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Bulgaria Holds Early Parliamentary Elections; OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

By Helsinki Commission Staff

Country-Wide Street Protests Trigger Snap Elections

In early 2013, 30 Bulgarian cities were rocked by demonstrations. In some instances, violence erupted between demonstrators and police. In addition, in the months immediately preceding the elections, six people committed suicide by self-immolation in acts of public protest and desperation.

The street demonstrations were triggered by sharply rising electricity rates in a country widely described as the poorest of the EU’s 27 members. Discontent was further fueled by dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board and widespread corruption.

In February, following the street demonstrations, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned, paving the way for May 12’s early parliamentary elections.

For those elections, 8,100 candidates stood for seats in the 240-member unicameral National Assembly allocated by proportional representation from 31 multi-mandate constituencies (with a 4% threshold for both parties and coalitions to enter parliament). Altogether, 63 parties (38 outside of coalitions and 7 coalitions) were registered as well as two independent candidates.

The resulting ballot was roughly a yard long.

OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission

The OSCE mounted a full scale Election Observation Mission (EOM) – the first in Bulgaria since 1997 and the first ever in an EU country.

Eoghan Murphy (MP, Ireland) was appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office Leonid Kozhara to serve as Special Coordinator and leader of the short-term observer mission (parliamentarians and observers seconded by OSCE participating States). The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) long-term observer team was headed by Miklos Haraszti. Roberto Battelli (MP, Slovenia) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Andreas Gross (MP, Switzerland) headed the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

On Election Day, there were 158 observers deployed from 39 countries.

Of an estimated 6.9 million voters (a number that, in any case, the OSCE and Council of Europe Venice Commission suggest may be high), 3,541,745 went to the polls. Voter turnout was at about 50 percent – the lowest turnout since the fall of communism – reflecting the voters’ antipathy even more than apathy.

Approximately 850,000 votes were cast for parties that failed to overcome the 4% threshold to get into parliament.

Reportedly 107,799 Bulgarian citizens voted abroad, with 63,152 votes cast in Turkey.

The Mysterious Case of the Extra Ballots

The administration of the elections on E-Day was largely unremarkable. It was, however, preceded by two separate but related wiretapping scandals suggesting that the Ministry of Interior had bugged journalists and state officials. The day before the elections, an “extra” 350,000 ballots were discovered in a printing house in Sofia. (A week after the elections, it was reported that more than 2,000 extra stamps for electoral commissions had also surfaced.)

In its preliminary findings, the Election Observation Mission drew particular attention to the alienation of voters, lack of confidence in the electoral process, concerns over ballot security (the “extra” ballots), and persistent allegations of vote buying or voter intimidation. (A final report from the Mission is forthcoming.)

Roma and Other Minorities in the Electoral Context

Bulgaria has a population of 7.36 million (from almost 8 million in the 2001 census and roughly 8.4 million in the 1992 census). This continuing drop reflects declining birth rates and labor migration to other parts of Europe.

The ethnic Turkish minority comprises 8.8 percent of the population. Almost 5 percent of the population self-identified as Romani on the last census, but Roma are estimated to be roughly 10 percent of the population. Last year, the Bulgarian Government estimated that 23 percent of the working age population is Romani.

The Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, which is contrary to OSCE and other international norms on freedom of assembly. The OSCE has criticized this restriction in previous reports on Bulgarian elections.

The Electoral Code stipulates that the election campaign must be conducted in the Bulgarian language only, also contrary to standards on free speech and minority language use set out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. These restrictions also impede get-out-the-vote efforts.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is, de facto, an ethnic Turkish minority party, although it has largely been allowed to function with a wink and a nod from the authorities. After the elections, it was reported that Lyutvi Mestan, head of the MRF party, was fined in Sliven for campaigning in Turkish.

Bulgaria's last two local and Presidential elections (which were held simultaneously in 2007 and 2011) were preceded by outbreaks of anti-Roma violence. In 2011, just a few weeks before the elections, 14 Bulgarian cities erupted into anti-Roma riots. In July 2012, the headquarters of the EuroRoma political party were firebombed, killing one man. The investigation has not produced any results.

On April 8, 15 Romani civil society organizations withdrew from their advisory role with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, effectively deeming the government’s work in this area and the consultative process to be a sham.

There were no Roma in electable positions on the lists for any of the leading parties. As a result, the National Assembly produced by the May 12 elections will be the first Bulgarian parliament since the fall of communism to have no Romani MPs.

