Democracy And Security Conference Opens In Prague
Those are some of the questions under discussion at a democracy and security conference that opened today in Prague, with a scheduled keynote speech from U.S. President George W. Bush.
The meeting has brought together dissidents past and present, as well as academics and politicians from many countries.
Today's panelists were not exactly bursting with optimism over the process of democratization. But neither were they sounding its death knell: Democratization is possible in Iraq; in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, democracies are evolving in harsh conditions, but they are evolving; problems can appear insurmountable, but let's not give up hope.
However, they spent much of their time listing what they considered past mistakes.
Good And Bad Analogies
"Democracy doesn't arise like [a] phoenix from the ashes, and that's basically how we are trying to build it in Iraq now," said Iraqi professor Kanan Makiya.
Makiya was one of several to point out the folly of using past democratic successes as an analogy for other countries.
Makiya, who teaches at a U.S. university, had been a strong proponent for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He brought up an article he had written in 1991 that said Iraq's future democratization could be compared to what the United States did in Germany and Japan after World War II.
He says that analogy proved wrong. Germany and Japan were genuinely defeated and accepted that defeat, whereas "in Iraq we did not have this."
"We had what was quite correctly called a war of liberation, but it was fitted onto the rhetoric language of occupation," Makiya said. "And liberation and occupation do not mix well, and they were very difficult to explain and to justify. So there are other ways in which we should reexamine those kinds of analogies. But I wish to end, so it is not to be seriously misunderstood, that nothing I said now implies that the democratization is not possible in Iraq -- quite the contrary; but some of the conclusions I would come to is...[that] one does need to study the situation in the country beforehand."
'Overstated' Case For NGOs?
The panel also included Bruce Jackson, a former U.S. military intelligence officer, investment banker, and Lockheed Martin executive who is currently president of the Project on Transitional Democracies. Jackson's area of expertise is eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.
Jackson, too, said it was a mistake to use a success -- in this case, Central Europe -- as an analogy for other countries in transition.
Eastern European countries must be looked at differently from their Central European peers that transformed to democracy in the 1990s, he said.
They are younger, with weaker governments, and the idea of a future in Europe does not have the transformative impact it did with Central Europeans, he said.
"Georgia is not a sunny version of Estonia. This is a completely misleading analogy," Jackson said. "I think we have got to work at the countries, each democracy, in its own right, and basically devise policies that were responsive, they have to be regarded, all democracies that were generous and the idea that they were some sort of a continuation, I think the greatest error in the last few years of how we are looking at the democracies is this historical determinism that they begin [democracy's] path and, either nine years or 11 years, and they go the same way. They do not, they are completely unto themselves."
He also took issue with a panelist who stressed the importance of building up civil society to nudge countries on the road to democracy.
"I do think we overstate the civic-society case," Jackson said. "Civic society confirms democracy and might be a condition of democracy, but it does not cause democracy. There are more [nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs] in Belarus today than there are in Georgia; and if fact if the NGOs alone [could] cause democracy, [failed presidential candidate and recently displaced opposition leader] Alyaksandr Milinkevich would be president of free Belarus."
But Jackson had some suggestions, too.
Soft power could be used more smartly, Jackson argued, with the organization of free trade zones or even a cartel of energy consumers to offset Russia's monopoly.
Jackson added that criticism should be aimed at those most deserving of it -- not, as he said is currently the case, at countries that have done the most in democratic transition.
|CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS SPEAK|
Sharansky Urges No Appeasement
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky says that propping up dicators is against the interests of the free world. more
Closed Societies 'Seem To Be Nervous'
Egyptian liberal Saad Eddin Ibrahim discusses the prospects for democracy in the Middle East. more
Crisis Looming In Russia
Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov says a political crisis in Russia is "inevitable." more
Bush Praises Dissidents Worldwide, Says Russia Has 'Derailed' ReformsPRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says that Russia has "derailed" reforms, with troubling implications for democratic development. Bush made his comments in a speech in Prague devoted to what he called the United States' "freedom agenda."
He said that free societies emerge "at different speeds in different places," but that certain values are universal to all democracies.
Bush's speech was a plea for what he called "the freedom agenda." (Read the complete text of Bush's speech.)
His audience included dissidents and democratic activists from around the world. And there were some notable absences, he said.
"There are many other dissidents who couldn't join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest," Bush said. "I look forward to the day when conferences like this one include Alyaksandr Kazulin of Belarus, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Oscar Elias Biscet of Cuba, Father Nguyen Van Ly of Vietnam, Ayman Nur of Egypt."
