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Helsinki Commission Advisor Observes German Elections in Berlin
Friday, September 29, 2017

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.”

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    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Ronald McNamara, and Josh Shapiro Commission Staff Hints of any democratic progress in Belarus came to a screeching halt on December 19, 2010, in the aftermath of the country’s most recent electoral exercise, the latest in a long line of fundamentally flawed elections. The brutal and bloody election-night crackdown against political opposition supporters, including mass arrests of demonstrators, as well as candidates, who challenged the 16-year rule of Alexander Lukashenka, was unprecedented. Even the prospects of inducements from the EU and others failed to restrain a regime bent on maintaining power. The strong-arm tactics employed on election night, and since, confirm the nature of Lukashenka’s rule – one that perpetuates a pervasive, albeit subtle, climate of fear to squelch dissent. 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  • Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan Set the Stage for a New Political System; Ethnic Tensions Remain a Key Obstacle to Stability

    By Janice Helwig and Shelly Han The OSCE concluded that although the October 10, 2010 elections in Kyrgyzstan were conducted peacefully – no small feat following the April 2010 revolution – and demonstrated a significant increase in pluralism as compared to previous elections, there remains an “urgent need for profound electoral legal reform.” Two Helsinki Commission staff members traveled to Kyrgyzstan to observe the election as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation and were deployed in the Osh and Kara-suu region. Although the staff experience was not inconsistent with the overall OSCE conclusion, Osh and the surrounding region appear to have had more problems during the election than other areas of the country. In June, the constitution had been changed through a referendum to give the parliament a stronger role than the President. 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All wanted to leave but did not have the means to do so. None wanted to go to Uzbekistan; rather they wanted to go to Russia or anywhere else where they might find economic opportunities. While rebuilding of homes was clearly progressing, the question of earning a living in the long term was an overwhelming concern. The divide between ethnic Uzbeks and ethnic Kyrgyz is wide and seems to be growing. Many ethnic Kyrgyz seem to genuinely believe that ethnic Uzbeks were responsible for the violence, and even burned down their own houses in an effort to get international attention. Kyrgyz media and the government seem to be reinforcing this message. If the region is to move forward and avoid future violence, there needs to be some mechanism for accountability and reconciliation. However, so far only ethnic Uzbeks have been arrested and put on trial, and the trials appear to have been unfairly conducted. Ethnic Uzbek defendants have been routinely attacked by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs during the trials, as have media representatives trying to report on the proceedings. In general, journalists and human rights defenders fear retaliation if they report on abuses against ethnic Uzbeks; as a result, there have been few voices speaking out. Standing in the ruins of his home, a man shows Commission staff the photo of his sister, who was killed during the violence in June. This ethnic divide is likely to fester unless something is done to build confidence between the main ethnic groups and provide economic opportunities for all. Moreover, disenfranchised youth could be vulnerable to recruitment by extremist organizations. The new government will face many challenges, not least addressing continuing ethnic tension in the south. 

  • The Western Balkans: Developments in 2010 and Hopes for the Future

    This hearing focused on the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The witnesses commended the enormous progress that the region has made in the 15 years since the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian conflict and in the decade since Milosevic was ousted in Belgrade. The hearing discussed E.U. visa liberalization and U.S. democracy-building assistance programs to support further progress in the region. The Commissioners proposed that the U.S. government prioritize continuing the democratization effort in the Balkans.

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  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Oslo

