Posts Tagged ‘USA’
On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
I will receive the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award this Thursday and participate in a workshop/round-table discussion at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The discussions will be dedicated to US and European relations with Russia and to the Russian pro-democracy movement and how it was changed by new technologies. If it sounds interesting and you are in Washington, please feel free to come by!
The first panel, After the “Reset:” US and European Approaches to Russia, will start at 2 pm. Michael McFaul, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, Kurt Volker, managing director of Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS, and former US Ambassador to NATO, and Angela Stent, director of Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University will discuss the issue.
At the second panel, Democracy: New Tools for the Struggle (starts at 4 pm), I will discuss how new technologies and new approaches are changing the Russian pro-democracy movement. Daniel B. Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert Guerra, project director for Internet Freedom at Freedom House, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, prominent Egyptian democracy activist, will share their comments.
The award was a surprise to me, but a good one. In the past several years, people like Adam Michnik (a former leader of Polish Solidarnost, now editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza) and Saad Ibrahim (leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist and scholar) received it.
I’ll spend a month in Washington, beginning November 18, so there will be plenty of time. If anyone out there would like to meet, leave a comment or e-mail me at email@example.com.
I’m sitting in a cafe at Vienna Airport and have a few minutes for a short account of my visit to Washington DC. I was invited there to discuss the most recent Nations In Transit report by Freedom House. According to the report’s findings, Russia has experienced, unsurprisingly, the worst decline of democracy among all 29 post-Communist countries.
Before and after the discussion that took place at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I and Vladimir Milov (a co-author of the famous Putin. The Outcome reports) met with US policymakers, human rights activists and journalists. We shared our views on the current state of affairs and dynamics of the Russian politics and suggested what can the West do to improve it. One of my ideas was to connect the possibility of US investments into Medvedev’s favourite project of Skolkovo with meeting by the Kremlin of certain conditions of rule of law, independence of the judiciary system and real fight against corruption. Both the Russian society and the American business would benefit from fulfilling fulfilling these conditions, and it would be very difficult to argue against them.
Some other ideas are connected with the positive effect that the US high-tech companies can bring about in Russia. Specifically, I’d name two things: a small one and a big one. The small one is introducing Russian-language interfaces and generally promoting in Russia services like Twitter or flickr. The language barrier is still there despite the two decades of globalization, and even renaming the “Tweet” button into “Чирикнуть” could help a lot. Having more international and independent from the government online services would make RuNet freer and more protected against possible abuse.
The big thing is about bringing more Internet, most importantly broadband, to Russian regions. The vast majority of regular Internet users in the country still reside in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other big cities while mid-sized and small towns remain offline. Increasing penetration rate is very important to make the Internet an influential medium, in social and political sense. This task is certainly easier to put than to complete, though.
A few minutes after sharing some of these ideas at the State Department, we learned that 10 men were arrested in the US and accused of spying for Russia (fortunately, I am still at large). Looks like the honeymoon between the White House and the Kremlin is over.
Yesterday I participated in a Conference on Cyber Dissidents held in Dallas jointly by George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House. Despite mixed feelings about GWB’s presidency, I decided to take part; I try to use every opportunity to share my views and listen to others. Both President Bush and his wife participated in the event too (Laura Bush stayed the whole day).
Thanks to the ash cloud from Iceland I had to participate via video conferencing. After all, it wouldn’t be a cyber dissidents event if everyone managed come and without these geek things. We used ooVoo and Skype and both worked well (the former one allowed multiple people to participate simultaneously but is either paid or ad-sponsored).
Here is a transcript of my speech:
It is honor for me to speak at this conference. I managed to watch most of the presentations and I find them amazing. I’ll share some experience that we have in Russia with the new media.
1. Almost all conventional media are blocked:
- TV directly or indirectly owned by the government;
- most radio stations and newspapers are either controlled by the authorities, or self-censored, or have little general impact.
2. Internet became a natural resort for people looking for uncensored information and free exchange of ideas.
3. Traditional ways of involvement into civic or political activities on the Internet are:
- users can gain access to alternative sources of news and opinions;
- people discuss political issues in blogs and forums that are extremely popular in the Runet (like LiveJournal);
- grassroots groups organize online and offline actions using social networks and blogs.
More online tools are utilized by protest groups including Twitter, video blogging, live broadcasts, civil journalism and Web 2.0.
Interestingly, more and more grassroots initiatives, not connected with any political groups, start on the Internet.
As penetration rate of the new technologies increases, they rapidly replace TV as the main political media.
4. Government is trying to stop this process. They are making it in a smarter way than Iranian or Chinese authorities. They don’t block all the “bad sites” right away. In fact, very few Websites are permanently blocked in Russia.
Instead, they hire hackers to put the Websites or blogs down. Targets of such attacks included Estonian official sites, leading independent online news media, opposition groups’ Websites and individual bloggers. Some of such attacks are extremely powerful and expensive.
Another way of dealing with “uncomfortable” bloggers is more conventional: persecution. Since 2008, more and more bloggers have been sentenced for “extremism.” After some recent amendments to the criminal law, almost any criticism may be considered inciting hatred against social groups–extremism. For instance, people who discussed police brutality were sentenced for inciting hatred against the police and a guy who criticized his governor was sentenced for inciting hatred against the local government as a social group. There’s no limit to your imagination.
Such showcases make many more bloggers think twice before posting anything critical.