Freedom Under Assault
Bush evoked the history of his host city, Prague, saying communist rulers had proven no match for the resolve of dissidents like Vaclav Havel.
"Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed -- but freedom cannot be denied," Bush said.
He said freedom was under assault around the world, even where there had been some progress. From Vietnam to Uzbekistan, rights or political activists were in jail. He called those developments discouraging, but said there were more reasons for optimism.
"The United States has nearly doubled funding for democracy projects," he said. "We are working with our partners in the G8 to promote the rise of a vibrant civil society in the Middle East through initiatives like the Forum for the Future. We are cooperating side-by-side with the new democracies in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan."
Then there are countries Bush said were being urged to move toward democracy, "valued partners" like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
The United States can maintain friendship with such countries, Bush said, and push them toward democracy at the same time.
The Russia Problem
And then there's Russia.
Relations between Russia and the United States have become increasingly strained by U.S. plans to build a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Moscow could respond by aiming Russian missiles at European targets.
Earlier today, Bush discussed the plans with Czech leaders, and said Russia was "not the enemy" of the United States and had nothing to fear from the plan.
In his speech, Bush said the United States had a complex relationship with Moscow, with mutual interests but also strong disagreements.
"In Russia, reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said. "Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements. So, the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries [Russia and China], and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values."
Bush will have a chance to talk directly to Putin about the missile-defense plans and other sources of disagreements soon.
The two are due to meet on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight major industrial nations in Germany on June 6-8.
|CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS SPEAK|
Sharansky Urges No Appeasement
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky says that propping up dicators is against the interests of the free world. more
Closed Societies 'Seem To Be Nervous'
Egyptian liberal Saad Eddin Ibrahim discusses the prospects for democracy in the Middle East. more
Crisis Looming In Russia
Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov says a political crisis in Russia is "inevitable." more
Estonian President Says Moscow Sees Democracy As A 'Threat'PRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves spoke today with RFE/RL correspondents Jeffrey Donovan and Irena Chalupa about his country's vulnerability after weeks of cyberattacks and Estonia's relations with Russia.
RFE/RL: Your country has had a lot of attention recently, given this story about moving the Soviet monument and then the cyberattacks on Estonian computer systems. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Toomas Hendrik Ilves: I don't know where to begin. Certainly, we saw the use of massive cyberattacks against state institutions, as well as private sites, including banks. Initially, you could say it was sort of a grassroots thing. But then it became a matter of organized crime.
I say that because the mechanism used were botnets, which you can look up in wikipedia if it means nothing to you. But briefly, 10 to 20 percent of world computers are infected by robots, malware, which allows a computer to be taken over and operated by someone else. It's almost the sole source of spam. These things are illegal. Malware is illegal. Installing it on someone else's computer gets you 50 years in jail in the United States. And organized crime owns banks of robot computers. They have been used in the past to extort money from companies, threatening to shut down their...basically, Internet companies. But now they were used against a country.
What I can say is that every EU country has something called CERT, a computer emergency response team. And they visited ours, and there they had a graph of the cyberattacks, which suddenly rises straight up and continues and continues at a massive level of attacks, and at exactly 00:00 GMT, it stopped. I asked, "Why is that?" And the head of CERT said, "Well, they didn't buy any more time."
If it's a random...process of people on the web sort of doing things when they're launching attacks, that's something that goes on like white noise in the background. But a discrete, massive attack must be organized. The question is, can we prove who bought the time on these illegal organized crime botnets? We can't. But it's probably not Uruguay.
RFE/RL: So you're saying it's Russia.
Ilves: No, I'm saying it's not Uruguay, probably.
RFE/RL: Are there any clues that can point you toward any given country, beside Uruguay?
Ilves: Given it's timing...I mean, it's all circumstantial. Why do we have this? There is direct evidence of sort of grassroots-level [activity]. One of the commissars of the [pro-Kremlin youth] organization Nashi, in an interview with "Vedomosti," said, "Yes, I organized attacks." But he was giving people instructions on how to do a computer attack. But that would have had an effect at the sort of low level of people who themselves wanted to do something, but not at the level of an organized industrial-strength attack of this type.
RFE/RL: And did you sustain any serious damage from these attacks -- on banks, financial institutions, or government institutions?