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Although not a member of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has a longstanding interest in OSCE-related issues and also participated on the delegation.  As many of you know, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of over 300 Parliamentarians from virtually every country in Europe, including the Caucasus, as well as from Central Asia, and the United States, and Canada. The annual sessions are held in late June/early July as the chief venue for debating issues of the day and issuing a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development and the rule of law; economic cooperation and environmental protection; and confidence building and security among the participating states and globally.  This active congressional participation helps ensure that matters of interest to the United States are raised and discussed. 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These, too, had relevance for U.S. policy interests:  the American serving as OSCE PA Secretary General, Spencer Oliver, was reappointed to a new 5-year term; a modest--and for the third fiscal year in a row--frozen OSCE PA budget of about $3 1/2 million was approved that requires continued and unparalleled efficiency in organizing additional conferences, election observation missions, and various other activities that keep the Parliamentary Assembly prominently engaged in European and Central Asian affairs;  in addition to my continued tenure as a vice president in the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Aderholt of Alabama was reelected as the vice chair of the general committee dealing with democracy, human rights, and humanitarian questions which ensures strong U.S. representation in OSCE PA decision-making; and a Greek parliamentary leader defeated a prominent Canadian senator in the election of a new OSCE PA president, following a vigorous but friendly campaign that encouraged the assembly to take a fresh look at itself and establish a clearer vision for its future.  While the congressional delegation's work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, we tried to use our presence in Europe to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns more broadly. The meeting took place in Norway, a very close friend and strong, long-time ally of the United States of America. In discussions with Norwegian officials, we expressed our sorrow over the recent deaths of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. We also shared our concerns about climate change and particularly the impact global warming has on polar regions  Indeed, on our return we made a well-received stop on the archipelago of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the impact firsthand, from changing commercial shipping lanes to relocated fisheries to ecological imbalance that make far northern flora and fauna increasingly vulnerable. The delegation also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility that preserves more than 525,000 types of seeds from all over the world as a safeguard for future crop diversity, and took the opportunity to donate additional U.S. seeds to the collection.  Norway is located close to a newer, but also very strong, ally with close ties to the United States, Estonia. Since last year's delegation to the OSCE PA Annual Session went to Lithuania and included Latvia as a side trip, I believed it was important to utilize the opportunity of returning to northern Europe to visit this Baltic state as well.  While some remained in Oslo to represent the United States, others traveled to Tallinn, where we had meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials, visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber-Defense Center of Excellence and were briefed on electronic networking systems that make parliament and government more transparent, efficient and accessible to the citizen. Estonia has come a long way since it reestablished its independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, making the visit quite rewarding for those of us on the Helsinki Commission who tried to keep a spotlight on the Baltic States during the dark days of the Cold War.  During the course of the meeting, the U.S. delegation also had bilateral meetings with the delegation of the Russian Federation and a visiting delegation from Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.  U.S. engagement in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sends a clear message to those who are our friends and to those who are not that we will defend U.S. interests and advance the causes of peace and prosperity around the world.

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    This hearing examined how the U.S. can best continue to encourage and assist Ukraine in developing democracy, rule of law, and a market economy.   The panel also discussed Ukraine’s relationships with its neighbors, the United States, and European states and organizations. The panel of witnesses explored the democratic developments and progress since the Orange revolution and U.S. policy implications of Ukraine’s interest in further integration with Europe.

  • U.S. Helsinki Group Slams Baku Court's Refusal of Bloggers' Appeal

    The U.S. Helsinki Commission has criticized a Baku court's rejection of appeals by two Azerbaijani bloggers against their prison sentences, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. Emin Milli was sentenced in November to 2 1/2 years in prison and Adnan Hajizade to two years on charges of hooliganism arising from what the commission chairmen said "appeared to be a crude, government-arranged incident at a restaurant" in July 2009. Both bloggers were well-known for their satirical comments on Azerbaijani government policy. The Baku court rejected their appeal on March 10. Both men, and a number of rights groups, have insisted the incident behind the jailing was a provocation and the motives connected to their very public criticism of the government. Senator Benjamin Cardin (Democrat, Maryland), the U.S. Helsinki Commission chairman, said the bloggers' case "is the latest in a long series of setbacks for independent journalism and civil society in Azerbaijan." Commission Co-Chair Congressman Alcee Hastings (Democrat, Florida), said it "illustrates the lack of independence of Azerbaijan's judicial system." Congressman Robert Aderholt (Republican, Alabama) said the bloggers' conviction "seems to indicate a determination to stifle dissent before the parliamentary election later this year." The U.S. Helsinki Commission wrote in December to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressing concern about the convictions and calling for a fair appeal process. Azerbaijani authorities did not reply to that letter.

