January 28, 2004

CIS Watch: Democratization from Below

These popular trends, which have gained some momentum post the so-called Revolution of the Roses, need more attention and back-up from Washington.

Meanwhile, authoritarian CIS leaders are certainly paying attention:

"The lesson learned by other governments, though, may be not to permit the sort of open dissent that fostered the Georgian revolt, analysts said. In Tbilisi, an independent television station effectively sided with the opposition and Shevardnadze did little to crack down on critics. Other countries around the former Soviet Union zealously control television and often do not tolerate rival political organizations.

"There are authoritarian regimes that clearly pay attention to what goes on in the neighborhood and they're clearly reacting to it," said an official from a Western nongovernmental organization that helps foster democratic institutions in the region, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

In Azerbaijan, where Aliyev's ruling circle installed his son, Ilham Aliyev, in the presidency shortly before the older man's death, the new government has unleashed a wave of repression, locking up at least 1,000 opposition activists and engaging in widespread torture, according to a report last week by Human Rights Watch.

In Uzbekistan, where thousands of people are in prison for what human rights groups call political or religious reasons, the government of President Islam Karimov recently decided to require foreign nongovernmental organizations to register with the Justice Ministry. The groups, calling it a direct reaction to events in Georgia, said they fear that they will be refused registration and ordered to close. Some groups report pressure in Kyrgyzstan as well."

I want our troops, as much as the next guy, to be able to use Uzbekistan as a staging ground to continue prosecuting the war effort in Afghanistan. But we still need to make the Karimovs of the world aware that democracy norms really count for something when we take stock of the bilateral relationship. Will our man in Tashkent raise this issue vigorously the next time he has an audience with Karimov?

Let's hope so. If we overly myopically look at each country solely through the prism of 'war on terror' cooperation we risk giving the lie to our ambitious democratization agenda. We'll keep a closer eye on this issue through the year.

Posted by Gregory at January 28, 2004 10:44 AM
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