25. Dez. 2004

Monitor Journal
N 47 (107)

The conversation with a democrat

The conversation with this man leaves double impression. And it stays unclear - whom you are facing: the political romanticist, who amazes by his tolerance or pragmatic man paying attention to every word.
He is neither black, nor white. First impression is disappointment. Instead of political idol, the man the opposition Mass Media always threatening our government, we are facing the completely sound and sometimes even loyal politician. But this impression is deceptive because every his word and motion is hiding what he thoroughly is trying to hide: this is the indefatigable wish to see the triumph of democracy all over Europe. And his wish cannot be hidden either by diplomatic curtsies addressed to government or strict reproach addressed to opposition. Today, Mr. Andreas Gross, the PACE Monitoring Group co-reporter on Azerbaijan, is replying to the questions of "Monitor".

Conversed by E. Huseynov

Question. What is the reason of your present visit to our country?

Response. Being the PACE Monitoring Group co-reporter on implementation by Azerbaijan of its commitments I regularly visit your country. And, unfortunately, I have to state that for the last 14 months the situation has not improved, that the process is not progressing. Therefore, during this visit we wanted to bring to the attention of Azerbaijan government our anxiety. Our present visit is a little bit different from previous ones, because besides ordinary monitoring functions we have been observing the municipal elections. I would like to emphasize that we are not official observers for elections; we have been just monitoring the elections as a part of our work on monitoring of all the process of democratization and the study of the dynamics of political changes in your country.

From this point of view how would you characterize these elections?

I think that these elections have not justified our hopes. We expected that because of absence of strict political struggle the municipal lections would be first elections held fairly and openly. However, the existing hand-wheel of electoral engine worked in accordance with assigned program. During observation of elections we witnessed the fact that on some polling stations the number of voters were significantly increased. And instead of real 5-7 % of voters who came to vote, 45-57% of voters were indicated in protocols. We witnessed a number of such facts. This is enough to state our conclusion.

And what is your conclusion?

These elections cannot be considered fully free and democratic.

Maybe this has been reasoned by the fact that opposition did not take part in these elections?

I do not agree with this decision of opposition parties. I do not want them to understand my words as justification of their boycott, but I know that the opposition faced with the number of difficulties. Although, I am sure that opposition must take part in elections. Without taking part in elections it is impossible to create serious political potential. Boycott means the recognition of its own weakness and inability to influence on situation. My opinion is categorical - under no condition the political party should resort to boycott! Even in very hard conditions it is possible to organize the coming of supporters to polling stations, at least in order to show to government that the opposition is not just a group of party members but it is supported by real citizens.

But opposition states that it adopted this decision under influence of circumstances. In fact, in pre-electoral period the government did not allow the opposition to hold the marches, they prohibited the agitation for opposition candidates and extremely complicated the procedure of registration of opposition candidates. Was it really necessary under such conditions to take part in elections?

Studying the situation in a number of countries (even in those which significantly outstripped Azerbaijan in the field of building of democratic society) I have come to interesting conclusion - almost in all of them the opposition speaks about same problems. Even in most democratic country the government has odds over opposition. And the task of opposition is to correctly carry out the pre-electoral work. For some reason, Azerbaijan opposition is sure that in order to win elections it is enough to work only in pre-electoral period. But this is completely wrong. I think it is necessary to hardly work also during inter-electoral period. It is necessary to put into order the relations with people. If you work only during elections or completely refuse to work within political cycle then you agree with your political weakness.

You said that for the last 14 months, i.e. for the period of Mr. Ilham Aliyev's government, there have been no development in the field of implementation of commitments before PACE. How can you estimate these months of his presidency - I mean from the point of view of monitoring the problems you are in charge of ?

When I say about the absence of progress I mean as follows: the absence in its full manner of the freedom of expression and thought, freedom of association, political pluralism, and finally the absence of capable Parliament. Namely these components constitute the basis of democratic society. Moreover, we are not only witnessing the absence of progress but even the regress. From the other side, I would like to add that the newly elected President has done a lot to resolve these serious problems. There have been released a number of political prisoners and the pardon of others is expected. I am sure he has a will to resolve old problems, which are hindering the building of new Azerbaijan democracy. All the more, during the number of conversations with me Mr. Ilham Aliyev several times confirmed his will to follow the way of liberalization of Azerbaijan society and his adherence to European democratic values. Of course, I see that between what the President says and what is happening there is significant difference and therefore I want to pose to you the crossing question: is it real that there is a group of people in the government consisting of powerful ministers who are opposing the establishment of democratic values, which the President is adherent to?