Ilves: First of all, CERT says it was probably at a much lower level than it would have been otherwise had we not had computerized voting in our elections in March. Which meant that they "gamed" various hacking approaches, including DDOS, or distributed denial of service attacks, which were the kinds of attacks we got. And so having gamed it, having tested it, we were a little better prepared.
The attacks on my irrelevant homepage [laughs] were not that bad. It was just knocked out. But for more serious things, first of all, the national emergency number, 112, was hit. That was mercifully out of commission for a very short time, but had there been at that time when it was briefly out of commission a fire, a heart attack, it would have been...someone could have died. It was a problem for banks because 97 percent of bank transactions in my country are over the Internet, which one of our main responses was to keep out all computer messages from outside the country code .ee, as you [here in the Czech Republic] have .cz. Here in Europe, we have country codes.
What that meant was that you could access pages inside the country, but you couldn't from the outside. So if you wanted to go into your bank account from outside then, of course.... Being a very open country with one of the highest trade-to-GDP ratios in the world, I think No. 2 after Hong Kong, that means it does affect you.
RFE/RL: Given what happened, is Estonia feeling more vulnerable, given the situation with Russia now and the West and sort of rising tensions in general?
Ilves: Well, vulnerability...I actually think that being a highly computerized country, much more than much of the rest of Europe, the biggest vulnerability I felt personally was that countries that have a low level of computerization didn't quite understand. The Finns, the Swedes, and the United States understood. They immediately understood what it meant. Some other countries that really don't have a high level of government services on the Internet, that don't really do Internet banking, they didn't understand what it meant.
Considering our vulnerability, we came out fairly well. A number of people I've read in memos said [that] had it been some other country with less experience, they would have been in much bigger trouble faced by these kinds of attacks. If anything, we feel the solidarity shown by the European Union, as well as by the United States. In fact, I think it made Estonians feel much more secure. And our support level for the European Union has risen to 87 percent, which is by far the highest in Europe.
RFE/RL: What about NATO? Do people have the sense that the EU is the one that is providing their security?
Ilves: No, I mean they're two different ball games. The EU provided solidarity, stood up to Russia on the groundless attacks that were made against Estonia, as well as stood up for Lithuania, stood up for Poland. NATO, on the other hand, was the institution that immediately, from the minute things started happening, flew in its top cyberexperts to look at what's going on. So we felt pretty secure about that.
It does raise a concrete philosophical question about the nature of attacks. I mean, NATO in Article 5 and also Article 4, [those articles] are really based on physical military attacks. In 1949, when the treaty was drafted, there weren't many computers. There was no Internet. This is a digital and a virtual attack, but in its effect a very real kind of attack, and I think the way to look at it perhaps is this might be a test run for something bigger and larger, just like the Germans tested out Stuka bombers in 1936 in Spain.
RFE/RL: What could be bigger and larger?
Ilves: Well, I mean in the sense that it is a weapon. It is clear that cyberattacks are a form of offensive action that can paralyze, weaken, harm a nation state.
RFE/RL: Did you get a sense that NATO is interested in exploring this kind of possibility, that this may become a part of their defense platform on some level?
Ilves: As one who has been reading security-policy literature for about 25 to 30 years, in the last 10 to 15 years people have been writing about the potential for cyberwarfare, and there have been precedents. After the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Serbian conflict, the Pentagon was attacked. Israel's various state institutions have come under cyberattack at different times. So it's not that new. I guess the newness was the scale and the breadth of the attacks against one particular target country.
RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday gave an interview to "Corriere della Sera," an Italian newspaper, in which he was asked his reaction to the missile-defense system that the United States is seeking to install here and in Poland. And, of course, he said that Russia would react. And they asked him, "Does that mean you'll be pointing missiles at European cities?" And he said, "Yes, naturally." Given those kinds of comments and some of the comments and actions that have happened in Estonia, how do you react to that?
Ilves: I gave a long talk on that last night. Briefly, democracies don't go to war with each other. Democracies don't make warlike threats against each other. Either that truism is false or the notion of a G8 of the industrialized democracies getting together is based on a false premise. I mean, democracies don't behave like that. [It's] one or the other. Either we chuck out the premise, or we have to rethink what the G8 stands for. Which is not to mean that anyone's going to throw the Russians out of the G8.
RFE/RL: Some people are calling for that.
Ilves: That's true, but...if you're not a member of the G8, it's not difficult to call for anyone to be thrown out. But I certainly wouldn't call it the organization of industrialized democracies anymore.
RFE/RL: What would you call it?
