Co-Chairman Hastings Interview with Erica Marat of Voice of America
Question: Good morning, Congressman Hastings. It is our pleasure to have you here at VOA. My question is: you supported Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE back in 2007. Please tell us the main reason for your support.
Co-Chairman Hastings: That’s a very good question and, I had been involved at that time in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for almost 12 years and including at some point a few years back becoming the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. I worked with the Central Asian countries pretty much six or seven years after they gained their independence in the early ‘90s until today.
Kazakhstan has an immense amount of resources and they vector toward China, their Shanghai Group. They vector toward Russia based on their past experiences and they vector toward the West, the EU and the United Sates. I felt that the Western countries for a protracted period of time dominated, since the Helsinki Accords were struck, the leadership of the Organization, including all chairs-in-office previously. In my view, it was time in the post Soviet area – era -- for Central Asia and the other countries to step up.If you are mindful, you know that Lithuania is going to follow Kazakhstan and I actively supported them as well. All of these countries in the OSCE sphere have problems that I think allow that they should live up to their OSCE commitments.
I was in Madrid when Kazakhstan indicated through its foreign minister that they were willing to do that. I don’t think they’ve met all of those commitments at this point. But I think they now have more than a responsibility to do so as they move forward. So I felt if there was one country among them all that could, from time to time, tell it like it is, straight up, particularly to the United States and Russia, then this would be the one country that I felt could push back with reference to many of them. In addition to the fact, I had the pleasure of serving as the lead election monitor to their elections, so I saw their activities during that period of time. I’ve been a critic and a supporter and will remain a critic and supporter. Twenty years isn’t a long time to make a democracy you know. We talk about it from the West as if it can happen overnight. My recollection is that the United States is still a work in progress.
Question: So what are the biggest challenges that Kazakhstan is facing today as the Chair-in-Office?
Co-Chairman Hastings: Very, very good question. The usual refer to the frozen conflicts, but they also in my judgment have internal challenges that need to be met – the case of Mr. Zhovtis for example. I would hope that they would be busy about the business of resolving that. I would hope that they would move more actively to be supportive of NGOs. I think they are going to have to clarify their laws as it pertains to the Internet and their actions in that regard. And I think the president, if he really means it about democracy, is going to have to give up on the notion of being president for life.
And I would urge that everywhere. At the very same time, I have met with President Nazarbayev on more than one occasion and I have every confidence that he full well understands the need for healthy opposition. That opposition needs to be fertilized and fertile and rising with the thought in mind that there are other views than one. Those are internal challenges. The external challenges are the same as in previous years. Start with South Ossetia and go from there to Nagorno Karabach and you can go through what are constantly referred to as the frozen conflicts and then they take on the Chair-in-Office at a time when matters in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia are bubbling again. They take on the leadership when Albania is being discussed rather actively in regards to whether or not they should be eligible to come into the EU. Turkey’s ascension to the EU. They come in at that time. And with our partners, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, they come in at a time that we are going to have to begin looking at: can we bring Syria in; can we bring Lebanon in, and perhaps their biggest challenge is how they and others can collectively and collaboratively help with Afghanistan’s stability and development.
That’s a wide range of problems and doesn’t even come close to the ones that are necessary to be discussed in every basket. Security, of course, is a vital concern. Russia has tabled a proposal for a new security apparatus. Kazakhstan is going to have to deal with that. And then dear to me and the activities that I’ve been involved in are the constant concerns that are expressed regarding the Parliamentary Assembly and the ODIHR as it pertains to election monitoring. Now as Chair-in-Office I would hope that that matter is put to rest and there are an abundant number of elections coming up, about 15 during the course of their tenure as Chair-in-Office. And I would hope that we would see a greater resolution of what has been an ongoing problem. Of course, I admit my prejudice in being in favor of the Parliamentary Assembly’s role, as I think we have discharged it with regularity. But there needs to be a symbiotic relationship with ODIHR and with other institutions of OSCE.
May I please add one more -- further developments of the missions of the OSCE.I have been there. I saw the activities of the mission in Georgia. I saw the activities of the mission in Kosovo. And I know for a fact that they have made a difference. Kazakhstan is going to have to in my judgment, while chair in office, try to develop the consensus to increase and enhance the missions and in addition to that to make sure the NGOs flourish even in areas where there have been difficulties in the past.
Question: You mention that one of the challenges for Kazakhstan are the elections,
Co-Chairman Hastings: Yes
Question: --that there are going to be a high number of elections this year. Ukraine yesterday signed a new elections law that requires a quorum to include 50 percent plus one instead of two-thirds of -- agreement. What do you think of this law? What are your comments?
Co-Chairman Hastings: Ms. Marat, that was done yesterday. And Voice of America is ahead of me. I have not read the change in the law. When I was there for the last elections before the upcoming February 7 elections, it seemed to me the quorum that was in place and for all basic purposes, they met the fundamental standards for free and fair elections. The candidates were able to campaign freely. Now they could buy all the media that they wanted to. There didn’t seem to be overt violence taking place. And I went to 11 polling stations, and I did not see any untoward activities in those places. One thing I know, I’m from Florida, Ms. Marat. And one thing you don’t do is you don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.
Now I don’t know how the election will turn out and I’m sure the supporters of Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko have expressed their views. I take no sides, but I would prefer that they not have changed their law, and I will read it, and if you come back to me, I will give you my opinion with reference to it. It doesn’t sound good to me. My belief is let the voters make their decisions and for the determination of the election you shouldn’t change what had happened in so far as the election law is concerned. Do they need election reform, you bet, but guess who else does, the United States, OK.
Question: Ok, thank you very much for your time.This is extremely interesting.
Co-Chairman Hastings: OK. Thank you. I appreciate it.
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Congressman Alcee L. Hastings during the Helsinki Commission Mediterranean Seminar in Washington DC on July 22-23, 2009