  • 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

    Mr. President, on January 27, 1945, the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, including Birkenau and other related camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim, was liberated by the Soviet Army. This week, people have gathered at Auschwitz and in many other places to mark the 65th anniversary of that event. I am pleased that President Obama presented a video address in which he underscored--using Elie Wiesel's words--the sacred duty of memory. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the six death camps built by Nazi Germany to achieve its goal of the mass extermination of the Jewish people of Europe. Built in Nazi-occupied Poland initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a prison for a number of other nationalities. Ultimately, a minimum 1,300,000 people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, and of these, at least 1,100,000 were murdered at that camp. An estimated 6 million Jews--more than 60 percent of the pre-World War II Jewish population of Europe--were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators at Auschwitz and elsewhere in Europe. In addition, hundreds of thousands of civilians of Polish, Roma, and other nationalities, including in particular disabled individuals, homosexuals, political, intellectual, labor, and religious leaders, all of whom the Nazis considered `undesirable,' as well as Soviet and other prisoners of war, perished at Auschwitz . On that day of liberation , 65 years ago, only 7,000 camp prisoners who had passed through the infamous Auschwitz gates, the ones who promised "Arbeit Macht Frei" -- "Work Will Make You Free" -- managed to survive the selections, torture, starvation, disease, inhuman medical experiments, and executions that occurred at Auschwitz. According to a new survey published this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, at least 41 of the OSCE's 56 participating states commemorate the Holocaust with official events. Thirty-three participating states have established official memorial days for Holocaust victims, and January 27 is the official Holocaust Memorial Day in many European countries, including Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. I am deeply gratified that since 2005, the United Nations has also observed January 27 as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. In fact, Auschwitz -Birkenau was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. I personally visited Auschwitz in 2004 and cannot overstate the importance of the Memorial Museum there today in the effort to teach future generations about the Holocaust. The recent theft of the "Arbeit-Macht-Frei" sign -- which, fortunately, was recovered -- has certainly heightened awareness of the need for additional security measures there, and I support the efforts to secure increased funding for the preservation of the Memorial Museum. Teaching about the Holocaust is an obligation that must be met not only at Auschwitz , but at places where people learn around the globe. As chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am deeply concerned by the rise of anti-Semitism and violent extremism in some OSCE participating states. In particular, I am deeply troubled by the continued prevalence of Nazi-era discourse to describe Roma. As Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has said: Even after . . . the Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma. With this concern in mind, I was pleased to learn that the United Nations invited the OSCE senior advisor for Romani issues, Andrzej Mirga, to participate in the commemoration they organized this year. Sadly, as Mr. Mirga observed, although approximately 23,000 Romani people were sent to Auschwitz , none were among the survivors liberated there 65 years ago.  

  • Democratic Change and Challenges in Moldova

    2009 was a year of tremendous political change in Moldova as nearly a decade of Communist rule came to an end.  Following two elections and massive street protests, Moldova’s ruling coalition, the Alliance for European Integration, still lacks the 61 votes needed in parliament to elect a new president.  As the poorest country in Europe in the midst of a global economic downturn, a prolonged impasse poses serious challenges to reform and recovery in Moldova.

