decade ago also labored under a totalitarian system but is now one of the post-communist world's most promising reformist countries, serves as a personal inspiration.
"[Former Polish dissident] Adam Michnik spoke today -- he's the editor-in-chief of a Polish newspaper (Gazeta Wyborcza -- the leading Polish national newspaper) -- and said that 10 years ago they could not dream of such a forum, a forum of democracy in this great land of Poland and in this great capital of Warsaw. We saw today that, yes, maybe things are difficult in our Central Asian republics, especially in Kyrgyzstan, which called itself an island of democracy after attaining independence. Today we speak about the fact that values such as the defense of human rights stand above all. That's why I think that every country must have its own face and have a national idea, but it must abide by values that defend human rights."
Ismailova told RFE/RL she and like-minded Kyrgyz citizens are bitterly disappointed at the outcome of recent parliamentary elections, which have been condemned by the Kyrgyz opposition and international human rights advocates as seriously flawed.
"We came to the parliamentary elections very professionally, ready. If was surprising that across the country, almost at every polling station, our independent, neutral and wonderfully professional citizen observers were later arrested, and continue to be persecuted to this day. Of course, as you said, it was a bitter disappointment after the parliamentary elections, but we understand and are studying the history of the development of democracy in other countries. Of course, the fear that reigns is a curious feeling, but the main thing is that we are proud to already have 5,000 citizens [in the NGO coalition] and every day we add new organizations and citizens who say, 'We are going to the presidential elections.'"
Ismailova said civil society in Kyrgyzstan remains strong and will not be intimidated.
"This responsibility being assumed by common citizens shows no letup. We say today that we are getting ready to monitor the presidential elections. We hope that Kyrgyzstan will respect the international obligations it has assumed -- and among them those assumed by our president and which every simple citizens knows. Why? Because we are not tired. On the contrary, through this process, this exam, we have grown up. If we were children of the island of democracy, today we are adults, grown-up children of a totalitarian system which gave us a drink of fresh water and then began to poison us."
Roostam Sadri is the leader of the Tatar community in Australia and serves as honorary consul for the Russian republic in that country. He also attended the World Forum on Democracy, and used the occasion to present a resolution condemning Russian federal authorities for their actions in Chechnya. The document was signed by most participants and was sent on to the ministerial meeting. Sadri told RFE/RL about the initiative:
"I said that probably this is even more important than just a general talk on democracy, because here we are talking about a human tragedy of immense dimensions. We are talking about a situation where an entire nation -- in this case the Chechen nation -- is being wiped off the face of this Earth by a huge, major military machine and that they deserve a better fate than what is being inflicted on them."
In a passionate appeal, Sadri compared the situation facing the Chechens to the tragedy experienced by the Jews under Adolf Hitler.
"I made certain comparisons between the Weimar republic and how Hitler came to power by victimizing the Jews, turning them into Untermenschen (subhumans) to use the German expression. Similarly, the Chechens are being turned into the Untermenschen of Russia, and what's more, because of the success of the official propaganda line, there are lots of Russian over there cheering it on."
Sadri said he does not expect any immediate result from his resolution, but he hopes that by once again calling world attention to the tragedy of the Chechen war, international pressure on the Russian government to halt the conflict will increase.
"I don't expect any outcome, frankly speaking, but it will simply have been brought to world attention. And two statements -- one from the Chechen representative at the conference and one by myself -- were circulated to all the delegates. The same copies were sent to Kofi Annan and Madeleine Albright and other ministers at the ministerial conference. So I hope that at least it will be brought to their attention. And if they are human beings, surely it will make them reflect on the issue in depth."
Eighteenth-century British politician and philosopher Edmund Burke perhaps summed it up best, when he said: "The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." For participants at the first World Forum on Democracy, the hope is that the effort launched by a few good men, and women, in Warsaw this week will help diminish the injustices our modern world still confronts.