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What The World Wants: RFE/RL Asks The Experts


RFE/RL's correspondents across its broadcast region asked local politicians, foreign-policy experts, and civil-society activists a fundamental question about their hopes for the incoming U.S. president:

For the good of your country, what would you like to see U.S. President Barack Obama do during his administration?

Afghanistan

Dr. Wadir Safi, professor of law and political science at Kabul University:

"It is obvious that a power like the United States, especially the Bush administration, and its allies did not achieve their desired goals in the war against terror.

"Mr. Obama is aware of this fact. He was aware of it while campaigning for the presidential elections. In his trip to this region he said so and must now act on his previous declarations to bring change in the U.S. policy and strategy in this region, so that positive steps are taken towards the fight against terrorism and the reestablishment of America's prestige.

"This means that the people of Afghanistan expect from Mr. Obama and the new American leadership a shift in military, economic, and political areas, as well as changes in the Afghan administration. Otherwise, if serious changes do not occur in the U.S. military operations, economic aid, and the Afghan administration, the United States will not achieve success, the international community will not benefit, and the Afghans will suffer more miseries, because security will not be established in this region unless serious changes occur."

Armenia

Levon Zurabian, a representative of the main opposition alliance, the Armenian National Congress:

"I don't think there will be a radical change in the U.S. policy related to this region. There are, of course, certain provisions indicating the possibility that with the coming of Barack Obama, certain processes will be started between the U.S. and Iran, which would of course change the regional politics. Still, I don't expect any changes in U.S. politics in the short term."

Hrant Markarian, the leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), which is part of the ruling coalition:

"His election campaign inspired optimism. Certainly, it shouldn't be too hard to be a better president compared to Bush and that is also reason for being optimistic. However, I believe the government system in the U.S. is such, that the policy is not that easy to change and individuals are rarely able to bring about major changes. There is, after all, a whole structure that works according to a certain program. Obama made an impression during his election campaign that he isn't just another political figure coming to power, and hopefully will be able to make changes mostly in terms of rights of the nations and establishing justice."

Azerbaijan

Erkin Gadirli, prominent human rights lawyer:

"Obama is an energetic personality and the messages he has been spreading throughout the world have raised expectations about his possible input in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. So that's perhaps a key issue for the entire region, I would say. It's not just about Azerbaijan, because also Armenia and Georgia -- the entire region is negatively affected by the conflict.

"Another major problem of Azerbaijan and other countries in the region is democratization and human rights. They are also negatively affected by the conflict. So I think that was the most important and the major expectation that people in Azerbaijan would expect from the new administration in the United States."

Ilqar Mammadov, prominent political analyst and independent blogger:

"I would expect the new U.S. administration to focus more on democracy issues in our region, not only in Azerbaijan but also in Armenia and Georgia -- in the entire South Caucasus -- because democracy is the only value that can change our region and bring peace and stability to our nations. For a long time, this value has been underestimated in U.S. policy toward Azerbaijan and it was secondary.

"I think with the new administration there is a good chance that democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and all other modern values that brought prosperity to the United States will be again in the focus of the administration and these values will bring peace, prosperity, and stability to our region as well.

Belarus

Alyaksandr Milinkevich, leader of the opposition For Freedom movement and a former presidential candidate:

"It is vitally important that the president of the United States coordinate as closely as possible his country's policy on Belarus with that of the European Union. It is imperative that the U.S. and EU speak with one voice on this issue. In recent years, that has not always been the case.

"Change in our own country depends on us [Belarusians] alone. But in order to achieve desired change, it is important that we are in partnership with civilized, democratic nations.

"That is why, my first hope would be that the United States support the dialogue that has already begun. Of course, this dialogue should continue only under certain conditions -- democratization, liberalization. But it is already apparent that this dialogue is reaping, if not concrete results, than at least a measure of hope. It is with similar hope that I welcome Obama into the White House."

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Mufid Memija, senior journalist for Sarajevo TV:

"According to a particular logic of history, the American president should be a global champion of freedom and social justice. If that were so, we could expect that Barack Obama would turn his back on the politics of double standards -- because it is a failed political course that has only led to unmitigated calamity for the U.S.