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After adopting two packages changing procedures since 2013, the subcommittee remained open to further changes but concluded, based on a paper prepared by Lord Bowness, that broader and more radical reforms were needed to make the Parliamentary Assembly more relevant and effective.  Some ideas were discussed, but the discussion is likely to be ongoing and will need to be widened to garner the support for changes to current practices. The delegation of Finland hosted a side event on persons with disabilities and focused on encouraging parliamentary participation, featuring a young Serbian parliamentarian who is confined to a wheelchair. The delegation of Georgia hosted a second side event, which discussed the human rights challenges associated with Russia’s occupation of the country’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali) regions.  Both events were well attended and welcomed for providing even more focused and less constrained discussion than the formal sessions of the meeting. Developments in Neighboring Catalonia The Autumn Meeting took place in the aftermath of the October 1 referendum on independence organized in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia. Most OSCE PA participants traveled to Andorra from Barcelona, the Catalonian capital, bringing their direct attention both to the referendum itself and to the actions of law enforcement dispatched by Madrid in an effort to block it. The referendum raised two separate issues that were discussed by the parliamentarians in Andorra. The first was the legitimacy of the effort in the context of the right to self-determination, and the second was the right to freely associate and express one’s views, regardless of whether the result would be recognized officially in any fashion. Madrid’s response was clear; the referendum had been declared illegal in a court ruling and had no status. Still, the degree of force used by police was considered by several speakers at the OSCE PA meeting to be not just excessive but a violation of the basic human rights of participating citizens. On October 4, 2017, OSCE PA President Muttonen spoke publicly from Andorra on the Catalonian events, urging “constructive dialogue and respect for the rule of law by all in Spain” and that “all the authorities to use due restraint and proportionality when enforcing the law.” Future OSCE PA Activity        While its leadership will convene for a day-long session in Vienna on the eve of the annual meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council, the next OSCE PA meeting open to all 323 parliamentarians will be the Winter Meeting on February 22 and 23, 2018, also in Vienna.  Next year’s Annual Session is slated for Berlin from July 7 to 11, and the next Autumn Meeting will be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (dates to be determined). In between the meetings, parliamentarians hope to observe upcoming elections under OSCE PA auspices, and participate in other gatherings, including OSCE events, as part of the ongoing effort to strengthen security and cooperation in the OSCE region.                                 

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on OSCE Field Missions in the Western Balkans

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “THE WESTERN BALKANS: PERSPECTIVES FROM OSCE FIELD MISSIONS” Wednesday, November 1, 2017 10:00 AM Senate Visitors Center Room 202 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Since the outbreak of the conflicts associated with Yugoslavia’s break-up in the early 1990s, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its field missions have been a central part of the international community’s response. Early OSCE efforts to counter the spillover effects of those conflicts were followed by ongoing assistance in post-conflict recovery and reconciliation. Today, OSCE field missions continue to exist in virtually every country of the region. They encourage the reform and cooperation essential to the long-term stability of the region through activities that broadly support democratic institutions and governance, particularly to strengthen rule of law; programs to promote integration of minority communities, especially Roma, and to counter violent extremism, and more; and regular reporting to the OSCE Secretariat and participating States. The briefing features three Americans who currently hold, or have recently held, senior positions on the OSCE Missions deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia, reflecting the importance which the United States attaches to having an OSCE presence in countries of concern.  Panelists will comment on developments in those countries during their assignment, the efforts undertaken by their respective missions to assist those countries, and the effectiveness of the OSCE as a multilateral tool for enhancing stability and promoting reform.  An OSCE official will also participate on the panel to comment on the organization’s field work from the Secretariat perspective, and the challenges not only to OSCE field activity in the Western Balkans but throughout the OSCE region. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Ambassador Jonathan Moore, former Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014-2017) Mr. Jeff Goldstein, Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje (2016-present) Mr. Michael Uyehara, former Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia (2014-2017) Ambassador Marcel Peško, Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre, OSCE Secretariat (2015 – present)

