Ireli, Azerbaijan’s eager tool of oppression

Now. Do I like abusing little defenseless kids? No, I don’t. Well, yes. I do. If it’s an Ireli kid. If you ever wanted to do a movie featuring an operetta regime and their clueless club of cheerleaders, just look at the dictatorship running the country of Azerbaijan and the youth organization supporting it. It’s called Ireli Public Union.

A grieving mother at a protest rally in Baku - by Ilkin Zeferli

A grieving mother at a protest rally in Baku – by Ilkin Zeferli

Let’s set the stage. Azerbaijan is a small, ex-Soviet country in the South Caucasus, tucked between Russia to the North and Iran to the South. Its geographical situation alone provides Azerbaijan with the continued interest of everyone from Moscow to Peking, from Brussels to Washington DC, from Jerusalem to Ankara and Tehran. The Caspian Sea to its East gives Baku oil and gas riches; to its West, Armenia provides Azerbaijan with a reason for conflict and war.

Dictatorships come in differents sizes, shapes and structures. The one ruling in Baku is built on the legacy of president Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB-general who overthrew the democratically elected government of president Elcibey in the early 1990’s and founded family-run authoritarian rule. Heydar projected strength, security and a sense of national unity to an uncertain people in shaky, post-Soviet times and amidst a war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabagh, a war that Azerbaijan was losing badly. Until this day, Armenia occupies a large swath of Azerbaijani territory, while the dispute over the status of Nagorno-Karabagh remains unresolved. Ethnic tensions and the occasional violence between Armenians and Azerbaijani’s are nothing new. But the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, still very much on, has been providing an added excuse for both governments to instill a profound hate of the other in the minds of their peoples. The NK-conflict also provides a convenient subterfuge to keep an iron grip on the affairs of state. After all: there is a war going on.

While the old Aliyev was able to make his people believe he gave them security, unity, nation-building and patriotic pride, his son Ilham, who took over when his father died, lacks any kind of national vision or agenda. His reign has seen a government, that at its very beginning might still have been, partially at least, about building Azerbaijan, fall into being solely about stuffing the pockets of a kleptocratic alliance of families and special interests that controls all energy resources and vital parts of the economy. With devastating results to the quality of government, to the state of Azerbaijan’s public institutions and services, and to any sense of individual freedom and quality of life. On the Economist’s latest EIU Democracy Index, Azerbaijan is defined as an authoritarian regime, ranking 140 out of 167, with a score of 3.15 out of 10. The Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders puts Azerbaijan at 156 out of 179 countries.Transparency International has a yearly Global Corruption Index: Azerbaijan is way down below at 139 out of 174.

Pick any yardstick you like. Despite its outwardly modern image, its well-designed new buildings (for which old architectural heritage had to be destroyed) or its flashy CNN commercials, Azerbaijan’s prosperity is a flimsy facade. By any international measure, the Aliyev-regime has turned Azerbaijan into one of the world’s most oppressive, corrupt, dysfunctional, unfree, undemocratic, economically failed societies. In an environment that was controlling and totalitarian from the very beginning, your only way of social and economic advancement is siding with the powers that be. Those who refuse to trade off their political rights for some measure of social standing and a shot at making a quick buck through favoritism, well: they get marginalized, persecuted, or killed. And the problems are getting worse, not better.

So. This is Azerbaijan. A country with a great history, natural beauty, freedom-minded people, fabled hospitality, the birth place of some of the world’s greatest literature and works of art. But with a government that uses oil and gas wealth not to build schools, health care, public infrastructure, housing, but to enrich the elite. And to buy the attention of the international community, bring international events to Baku, win favors from the powerful, the privilege to sit at the high tables of Davos, DC, Brussels. Having robbed the country and its people blind, what the regime craves now is the recognition of the international community. Western leaders in particular.