Ilves: Seven industrial democracies and one country brought in for reasons that have lost their relevance. If you think about it, why would you not have China then? Why would you not have India? But your earlier question on Russia, it's difficult to say.
RFE/RL: There's got to be some unease in your country.
Ilves: The thing is, people [in Estonia] who think about foreign policy feel like Winston Smith in [George Orwell's 1948 novel] "1984," a book I thought had long lost its relevance but there...during the Hour of Hate, Winston Smith goes and is yelling -- whether it's Oceania or Eastasia -- and he says, 'It's not always been Eastasia; wasn't it Oceania last week?" And I get the same feeling.
One year or one season it's Latvia. Then it's Georgia, and they're compiling lists of children with Georgian names in Moscow schools and deporting Georgians in transport planes. Now that's all died down. Georgia doesn't figure on their radar screen anywhere. And now it's Estonia's turn. The question is, who's next? On the concrete issue itself, I mean, given that in the last four months the Russians have blown up, destroyed, five monuments without any qualms.... It is true that journalists are forbidden to mention in the Russian media that in Khimki [outside Moscow], they actually sort of did this without any legal basis whatsoever and beat up people who were protesting [the reburial of the remains of Soviet soldiers killed in World War II].
If you don't have a free media, then all things are possible...which is why Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is still needed. If you don't have a free media, you can convince people of anything.
RFE/RL: How do you see Estonia's relationship with Russia? Where can it go?
Ilves: Only better. [Laughs] Because it can't get much worse. Some people say it's domestic politics, an election cycle. It's a pretty weird argument that you have to go bash your neighbors. But you know...Joseph Goebbels said, "Was wir brauchen eines Feindes Bild zu schaffen," [which means], "What must we do? We must create an image of the enemy." And that's worked very well. The Levada [Polling Center] poll of last week showed that 60 percent of Russians think that the greatest enemy of Russia with its 143 million people, it's greatest enemy is 1.3 million Estonians. So it's a pretty good accomplishment. Levada said this is the first time that anyone's broken the 50 percent [barrier]. So you can see that propaganda does a good job.
RFE/RL: What would happen if more of Russia's neighbors -- Georgia, Ukraine -- follow the Estonian path of integration with NATO and the EU? Some people say that a good, democratic Ukraine could pull Russia down the same road.
Ilves: It's clear that Russia has bad relations with all the democratic countries on its borders that were formerly under communist rule -- I mean, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine. All democratic countries.
RFE/RL: Even Belarus doesn't have such good relations with Russia anymore.
Ilves: It has passable, if not good, relations with nondemocratic countries -- Belarus, the Central Asian countries, where democracy is not always so wonderful. That should make one think. And what it should make one think about is that Russian relations with Ukraine and Georgia were fine until they had democratic revolutions. What does that mean? Well, that means that democracy really is perceived as a threat by Russia.
I didn't quite understand why this would be the case until I read Robert Kagan's history of U.S. diplomacy in the 19th century, "Dangerous Nation," which came out a couple of months ago. He talks about the opposition of the southern states in the 1840s and 1850s to enlargement of the territory of the United States to include new states that were nonslaveholding, because slavery was not allowed on the new territories. When they came in, they could not come in as slaveholders. And so the southern states did not want to see nonslaveholding states come in. They were highly in favor of bringing in former Spanish colonies where slavery was allowed, because that would increase the number of slaveholding states.
But why were the southern states, according to Kagan, afraid of bringing in new states that were nonslaveholding? Because it showed that democracy works, blacks are equal to whites. That was perceived as a source of instability.
And so, too, in the case of Russia today, we see tremendous fear that freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of the media, free and fair elections are viewed as bad things, and countries that have those things disprove the notion of a sovereign democracy -- previously called a "managed democracy," but now for [public relations] reasons called a "sovereign democracy" -- but either way, it means that the general rules of democracy don't apply. There's a separate way, a separate road, a separate route. There's a different kind of democracy.
Well, from Estonia to Georgia, Ukraine, Poland -- they all show it's not true. In fact, democracy works as democracy. And I think that is viewed by many as a threat. If you read the [Russian] press -- "There will be no Orange Revolutions here" -- what are the Nashi or Molodaya gvardia [nationalist youth groups] there for? They're all sort of there to make sure that if you ever get a Maydan [revolution like that in Ukraine], you have the shock troops to prevent Maydan from happening.
RFE/RL: That sounds pretty bleak.
Ilves: Just my personal opinion. [Laughing] This does not represent the position of the Estonian government.
