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5 July, 2011  ▪  Alla Lazareva

Formal Democracy

Looking at PACE President Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, one realises it is naïve to hope that politicians who easily find a common language with authoritarian regimes will unreservedly commit themselves to protecting human rights

Do leaders of international organizations always implement the foundational standards of the institutions they represent? On the one hand, the principle of pluralism on which most supranational bodies are based presupposes that the leader after a rotation will represent all existing political forces, including those whose actions are a far cry from declared standards. There is a certain logic and formal democracy to this approach.
On the other hand, can we expect that a politician who serves the interests of his political force above all will suddenly start to vehemently fight against these same interests? Can we picture him making statements and decisions that go against the feelings of his electorate?

“Why do you need to interview Çavuşoğlu?” an Azerbaijani journalist I know asked, smiling ironically. “He is a technological Turkish politician. He will not tell you anything that will prevent him from becoming Turkey’s foreign minister or which contradicts the position of his faction… Look, our own Einulla Fattulaev declined an invitation from the president of PACE for a meeting.”

Fattulaev, a former political prisoner and journalist by profession, confirmed that he refused to meet Çavuşoğlu but did not offer any explanation. “He [Çavuşoğlu] is a spokesperson for President Ilham Aliev rather than a leader of an international organization,” my Azerbaijani colleague said in sad jest.

Russian human rights advocates and my colleagues from the Caucasus who attended the June session of the Assembly received the same impression. “The president of PACE is more concerned with having friendly relations with the leaders of United Russia and the [Russian] Communist Party than about political persecution in the Russian Federation,” an Amnesty International activist said in a conversation.
Nevertheless, I wanted to meet with the Turkish politician, not so much because of the office he currently occupies as because of his 2009 report on the Ukrainian Holodomor in PACE. His commentary to the Russian site was stunning at best: “I do not want in the least to say that the policy back then was to purposefully destroy the citizens of a single state. Moreover, these people were not left without aid.” Who is the historian who shared such sensational facts with him, especially about government aid to the starving?

The Council of Europe resolution on the Holodomor (Commemorating the victims of the Great Famine (Holodomor) in the former USSR), adopted in April 2010 and based on Çavuşoğlu’s report, refused to recognize the 1932-33 famine as a policy meant to eliminate the Ukrainian people. The text of the resolution even stresses that “in absolute figures, it is estimated that the population of Russia had the heaviest death toll as a result of the Soviet agricultural policies.” 
“Unfortunately, calls to recognize the Holodomor as a premeditated act of genocide are voiced in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly not only to support President [Viktor] Yushchenko but also to express an anti-Russian position,” Çavuşoğlu complained to the Russian Gazeta on November 26, 2009.

He refused, however, to discuss this complex topic with the Ukrainian press. “Everything can be found in my report,” he told me brusquely. “Any interested person can read it there. My position has not changed in these two years.”
Çavuşoğlu is one of the leading figures in the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party. Despite its pro-EU stance, this political force, which recently again won a parliamentary election, is in no hurry to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915. Therefore, the position of the president of PACE on the Holodomor may be partly determined in terms of Turkish politics. However, the Council of Europe also mentions other influences. Çavuşoğlu took his present office a year and a half ago largely due to Russian efforts.

“Since all five political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly recognize the principle of rotation, the session hall does not elect but merely approves the candidate nominated by the next political force,” one-time Council of Europe Rapporteur on Ukraine Hanne Severinsen explained to The Ukrainian Week. “True selection of candidates takes place in the factions. Almost a third of European Democrats who nominated Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu for PACE president are members of Putin’s United Russia and the Russian Communist Party. Ukraine’s Party of Regions deputies are in the same group.”

That is some fundamental inadequacy for you. On the one hand, membership in the Council of Europe guarantees equal rights to all participants. Hence the Parliamentary Assembly reflects real electoral attitudes prevailing in Europe, even if they are not quite democratic, as is the case with United Russia or the Party of Regions. It is this principle of rotation that secures equality among the organization members: sooner or later each one has a chance to take the helm in his hands.

On the other hand, the Council of Europe’s main goal is to protect human rights rather than secure comfort for politicians. Rotation inevitably leads to a paradox: this goal is regularly entrusted to political forces that are at best indifferent to it. Thus, the problem of personal priorities in the case of Çavuşoğlu far exceeds his personality, because other views are not to be found in the European Democrats faction, which was bound to preside in the Council of Europe.
The large-scale reform of the Council of Europe recently launched by Thorbjørn Jagland, the body's incumbent Secretary General, is unlikely to go as far as scrapping the rotation principle. Old-timers say that direct elections of PACE president are out of the question: “Countries like Russia and Turkey which pay huge membership fees will not let access to presidency in the Assembly slip so easily out of their hands.” However, it would not be amiss to have a mechanism for passing a vote of no confidence if necessary. Today this mechanism is lacking altogether.


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