The Mirror (Azerbaijan)
Andreas Gross is against
sanctions towards Azerbaijan
But he is inclined to agree with the opposition's statements about falsification of Referendum's results.
A correspondent of "Mirror" met with A. Gross early in the morning of August 25, the next day after Referendum. Despite his noticeable tiredness, this time Mr. Gross very willingly answered questions of mass media representatives that he accepted one after another.
After voting, Ilkham Aliev stated that "you, speaking softly, are not a friend of Azerbaijan". Would you like to become "a friend of Azerbaijan"?
I was very surprised when I heard Ilkham Aliev's statement. I was surprised very much because we simply never met each other. It is very serious for me.
As I am an idealist, I don't accept a notion of enemy. As an idealist, I try to have no enemies at all. Besides, I am not a nationalist. Therefore, it is illogic to state that I am not a friend of some particular nation. No matter where I am, only people matter to me and I am trying to work with them and to understand them. Concerning Azerbaijan, many people know how much time I spare to this country and how much strength I put into it. For example, I've had almost no sleep for the last two nights. And if I criticize something or someone, it doesn't mean that I have negative attitude to Azerbaijan at all. It means that I care about this country and that I love it.
I am not one of those people who make loud statements and say stilted toasts about their love to Azerbaijan. I belong to the people who express their good attitude to a country through their actions, I belong to the people who want to contribute as much as possible into establishment of democracy in Azerbaijan. How can one judge a person and his attitude to Azerbaijan by his words about one or another problem? You should judge a person by his actions. That is why I'd like to let people judge about it.
I want to quote Ilkham Aliev's father who said that Gross was not a God and journalists shouldn't have taken his words as God's words. I absolutely agree with him. No one is God. And no one can say who is a friend of Azerbaijan and who is not. And only God knows how people treat this country in reality.
I may be mistaken but after the parliamentary elections of 2000 you seemed to be the one who stated that you'd never seen such elections, even in Mongolia.
No, I've never said such thing. I haven't been to Mongolia. I said that I'd never faced so many manipulations in my life. I visited a polling station in Sumgayit then and found 150 completely ready and filled ballots an hour and a half before the polling began there. I'd never seen such things before that incident.
You are probably aware of Referendum's official results already. Almost 90% of voters participated in Referendum and almost 100% of them voted "for". Your comments concerning this referendum's results.
I visited one of the polling stations of Sumgayit where 80% or 848 voters participated. 755 of them voted "for" , 30 of them voted "against" and only 63 persons voted differently. Naturally, I have to agree with the opposition when they say that there is some manipulation about it.
Have you also noticed any facts of manipulation?
I would like to note that there was too little time. Only two months. None of the international observers managed to hold a monitoring of the whole process of referendum. I had impression that the authorities did it intentionally. Besides, I am not an official observer from the CE. I am here to make my own conclusions.
And we are interested in your own conclusions.
I spent almost 20 hours at the polling stations. Of course I noticed elements of falsification. An observer from the opposition party approached to me at one of the polling stations and said that he was offered money to increase the number of voters in his reports. I also noticed the way the ballots were placed at the tables and it was clear that it was possible to steal them. Then I wanted to look at the registration sheets of the voters. At first a chairman of the commission didn't let me do so. And when I was finally allowed to view the registration sheets, I noticed that there were lots of similar signatures. I may also mention one thing that hasn't been confirmed by other sources yet. Many people told me that the employees of state structures were subject to pressure to make them participate in voting and they even voted in several places.
The journalists of the monitoring group also observed similar facts. That is why I would like to ask you if usage of administrative resource by authorities to make people vote is considered a serious violation?
Each voter has a right to vote or not to vote. Democratic principles give you a right not to participate in voting at all. Therefore, compulsion of voters by one or another method means the heaviest violation. And if the court system works in a country, then you can defend your right not to participate in voting in the court. In this case you may even apply to the European Court on human rights.
Perception of civic right is one of the elements of a democratic society. And in non democratic countries it is very difficult to talk about person's right to receive protection in the court. But you should feel that you are able to protect yourself and go on like this.
According to some mass media, being in Sumgayit, you stated that Azerbaijan has never held such democratic and transparent elections as this time.