Russian Oppositionist Kasparov Says Country Heading For CrisisPRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former world chess champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov spoke today to a group of journalists, including RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, at the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague. Kasparov is the leader of the opposition umbrella group Other Russia.
"He acts as a CEO of a corporation. Putin does business. For him, every element even of foreign policy is a bargaining chip. He is negotiating and his main interest is to make sure that Europe and the United States are not interfering in Russian domestic affairs at this very sensitive period of power transition. So that's why for him every big issue, like the missile shield, is a bargaining chip. I think that they should recognize that Putin does all these political negotiations as part of a business deal, and they should treat him accordingly because somebody who is engaged in business negotiations has a very different agenda and it might be Putin's strength if it's not recognized, but eventually it will be his weakness because he is not speaking on behalf of the country but only on behalf of the VIP shareholders of this corporation.
"Putin can't afford to be another [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka, first, because he hates the idea. I mean, he wants to enjoy life and to not just sit on his billions, but also, he represents the ruling class that hates the idea of being isolated from the world they believe they belong to. So, that is why they have to be at the edge, so it is like not crossing this thin red line. They have to tighten their control in Russia but, at the same time, they can't afford a full-scale confrontation with the free world."
On the U.S. plans for a missile shield:
"I don't think this issue is relevant for a majority of Russians. If you look at the foreign issues that are at stake now, I think only the issue of Kosovo could resonate in the minds of Russians because of the historical relations with Serbia. Otherwise, you know, look -- if it's there, it's there. I don't think it is a big deal. Many Russians will accept the concept of dealing with Americans and building together the system. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with the offer that Americans proposed to Putin. But, I want to emphasize that Putin is using it for his own benefits because he is ready to drop all objections if Americans and Europeans will stop messing around with Russian democracy and human rights."
On the possibility of a crisis in Russia:
"I think [squashing dissent] will backfire because the Putin regime, now, is facing an old paradox. It is an authoritarian regime. It is a police state, which masquerades as a democracy. But, at the same time, the interests of the ruling elite are lying in the West, in the free world. They can talk as much as they want about China, India, and new oriental policies, but their money, the fortunes, assets, soccer clubs, kids -- everything is in the free world.
"I think that a crisis [in Russia] is inevitable, and even intimidated crowds, having no choice, will rise, because living conditions in Russia are deteriorating and most Russians are seeing no benefits from these high oil and gas prices.
"Those two scenarios combined are highly unlikely, so I think that Russia will inevitably sink into a political crisis, a deep political crisis, by the end of the fall, the beginning of next winter. And it means that many groups in the Kremlin that will be engaged in this fierce fighting and those who will be on the losing side might look for allies because losing the battle in a lawless jungle, losing the battle within the mafia structure means not only losing power but also losing a fortune or even worse, while being part of this democratic process could mean losing power but guaranteeing immunity for their fortunes."
On Russia and the G8:
"Inviting Putin [to the G8] as one of the equals created a very bad atmosphere for us in Russia because any time we are trying to criticize Putin and to look at his record, sending the message to the Russian people that Putin has destroyed democratic institutions, Kremlin propaganda shows these pictures with Putin and [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder and [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi and saying, 'Look, they receive him as an equal, so who are these radicals, marginals, extremists that are criticizing Putin?'
"We believe that the U.S. administration owes us very strong statements about the current situation in Russia. Again, it's not anti-Putin or it should not be Other Russia, pro-Kasparov. We want them to support democratic institutions in Russia, so that the basic values that made Europe Europe and America America -- Putin should get an unequivocal message: 'You cannot act as Lukashenka and be treated as a democratic leader. So behave yourself or you will not be part of this exclusive club.'
"We can hope that the whole atmosphere will change because Putin used to sit surrounded by his business partners like Schroeder and Berlusconi or by his friends: Schroeder, Berlusconi, [then French President Jacques] Chirac, Bush, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair. Now it's a different atmosphere. Now he's no longer -- he might be treated as equal but he understands that the message is that he, Putin, doesn't belong there.
"They could keep this atmosphere, I think that would be a strong message not only to Putin but also to his allies in Russia because they can't afford to break up relations with the West. They can't afford a new Iron Curtain, they can't afford a new Cold War, because this regime carries no ideology. When I hear stories about a new Cold War, I'm laughing because the Cold War was always based on ideas. Putin's only idea is: 'Let's steal together.'