  • Averting All-Out War in Nagorno-Karabakh

    Last year, the worst outbreak of violence over Nagorno-Karabakh in more than two decades erupted as the so-called Four Day War in April 2016 claimed approximately 200 lives and demonstrated that the conflict is anything but “frozen.” The Line of Contact separating the parties sees numerous ceasefire violations annually and each one risks igniting a larger-scale conflict that could draw in major regional players, such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Since 1997, the United States, France, and Russia have co-chaired the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the principal international mechanism aimed at reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict. The U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted two former United States Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group process as well as a renowned, independent expert on the conflict to assess the current state of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Minsk Group format, and the prospects for achieving a lasting peace. Magdalena Grono, an expert from the International Crisis Group, underlined the serious potential for further flare-ups in the fighting, which could have severe humanitarian impacts and draw in regional powers. She contextualized the recent clashes and assessed that the conflict was among the most deadly, intractable and risky in Europe. According to her assessment, the conflict is beset by two worrisome trends: deteriorating confidence between the parties and in the settlement process itself as well as increasingly dangerous clashes due in part to the deployment of heavier weaponry. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh discussed the role of the Minsk Group in the settlement process while voicing his concern that positions have hardened on all sides. Growing tensions have created risks not only of intentional but also accidental conflict, he said. The Ambassador outlined the limits of the Minsk Group’s mandate, underscoring that it is charged with helping the sides find a solution rather than imposing one from the outside. He lamented that the recent meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents apparently failed to achieve agreement on certain confidence and security building measures (CSBMs). In order to stem further escalation, he noted the importance of implementing CSBMs and establishing a direct communication channel between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. He concluded by calling on the leadership of Armenia and Azerbaijan to demonstrate the political will to work toward a resolution, for instance by preparing their populations for the compromises that will inevitably be required to achieve peace. Ambassador James Warlick asserted that while this was a time of significant danger, peace remains within reach. He urged the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to engage together on principles that they know can lead to peace, saying that meetings without progress undermine confidence in negotiation efforts. Citing past negotiations, Ambassador Warlick laid out six elements that will have to be part of any settlement if it is to endure.  The Ambassador concluded by underlining that it is up to the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to take the first step toward peace by considering measures, even unilateral ones, that will demonstrate their stated commitment to making progress, reducing tensions, and improving the atmosphere for negotiations. 

  • Kyrgyzstan election: A historic vote, but is it fair?

    For the first time in the history of Kyrgyzstan, an elected president is due to peacefully hand over power after elections take place on Sunday. But critics say the political environment in Central Asia's "island of democracy" is deteriorating. Here's a look at the issues there - and who's likely to come out on top. Elections in Central Asia are usually easily predictable - the incumbent or the ruling party's candidate wins the vote with an overwhelming majority. But the vote in Kyrgyzstan offers a real competition and choice. Nearly 60 people applied to run in the race, 13 of whom were registered to stand. Two later dropped out. The incumbent, President Almazbek Atambayev, must leave office after six years. Under the Kyrgyz constitution, he may only serve one term. In neighbouring states, laws have often been changed to allow the incumbent to run again but this did not happen in Kyrgyzstan. President Atambayev also promised not to go for the prime minister's job in order to stay in power. Although one of the main candidates - Sooronbay Jeenbekov - is from the president's party, he is not guaranteed to win the vote. He faces a strong opponent - Omurbek Babanov, a prominent businessman and a former prime minister. Some candidates made the unusual move of endorsing their opponents after the campaign started. Experts say that they went through all the trouble of getting into the race in order to increase their political influence. They try to build a greater support base, which they use to negotiate a favourable deal with stronger candidates before pulling out of the race. Politicians can easily change sides, because it's not ideology or a political platform but their own personality that they use to appeal to the voters. Observers say that over the last couple of years the political climate in Kyrgyzstan has been deteriorating. The Helsinki Commission wrote that "the vote takes place amid mounting concerns of democratic backsliding, particularly regarding the government's treatment of political opposition, civil society and human rights defenders". President Atambayev has demonstrated increasing intolerance to criticism. The Sentyabr TV station which opposed him was closed last year for extremism, and activists say that there were blatant procedural violations during the trial. Several popular independent media outlets were sued and heavily fined for insulting the president. The government also tried to intimidate critics on social media. Security services identified Facebook users who criticised the president, and gave them warnings. Several political opponents of President Atambayev have also been sent to prison. Earlier this year, leaders of the opposition People's Parliament movement were jailed for allegedly plotting a coup. Omurbek Tekebayev, a former ally of President Atambayev who turned into a prominent critic, was sentenced to eight years in prison for corruption and fraud and subsequently barred from running for the presidency. Experts saw this case as politically motivated. The atmosphere got particularly tense following a major diplomatic spat between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It started last month after a meeting between the president of neighbouring Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Mr Babanov. In an unusually harsh speech, President Atambayev accused his Kazakh counterpart of interfering in Kyrgyzstan's affairs, and warned them of worse to come. "I will speak differently if our neighbours don't come to their senses," he said. Since the beginning of the campaign, there have been numerous reports of violations by various candidates. There have been reports of people going house-to-house with a list of names and addresses and offering money to citizens if they vote for Mr Jeenbekov. Mr Babanov was also accused of vote-buying, and the Central Elections Committee issued him three warnings for violation of campaign rules. The Babanov team complained that security services were putting pressure on their candidate by recording their meetings and conversations and arresting his supporters. An influential MP, Kanatbek Isakov, was detained and charged with an attempt to organise a coup. Security services denied any political motive for the arrest, but Mr Babanov said that Mr Isakov had been arrested because he endorsed him. Despite all this, many voters feel encouraged by the fact that there are several strong candidates. In their view, this will ensure that the outcome is not rigged. "Our politicians know that the people will rise if there are serious violations, so they won't go into that," said one voter in the second city, Osh. Kyrgyzstan has experienced two major uprisings that ousted presidents in the past. And in both cases, rigged elections fuelled the protest mood.    