"In that case we [in Bosnia] might hope that America would invest its enormous political strength and its enormous democratic authority in fostering a civil society in Bosnia, based on the highest standards of human rights. However, that will not happen because contemporary politics is not an arena for promoting truth and justice, but [national] interest. In that sense I'm sorry to say that I do not harbor great expectations, and I believe that Barack Obama will be no more than the 44th in a long line of U.S. presidents."

Gajo Sekulic, a professor in Sarajevo:

"Obama is certainly capable of doing something positive in this region and in Bosnia, but he has to deal with a terrible legacy of a virtually illegal American foreign policy -- above all the legacy of George [W.] Bush -- as well as extremely pressing and unprecedented [U.S.] domestic problems. In other words, Obama might find himself in a situation where our region, and Bosnia in particular, finds itself very low on his list of priorities.

"Obama alone will not do anything for Bosnia, or the region, unless we take the first steps, followed by our neighbors and the European Union. However, I expect very little from the EU's convoluted bureaucracy. Obama is not Santa Claus. We should not expect anything special from him. As the saying goes, 'trust only yourself and your own horse.' We have to use the democratic process to take on all sorts of local gangs: political, criminal, and economic."

Croatia

Vesna Pusic, vice president of parliament and prominent social scientist:

"I wish that Barack Obama as the newly elected president of the United States of America could visit Croatia -- it might have a very positive impact for the country as well as for the region. Just by his presence and by presenting the values he is promoting, if he succeeds in this promotion, it would have an important effect for us in Croatia.

"As far as Croatia and the region are concerned, I hope that Obama is going to support advancement of the countries of Southeastern Europe toward NATO membership. It is important to strengthen the political potential of NATO. This means less attention should be paid to military issues and instead putting more emphasis on political relations and cooperation, that is of the highest importance for us."

Georgia

Ghia Nodia, the head of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development and a former education minister:

"There are great hopes in Georgia for the incoming Obama administration because close cooperation with the U.S. is crucial for security and stability of this country. The recently signed Strategic Partnership Charter provides an excellent road map for such cooperation; however, this is a general framework document and it takes lots of political will to develop actual policy in accordance with it.

"Overall, it will be of paramount importance for the Obama administration to find the right balance between a natural need for a modus vivendi with Russia and taking a firm stand in support of genuine sovereignty of small and vulnerable states in Russia's neighborhood; a failure to do so will undermine the security not only of Georgia but of the whole region.

"This, among other things, implies continuing support for Georgia's prospective accession to NATO, as well as helping modernize its military. Having a free-trade agreement with the U.S. would be a great boost for the Georgian economy. Last but not least, U.S. assistance in consolidating democratic reforms -- something that is welcomed by almost all parties in Georgia -- would greatly contribute to Georgia's long-term stability."

Iran

Fatemeh Rakei, a well-known former reformist legislator and a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front:

"It is expected that with the coming of power of Obama, there will be an end to the deep misunderstandings that existed during the Bush administration with some governments or at least it is expected that he will make them weaker. The U.S. government speaks of democracy and it can play a role in spreading democracy around the world.

"Our first demand is [for Obama ] to take the Gaza issue very seriously and we really want the new U.S. president, who can have an [important] role in world bodies, to lay the ground for war criminals in Gaza to be put on trial in a fair and impartial court.

"Regarding Iran , he should see the realities of Iran, a country that has thousands of years of civilization, a brilliant culture, and a country that has huge political power and can play a role in the region. He should start diplomatic negotiations with Iran based on these realities and not based on the image that Bush and people who are of the same mind as him have created about Iran."

Iraq

Nasir al-Ani, the head of President Jalal Talabani's office:

"The most important thing is to stabilize the state of Iraq, to restore its lost strength. As a matter of fact, what happened was not simply regime change but the state as such was dismantled. It is our wish that the focus will be on Iraqi state reconstruction. At present we need everything that would boost this nation building. [U.S.] brains can be very helpful in this respect but at the end of the day it is up to the Iraqis themselves".

Hashim al-Tay'i, chairman of the parliamentary Regions Committee:

"I wish that the security pact would be implemented as it was formulated without breach and that the Iraqi and American people would interact better to project a more civilized image their two countries than before".