On lessons Russia can learn from Ukraine:
"I think that certain lessons, especially from Ukraine, can be learned in Russia. It's to establish the culture of compromise, the culture of consensus, because at the end of the day, any peaceful revolution, whether you call it the Velvet Revolution or the Orange Revolution, is based on the consensus between the street protests and part of the bureaucracy, part of nomenklatura that understands that there is no other way but to start looking for national consensus.
"It seems to me that Russia might enter a similar period at the end of this year, because if you look at the possible scenarios of power transition in March 2008, the two most likely scenarios from the foreign perspective are that Putin is staying there for a third term, or there is a successor who unifies all the factions. In my view they are highly unlikely."
"Look, they have their own problems, similar to ours. As many Russians joke, sadly, 'Our train is approaching Minsk Station rapidly.' And, of course, sharing the negative experience is useful but, at the same time, we understand we are fighting different regimes. But, at the same time, I think that the collapse of Putin's regime will help them and, also, the collapse the Lukashenka regime will help us."
On chess and politics:
"In chess, obviously we have rules. Dealing with Putin's Kremlin, we know that the only rule is that there are no rules. Or in fact, the opponents change rules upon their convenience. But I think we are somewhere in the middle game and for us, it's the end of the beginning. And for Putin, it's the beginning of the end."
Sharansky Leaves No Hope For AppeasementPRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky was in Prague today to participate in the Democracy and Security Conference, which he helped organize. The Ukrainian-born Sharansky spent nine years in Soviet prisons as a political prisoner until his release in 1986. After his subsequent emigration to Israel, he served in government as a parliamentarian and in various ministerial positions before resigning from the Knesset in 2006.
His 2005 book, "The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom To Overcome Tyranny And Terror," is credited with having a major influence on U.S. foreign policy. Today he serves as chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center. RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore spoke to him on the sidelines of today's conference.
RFE/RL: Conference participants have issued a ten-point "Prague Document" which urges Western governments to isolate regimes that suppress human rights. But many accuse the West of double standards and say Europe and the United States are doing the opposite in their relations with China, Saudi Arabia, and many other nondemocratic regimes, putting economic interest ahead of human rights. What is your reaction?
Natan Sharansky: This duality has existed practically all the time. It never stopped. The question is about the proportion: whether the main emphasis in your relations with [such] countries is made on demanding that they improve their human rights record and release dissidents or whether that is the last point in all your relations and the first point is, of course, how to have more profits. And that's what our struggle is about, how to make the question of human rights and the fate of dissidents the top of the agenda in international relations. We've definitely had some retreat in the last years. President Bush brought back the democratic agenda to the center of the world's attention and we now have to do everything so the other leaders of the free world will do the same.
RFE/RL: You say President Bush brought back the democratic agenda. But has America's credibility not been damaged abroad due to the Iraq crisis, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and Guantanamo?
Sharansky: It's not that in the free world you don't have violations of human rights. It's that in the free world, the most powerful people are not free from being checked, controlled, and pressed to correct violations of human rights. America is a leading democracy, which also has its problems, knows how to deal with these problems and it's built to deal with these problems. We're talking about countries where there are no problems of human rights because human rights don't exist at all.
RFE/RL: Is democracy always the answer? What happens when democratic elections bring to power governments that don't share our liberal values like Hamas? Do we have a right to ostracize them?
Sharansky: It's not democracy which brought Hamas to power. It's elections in a nondemocratic society. Elections are not equal to democracy. Free elections in a free society -- that's democracy. That's why instead of supporting the corrupt dictatorship of [former Palestinian Authority President] Yasser Arafat, the free world should have fought this corrupt dictatorship, to insist on building civil society in the Palestinian Authority. Here at the Prague conference we have at least three Palestinians who believe in civil society. If they had been the allies of the free world, then we wouldn't have had this awful, corrupt dictatorship of Yasser Arafat and then there would have been no coming of Hamas to power.
RFE/RL: Explicitly and implicitly, comparisons have been made between the former communist states of Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR and the attempts to democraticize the Middle East. Looking at both the successes and the failures in the former communist world, what lessons can they teach us about the possibilities for the Middle East?
Sharansky: I think that the main lesson is that you cannot impose freedom on anybody, but you can impose on them dictatorship by supporting dictators. And the policy of detente or appeasement of dictators by the free world was leaving no hope to the people of the former Soviet Union to live in freedom. And when this policy was stopped, the opportunity for developing democracy and for fighting for democracy became real.