  • The OSCE at a Crossroads

    Dr. Terry Hopmann is one of few American academics who has followed the Helsinki Process as it developed over four decades from a multilateral conference of 35 countries dealing with Cold War divisions – the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe – to a regional organization of 57 countries confronting a broad range of challenges across its security, economic and human dimensions – today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As well-acquainted with the intricacies of its institutional development as the diplomats who negotiated them, Hopmann also considers the Helsinki Process and its importance in the context of the broader development of European affairs and the U.S.-Russian relationship.  In his current capacity as Professor of International Relations and Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), based in Washington, DC, Hopmann not only introduces the OSCE to graduate students preparing for a career in international relations but also invites them to contribute to the intensive study of OSCE-related hot spots, including through field visits to areas such as Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.  Focusing especially on security issues, Dr. Hopmann frequently interacts with the Helsinki Commission, both at OSCE-organized meetings in Europe and at Commission-organized briefings and hearings in Washington. In light of the numerous challenges the OSCE currently faces, including Russia’s markedly aggressive behavior and fears of an eroding U.S. commitment to European security and cooperation, Helsinki Commission staff recently sought Hopmann out to discuss the utility of the Helsinki Process in the past, and the interplay of U.S., Russian and European interests through the OSCE today and into the future. The OSCE’s Value Hopmann asserts in no uncertain terms that “OSCE membership is very beneficial for the United States.”  The organization has made major contributions to defusing conflicts and increasing military transparency, Hopmann believes; he also underlines the need to keep in mind the organization’s role in the defense of human rights. “The OSCE’s defense of national sovereignty, minority rights, and other important socio-political freedoms, together help prevent or at least de-escalate conflict, and make escalation harder. We see this precise action with regards to Ukraine right now. There’s a lot of value in that,” he notes. “The OSCE remains important for the U.S. in promoting its interests abroad, and at relatively low cost,” Hopmann adds.  “Still, the OSCE needs more support. The United States has struggled to engage with multilateral organizations and this represents a major issue. Without permanent and knowledgeable diplomatic representation and without the guarantee of adequate funding and resources, the OSCE’s capacity to act is severely hindered, and we play a role in that. Furthermore, the fact that we do not have a permanent representative there at the moment devalues the OSCE in ways that are dangerous.” Hopmann calls for the United States to continue to “support the OSCE institutions and missions, help its fellow member states in their work at the OSCE, and not forget its commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, nor lose sight of their significance.” In the past, the Helsinki Process made important contributions to stability and peace in Europe, Hopmann believes. The confidence-building measures developed through the Helsinki Process of the mid-1970s, in particular, “initiated the practice of international observation and greater transparency. As a result, states could now better distinguish military maneuvers and exercises from preparations for a surprise attack. In many ways this was the most important breakthrough during the Cold War, greatly reducing the risk for surprise attack from the Soviet Union. This anxiety was a root cause of the Cold War and animated the conduct of both Western and Eastern powers. Of course, there were the ideological arguments that influenced the political landscape, but in Europe, the fear of Soviet aggression was immense.” At the time these confidence-building measures were negotiated, the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was still a vivid, recent memory. Hopmann also acknowledges the value of the other, non-military baskets of issues discussed in the Helsinki context. “The human rights basket was also important, though not as immediate,” he observes. “For the negotiators, this basket was less about human rights, but more about the promotion of human interaction. It was, effectively, an agreement to begin encouraging cultural and educational exchange.  In the shorter term, the first basket [on political-military issues] was critical, but in the longer term, the third basket [on human rights] became more important - particularly after the 1986 Stockholm agreement updated the CSBMs that were at the heart of Helsinki’s Basket 1. Then, following the Vienna Review Conference that concluded in early 1989, suddenly people were guaranteed the right to enter and leave their own country. Here, we see the first breach in the Iron Curtain when Hungary allowed people to cross freely into Austria – it didn’t all fall at once in 1989, rather it was a gradual process that started with a CSCE set of expanded principles. “ Hopmann considers the institutional development of the European security architecture in the post-Cold War period to have in many ways played out to the OSCE’s disadvantage.  Although initially successful in the 1990s with the deployment of field missions, successive U.S. administrations have missed an opportunity by viewing the OSCE as an organization principally relating to human rights concerns, rather than political-military security. “We missed the idea that NATO and the OSCE are not mutually exclusive,” he says “While we’ve contributed a lot to the OSCE, NATO remains the priority for policy makers in Washington. We have yet to realize how closely and effectively they can and should be working together. I believe this is our biggest foreign policy mistake since the end of the Cold War. It is the most effective way to bring Russia to the negotiating table and it is far easier to work with them in Vienna than the UN. The OSCE remains a security institution, like NATO, and as long as we value using all diplomatic measures to resolve conflict before using military force, we’re making a mistake by underutilizing the OSCE.” A growing European Union has not necessarily helped, Hopmann believes.  “The development of the E.U. has somewhat complicated the operation of the OSCE. Through the creation of its own common foreign and security policy and other initiatives, Brussels has duplicated OSCE institutions, but without the participation of the United States and Russia. Thus, the E.U. alone simply isn’t as effective,” he observes. “There is a lot of overlap between the two bodies and this begets structural and bureaucratic blockages that prevent action, especially when E.U. and OSCE representatives diverge or try to do the same thing independently. So, like OSCE-NATO relations, the E.U.’s relationship with the OSCE is occasionally marked by competition that hurts both parties’ effectiveness.” The View from Kremlin Walls Many of the earlier successes of the Helsinki Process were enabled by a very different leadership in Moscow than that we see today, Hopmann suggests. Under the late-Soviet leadership and Russian President Yeltsin, “there was a real interest to engage more with the West. They were, generally speaking, in support of Helsinki and didn’t view it as a threat to Russian interests,” he says. “That strongly contrasts with Putin. Putin has a totally different worldview and perceives the OSCE’s interests as inimical to Russian national priorities. We now find a much stronger, more belligerent Russia that no longer trusts the OSCE to help protect its interests, as it once did.”  This dynamic creates a real danger that Russia could turn away from the OSCE completely.  “The Kremlin could decide to leave as a result of domestic pressure or as a result of frustration with the West and its criticism. The Russians feel that they are attacked on all sides in the OSCE and obviously derive no joy from it,” Hopmann notes.    He therefore warns against outright rejection of all Russian concerns in the OSCE area, for instance as regards ensuring the protection of Russian-speaking populations in neighboring states.  “It is paramount that, in the spirit of Helsinki, we ensure Russian minorities are treated equally and fairly, to avoid perceived provocations by the West that might serve as a pretext for Russia to intervene. He suggests the closure of earlier OSCE missions in the Baltic states might have been perceived by Moscow, rightly or wrongly, as evidence that the OSCE was no longer responding to Russian concerns. Russia’s military occupation and subsequent illegal annexation of Crimea might have been averted, Hopmann asserts, had its view of the OSCE not evolved so dramatically from the first post-Cold War decade to the second.  While objecting to Kosovo’s bid for statehood based on core OSCE commitments regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, even a decade ago Moscow was willing to engage diplomatically to resolve the issue. In the case of Crimea in 2014, it was not. “They prioritized military force over diplomacy – the precise kind of behavior the OSCE was designed to discourage,” Hopmann states.  He predicts that “while this decision may have been tactically effective, it will hurt Russia in the long run. The OSCE is designed to deal with these situations and it has the institutional framework to do so effectively – Russia failed to take advantage of the OSCE and we’re all now paying the price.” Still, Moscow recognizes that the OSCE is still valuable to Russian interests, according to Hopmann: “Russia wields a lot of influence in the OSCE because of their effective veto power under the consensus rule – indeed, the Kremlin recognizes the sway it carries in it and recognizes the OSCE as the place where it can effectively and discreetly negotiate with both the U.S. and the E.U. Ultimately, the OSCE is designed precisely to facilitate this kind of diplomatic interaction, and it meshes more closely with Putin’s view of how diplomacy should be conducted than the U.N. I believe it is for this reason that the Russians have been willing to work with the OSCE on some issues, including the conflict in Ukraine.” Effectively engaging Russia at the OSCE will remain a challenge, Hopmann adds, suggesting that a multilateral format may be useful.  “The most important question we face is how to continue the discussion and being firm with Russia when it blatantly violates OSCE norms as it did in Ukraine, without going overboard with our criticisms,” he says. “There are some countries, like Austria, Finland and Switzerland that are simply better at dealing with Russia, due to their past or current neutrality. Russia prefers to deal through them and likely finds it easier to appear to cooperate with them than working directly with the U.S.” On the OSCE’s Role in Conflicts The OSCE is demonstrating clear added-value in conflict areas today, according to Hopmann, including in and around Ukraine, and as regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Hopmann praised the OSCE as having “played a key role in ensuring the [Ukraine] conflict does not escalate and cause more destruction. Indeed, within the limits of its mandate and available resource, the OSCE has done admirable work; however, this scope is limited and much remains to be done. Thus, the best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to support the OSCE’s mission and the Minsk process. It’s not ideal, but there’s no better option.”  Frustration over the OSCE’s inability to overcome the absence of political will to prevent or stop the conflict altogether should not overshadow its success in ascertaining the facts on the ground and galvanizing a defense of key principles guiding international behavior, he believes.  Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, Hopmann suggests that the OSCE has moderated what could otherwise be a much more intense conflict.  “The presence of the OSCE has helped already,” he says. “Its presence helped diffuse the four day war last year and prevented it from becoming a more violent conflict. Still, there is significant risk that the conflict will escalate and this highlights the importance of OSCE and the role it may play in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh question.” Hopmann believes that an alignment of U.S.-Russian interests in Nagorno-Karabakh, even if partial, may be helpful here.  “The OSCE absolutely has the mandate and ability to negotiate such a deal and to organize peace-keeping initiatives to ensure the conflict does not start up again. That being said, this process will be long, complicated, and expensive,” he predicts. The Future Hopmann concedes that the OSCE will remain beset for the foreseeable future with challenges largely emanating from the consensus-based decision-making process, over which any one country (including Russia) effectively has a veto.  However, he remains convinced that “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue dialogue. In fact, we must continue dialogue. Many people remain committed to the OSCE and its values, including some Russian diplomats – though they’re keeping a low profile at the moment. This bodes well not only for change in the OSCE, but also for Russia. Change is not impossible, and keeping the dialogue channels open is of incredible importance. Without them, when the chance to encourage positive change does appear, we will not be able to capitalize on it. We worked together immediately after the Cold War to diffuse East-West tensions and ensure a peaceful Europe. There is no reason we cannot do that again.” Professor Hopmann was interviewed by Bob Hand and Alex Tiersky, Helsinki Commission Staff.

