The Tajik president, Emomali Rahmon, has recently been awarded "the highest European Cultural and Political Honor" by the European Council on International Relations (ECIR).
In "a rare ceremony with academics, intellectuals, and political leaders," the Tajik ambassador to the EU, Rustamjon Soliev, accepted the prize on behalf of his boss. Tajik state media was all over the story.
Not all, however, is what it seems. Very little is known about the European Council on International Relations (ECIR), not to be confused with the well-respected European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
On its website, the ECIR is described as "an independent, non-partisan, pan-European organization, known as European Union leading academic think tank." But there is no telephone number, e-mail, or postal address for the organization even though it appears that it is operating out of Bucharest. It has no Brussels office, the Romanian EU embassy has never heard of it, and neither has any other EU diplomat or Brussels wonk that I spoke to.
On the website, the ECIR’s director, Professor Anton Caragea, explained that the prize was bestowed upon Rahmon because of Tajikistan’s sustainable economic growth, his investment in the country's health, environment, and education sector and his transformation of "Tajikistan into a secure state, with safe borders."
Others might disagree. Rahmon has ruled the poorest of the Central Asian republics with an iron grip since 1992. He and his family control most of Tajikistan's big businesses and he has been accused of the usual human rights abuses: staged elections, torture of political opponents, and severe restrictions of media freedoms.
Getting comment from the ECIR has not proved to be easy. Caragea, the only person that seems connected to the ECIR, writes
that he is an expert in international relations and history and the author of 300 articles. He is also a professor of Spiru Haret University in Bucharest, an institution described as "a diploma mill" by several Romanian journalists.
After two days of searching for his contact details, he seems to be as elusive as the organization he is heading. No mean feat considering that he is not only a member of the International Napoleonic Society but also was awarded the title “Man of The Year” in 2010 for organizing a summit on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
in Bucharest in 2010. That summit, which has the appearance of an official OSCE event, was co-sponsored by the Kazakh authorities. Regardless, it isn’t clear exactly who awarded him the “Man of The Year” title.
Caragea certainly likes his prizes. As a director of another think tank, the Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation of Romania, he awarded the “Man of the Year” title to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
It’s a safe bet that it will be Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s turn next year.
-- Rikard Jozwiak