I believe that with all the differences, the same is true for the Middle East. This policy of hundreds of years of appeasement of dictators -- believing that is the only option for the Middle East -- that was the policy of the free world.
Now...at least there are [the] first signs that the free world understands that supporting dictators in the long run is against your own interests.
RFE/RL: What does this mean in practice? Does this mean the West should distance itself from Saudi Arabia and from other states?
Sharansky: I think it is almost impossible to promote a democratic agenda and put Saudi Arabia as the chief promoter of it.
Definitely, of course, sometimes there can be mutual interests. Like, for example, today Saudi Arabia sees Iranian nuclear bomb as a big threat to itself, so it's natural partner of the West.
But the fact that Stalin was a natural partner for Churchill and Roosevelt to fight Hitler didn't mean that immediately after this he could be a partner for building democracy. That's something that has to be understood.
RFE/RL: Some say there has been a resurgence of Jewish life in Ukraine.... They say there is a distinctive Russian character to it.... Can you assess what you know of the resurgence of Jewish life in Ukraine, since you are from Ukraine originally?
Sharansky: Well, it's good to see that with all the ups and downs of democratic problems in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, there is a clear resurgence of Jewish life -- and the Jewish communities for the first time after many years can develop and build themselves. And that's especially true about Ukraine, where the general democratic situation is becoming better and where Jews have [the] freedom to build their communities.
It's true that the anti-Semitism [has] proved that it's rather strong. That new [forms of] anti-Semitism which [became] typical for Western Europe -- where the demonization of Israel is replacing very often the demonization of Jews -- is [starting] to come also to Ukraine.
But overall, the tendency is that Jews, [the] Jewish community, is becoming really free and Jewish schools are prospering and, in fact, Jewish businessmen are supporting and building the life of Jewish communities -- something that was not existing for 100 years.
RFE/RL: Why do you think the Russian language is dominant in this resurgence, and not the Ukrainian language?
Sharansky: Well look, the policy of assimilation was very strong in the times of the Soviet Union. [When I was a child growing up] in Ukraine, Donbass, it was practically fully Russified, so of course the most discriminated were Jews. But even we could not ignore the fact that Ukrainian culture was undermined.
So for most of the people it was clear that the main language which could give them equal opportunities for life was Russian. And definitely for Jews, who were moving from [one place to another], Russian was the only language of protecting themselves. So that's why.
I have to say at the same time I see now a number of Jews -- mainly from Western Ukraine -- who even in Jewish schools are speaking Ukrainian.
Brussels Must Be More 'Decisive' In Supporting DissidentsPRAGUE, June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Democracy and Security Conference taking place in Prague on June 5-6 brings together dissidents from many countries to discuss how their drive for more democratic societies can be strengthened.
Conference co-host Jose Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain (1996-2004) and now executive president of the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis (FAES), a Madrid-based think tank linked to Spain's center-right Popular Party, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan about how Western governments can do more to support dissident movements against repressive governments.
RFE/RL: Mr. Aznar, you are here to discuss the role of dissidents in world societies under dictatorships. In your opinion, is the European Union doing enough to support dissidents, for example in the region of the former Soviet Union?
Jose Maria Aznar: The answer to your question is no. I think that Europe has to do more things with more strength, with more determination [to support] different dissidents in different parts of, different places in, the world.
RFE/RL: Which countries right now should be the focus of support for democratic civil-society movements for dissidents? What are the key countries, for the European Union?
Aznar: Well, all the European Union should make a new job in this direction, but the European Union should have the responsibility to have present every day the situation of dissidents in different parts of the world: China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and different parts of the Middle East.
It is our responsibility. All dialogue with authoritarian regimes should pass through the situation of dissidents, to defend the rights of dissidents, to defend human rights, to defend free speech and free activities for the people. I should [think] that the European Union can be more decisive in the question.
RFE/RL: During the Cold War, dissidents in the Soviet Union played an important role in maintaining the hope for freedom and for democracy. Here today in the conference is Garry Kasparov and of course he's one of the opposition leaders in Russia. Do you think, given the developments in Russia in the last few months, that it's time for the countries in Europe, despite their commercial interests in Russia with energy and similar products, that it's time for Europe to be looking anew at people like Kasparov and the situation in Russia?
Aznar: It's time to talk with clarity, without ambiguity, with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, to talk about the situation, talk about the direction of Russia at this time, to support and to maintain special support for these people like Kasparov that fight for different rights and opportunities in Russian society. I like very much an open Russia, not a closed Russia, a Russia with a strong civil society, not a closed civil society, a Russia with freedoms, not an authoritarian Russia, and Kasparov is a good example.