To be fair: those same Western leaders have an ambivalent track record when it comes to dealing with Azerbaijan. On one hand, many democratic countries invest handsomely in the development of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and economic progress of the Azerbaijani people as a whole. On the other, Azerbaijan is an important pawn in the regional game of power and access to energy, and no government in Europe or North-America is willing to alienate Azerbaijan and drive it into the hands of, say, Russia or China. The Azerbaijani regime knows this all too well, and plays its cards cautiously, balancing one foreign interest against the other. The best, long-term, stable, trustworthy and friendly partnerships are built with democratic governments and truly open societies. But unfortunately, this truth is lost on your average decision maker in the democratic West.

Back to abusing little kids. When I was living in Baku myself, working on democracy, good governance and political issues, Ireli was nothing but an empty shell. A token pro-Aliyev youth movement that didn’t do much of any consequence, besides trying to get funds from the European Union to throw away on international exchanges for the sons and daughters of the corrupt elite. Ireli was to sit tight and shut up until the moment of need would arrive, when the regime wanted a countervailing force against some protest movement, that at that point still was to materialize with any importance.

Not too long ago, that moment came. First, a new kind of dissident youth networks gained ground and started to stage activities mocking the government, its corruption, and the deplorable state of society and public services. Their actions got some attention. Then, the old, persecuted and marginalized political parties joined forces. Again, yes, but this time they included groups and independents from civic life. Most recently, social unrest hit some of the smaller towns outside Baku. Rural people got fed up with the stealing and arbitrary use of power by local governors, and took to the streets. Then, a young soldier, a conscript, was murdered by his senior officers. Finally, an Azerbaijani author, Akram Aylisli, was courageous enough to write a story set against the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabagh. In his book, he self-searchingly questioned his own nation’s attitudes towards their neighbours. A daring, much needed thing to do. But an explosive act too, endangering his life.

So. Something stirred in the waters. People got jailed, family members harassed and threatened, but this was in itself nothing new. Protests erupted, and this time, people could cite social causes for their dissatisfaction, not primarily political ones. This time, it was about justice and fairness.

Ireli sprang into action to defend their overlord, president Ilham Aliyev. On Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, they started playing down the extent of the malcontent. The size of the protests. And attacking dissidents. Suddenly, to me at least, the group that I got to know as a bunch of lethargic and spoiled little rich kids turned out to be not so lethargic anymore. In the past few years, it turned out, Ireli had been built up to play the attack dog for the regime quite aggressively.

What do I find so infuriating about the likes of Ireli? I guess the anger goes back to notions about complicity to tyranny set forth so meticulously by Hannah Arendt. In times of oppression, it is those that roll with the system that actively perpetuate it. It’s the opportunism, the jockeying for a good position in life, in business, in government, the perspective of a personal reward, that makes people opt for a place in the system of repression. They’re not forced to. They choose consciously. They are not mistaken or misguided. It is not that they believe its for the good of the country. They know very well it is only for the good of their own pockets. And for this, they willingly turn themselves into a tool to repress, criminalize and attack the voice of dissent. Every time an Ireli kid claims he loves his country: somewhere, a little truth fairy dies.

This human failure is of all times, of everywhere, I know that. Still. If we resign to it and remain silent, we also become perpetrators.

Khamenei in Hollywood? Laten we kalm blijven, maar niet naief

Is het een onvoorstelbaar Hollywood-scenario? Of is het verhaal te onvoorstelbaar om verzonnen te kunnen zijn? Feit is dat de VS, Saudi-Arabie en Iran in een groeiende rel zijn verwikkeld over een (al dan niet) voorgenomen moordaanslag op de Saudische ambassadeur in de Verenigde Staten. Een rel die verstrekkende consequenties kan hebben voor de stabiliteit in de regio rondom Iran. En die Iran, de VS, Israel, Saudi-Arabie, de Golfstaten, Irak en andere landen in hernieuwd, bloedig geweld kan storten. Alle reden dus om het hoofd koel te houden.

What we know is that an individual of Iranian-American descent was involved in a plot to assassinate the ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia,” zo sprak President Obama vorige week. “And we also know that he had direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government. Now, those facts are there for all to see. We would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment.”