In response to your question I can only emphasize that Mr. Ilham Aliyev several times stated that he and only he is governing the situation and thus proved those, who make difference between him and governing class, to be mistaken.

It is quite possible that such statements of Mr. Ilham Aliyev are proceeding from the will to look the way he is not in fact. Knowing that the tolerant society likes the strong rulers he, perhaps, wants to seem namely as strong one. But even during Heydar Aliyev the political power was not homogeneous and there existed antagonistic groups. Therefore, I admit that in the President's circle there are oligarchic groups, which do not support President's policy aimed at liberalization of political situation in country. Although they declare about their adherence to such values as social justice and more fair distribution of national pie but in fact they are boycotting the implementation of these principles.

What is your confidence that Mr. Ilham Aliyev wishes the implementation of democratic reforms is relying on? Is not his position just a pretence that personally as a man adherent to European values he is in favor of changes but surrounding people do not let him implement them?

Of course, every human being can be deceived in his opinion regarding another human being. But speaking about Mr. Ilham Aliyev I would like to emphasize that I met with a number of people who were in close contact with him and comparing this with my personal observations I came to conclusion that his statements changed significantly. I mean they have changed for better. He has not made any step that would convince me in his non-sincerity. As a man struggling for establishment for democratic values all over Europe I am adherent to positive estimation of human being. And in totalitarian societies people are trying to find only negative signs of other human beings in order to declare that they cannot work together. My principle consists of as follows: unless the human being has not done anything bad he should be considered as good. And this principle relates not only to the rulers of states but also to opposition, human rights protectors, and journalists. Namely, that is why at one o'clock of the night I am giving you an interview. As regards the President's sincerity he, for instance, several times told me personally that corruption is the fundamental problem of country and as President he is suffering from the wave of corruption.

Then, please explain to me, why even your words have some contradiction? On one hand you say that for last period the President's statements got some positive dynamics and on the other hand you say that the situation with democratic foundations got worse: freedom of expression is restricted, the trial on opposition leaders was held unfair and without observance of the rules of jurisprudence existing in EU countries and finally the government eliminated the notion of "freedom of association" ...

I emphasize that on the above-mentioned facts as well on a number of other issues the government ignores the adopted resolutions.

Then, how can be explained the contradiction between government's actions and the President's declarations?

I think that the problem is that President cannot make civil servants, who are opposing to reforms, to stop putting a spoke in a wheel. I would like to note that Mr. Ilham Aliyev is not so strong (! - marked by journalist) politician as the people think him to be and he does not have enough power to push democracy forward. Therefore, I see my mission in assisting him to do this.

You said that Azerbaijan is ignoring the PACE resolutions. But in this case, why CoE does not take strict measures with respect to persistent transgressor (who regularly transgresses all undertaken commitments) and confines itself to giving some adjournments?

The application of sanctions is not so easy issue. The gravest sanction is the expulsion of a country from CoE. But this is the prerogative of the Committee of Ministers of CoE. But in this body every state has one vote and in principle many countries do not vote for expulsion of the transgressor state because they have their own sins and fear that the similar sanction can be applied with respect to them. Unfortunately, the problems of democracy in Europe are not confined to Azerbaijan. As regards PACE, the maximal possible sanction is the deprivation of delegation of its powers. But we will never resort to this because your deputies in PACE are the bridge through which we hold the contacts with ruling class concerning democratic changes. It is very primitive way to discuss through expulsion about resolution of problems with democracy. I consider that it is necessary to think in other manner: for instance, how to help the citizens of Azerbaijan to be able to press on government making it respect democratic rights and freedoms.
If we expel the country from CoE this does not mean that government will face with problems. The problems will be first of all faced by people who will stay tÍte-ŗ-tÍte with undemocratic government that does not even glance at CoE. We do not apply sanctions because we do not want to leave you tÍte-ŗ-tÍte with government because by expelling Azerbaijan we will lose the opportunity to help Azerbaijan people. Besides, I always repeat one saying: "The world is too small to expel somebody from it. And may be you will meet again to pass all the way till the end".