Egyptian Democrat Optimistic About Middle East's Democratic ProspectsJune 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Saad Eddin Ibrahim is one of the Arab world's most prominent voices on behalf of democracy and human rights. An Egyptian, he was arrested in 2000 and sentenced to seven years but freed again in 2003 when Egypt's highest appeals court declared his trials improper and cleared him of all charges.
Ibrahim is founder and chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies and a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo. RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sultan Sarwar spoke with Ibrahim at the Democracy and Security conference in Prague.
RFE/RL: You are optimistic about the long-term prospects for democracy in the Middle East. But how do you reconcile that with the current crisis in Iraq, which some critics say points to the failure of U.S.-led efforts to promote democracy?
Saad Eddin Ibrahim: In the short run, the region seems to be in turmoil and this turmoil is bound to increase in the short run. But in the medium and long run, the region is discovering very slowly that democracy is a solution. The war in Iraq seems to have had mixed results. On the one hand, it gave dictatorships an excuse to say, "Look, pushing too quickly for democracy or foreign powers coming into the region to impose democracy has created havoc, has created confusion, and has led to war." But at the same time, the very fact that a dictatorship in Iraq had fallen seemed to have put all other dictators on notice, and all of them are now talking about reform. Whether they mean it or not, at least the language of reform has become a prevalent language. So whether sincere or not, everybody is talking about reform, and everybody is talking about democracy.
RFE/RL: How do you evaluate developments in Afghanistan, where democratic forces confront fundamentalists?
Ibrahim: I think that the situation in Afghanistan will continue to be contested by these two camps, but I am taking comfort from the fact that the extremists, the terrorists, the violent ones are retreating; they are not making gains. They always come back, but they do not make net gains, so far. I hope that this will continue and that with the country's social and economic development, people will become immune to the message of the Taliban and their likes.
RFE/RL: You are in Prague attending a meeting of democracy activists from many countries who are discussing ways to strengthen their efforts. Do you think this conference, where the keynote speaker is U.S. President George W. Bush, will have much impact on political decision makers in the Middle East?
Ibrahim: Well, everybody is taking note of it. My wife just talked to me on the phone. She told me that there is a lot of coverage in the Egyptian media on this conference and also a lot of criticism of me attending the conference, of why I'm invited to the conference and what I'm going to do or say to President Bush. They seem to be nervous, the government. The opposition, on the other hand, seems to be taking some comfort in the fact that at least a representative from civil society in Egypt is taking a prominent part in this conference.
RFE/RL: Let's talk a moment about the situation in Egypt. There the only strong opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood. Why are there not also liberal opposition parties or, when they exist, why are they so often weak?
Ibrahim: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood has an advantage and that is that they have the mosques. One hundred thousand mosques in Egypt, whereas the [Hosni] Mubarak regime has screwed down tightly on civil society, on the secular opposition, and therefore we could not operate. We could not do anything in the public square or in the street.
We could not organize rallies, we could not organize marches or demonstrations because of emergency laws. Emergency laws have been in effect since 1981, since the assassination of President [Anwar] Sadat. So for the last 26 years, these emergency laws have prevented secularists from going out and organizing and mobilizing.
On the other hand, the Muslim Brothers have the mosques, and that is an advantage that is without design probably by the regime, but it has played in their favor. Meanwhile, I do not like to exaggerate their constituency because despite the fact that they have freer space to move in, still their share in the last Egyptian parliamentary election was 20 percent out of the 20 percent [of registered voters who actually voted]. So, 77 percent of the registered voters did not like to vote for them, nor to vote for the regime. And that is a 77 percent that I consider to be the silent majority, the potential constituency for liberal-democratic parties whenever liberal-democratic parties are allowed full freedom to operate.
RFE/RL: Do you think that there is a future for liberal parties in Egypt?
Ibrahim: Absolutely. Kefaya -- and there is a new party, a very exciting party called the Democratic Front Party that just obtained a license last week, and it is led by Dr. Osama Ghazali Harb and Dr. Yahia al-Gamal, two prominent public figures in Egypt, and young people have turned out in big numbers to join it. In a sense, it is like Al-Ghad Party, which was led by Mr. Ayman Nur, but since Ayman Nur is in prison, [the Democratic Front Party] is probably going to fill the vacuum that Ayman could have been able to fill had he been allowed some freedom.