Kazakhstan


Zhusipbek Korgasbek, journalist and head of the Zhas Orken group, which unites several publications for youth:

"Whenever America starts to urge its enemies on democracy, the developing nations start to feel fear about issue of democracy, opinions like "do we really need this democracy; even them (democratic states) have injustice" being created. And that's why my hope is that democratic forces led by Barack Obama will serve democracy in real terms. If such a great nation as the U.S.A. is fair toward democratic values, then it will have major impact on developing nations in choosing the same path. Also, Obama during his election campaign, right after the election, in his statements and during his press conferences, criticized Bush's financial policy and in this term announced that he will immediately deal with current financial crisis. We also put a lot of hope into it."

Kosovo

Hajredin Kuchi, deputy prime minister:

"Kosovo has a pro-Western orientation and specifically a pro-American one. We would like to strengthen our ties with United States even further in the future. The U.S. is identified with peace and security in Kosovo. I believe the administration of President Obama will contribute to the stability of our country and assist us in further development and integration in Euro-Atlantic structures."


Kyrgyzstan


Dr. Roza Otunbaeva, a lawmaker and member of the opposition Social Democratic Party and former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom:

"Obama's foreign policy will be, mainly, directed at improving the United States' deeply damaged reputation. There is a necessity to take such steps in order to finish the Iraq war and to deal with Afghanistan affairs. It's unfortunate that Obama's presidency has coincided with the global [financial] crisis. Thus, his resources are limited, because foreign policy needs huge resources.

"If he overcomes the mistakes of the previous [Bush] administration and ends the wars, then it would be a great contribution to the global [political] climate. This is important for the whole world. Besides that, Hillary Clinton is coming and I believe that she will continue the previous Clinton administration traditions."

Macedonia

Ilija Talev, from the Center for Research and Policy Making in Skopje:

"My message to incoming President Obama would be not to squander the political capital and the international support which you have acquired by putting morality before politics and speaking the truth, even when you knew that it might put you in a difficult situation.

"I think that the toughest times for the world, as a whole, are ahead of us and there is no better candidate to lead the world out of this incoming crisis than President Obama. This is especially because so many, in so many countries around the world, believe in him.

"As for Macedonia, I'm sure that logic and reason will prevail in the end as well as the understanding that the problem with the name is an existential problem for us and merely a political problem for Greece. This realization would lead, essentially and hopefully, to the resolution of the problem in the shortest possible time in the next few months. And it will lead in a positive resolution for the Republic of Macedonia."

Moldova

Igor Botan, the director of the Association for Participatory Democracy (ADEPT) in Chisinau:

"Concerning the part of the world where the Republic of Moldova is situated, one should be pragmatic. Regional security, stability, and economic progress have long been thought of as regional issues. But they're also gaining in international urgency, in large part because of the Russia-Georgia war last August and the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute this month.

"The approach to such issues could be improved significantly by eliminating any Bush-era friction remaining between the United States and the European Union after the U.S. presidential transition. Even a partial harmonization of U.S. and EU interests in the region could prove to have a synergic effect."

Montenegro

Milan Rocen, foreign minister:

"Since America is the leading country in the world, it is quite natural that all countries, Montenegro included, are definitely interested in policymaking and administration of new President Barack Obama.

"Similarly, I can state that we hope that the current issues of the western Balkans will be back on the list of American political priorities. This could be realized, since Obama's team seems to be exceptionally well informed about the situation in the western Balkans and some of its members used to be actively engaged in dealing with the crisis and turbulent events in the former Yugoslavia region.

"Speaking about Montenegro, I expect that our mutual partnership will improve and that the United States will continue its support for our European and Euro-Atlantic integrations."

Russia

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee:

"I expect U.S. policy toward Russia to change. It should become more active, on the part of America, and it should include a debate not only on problems that interest the United States, but also problems that interest Russia. If we can indeed start debating the whole range of problems on an equal footing, I'm confident that we will begin working much more effectively on issues such as our common enemies, if you will, and common problems, and there are more than enough issues of this kind. We have a very broad agenda for possible cooperation, which unfortunately has not been engaged under the Bush administration up until now.