Many observers noticed that after new President came to power your position has to some extent liberalized. Is it so? If so, what is a reason of that?

I would like to note that it is not so. I want to remind that last year: in fact I was declared as "persona non grata" and President refused to meet with me. I still have not changed my mind but now I am approaching to problem more differently.
Azerbaijan government is unlikely to have changed their relation to me. You may call to Strasbourg, your Ambassador - and whatever you ask him about me and whatever I do he will always speak bad about me. His opinion about me is always negative.

Do you believe that under present government Azerbaijan will implement all undertaken commitments or this is the "tactics of minor foul" when Azerbaijan government will be forging democratic norms painfully for long and many years?

I would like to specify, what do you mean when you say "Azerbaijan government"? If you mean President and his close people in this case I am sure that they want the sooner democratization of country. If you mean all governing class - then I am not completely sure that they have wish for this. I do not think that the majority in governing class wants these changes. But I think that the final word should be said by Azerbaijan people. If Azerbaijan people wants these changes they will achieve them. Society consists not only of government. There are also individuals who build it. And only if they understand situation and want to build democratic society this society will be built.
The democracy cannot be installed by means of force. The citizens should learn building the relations among them, building democratic relations. This reminds the weaving of carpet. The treads are getting tied with each other creating the strong material that cannot be torn. You have learnt to weave wonderful carpets now you have to weave the carpet of democracy. It has a very difficult pattern but without this it is impossible to build democratic society. No one: neither PACE, nor our monitoring can resolve this problem for you. We can only help you but you should yourself start weaving the carpets, creating the threads.
Especially, this concerns the young generation. It should think less how to earn money and should get concentrated on formation of pubic relations. If people succeed in creation of such net and weaving of carpet of inter-individual relations then no repressions and no government will be able to suppress them. The human community is much stronger than repressive machine. The revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were successful because for long period people were creating public relations, which could resist repressions and fraud. And this brought to success in elections. The main lesson for Azerbaijan is that these nets of public resistance should be created long before elections and not start the political struggle just few weeks before elections. Only long and laborious work can bring to success.

But neither in Georgia, nor in Ukraine the government resorted to such barbaric actions as in Azerbaijan.

It is necessary to analyze the events more effectively. You can come out home to frost being naked and then you will definitely catch cold. But if you came out dressed then you would have been protected from cold and illness.
The public network I have above mentioned is playing the role of the dress for society protecting it from frost and illness. If you are not "dressed" then you should not blame in this others.
In Georgia and Ukraine the democracy won because long before elections the society started preparing for political frosts and creating public network. For instance, in Ukraine there were all preconditions for "orange revolution" - as a result of society's resistance there was set up very strong Parliament. Ukrainian Parliament played the key role in positive development of all events. Such strong Parliament in Azerbaijan is just our dream.

How would you like to see the future of Azerbaijan?

I want there would emerge the political power that could come to government owing to the support of major part of society, the power that would be able to compete with ruling elite and, what is more important, in 5-6 years to give up the government and go to opposition. I want to see political elite to be taking care of citizens and society. I want in Azerbaijan the strong public Television to be set up and conditions for successful functioning of independent electronic and printing Mass Media to be created. These Mass Media should reflect the various aspects of public opinion and be so strong that government would be unable to neglect their opinion. I want your main natural resource - oil to bring less profit to Transnational Companies and to guarantee the right of every Azerbaijani to this national wealth.
I want in every Azerbaijani village for the expenses of oil money the democracy houses to be built where every citizen could come for discussion, to read newspapers, to have an exchange of views and these democracy houses to become the basic outposts of development of democracy all over the country. And I want very much your country soon to pass the exam for adherence to democratic values. And now I want to ask you: would you like to live in such country or this would be boring for you?

Boring, perhaps. However, not sharing with optimism regarding Mr. Ilham Aliyev's adherence to democratic values I do not worry - the building of such society in Azerbaijan will be delayed so long that it is opportune to recall Russian poet Nekrasov who wrote "It is pity that neither I nor you will live in such wonderful time". Therefore we are not threatened by sudden death: me - of boring and you of the fact that in Azerbaijan there has been finally built democratic society.

Mail to Andreas Gross

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