Er bleek achteraf bezien weinig reden te zijn om President Johnson te geloven over Vietnam, en we herinneren ons allemaal nog de Weapons of Mass Deception van President George W. Bush. Maar dat de buitenwereld een Amerikaanse president, gezien de ervaringen uit het verleden, niet a priori gelooft als hij een ander land verkettert: dat beseft Obama natuurlijk ook. En toch waren de VS uitzonderlijk snel en scherp met hun veroordeling van de Iraanse betrokkenheid. Op dit moment trekken teams van Amerikaanse diplomaten de wereld rond om in andere hoofdsteden de bewijzen te tonen. Wat is er aan de hand? De feiten zoals we ze op dit moment kennen:

De Amerikaanse minister van Justitie Eric Holder maakte vorige week bekend dat de autoriteiten een poging hadden verijdeld om de Saudische ambassadeur in Washington te vermoorden, en om de Saudische en Israelische ambassades op te blazen. Een Iraans-Amerikaanse man en een officier van een elite-onderdeel van de Islamitische Revolutionare Garde zijn voor het New Yorkse gerecht in staat van beschuldiging gesteld. De perswoordvoerder van de Iraanse president Ahmadinejad en andere Iraanse functionarissen ontkennen elke beschuldiging van Iraanse betrokkenheid.

Let wel: de Amerikanen beweren niet dat de Iraanse regering, president of geestelijk leider formele besluiten hebben genomen om tot de aanslag over te gaan dan wel over gedetailleerde operationele kennis van het plan beschikten. Wel zeggen ze bewijzen te hebben dat individuele Iraanse regeringsfunctionarissen persoonlijk en rechtstreeks opdracht voor het plan hebben gegeven en de samenzweerders hebben betaald.

Als dat laatste waar is, dan heeft Teheran een probleem, net als Rutte een probleem zou hebben wanneer generaal Van Uhm of secretaris-generaal Van Zwol van Financien opdracht zou hebben gegeven een paar weerspannige Griekse parlementariers vervroegd hun Schepper te laten ontmoeten.

Veel commentatoren putten zich de laatste dagen uit om de Amerikaanse beschuldiging naar het rijk der fabelen te verwijzen. Manour Ababsiar, de vooruitgeschoven complottist, zou een instabiele halve gare zijn. En Niru-ye Ghods – het onderdeel van de Revolutionaire Garde dat achter het plan zou zitten, en dat nu zeer actief is in de contra-revolutie in Syrie – is veel te professioneel om een voormalige autoverkoper en een stel Mexicaanse drugsdealers te gebruiken voor een aanslag op zo’n belangrijk doelwit. Israel zit erachter. Noch Iran, noch de Saudi’s hebben enig belang bij een gewapend conflict. Enzovoort. Nee, zo luidt hun discours: de VS fabriceren een casus belli om Teheran nu eindelijk eens aan te pakken. Een andere verklaring is er niet.

Toegegeven: Japan, Afghanistan en Irak weten wat er met je gebeurt als je de VS op eigen grondgebied aanvalt. De Amerikanen hebben de neiging daar nogal grondig op te reageren. Dus het lijkt logisch te denken dat Iran daar niet aan zal willen beginnen, omdat het regime daarmee zijn eigen doodvonnis tekent.

Maar van militaire simulatiespellen tot het hoofdredactioneel commentaar in De Volkskrant wordt wel erg vaak de vergissing gemaakt te denken dat landen, als het tenminste om geopolitiek gaat, langs rationele lijnen en in voorspelbare scenario’s reageren op elkaars handelen. Dat is gewoonweg niet zo. Bovendien houdt het wegwerpgebaar dat velen nu richting Obama maken geen rekening met twee omstandigheden. Ten eerste is Iran al enkele jaren actief bezig zijn aanwezigheid op het Westelijk Halfrond uit te breiden. Er zijn geloofwaardige aanwijzingen voor Iraanse militaire activiteiten in bijvoorbeeld Venezuela en Cuba, en hardnekkige berichten dat het door Iran gesteunde Hezbollah in Mexico een bruggenhoofd heeft geslagen. En ten tweede: er is sprake van een toenemende machtsstrijd binnen het regime. Die strijd gaat deels over de ‘ziel’ van de Islamitische Republiek, maar ook over een meer gematigde of radicalere opstelling richting de buitenwereld, in het bijzonder de soennitische regeringen op het Arabisch schiereiland, en Israel en de VS.