"Traditionally, it is considered that Republicans are more categorical in their statements but more disposed to reaching agreement in action, while Democrats are soft-worded but it's harder to reach agreement with them afterward. I hope this tendency is not confirmed under President Obama. The very fact that America voted for such a candidate shows that America is waiting for change, both in domestic policy and certainly in foreign policy. I think the fact that the rest of the world welcomed Obama's victory with such enthusiasm also shows that there is an expectation for change.

"Change should come to U.S.-Russian relations too. A concrete, substantive agenda should now evolve and it should be about the economy, first and foremost; we should be connected by real projects, concrete interests, in order to prevent pendulum shifts in our political dialogue. We have already achieved this kind of relationship with Germany, France, Italy, and some other European countries. U.S.-Russian relations have yet to reach this kind of development and I hope such development will occur during the Obama administration.

"I know for certain that the Russian president is ready for contacts with the new U.S. president without any conditions or delay. We are convinced that the Russian-U.S. dialogue is key to resolving many problems today."

Vladimir Ryzhkov, liberal opposition activist and former State Duma deputy:

"I don't think there will or can be any fundamental changes in Russian-U.S. relations because the United States already has a structure of long-term interests in our region. The United States will seek to strengthen its role in the Caucasus. It will try to pull into its orbit post-Soviet countries, such as Georgia, Ukraine. We have serious disagreements on the situation in Belarus. The United States will be increasing its presence in Central Asia, and so on.

"So, all the painful issues -- missile defense, NATO enlargement, post-Soviet countries -- are still there, and I don't expect any fundamental changes in Russian-U.S. relations. Our relations will remain difficult, tense, and prone to conflict. I repeat, the pieces are already on the chessboard: the Russian leadership, which is unlikely to change in the next few years, will follow the same course; the U.S. administration -- and there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats here -- will also pursue the course that has been established in recent years.

"So, there will be no 'clean sheet' policy; there may be isolated achievements, for instance an agreement on nuclear weapons, which is being discussed now, maybe something else, but there will be no fundamental policy changes, because differences are much greater today than areas of cooperation."

Russia/Tatarstan

Mirqasim Gosmanov, a prominent Tatar historian in Kazan:


"If he [Obama] were to only show solidarity with our [Tatarstan's] aspirations [toward greater autonomy], even that would be useful. Our efforts to become independent don't mean separating and flying out of Russia to some other place, or moving to the moon, or destroying Russia. Our efforts are just a search for normal autonomy, many successful cases of which the world knows.

"I wish the changes happening in America were transferable to our land as well. For example, aspiration for democracy, for normal human living. So if he [Obama] were to express his solidarity with us, it would be just fine."

Serbia

Zivorad Kovacevic, ex-Yugoslav diplomat and now president of Belgrade-based European movement for Serbia:

"I think Serbia has nothing to expect from the new American administration. It's not likely that the new administration will change its position on Kosovo -- and that's a priority for Serbia. At the same time, Serbia and Kosovo are not going to be among the top 20 issues the new administration has to deal with.

"What Serbia can hope for -- it's a new style of American foreign policy. We can hope for a less arrogant approach to international issues and expect more effort in Washington in understanding the complexity of the international arena. In that case, Serbia has a much better chance to establish normal relations with the U.S. -- and those relations are not normal now."

Turkmenistan

Yaylym Begov, a retired physicist from Ashgabat:

"Some Turkmen citizens hope that President-elect Barack Obama will not only deal with matters concerning U.S. domestic policy and the financial crisis, but also focus on post-Soviet states including Turkmenistan, to make more effort in the promotion of democracy and human rights in these countries. I completely agree with all these ideas."

Ukraine

Oksana Zabuzhko, leading contemporary writer and philosopher:

"I think that it would be very good if Obama in the current situation of crisis could do something good for his own country. Right now, it's naive to hope that during any geopolitical problems and conflicts America will uphold its position of superpower and supreme judge on the world map. The Yalta era is gone.

"Today, at the beginning of 2009, it is very risky and, I think, not very responsible to make any predictions. Obama is a person who got into a very sensitive position. So to put any hopes on him regarding the Ukrainian situation brings to mind old Soviet dissidents, childish hopes that 'the West will help us.' I think that the West, and the United States first of all, are busy trying to help themselves."
Video
Afghan Expectations

RFE/RL asked ordinary Afghans about their hopes and expectations for the new administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. Play

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