  • Ukraine Presidential Hopefuls Fear Election Fraud

    In the final hours of the Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential campaign, candidates accused one another of planning to commit campaign fraud and experts warned of the possibility of post-election unrest. But among many Ukrainian voters, the no-holds barred campaign may have inspired as much apathy as outrage and some observers were predicting a relatively smooth first-round vote Sunday. Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution, has accused front-runner Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions of planning a campaign of voter fraud through falsified absentee ballots and other methods. ''Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are preparing a large-scale falsification in Ukraine,'' Tymoshenko said, speaking to the media Thursday. ''For this purpose, they have formed on a corrupt basis a puppet majority in the Central Election Commission.'' Most polls show Tymoshenko running second behind Yanukovych in the race. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, as expected, there will be a runoff between the two top vote getters sometime in February. Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian parliament and an election observer, said Tymoshenko's fraud charges are part of an effort to prepare her supporters to challenge a Yanukovych victory. ''Claims that the opposition is trying to rig the vote show that the other side is ideologically preparing to reject the election in case they lose,'' said Markov, whose views on many issues are thought to reflect the thinking of the Kremlin. He spoke at the expert panel Friday. Yanukovych meanwhile has warned that his supporters will not allow any candidate to steal the current presidential contest, as he claims happened in 2004. The pro-Russian candidate's initial victory in that race was thrown out by the Supreme Court following the Orange street protests and accusations of widespread fraud by authorities on Yanukovych's behalf. ''No such scenario will be allowed,'' Yanukovych told reporters during a campaign trip to eastern Ukraine Thursday, referring to the street rallies that helped reverse his victory. ''If anybody is hoping for that, we will disappoint them.'' Yanukovych noted that in 2004 he called off plans for mass demonstrations by his supporters in the capital to avoid clashes with Orange protesters. He suggested that this time, his partisans would not back down against those who challenge a Yanukovych victory. Vladimir Fesenko, the head of Ukraine's Penta Center for Applied Political Research, predicted that neither Tymoshenko nor Yanukovych would accept defeat in the runoff, which is expected to pit the two old adversaries against one another. Instead, he said, they would challenge any defeat with peaceful protests. But he warned that if Tymoshenko's and Yanukovych's demonstrators face off, it could escalate into violence. ''Neither wants a real war,'' Fesenko said. ''But unfortunately there are risks. Often it is difficult to control people once they're on the streets. There could be adventurists from either camp that could provoke a clash.'' Authorities say they are planning to deploy thousands of police Sunday to ensure an orderly first round ballot. Foes of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko released a tape this week of a purported conversation between her and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in which he supposedly says he is sending 2,000 ''battle-ready'' observers to monitor the race. ''No worries, we are sending the best prepared and most battle-ready people to you,'' the voice alleged to be Saakashvili's says on the tape, which was played Friday at a panel of analysts and sociologists. Some here interpreted Saakashvili's purported comment as a pledge to support Tymoshenko in post-election street protests. Spokespeople for both Tymoshenko and Saakashvili declined to comment, and the authenticity of the tape could not be determined. Evgeny Kopatko, chief sociologist at Ukraine's R&B Group, a consultancy, said Friday that if tensions rise after the election, that ''could split the country in two, and this is a very serious risk, economically and politically. The country would be virtually uncontrollable.'' Parliament speaker Vladimir Litvin on Friday appealed to supporters of Ukraine's rival political leaders, urging not to take to the streets as they did in 2004. ''Today I'm calling on all of the politicians not to deal in actions on the Maidan,'' Litvin said, referring to Kiev's central square where tens of thousands rallied every day for weeks in late 2004. President Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner in 2004, is standing for re-election, but his popularity has plunged and his chances look slim. He warned that the elections could usher in an authoritarian government. ''Should there be an authoritarian regime of either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko, with the criminal elements that will come along, it will take away the freedom of expression,'' he said. Five years after the Orange Revolution brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of the capital, public cynicism appeared widespread. Voters have offered to sell their votes on Web sites for the equivalent of between about $10 and $100. Despite the dire warnings, Alcee Hastings, a U.S. congressman who is deputy head of the international observer mission, told reporters Friday that so far no one has come up with evidence of intended voting irregularities. ''While the candidates accuse each other of fraud, neither of them has presented you in the media with a smoking gun,'' he said. ''I don't think there's going to be widespread fraud.'' Hastings noted that the election will come under intense scrutiny. He said there are more international observers in Ukraine for the presidential contest than for any previous election in the former Soviet Union. But Hastings did not rule out isolated efforts to falsify votes. ''Remember, I'm from Florida, the land of the hanging chads and the butterfly ballots,'' he said, referring to the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential contest and the controversial Florida vote count.

  • Senator Cardin on NBC4 (WRC)

    Reporter: Next Monday marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today a special dead ration remembering the historical event took place at the museum. The wall separating east and west Berlin came down November 9, 1989. The museum here in D.C. has a piece of the wall on display. You are looking at it there. Current and former leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission reflected on the importance of the fall of the wall to the end of the cold war. Senator Cardin: "Hundreds of people were killed trying to flee the grip of communism. Many lost their lives suffering under the crushing, suffocating ways of totalitarianism. The people opening the gate of this wall transformed the continent, yet surely changed the course of history." Reporter: The Commission helped thousands escape soviet communism in the '80s. They helped give human rights advocate as voice in their respected countries.