It is not so hard to make such statement. Even if it was true, it is hardly worth to search for something unusual in such type of statement. Not so many elections have been conducted in Azerbaijan for the whole period. All of these elections were non democratic to some degree. When I was answering the journalists' questions, I only said that atmosphere was normal. I gave this interview very early, before the lunch. If they asked me the same question in approximately 12 hours, I would have given a different answer.
For example, in Sumgayit I spent two hours in the morning, about an hour at lunch time and 4 hours in the evening. Those 4 hours were the most unpleasant ones.
As I understand, your present visit to our country and observation of the polling process will not "improve" your report on Azerbaijan?
The more you learn, the more facts you get to correspond and to compare. Knowledge and comparison of facts will only improve this report in any way. In addition, you should take into account that reports don't have to list only good things about Azerbaijan. Main elements of reports are meaningfulness, seriousness, thoroughness and richness of facts. From this point of view, after each of my visits, quality of the reports is certainly getting better.
I remember very well a joint statement by the OSCE and the CE on the parliamentary elections of 2000. After listing of all negative factors, the last sentence of the statement still said "that it was the next step towards democracy". In comparison with the elections, is this Referendum a next step on the way to democracy?
Yes, I think that it is a step towards democracy. Even irrespectively of the total results of this referendum, it is a step in the right direction. For the first time people had a chance to see how representatives of the opposition parties, NGOs and government gathered together to discuss all issues of the referendum on the state TV channel. It is time to understand that in a democratic society if people have different opinions, it doesn't mean that they must kill each other. It is important to show that you should discuss, talk and think on one or another topic.
Some people are trying to create negative image of you in Azerbaijan. Did you feel any negative attitude to yourself from the side of population while you were observing the voting process?
The less I meet with officials, the less I feel negative attitude. Local people treated me very positively everywhere. I spent the whole day amongst common people yesterday and didn't feel anything negative. But I often felt negative attitude towards me during my July visit when I met with officials mainly. And I didn't need any bodyguard yesterday though I spend the whole day in public. But I needed a bodyguard in July, although I met with government officials ...
What do you think about your popularity in Azerbaijan?
I don't even know what to say in this connection because some people consider me a hero and some people consider me a devil.
But it means popularity in both cases ...
It is also a symbol that demonstrates beginning of democratic processes. A person that is trying to do something for the sake of democracy always becomes so popular. It is a good sample for those who want to become popular politicians through protection of democracy.
You are accused of supporting Armenian positions, they say that you haven't signed any document suggested by the Azeri delegation in the PACE.
First of all, it is not true. A member of Azeri delegation in PACE, Naira Shakhtahtinskaya sent me a document regarding resolution of Karabakh conflict and I signed it. Besides, there is some kind of a Code that doesn't allow a member of the monitoring to sign lots of documents arriving from one side. Furthermore, there are still many things that your members in the PACE should learn concerning such documents. Sometimes their documents contain very aggressive expressions. We have to tell them that it is not accepted to use these expressions in the PACE's documents. When you point at someone with one finger, you should remember that another three fingers point at you.
Have you signed many documents suggested by the Armenian side?
None of them. I have no contacts with Armenian side at all. I've been to Yerevan only once, seven years ago and my visit lasted for a few days. And I've been there in a capacity of an expert and not like a politician or a PACE member. Such an attitude towards me reminds somehow behavior of Berluskony in Italy. When Berluskony wanted to cloud someone, he claimed that this man was a socialist or was connected with socialists.
Are you going to suggest sanctions against Azerbaijan in your report?
For me it is more important to find truth. I am against non democratic or authoritarian methods towards some particular country. That is why I am against any sanctions. I believe that sanctions are a non democratic way to influence a country. I am convinced that we should never isolate a country. We should work out mechanisms aimed at establishment of democracy.
Have you really made any statements about violation of national minorities' rights in Azerbaijan, including rights of Talish people? If yes, then what facts have brought you to this conclusion?
- First of all, I've never made any statement on this issue. This question arose during the meeting with NGO representatives. They discussed this topic very actively after which I expressed my position. Secondly, I received many e-mail messages on this question. And finally, thirdly, my colleagues visited southern regions of Azerbaijan and said that lots of work should be done in this direction. Nevertheless, I am not an expert on this issue and I can't say anything about it.
As to my personal opinion, I think that there are still many other and more important political problems that must be resolved in Azerbaijan.