Ultimately, the government invests a lot into their own resources. They hire Internet experts, make deals with leading sites and buy popular websites including LiveJournal. This is one of the most serious challenges to the protest groups because we’ll never match the government’s resources.
But we are still superior in creativity and enthusiasm.
Wall Street Journal published a piece called Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox describing numerous challenges and problems the new American administration faces in its new approach to foreign relations that is, engaging with instead of teaching authoritarian countries. Matthew Kaminski quotes my skeptical comment to the (unintended) outcome of this policy:
How does the new image of America look from abroad? Not always the way Mr. Obama presumably intended. Human-rights activist Oleg Kozlovsky runs Oborona (Defense) in Moscow. “The political culture in authoritarian countries, at least in Russia, is such that if Obama looks for compromise, they won’t answer with good will,” he says. “They see you as weak and push for more. They see it as a carte blanche to repress their own people.” This applies as well to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Perhaps not coincidentally, human rights are deteriorating most glaringly in countries currently deemed “strategic partners” of the U.S. such as China and Russia.
What do you think about Washington’s policy towards Russia? Is it going to work or fail? What should the West do with authoritarian countries?
I met with President Barack Obama today as a part of the 2010 Washington Human Rights Summit. The meeting was attended by about 20 more human rights activists from different countries as well as by the leadership of the National Security Council (James Jones and senior advisors to the President).
Mr Obama said that he had started his own career as an organizer in poor communities and so he believes that the best change always comes from below. He outlined his view of the US policy in regard of promotion of human rights. He mentioned three points about it:
- US government tries to follow their words and values in their domestic policy including the end of torture, closing Guantanamo base etc.
- US government tries to engage not only with the governments but also with civil societies. When American officials visit other counties, especially the ones with authoritarian governments, they always meet human rights activists, and so do their diplomats;
- they understand human rights more broadly than only freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections, and rule of law. They also include economical rights in their scope because if you are starving, you are unprotected.
What I liked about Obama’s way of speaking is his honesty and absolute lack of demagogy. He bluntly stated that human rights is not the only issue that he has to take into account. Security and trade are also important and he can’t help but try to engage the governments in order to achieve result in these spheres. “We make mistakes and we will never achieve the perfect ideal,” he admitted. But he added that the US government needs criticism from human rights defenders so that they get closer that ideal.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect too much practical result from such meetings. You can’t convey much to the President in 20 to 30 minutes. But the very fact of this meeting bears a message that the US government pays attention to the issues of human rights in the world. How their words correspond to their deeds is something that we still have to see.
I spent last week in the USA. I was invited by Principia College in Illinois to participate in their Lucha Noerager Vogel Program on Moral Courage. I had a speech there devoted to my experience of nonviolently opposing authoritarianism in Russia, and I also mentioned the experience of Belarus and Ukraine. Apart from that, I met with a lot of student at classes and gave an interview for the college’s Internet radio (downloadable here). The guys there are very thoughtful and polite; their interests and questions were very different from political science students who I used to talk to.
Before coming to Illinois, I spent a few days in Washington, DC. I attended a brilliant panel on rule of law in Russia organized by Cato Institute. Karinna Moskalenko and Robert Amsterdam, both prominent international lawyers and both very active in their defense of Russian citizens from political repression (e.g. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a client of both of them), as well as Andrei Illarionov, one of the Russia’s most respected economists, discussed prospects for Russian democracy as well as US-Russia relations. This discussion’s video posted by Bob Amsterdam is highly recommended.
I also had a panel of my own at American Enterprise Institute. I was talking about the numerous problems with freedom of assembly in Russia, from vague legislation to police brutality to violent assaults on protests. I am also going to talk about this issue next week at the Washington Human Rights Summit.
My way back from Principia to Moscow was troubled by the Washington snowfall. Although I was staying in St Louis, i.e. quite far from DC, my flight had to stop at Dulles Airport and was cancelled. After waiting in the town for three days, I had to rebook my tickets and go via Chicago and Zurich. But thanks to that delay, I managed to meet Craig Pirrong a.k.a. Streetwise Professor, a Houston professor of Economics and the author of a great blog on Russia’s economy. He has already posted an entry about our meeting.
PS: I was surprised to know how many participants of the AEI discussion (many of them, too, were students) and not just them read my blog (hi!).
Russian National Exhibition, a grand event organized by Russian government to attract US investment, opens in Chicago tomorrow. Russian bureaucrats and businesspeople will try to convince their American counterparts that it is safe and profitable to put money in Russia’s economy. This difficult task appears even less achievable after today’s tragic death in Moscow custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Investment. He was arrested a year ago on tax evasion charges and, according to the defence, the investigators tried to coerce him into giving false testimony against his boss William Browder. Heritage claims that corrupt police officials have used its stamps and documents to steal huge amounts from the national budget as tax compensation. But it was Magnitsky who those same officials later charged with tax evasion. He complained multiple times about his health and was refused health care, his attorneys say. His death is another sad warning to those who risk to invest in Putin’s Russia.
The organizers of the Exhibition will not ignore the humanitarian aspect too. They even have a whole 2.5-hour long session on “Formation of Civil Society.” Five regional ombudsmen (from Samara, Yekaterinburg, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria), an editor of an online paper and an unkown (to me) expert will be explaining how Russia develops its civil society. The apparent lack of any NGOs’ representatives speaks for itself: the government has no activists to show to their Western partners without loss of image.