  • Witness to ZAPAD

    For months, watchers of European security have focused unprecedented attention on one, singular scheduled event:  ZAPAD 2017, a Joint Strategic Military Exercise conducted by Russia and Belarus from September 14 to September 20, 2017. The author, the political-military affairs advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission staff, attended the final phase of the exercise as a Distinguished Visitor at the invitation of the Government of Belarus.    ZAPAD 2017, the most anticipated—and, in some quarters, feared—military exercise in recent memory concluded on September 20. The extensive maneuvers by Belarusian and Russian forces took place at a number of training ranges in Belarus and on nearby Russian territory and featured a broad range of military capabilities. The planned exercise was in some ways routine; it followed a well-known Russian schedule of readiness-enhancing exercises that rotates among Russia’s military districts on a quadrennial basis (“ZAPAD,” or “West,” takes place in the Western Military District). However, unlike previous exercises, ZAPAD 2017 took place in a strategic context now defined by Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia—incursions that were, according to western analysts, facilitated by Russian exercise activity.  The Russian leadership's track record of aggression, dismissiveness towards transparency, and geopolitical unpredictability understandably put its neighbors to the west on edge.  These countries have seen prior Russian exercises serve as cover for force build-ups that enabled, for instance, the illegal attempted annexation of Crimea. Leading officials ranging from Baltic defense ministers, to the Ukrainian President, to the Secretary General of NATO raised concerns about what ZAPAD 2017 might mean for the security of Belarus' neighbors, both before the exercise and during its execution. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Helsinki Commission Advisor Observes German Elections in Berlin