  • Cardin Live on Fox5 Morning News

    Anchor: Well, it might not seem possible but it has been 20 years since the berlin wall fell ending nearly 30 years of a divided Germany. Today there will be a special event commemorating this historic event. Senator, good morning. Cardin: Allison, pleasure to be with you. Anchor: We will talk about why you are there in a little bit. you are standing in front of history. those watching who don't know the significance, could you tell us how huge this moment in history was 20 years ago. Cardin: The Berlin wall divided a city and state and a continent. it was the symbol of to tall tar -- totalitarism. When a question was asked when the wall would be open and the firm responded saying it would be open that day, it changed the future of Europe. Today we celebrate that 20 years in which the wall has been down, but we dedicate ourselves to the fact that there are still walls up that deny people the basic rights that they are entitled to and we really dedicate ourselves to helping people whose voices need to be heard. Cardin: You are at the museum. That piece of history is the largest chunk, if you will, of the wall outside of Germany and we have it here in our backyard. We do. I have a little piece in my office. I was in Berlin when the wall was coming down and the moment in history for me to be actually taking a hammer and knock down part of the wall. Anchor: Wow. You are joining fellow members of congress speaking out in an event where walls still stand because the fight, as you said, for democracy, freedom around the world is not over. >> Absolutely. That's what the Helsinki Commission, which I have the honor of chairing, one of our missions is to make sure that not just the 56 countries that belong to the Helsinki process but the entire world to live up to the basic human rights commitment to its people. >> Anchor: This agency with the federal government, the mission is to fight for that. Cardin: Absolutely. We are one of 56 countries that have signed on to the Helsinki accords which basically say we will respect human rights. We have the right to challenge human rights activities in any of our member states. We will work not only for security and prosperity but also for human rights because they are all linked together. Anchor: For those watching and we talked about you could be in -- we talked about this yesterday, we could have a child in college who might not have ever known about the significance of this. So, for those watching, what would you hope the message to resonate would be? Cardin: I think we need to learn from history. I remember going through checkpoint charley which you had to do in order to get from West Berlin to East Berlin. It's hard to imagine people being killed because they tried to escape East Berlin to go to West Berlin. Hundreds lost their lives. The wall was not just a division. It was a real differences between freedom and democracy. The lesson to learn is that freedom is something that everybody wants. We have to fight for it. It's not free. We have to continue our campaign to make sure that every person, every country respects the rights of the citizens. Anchor: In the meantime, we celebrate the shining moment in history. Thank you for joining us today. Cardin: Thank you.  