Het is nog te vroeg om conclusies te trekken. Dus ook om nu al de Amerikaanse claims zomaar van de hand te wijzen. Het is niet ondenkbaar dat de zeer professionele Niru-ye Ghods ook wel eens een flater begaat, net zoals de zeer professionele CIA, KGB en Mossad dat wel eens doen. En het is al helemaal niet ondenkbaar dat de Amerikaanse operaties van Iran en Hezbollah nu in het stadium van uitvoerende tests zijn gekomen. Tenslotte: al lijkt het alsof deze aanslag ingaat tegen het rationele belang van het regime in Teheran: een ontevreden oorlogshitser binnen datzelfde regime is niet altijd rationeel.

Arjen de Wolff is directeur van de onafhankelijke Iraanse media-organisatie Radio Zamaneh, maar schrijft dit stuk op persoonlijke titel.

Iran State media demonizing free press: this is how they do it

Oppressive regimes in the Middle-East often use State Media to vilify and demonize independent sources of news. For a non-Arabic or non-Persian speaking public, it may be difficult to understand just how vicious these attacks can become.

In the case of Iran, broadcasters like my own Radio Zamaneh are the frequent subject of violent criticism by state-controlled media.  Of late, the Persian service of the BBC is being targeted, possibly for airing a documentary on Supreme Leader Khamenei a while ago.

I thought it would be interesting for a non-Persian speaking audience to provide an ad verbatim translation of one such attack against the BBC, which was aired on September 27th, 2011, on one of the major TV news channels. I won’t comment on it too much; just read it for yourself. Note that the Baha’i, mentioned in the news broadcast, is a faith forbidden in Iran, whose adherents are severely persecuted by the authorities.

Iranian TV comments on detention of people accused of cooperating with BBC

[News presenter] The detention in Tehran of a number of people connected to the government-linked television in England, the BBC, appears to be one of those cases that, the more the opposite side denies something, the more confident everyone becomes that there was in fact something going on.

Since the detention last week of a number of people linked to the BBC, the
official television in England has become pretty agitated, and some people
inside the country have also become very active revealing their hidden
agenda.

Only a few days ago, the intelligence minister [Heydar Moslehi] revealed the true nature of the BBC network which is working as a media cover for
England’s intelligence organization, carrying out intelligence activities
inside Iran.

[Actuality of a female BBC Persian newsreader] The BBC Persian says that it is an independent network and does not have any colleagues working for it inside Iran.

[Actuality of a male BBC Persian newsreader] The BBC Persian does not have anyone cooperating with it inside Iran, and basically it [BBC Persian] does not cooperate with anyone in that country.

[Actuality of an interview with a male BBC employee] Basically, we do not
have anyone cooperating with us inside Iran.

[News presenter] Those three people repeated that phrase in a single night
and in a single BBC newscast. The BBC repeated the same phrase several times on previous days. Why the official network of England is insisting so much that it does not have anyone cooperating with it inside Iran? It seems that the BBC’s repeated denials are somewhat amateurish and hasty, and instead of helping to prove its claim, it is helping its audience to come to the conclusion that the real story is something else. But, what is the real
story?

A few days ago, the intelligence minister said that the BBC network was
indeed a media cover for intelligence activities and the network is in fact
a Baha’i network.

[Actuality of a BBC Persian programme in which the presenter says] Today we have come to the port city of Haifa, in the north of Israel. Let us visit
this place, the international centre for the Baha’is in order to know the
Baha’is better and to see what they do here in Israel. A few streets away, I
went to visit Albert Lincoln, the secretary-general of the Baha’i community.