    By Scott Rauland, State Department Senior Advisor On September 24, 2017, over 50 parliamentarians and staff from 25 countries fanned out across Germany as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) team that was invited to observe German parliamentary elections.  This marked the first time that an OSCE PA Election Observation Mission (EOM) has deployed to Germany.  Although the OSCE PA does not have the resources to observe every election, the organization tries to be present in major elections that are politically important. I was pleased to represent the U.S. in that effort as the State Department’s Senior Advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Members of the OSCE PA team were briefed by German government officials, representatives of the major political parties, political analysts, and other experts in the two days leading up to the election.  On election day, members of the OSCE PA observation mission visited over 300 polling stations in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Duesseldorf, just a fraction of the more than 90,000 polling stations located in Germany in 299 constituencies.  In a press conference held on September 25, George Tsereteli, the Special Coordinator for the EOM, noted, “Germany has once again demonstrated that its commitment to democracy is undiminished. Highly competitive and well-run, these elections were an opportunity for voters to express their choice in a process that benefits from and is based on broad trust among society.”  One sign of that trust was the almost complete absence of election observers from any of the participating political parties at the 14 polling stations my team visited in Berlin – all six major parties seemed to be relatively confident that the elections were being administered fairly. While the OSCE PA team was in Germany at the invitation of the German government, and although the public has the right to observe the voting process in Germany, my observation team was denied access to one of the polling stations we had hoped to observe.  That incident was thankfully the exception amongst the 300 polling stations visited by the OSCE PA EOM, but was a reminder that efforts to promote transparency in the conduct of elections must be ongoing, even in countries where the commitment to democratic elections is high. With more than 4,800 candidates running, and numerous strong political parties, Germany’s 61 million voters had a wide range of options to choose from. Women represented slightly less than 30 per cent of candidates, but played a prominent role in leadership positions in parties’ campaigns. “This was the first time we’ve deployed a full observer team to Germany, and the welcome of our mission by all German officials and political parties that we met is a positive signal that the country is ready to pay continued attention to democratic processes,” said EOM Head of Mission Isabel Santos. “Changing political cultures in many countries and new challenges such as cyber attacks mean that we must all dedicate time and effort to preserving democratic systems.”

  • Building Cyber Confidence between Adversaries

    State-based cyber threats are an increasingly dominant part of the global security landscape.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has, in recent years, sought to play a leading role in the international system by developing confidence building measures between states to reduce the risks of cyber conflict. The cyber diplomacy at the OSCE features discussions and (voluntary) agreements among 57 participating States – including the United States and, crucially, Russia. Advocates of this approach suggest that, in the longer term, it could lead to the development of norms of state behavior in cyberspace – and thus contribute to greater stability and security in the international system. On September 28, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on cyber diplomacy moderated by Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Alex Tiersky. The panelists—Tim Maurer, co-director of the Cyber Policy Initiative and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jaisha Wray, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Emerging Security Challenges in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at the U.S. Department of State; and Alex Crowther, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research at the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy—discussed how OSCE confidence-building measures (CBMs) might work to decrease the risk of cyber conflict. These CBMs are voluntary in nature and allow states to read one-another’s postures in cyberspace. Mr. Maurer provided the audience an overview of the state-based threats these measures seek to diminish and listed several historical examples, such as the 2007 Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Estonia, the offensive cyber activity of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, and the Stuxnet operation. He noted that, in the last decade, there has been a significant uptick in these threats, as there are 30 states that either have or are developing offensive cyber capabilities. Additionally, he applauded the groundwork the United Nations has laid towards addressing this pressing concern. Ms. Wray communicated the U.S. priority of establishing norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. In her view, cyber activity has a unique potential to destabilize, because of its few outside observables and distributed vulnerability. She noted that participating States of the OSCE are currently in the process of implementing the CBMs agreed upon last year. Dr. Crowther offered a national security perspective on the topic, emphasizing the importance Russian participation in confidence-building. He attributed much of the progress on this issue to the 2015 decision of the Group of Governmental Experts that existing international law applies to cyberspace. In closing, he warned of the danger that cyber-enabled operations in a world saturated with smart devices.