  • Co-Chairman Hastings Remarks at "Where Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Thank you, Chairman Cardin. And thank you all for being here. Standing here today with this concrete icon before us, the images and lessons of history are inescapable. From the guard tower where officers had shoot-to-kill orders for anybody trying to escape the East -- to the stark contrast in coloring on either side of this barrier, the fall of the Berlin Wall is truly one of the finest chapters in freedom’s story. A few inches of concrete formed the line between a world of free expression and one of repression. And now, 20 years later, it stands as a bold testament to the fact that a people empowered to express themselves cannot be contained, the march of freedom cannot be stopped. Seeing the liberation that took place in November 1989 resonated with me personally. In my lifetime I’ve faced my share of walls – the walls of a segregated South, the walls of lingering racism and discrimination. But I overcame Jim Crow’s walls to be Florida’s first African-American federal judge and then its first African-American in Congress since the post-Civil War era. And I stand here today, in this same building amid the ballot box that brought democracy to a land of apartheid; bombed out signs from sniper alley where journalists covered Europe’s worst massacre since World War II; and here by the largest piece of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany – to remind us of how far we have come, and the work that remains to uphold the dignity of all, regardless of their background. I am happy to see that as of last month we have a new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in Michael Posner. But I’m disappointed that this position was filled at the slowest pace in 28 years, and this administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better. I know it is early and the agenda is long, but I hope we will have an ambassador nominated by year’s end. The events of 1989 showed the power of civil society to spur change through the exercise of fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement. And because of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we now live in a very different and better world. And while personal and political freedoms have greatly expanded throughout the OSCE region over the last two decades, some countries continue to limit these basic rights. In particular, I am concerned about backsliding of a free press and places where political and ethnic minorities are blocked from participating in civic life. Across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, press freedom is too often lacking. Discussing the region recently, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media Miklos Haraszti was direct: “The iron curtain is still there.” As long as journalists face unjust fines and penalties designed to literally halt the presses, the press is not free. And if journalists continue to see their colleagues kidnapped, beaten, or killed with no sincere pursuit of the criminals – the press is not free. Our politics can get nasty in this country, but you never see anybody thrown in jail just for running against an incumbent. Today, in too many places, we still see rampant political repression, perversions of the electoral process, and scare tactics used to marginalize those who simply seek to add a new voice to their country’s governing process. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve seen new walls erected. Right now, Russia is building a virtual wall in what is internationally recognized as Georgian territory, escalating its effective annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Elsewhere walls are isolating minorities, and -- even here –keeping out immigrants. I’ve never been convinced that fences make good neighbors, and for a world endeavoring to lift up its people, walls are hardly a sign of progress. The success of nationalistic parties, which campaigned on messages of hate in this year’s European Parliamentary elections, concerns me. The violence and systemic exclusion of Roma is nothing short of scandalous. Don’t get me wrong – historic progress has been made. But we are not done. And our country has much work to do as well. For our country to advance freedom around the globe, we know we must advance it here. This wall did not come down so that we could build new barriers. And those who fought for freedom in the East did not struggle so that their sons and daughters would have to take up their fight anew. We at the Helsinki Commission pride ourselves on giving voice to the voiceless, providing a forum for human rights defenders who often lack even the slightest megaphone for their cause. But like the activists and artists who painted this wall calling for the people to rise up so communism could fall -- we too know something about people power. We know a community galvanized for good, fighting for freedom cannot be stopped. And wherever such defenders of liberty rise up, we will stand up to join them. Through your words and through your work, I know you will be with them as well. Thank you.

