Kazakhstan today formally began its one-year chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Speaking in measured, businesslike tones at a session of the organization’s Permanent Council in Vienna, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev expressed his country’s intention
of aggressively supporting all of the main activities of the OSCE, including security cooperation, economic development, and the support of democracy and human rights.
Saudabaev also said Kazakhstan will continue the OSCE’s reexamination of the current security architecture in Europe, mentioning in particular a new draft security treaty proposed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last November.
Saudabaev added that he will be making his first official trip as OSCE chairman in office to the South Caucasus in the middle of next month as part of the OSCE’s ongoing emphasis on regulating the post-Soviet frozen conflicts.
"Assisting in resolution of ‘protracted conflicts’ remains a priority for any chairmanship," he said, "and we shall endeavor to do all we can to make a contribution to this difficult process. At the same time, our organization must try to find a way of preventing the emergence of similar conflicts which result in human tragedy and humanitarian disasters."
He expressed support for the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), its high commissioner for national minorities, its representative on freedom of the media, and for its missions in various member countries. However, he urged the ODIHR and the OSCE parliamentary assembly “to do everything possible to ensure that the election-monitoring process is objective and constructive.”
The new chairmanship will also “focus particular attention on Afghanistan,” Saudabaev said.Chairmanship Questioned
Kazakhstan is the first former Soviet country to take on the leadership of the 56-member body, and its chairmanship comes at a difficult time for the OSCE, which has been particularly divided since the August 2008 war between member states Russia and Georgia. In addition, Kazakhstan’s leadership has been questioned by opposition forces domestically and rights observers internationally, who argue the country’s authoritarian regime poorly embodies the democratic ideals of the OSCE.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
In a video address to the Permanent Council session shown before Saudabaev’s address, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev affirmed his country’s support for the organization, although he acknowledged the difficulties ahead.
"The defining question of the future OSCE is whether the organization can turn into a structure that acknowledges the diversity of the world of the 21st century or remain an organization fragmented into blocs in which the traditional West remains detached from the space of the East," Nazarbaev said.
Nazarbaev made a strong plea for holding an OSCE summit in 2010. He noted that the fact that the OSCE has not held such a meeting since 1999 illustrates that the organization’s current consensus-based structure is, “if not in a crisis situation, is at least in stagnation.”
The motto for the Kazakh chairmanship, Nazarbaev said, will be the four Ts of trust, tradition, transparency, and tolerance.'Esteemed Contribution'
Saudabaev opened his presentation by asserting that the OSCE’s decision in Madrid in 2007 to support Kazakhstan’s chairmanship represented an endorsement of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet development.
“The Madrid decision was not only an objective recognition by the international community of the impressive successes of Kazakhstan and President Nursultan Nazarbaev during the brief years of independence in building an economically powerful and dynamically developing, democratic state and of its esteemed contribution to improving global security," he said. "But I think it also demonstrates the OSCE's own striving to bring together the countries to the west and the east of Vienna.”
In his video address, Nazarbaev struck a similar note.
"Stereotypes about the former Soviet republics continue to live in the minds of some of our OSCE partners, despite that for more than 20 years we have been integrating into the global democratic community," Nazarbaev said. "In this context, Kazakhstan attaches particular significance to this trust that the OSCE members have shown us."
However, Kazakhstan’s opposition Azat (Freedom) Party today issued an appeal to the OSCE, calling on the body to include marginalized opposition political figures into the official Kazakh OSCE delegation. The party also called on the OSCE parliamentary assembly to hold special hearings on the situation with democracy in Kazakhstan.
'Not Allow Such Duplicity'
Tamara Kaleeva, head of the Kazakh NGO Adil Soz, told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service today that the country’s OSCE chairmanship must not be used to paper over its deficiencies in democracy and human rights.
"The problems that exist here in the realm of democracy do not speak well of Kazakhstan as the OSCE chairman," Kaleeva said. "OSCE member states should know what is happening in this country. In any event, Kazakhstan must try to improve the situation inside the country in accordance with OSCE principles.
"We are told we should not wash our dirty linen in public and must present ourselves to the international community as a decent country. We should not allow such duplicity in terms of principles and the domestic situation."
At a press conference following the Permanent Council session, Saudabaev again emphasized that Kazakhstan has made considerable progress toward democratization since gaining independence, saying that in 18 years Kazakhstan had moved from being "a totalitarian country" to one that "today has been deemed worthy of serving as chairman of the OSCE."
Asked specifically what steps toward further democratization could be expected in 2010, he merely said the country has "very ambitious plans" and will continue along the line of development that it has followed in recent years.
In a written statement, the U.S. Mission to the OSCE welcomed Kazakhstan's "commitment to the OSCE" and told Saudabaev that "the United States also stands ready to encourage your efforts to lead by example and reflect in practice the principles and provisions of the organization you now chair."