[News presenter] What is noteworthy here is the serious efforts of certain
people and currents who support the people who were linked to this Baha’i
network which pretends to be a media source but it is in fact an
intelligence network. House of Cinema which itself believes to be a trade,
issued a statement immediately after the detention of the people who were
linked with the BBC and said that the detentions were the result of a big
misunderstanding. This pretend trade even issued a second statement
supporting those who were detained and expressed regret about their
detention. In order to justify those people’s cooperation with the Baha’i
BBC network, the House of Cinema claimed that they cooperated [with the BBC] in order to earn a living. The interesting thing here is that the head of
the BBC Persian, despite previous denials that those people were linked with the BBC, has expressed his regret [about their detention].

[Actuality of the head of the BBC Persian] I really regret the detention of
those who are accused of cooperating with the BBC.

[News presenter] It seems that the circle of people linked with the Baha’i
BBC network, who are carrying out intelligence activities under the guise of media activity, has extensive and complicated dimensions. The majority of those people have been identified and we should wait to be informed about the dimensions of the case in future days.

[Video shows a BBC logo, as well as a logo saying “Baha’i Broadcasting
Corporation”]

Source: Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 2, Tehran, in Persian, 1700 gmt 27 Sep 11  – translation provided by BBC Monitoring

Make Iran fight its cyber war with the right enemy: Iran

As Europe and the world are still reeling from the internet hack at the Dutch SSL CA agent Diginotar, authorities all over the world are trying to answer the question: what will the wider consequences of this attack be, and who was responsible? Meanwhile, in space, similar attacks take place: instances of satellite jamming, the deliberate interruption of, for instance, TV- and radio signals, are decidedly increasing. The latest victim: BBC Persian, whose transmissions were interfered with several times through installations on the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Previously, Radio Zamaneh has been repeatedly attacked in similar fashion.

Internet hacking and satellite jamming are expressly forbidden by national and international legislation. In the case of satellite jamming, for instance, a member-state can be banned from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). As always, the problem is: proof. Because it is not that easy to determine that a sovereign state, rather than a few individuals, were responsible for the intentional disturbance of peaceful internet and satellite communications.

Nevertheless, The Islamic Republic of Iran is at the top of everyone’s list of suspects, it being the country from which most major recent hacking and jamming attempts that caught the public eye originated. In recent years, the Iranian authorities have invested heavily in acquiring the right expertise and technology. In the case of satellite jamming, it is usually easy enough to establish form where exactly the attack took place; in the cases of BBC Persian and Radio Zamaneh for instance, it was proven convincingly that the jamming took place from inside Iran’s borders. With internet hacking, things are not always that simple. Still, in the Diginotar-case, the pile of evidence pointing toward Iran has been stacked up so high that a link with Iran is as good as certain.

The political question that needs to be posed now is: what should Europe’s response be to this increasing digital and outer space aggression?

The answer could well be: return the favour to the aggressor, if a case against a state actor, for example Iran, can be made. Remove his TV- and radio signals from the skies, and ban his websites from the internet. The Iranian state uses public satellites and the internet for its own communications as well. Iranian state media like IRIB transmit on the very same satellites that are used by independent and opposition media. The Iranian government and state media have websites too. Even the Iranian banking system is highly dependent on satellites for its communications.

Satellite and internet providers are bound by legal agreements. They need European decisions on sanctions to be able to break their contracts. And the recent case of Libya, where Eutelsat broke off transmissions of the pro-Kadhaffi state-TV when Europe asked them to, indicates that satellite operators and internet providers are likely to comply when a political decision tells them to. Meanwhile though, some free advice to satellite operators: put state media on the same transponder as independent media. That way, when a country tries to jam free media, they jam themselves in the process. Just a suggestion.

The European Union should quickly put a strict and decisive mechanism of sanctions in place to punish communication criminals. Take out their channels for telecommunication and information as soon as one can reasonably assume that the internet or satellite attack was driven by a state actor. Let’s make Iran fight its cyber war with its proper counterpart: Iran.