  • Former Chairman Hoyer Remarks at "Where Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    In late 1988, when I chaired the Helsinki Commission, I listened in a dining room in Moscow filled with American and Soviet officials, as a Russian dissident named Lev Timofeyev stood and proposed a toast. Not two years before, he was chopping lumber in a forced-labor camp in the Ural Mountains. Now he was home, and he raised his glass that night to the immediate freedom of “all those people whom we are accustomed to call political prisoners.” We Americans drank to that, but the Soviets refused to touch their glasses. An uncomfortable moment passed until the editor of the government paper rose to speak on their behalf. He said: “If we are talking about innocent people who were falsely convicted—well, I can support that.” And the Soviets drank, as well. I don’t want to overstate the gravity of that moment. The distance across that table lay between those who believed that every political prisoner is innocent, and those who believed that some words and some thoughts were worth prison. Neither side won over the other that night. But the editor of the state paper made an important concession: that some prisoners had been unjustly convicted; that there was such a thing as an innocent man in a labor camp; that innocence itself mattered. And from the regime behind the purges and the show trials and the Gulag—from the regime that gave terrifying meaning to the word “disappear”—those words truly carried weight. The fall of the Soviet empire—and the fall of this Wall—was to a great extent the result of such small concessions, piled up bit by bit, and of the brave men and women who elicited them and called the empire to account for them. When the Soviet regime signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975, its leaders believed that they had scored a great diplomatic coup, and that the provisions committing them to respect human rights and freedom of conscience would be an afterthought, easily ignored. But inside the Soviet bloc, they were not ignored. They became a rallying cry for those with the bravery to push their masters to live by what they had signed, from the Russian dissident movement, to Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, to Solidarity in Poland, to heroic men and women like Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner, Natan Sharansky, and Vaclav Havel. As Havel said to a joint session of Congress: “We knew a great deal about the enormous number of growing problems that slumbered beneath the honeyed, unchanging mask of socialism. But I don’t think any of us knew how little it would take for these problems to manifest themselves in all their enormity, and for the longings of these nations to emerge in all their strength.” The Helsinki Accords were central to that awakening. The historian John Lewis Gaddis observed: the Helsinki Accords “meant that the people living under [communist] systems—at least the most courageous—could claim official permission to say what they thought.” And when that permission was denied, those men and women could point to the signatures of Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Erich Honecker of East Germany, and all the heads of state of the Soviet Bloc, promising otherwise. In my work with the Helsinki Commission, it was my privilege to add my voice to that great calling to account: to press for a halt to ethnic oppression in Bulgaria, or to speak for the freedom of worship and of movement in Russia, or to plead for the freedom of Ambassador Bota from prison and execution in Ceausescu’s Romania. And it was my joy to watch with the world as this Wall eroded and then crumbled away. In this Wall—whose exuberant graffiti and blank concrete face sum up the terms of the struggle so well—we saw communism die as an ideal before its body died. Those who were forced to set up this Wall had promised so much—equality, plenty, brotherhood. But they delivered only what Orwell called the prospect of “a boot stamping on a human face, forever.” They called themselves revolutionaries, but they acted out one of the oldest human urges: the urge to dominate our fellow humans. In this Wall, we saw a system that could entrap, but not entice. When it stood, this Wall stood for the division of Europe; but in the battle of ideas, it was also the gray flag of surrender. Now it is in pieces, and I am proud to own a small one. But though the destruction of this Wall, by cranes and by young men and women with hammers and chisels, was one of the most joyous images of our time, let us remember the darker side of the picture. In the fragmentation of this Wall, let us remind ourselves of the oppression diffused across our world—no longer summed up in as potent a symbol, or as easy a target, but every bit as deadly. Part of this Wall is in Rangoon, where Aung San Suu Kyi sits under house arrest. Part of this Wall is in Pyongyang, where schoolchildren are forced to memorize songs in praise of the “Dear Leader.” Part of this Wall is in Beijing, where young students cannot use the Internet to discover what happened in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989. Part of this Wall is in Afghanistan, where girls were attacked in the face with acid for the crime of wanting an education. Part of this Wall is in Saudi Arabia, where men were beheaded for the crime of being gay. Part of this Wall is in the hearts and minds of terrorists who imprison their own people behind vengeance and violence. Part of this Wall is in Darfur, where millions have been subjected to dispossession, rape, or genocide. Part of this Wall is in Tehran, where Neda Agha-Soltan was shot in the heart for daring to ask: “Where is My Vote?” And part of this Wall, as Dante observed, is in the reality of good men doing nothing in the face of evil. Part of this Wall is here in America, to remind us to keep faith with those shut behind each wall. On this anniversary, we pledge again to keep that faith—and to remember that each wall, no matter how tall or fearsome, is ultimately an act of surrender, an admission of bankrupt promises. Just as we did 20 years ago, we add our voices to the great calling to account, with faith that our voices will be heard; that those walls will shake and one day fall. We keep that faith because, in the words of Bobby Kennedy: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Let us renew our commitment to stand up for our ideals, to speak out against injustice, to improve the lot of others, and to sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

