Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Never Trust. Always Verify.

Posted by democratist on August 4, 2010

4th August 2010

Democratist was interested to read that the head of the Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov has backed Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call to hold a summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Almaty later this year, at which a “reformed” draft of the OSCE’s charter might be renegotiated. (“Russian senator says only reform can save OSCE,” RIA Novosti, 1st August 2010). 

According to Margelov, the OSCE needs urgent reform in order to “save” it, and the main aim of reform is apparently to restore “balance” between three main “dimensions” of the OSCE’s work; political-military, economic and “humanitarian”.

So what does this “rebalancing” imply?

To Democratist it seems fairly obvious that some in the nomenklatura are hoping that the Russian leadership will use any forthcoming summit to attempt to effectively destroy the OSCE’s “human dimension” – which is based on the recognition (as outlined in the OSCE’s 1990 “Copenhagen Document”) that human rights, and not least free elections and the rule of law, have a critical impact on international security, and therefore merit “verification” by the OSCE (i.e. the OSCE should be allowed oversight of member-state conduct in these areas, and should be allowed to express any concerns). 

More specifically, we suspect the main target will be one of the principle mechanisms of “verification”; the Election Observation Missions (EOMs) organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

These “reforms” are being proposed, not as Head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev has stated, because the OSCE or ODIHR EOMs have “become obsolete” or “failed to adapt to new realities,” but rather for quite the opposite reason; it is precisely because over the last twenty years the OSCE ODIHR has repeatedly shown itself to be an extremely powerful tool for the promotion of democratization, and has achieved an excellent reputation for impartiality and judgement with the populations of many OSCE member-states, that some in the Russian elite are so concerned to circumscribe its activities.

More generally, what is important about ODIHR is not just that it has had a significant impact in cases where governments have decided to “play by the rules,” and where free and fair elections have taken place, but also critically in a number of instances when cheating has occurred – as was the case in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005).

In each of these cases the ruling regime engaged in electoral fraud, and the OSCE ODIHR called them for it; in each of these cases the result was that the population subsequently rose up and overthrew the regime; and in each of these cases the OSCE ODIHR’s preliminary statement condemning the elections as fraudulent played an (unintentional but significant) role in concretizing popular sentiment against the regime.

Since decisions at OSCE summits are taken on a concensus basis, the West ought to be able to hold the Russians to their existing international commitments, as stated in the 1990 Charter of Paris and other OSCE documents.

In this regard, it might also be useful to remind Markelov, Kosachev and others like them, of President Medvedev’s July 12th speech to the Russian diplomatic corps, in which he underlined the importance of “strengthening democratic and civil society institutions in Russia”  and urged diplomats to “promote the humanisation of social systems around the world, and especially at home.”

The position that the Russian government finally decides to take in relation to OSCE (especially ODIHR) “reform” is likely to be very instructive as to how seriously we should take Russia’s current “modernization” drive.

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