Democracy: 10 simple rules for successful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule

As we are deposing dictators (or aspiring to do so) all across the Middle-East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the day after the party can make one feel a bit hung-over, and even despairing when looking at the daunting task ahead. Don’t worry, it has been done many times before you. In Africa, in Latin-America, and in Europe. Lessons have been learned. And trust me: transforming societies doesn’t have to be rocket science.

The benefits of democracy and the rule of law are not as universally accepted and self-explanatory anymore as twenty to thirty years ago. But the bad reputation these concepts have gained in recent years often stem from them having been implemented incompletely. In addition to that, the idea that a democracy governed by the rule of law is somehow at odds with, say, religion or culture, is utterly false. In the long run, truly democratic countries with a fair legal and judicial system, open society and open economy stand a much better chance of becoming stable, secure, prosperous nations with something to gain for everyone, than any other system.

Without any claim to infallibility, my years in international democracy, governance and media development have taught me these 10 simple rules for successful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule.

1. Take your time. Have all major political forces sign off on a technical government of non-political, authoritative experts that run the country for 3-4 years without parliamentary or other interference.

2. Clean up all legislation to ensure open, transparent, fair, non-discriminatory, inclusive, governmental, economic, social and legal processes. Incorporate human rights treaties and agreements.

3. Reform the bureaucracy, military, police and judiciary. Clear out obviously criminal and/or corrupt and inefficient officials from the very top on downwards. But leave everyone else in place, regardless of affiliation. They know how to run things.

4. Reform and retrain the judiciary and correctional system to restore trust in court independence.

5. Introduce unbiased and true education in all schools and in public campaigns about the country’s history, past faults and achievements, and integrate universal human rights and concepts of equality, non-violence and non-discrimination.

6. Reform the economy. Eradicate monopolies and oligarchies. Undo the close ties between government branches, officials and business enterprises, economic sectors. Create level playing field, access to economic activities for previously disenfranchised, non-connected individuals and groups.

7. Facilitate independent, pluralist media. Boost professional journalism colleges and trainings. Always remain responsive and accountable to journalists, even if they ask uneasy questions.

8. Facilitate a wide variety of civil society organizations. But fund only consortia of diverse, state-independent, non-ideological NGO’s.

9. Design an electoral system that ensures access to and participation in decision-making for all social groups, classes. Make sure that minorities, also those formerly in power, win something and feel they remain part of the process. Enforce a clean, free and fair voting process and result, pre- and post-election, even in the smallest and remotest of areas.

10. Invest in political party building. Facilitate effective campaigns that connect all parties and their ideas to the public. Train high quality future politicians that understand democracy is about trust, compromise, open communication and transparent decisions, sharing benefits between majorities and minorities, and long term gains for your constituency rather than short term ones.

Now, and only now: vote.

Nee, Obama en Barroso. Een dictator is geen betrouwbare partner

Terwijl in Cairo de protesten tegen president Mubarak hun tweede dag ingaan, wordt in Tunis nog druk gesleuteld aan de vorming van een interim-regering. Er zijn zeker parallellen tussen de revolutionaire gebeurtenissen in Tunesie en Egypte, maar er zijn evenzovele verschillen. En of een of beide van deze volksopstanden tegen een brute dictator uiteindelijk zal leiden tot de totstandkoming van een echte democratische rechtsstaat, is nog zeer twijfelachtig. Daarvoor is het gebrek aan een brede goed geschoolde middenklasse in de beide landen misschien te groot, en de macht van de corrupte bovenlaag en de Islamisten misschien te overheersend. Hoezeer ook de revolutie in Tunesie en Egypte – op dit moment – gedreven lijkt door een seculiere, progressieve bundeling van krachten en niet door religieuze traditionalisten: echt onafhankelijke, liberale en democatische partijen in het Midden-Oosten hebben meestal geen regeringservaring en geen in de maatschappij en het volk gewortelde organisatie. Dat gegeven alleen al kan de deur in een later stadium nog wijd open zetten voor een terugkeer van oude regimegetrouwen, of de Moslimbroederschap.