  • Senator Brownback Remarks at "Where the Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Distinguished ambassadors, fellow members of the Commission, and honored guests, thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. This solemn and uplifting anniversary gives us all a chance to reflect on one of the clearest examples in human history of the triumph of freedom over tyranny. Since for many people, personal recollection can be the most meaningful part of reflection, allow me to share my story with all of you. … But as much as this event commemorates a single moment in time, its lesson still echoes throughout the world. In the darkest corners of the world, where our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity face new walls and new challenges, the oppressed can take comfort in today’s ceremony. For today we see honor what President Reagan called “the one great and inescapable conclusion: that freedom leads to prosperity. That freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. And that freedom is the victor.” However, remembrance alone cannot serve as the limit of our obligations today. As we celebrate twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must also rededicate ourselves to tearing down those walls that remain standing and the new walls being erected in the 21st Century. Of those that still stand, held over from the days of the Soviet Union and spread beyond its borders, no wall does greater damage to the spirit of the individual than the oppressive wall against faith—a wall that, unfortunately, is rampant throughout many authoritarian states. In China, North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and beyond, authoritarian governments still fear religion as a challenge to their grip on power. It matters not that some of these governments have implemented economic reforms, built sky-scrapers, or paved new roads. As long as citizens are denied the freedom to believe and to worship as they see fit, they will still be imprisoned in their own minds and held back from their full potential. We must pledge to eradicate this tyranny wherever we find it. We must free all prisoners of conscience, not only for the sake of the oppressed, but for ours as well. Faith is one front on which we must engage; truth is the other. We must confront the growing assault on truth by authoritarian regimes. Looking at the newest wall against liberty—the cyber-wall used to censor and punish voices of truth and information—we face a formidable challenge. For while no regime anywhere can stifle the human spirit, regimes can try to blot out pieces of history from the minds of its next generation. For example, there is no inherent ability of a human being to know about the brave democratic uprising at Tiananmen Square unless he or she learns about it. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to wipe this event from the record. But as individual information exchanges become effortless through fiber and wireless communication, the Chinese government, indeed all authoritarian regimes, must devote ever more resources to maintain their electronic wall. In Iran this past summer, the real battle took place—and is still taking place—on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as Iranians struggle to tell their story while the regime desperately tries to block access to the Internet. The same was true for the Burmese opposition in 2007, where the junta struggled to contain the fallout from its bloody crackdown. Before that, text messaging played a crucial role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. One thing is clear: while physical brutality will always be a tool of oppressors, the tyranny of today and tomorrow will be measured by the extent to which tyrants censor and suppress access to electronic information. As the next generation inherits a globally and instantly connected planet, the struggle for liberty will be waged with fiber optics as much as with firepower. By resolving to help citizens combat censorship, we will ensure that the more the oppressed see and understand the real nature of their regime, and the more they share with the outside world, the more power they will have to determine their own future. As we commemorate this twentieth anniversary of the breaking of the Berlin Wall, we must gather our strength and commit ourselves to finding ways to tear down all the walls of the 21st Century. Our duty is to scale these walls wherever we find them. Our mission is to make freedom of conscience and free access to information universal. Our work did not end twenty years ago, and it does not end today. Today we dedicate ourselves to a new and hopeful beginning, to see a more peaceful and prosperous future.  

  • U.S. Diplomats Rap Astana's Democratization Performance

    As Kazakhstan prepares to assume the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, US diplomats are exerting pressure on Astana to enact promised reforms. Kazakhstan’s laws on media, elections and political parties continue to "fall short of OSCE standards," Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, asserted in written testimony submitted for a hearing October 28 of the US Helsinki Commission. Gordon also pointed out in his testimony that "Kazakhstan has not held an election that the OSCE has deemed fully to have met OSCE commitments and international standards." Both Gordon and Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, called attention to the case of Yevgeny Zhovtis, a human rights activist convicted in September for vehicular manslaughter. The trial was allegedly marred by procedural violations. Even so, a Kazakhstani judge rejected an appeal of the conviction. The US Helsinki Commission’s chair, Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said the Obama administration and the State Department has given short shrift to human rights, adding that the issue of the OSCE summit in Kazakhstan presented an opportunity for the United States to take a strong stand on human rights.  

  • The Western Balkans: Policy Responses to Today's Challenges

    This hearing reviewed the Vice President Biden’s meeting in Sarajevo and the Congressional delegation to Bosnia to speak about democratization process in the Balkan states. The Commissioners mentioned the need for governing bodies and systems that include every voice, particularly the ethnic communities in each country. These issues have correlated to potential instability in Bosnia resulting from the gridlock in government there.   The democratization and integration efforts, in relation to the Balkan joining closer to the greater European community and NATO, were touched upon to see the progress made.  The witness discussed examples of initiatives that moved the Balkans towards the goal of international standard of governance, for example the Model Court Initiative in Bosnia, which has helped to institute European standards in 33 local courts, upgrade court infrastructure and improve customer service.

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