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Central Asia: New OSCE Chief Discusses Role In Region

Wilhelm Hoynck, the OSCE's new chief representative to the CIS Central Asian states, recently made his first official trip to the region. Hoynck speaks with RFE/RL about what he observed during the trip and about the role of the OSCE in Central Asia.

Prague, 25 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Last month Wilhelm Hoynck was appointed the personal representative to Central Asia of the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), Romania's Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. Hoynck is a career diplomat who joined Germany's federal foreign service in 1964. His postings include Vietnam, NATO, the United Nations, and positions in Bonn. From June 1993 to June 1996, he served as the first secretary-general of the OSCE.

Hoynck is an expert on Central Asia, and in 1999 prepared a report on the enhancement of OSCE activities in the region. His new position was created last year in response to what the OSCE and the governments in Central Asia saw as a growing need for an increased OSCE presence in the area.

Hoynck made his first trip to Central Asia in his new capacity at the end of last month. He visited all five of the Central Asian CIS countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. On 25 July he spoke with RFE/RL about his trip and the role of the OSCE in Central Asia.

The governments of the Central Asian states, although OSCE members, have complained that the organization's criticism of their countries -- particularly regarding elections and human rights -- is unfair. The governments say such criticism must be tempered by the realization that the history and traditions of the Central Asian states are different than that of other OSCE members. While not agreeing they should be exceptions, Hoynck did say such a point of view can be taken into consideration:

"According to their history and traditions, of course, they need some time. You can't change a whole system -- and what is more, a system as the OSCE sees it is based on people, and you can't change the mind of people in a couple of years. So what the countries are asking for is: 'give us some more time to educate ourselves and, as far as the government and leadership are concerned, to get accustomed to what the rules and standards are.'"

At the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, Uzbek President Islam Karimov asked why the OSCE placed greater emphasis on cooperation than on security. Hoynck said this emphasis is still a matter of concern for officials in the Central Asian governments:

"The countries in the region are very interested in seeing more focus laid on what the OSCE has called 'comprehensive security.' They [the Central Asian governments] felt that the OSCE has more or less been exclusively concentrating on human-dimension issues, and they would very much like to see the OSCE developing a higher level of cooperation with them in the political-military security area as well as in the economic and environmental area. And I think this is justified."

However, Hoynck said, the governments of the region should understand that the very concept of security encompasses many aspects of a society and should not be limited to purely military matters:

"After the end of the Cold War we understood that these days, security is a much broader issue than military security, and perhaps we also understand better that in terms of security, possibly the military elements are no longer the most important thing. I think in this context the OSCE has played a very important role in the overall understanding of the situation in Central Asia."

But Central Asian countries do not have a monopoly on misperceptions. Hoynck noted there is a widespread perception that Central Asia is on the verge of major social breakdown as a result of poverty, the activities of Muslim radicals, or the inability of governments to cope in a humane manner with social discontent:

"Very often Central Asia is addressed as a crisis region. I do not believe that this is correct. It is a region with a high potential for problems and also for conflicts. But at this point -- and I think it's important to understand this -- this is not a crisis region. If you compare it to other crisis regions within the OSCE -- the Balkans or the Caucasus -- it's different from that. And here we have a challenge for the international community to deal with a situation which is really the task of crisis prevention."

Hoynck says these misperceptions about Central Asia persist despite growing interest in the region. The OSCE and other international organizations, he says, face the important task of ensuring that the actual situation of the region is better understood.