  • OSCE Debates Environmental Policy and Economic Development in Prague

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor From September 6 to September 8, 2017, the OSCE convened the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. This annual conference brings together participating States for a wide-ranging discussion on policy as relates to the Second Dimension of the OSCE, or economic and environmental issues. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Greening the Economy and Building Partnerships for Security in the OSCE Region,” a topic selected by Austria, the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At a time when natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are devastating U.S. communities, such a discussion could not be more relevant. Add to that the joblessness and low growth rates that continue to plague many parts of the region and you have a broad debate on the issues that most impact the everyday life of citizens of the OSCE region. The Forum took the form of a series of thematic panels featuring experts drawn from the UN, the NGO community, and academia, as well as from the relevant ministries of OSCE participating States. Forum participants were particularly concerned with the effect that climate change is having on the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters, as illustrated by the extreme weather in the Caribbean and the United States. Much of the conference was devoted to discussing energy efficiency measures and renewable energy as a means to counteract the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment. Experts agreed that energy efficiency and renewable energy are not separable concepts: the latter must be pursued to achieve the former. Participants were also deeply concerned about youth unemployment, especially in relation to violent extremism. Many participating States struggle with unemployment or underemployment, which exacerbates the factors that lead youth to radicalize. Experts discussed countering violent extremism through more flexible labor market policies as well as addressing the exploitation of unemployment or underemployment by extremist recruiters. Connectivity—transport, trade facilitation, and economic cooperation—was also discussed extensively. (Connectivity is distinct from economic integration, which envisions a deeper level of policy harmonization.) Experts and representatives from participating States generally agreed that two regions in particular could profit mightily from expanded connectivity: Southeastern Europe, or the Balkans region, where important steps toward greater connectivity are being made, and Central Asia, which remains among the regions with the lowest interregional trade in the world. The economic and environmental situation in the Eastern Donbas was also an important part of the discussion. Experts expressed severe concern that the shelling in the industrial region could lead to ecological disaster should, for example, the chemical plants that dot the area be hit and their chemicals seep into drinking water. Participants also discussed how to reestablish connectivity in this region, which once was a cohesive economic sphere. However, representatives from participating States argued that any discussion of regional connectivity would be for naught until Russia ceases its backing of militants in the region and enables a ceasefire to take effect. Generally speaking, the mood of the conference was one of consensus. Despite disagreements on certain issues, participating States tend to be of one mind when it comes to the need to prevent and prepare for natural disasters, increase energy efficiency, and encourage job and business creation, all topics that made up the majority of the discussions at the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. Although minor disagreements cropped up in all of these topics, they were ephemeral and did not lead to prolonged debate. This general consensus may be a result of the fact that the arguably most controversial aspect of the OSCE’s Second Dimension, anti-corruption, was absent from all discussions. This is because this topic was addressed at the 2nd Preparatory Meeting of the 25th OSCE Economic & Environmental Forum in Astana and likely also because it was not a critical aspect of the theme of the Chair-in-Office. Nonetheless, at least a single panel on the topic would have been a welcome addition given its central importance to good governance. All in all, the Forum was a smooth and useful exercise that provided participating States with many worthwhile insights. Paul Massaro attended the conference as a representative of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

  • Kyrgyzstan: Prospects for Democratic Change and the Upcoming Presidential Election

    Two weeks before the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan—potentially the first peaceful transfer of power under regular circumstances in the region—campaigning is in full swing. On October 15, Kyrgyz citizens will participate in democratic elections, though serious concerns remain.   This briefing was moderated by Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Everett Price. In his remarks, he positively noted the current president’s decision to respect his constitutionally-determined term limit and hold regularly-scheduled elections for his successor. He cautioned, however, that the country’s weak political institutions and the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources could undermine the fairness of the vote. He also observed that the disqualification of certain opposition candidates and restrictions on journalists have adversely affected the election climate. Dr. Erica Marat from the National Defense University discussed the political situation on the ground in Kyrgyzstan and reviewed the political background of the two main candidates, Atambayev loyalist Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kyrgyz billionaire, Ömürbek Babanov. Anthony Bowyer, Senior Program Manager for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), reviewed ongoing electoral monitoring efforts in Kyrgyzstan, underscoring the importance of these elections for the region and U.S. interests therein. Finally, Freedom House representative Marc Behrendt offered his insight on Kyrgyzstan’s enduring interethnic tensions and poor human rights record, offering a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done in order for the Kyrgyz Republic to become a full-fledged democracy. During the briefing, questions pertaining to Russian influence over the country and its politics, as well as other regional, geo-political considerations were also highlighted as part of a general discussion of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development and the trajectory of Central Asian politics.

  • The Parliamentary Dimension of the Human Dimension

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), and is known for its standard-setting work in election observation as well as programs that help countries improve their implementation of OSCE commitments in the Human Dimension. Other OSCE institutions—including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly—also have a role to play in the Human Dimension and may participate in the HDIM debates.  Download the full report to learn more.

  • Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Russian Federation has adopted, by consensus, OSCE commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary. However, in many areas the Russian government is failing to live up to its commitments. Download the full report to learn more.

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