Maar wat prettig is aan de omverwerping van Ben Ali in Tunesie en de gebeurtenissen in Cairo, en goed nieuws voor iedereen die zich bezighoudt met de internationale bevordering van mensenrechten en democratie, is dat de Verenigde Staten nu tot hun afgrijzen zien wat velen in het vak van internationale samenwerking al jaren zeggen: nee, Washington, een dictatuur is op de lange termijn geen stabiele partner.

In weerwil van het beeld dat Irak en Afghanistan oproepen is de Amerikaanse buitenlandpolitiek er traditiegetrouw op gericht de Amerikaanse (en, vaak bijgevolg, de Europese) belangen niet primair via directe interventie te verzekeren, maar via bondgenootschappen. En om waar dat nodig is bondgenoten te verwerven om tegenwicht te bieden aan regionale grootmachten, ‘middle powers’ die de Westerse belangen zouden kunnen schaden.

Van alle donoren in de wereld steken de Amerikanen het meeste geld in democratiebevordering, vooral via instituten als NDI (National Democratic Institute for International Affairs), en zijn Republikeinse tegenhanger, IRI. Maar in authoritaire landen die een strategische relatie onderhouden met DC, blijft die bevordering van democratie en mensenrechten maar al te vaak beperkt tot pappen en nathouden.

Het fundamentele probleem met die tactiek openbaart zich nu in de Maghreb, en straks mogelijk elders: de premisse dat een dictator in ruil voor steun zal blijven leveren, is vals. Niet alleen kan een andere grootmacht langskomen en hem overtuigen de andere kant te kiezen (zie bijvoorbeeld de balanceeroefening tussen de VS en Rusland van Alijev in Azerbaijan en zijn Centraal-Aziatische collega’s); niet alleen kan een authoritair regime min of meer zelfstandig besluiten dat het van nu af aan de Amerikanen niet meer nodig heeft (Chavez in Venezuela, Saddam in Irak); het blijkt nu dat, zelfs in landen zonder democratische traditie, een schijnbaar hopeloos volk de hele kliek naar huis kan sturen.

Ook de Europese Unie en de grote Europese landen bedienen zich van dit recept. Er is ook vaak geen korte-termijn alternatief; want als je nu een gaspijpleiding nodig hebt, of het recht van overvlucht, ontbreekt het je aan de tijd om te wachten tot de oppositie sterk genoeg is om de tiran te verdrijven. Bovendien: of die oppositie bereid zal zijn met je samen te werken, is meestal een open vraag.

Dit soort harde lessen is niet nieuw. Toch valt het te hopen dat de VS, en Europa, dit keer wel inzien dat het hoog tijd is om serieus te beginnen met een andere investeringsstrategie, als het gaat om het creeren van bondgenoten overzee. Steek je geld en je energie in de ondersteuning van organisaties en partijen die werkelijk de fundamentele internationale waarden van politieke en economische vrijheid, rechtvaardigheid, sociale gelijkwaardigheid, transparantie en vrede voorstaan. En die mensen zijn er. Het is een langetermijnstrategie, en ondertussen zullen sommige directe belangen verloren gaan. Maar het is geen idealisme; het is pure Realpolitik. Want alleen zo verzekert het Westen zich van duurzame en betrouwbare partnerschappen, en stelt het de eigen belangen voor de toekomst zeker.

Haiti: de Boemannen

Jean-Claude ‘Baby’ Doc Duvalier is terug in Haiti. De ex-president wordt aangeklaagd voor corruptie; maar de vraag is of het ooit tot een proces zal komen.

Het schrikbewind van Baby Doc werd in stand gehouden door de Tonton Macoutes. Tonton Macoute betekent boeman in het Patois, en deze gewapende bende van zo’n twintigduizend man hield de bevolking eronder met geweld, moord, verkrachtingen, en intimidatie. Volgens sommige schattingen brachten de Tonton Macoutes zo’n 100.000 Haitianen om het leven.

Voor sommige Haitianen is Baby Doc nu de redder van hun land. Dit is wat hij eerder voor ze deed: