22.04.2008 | Sergey Kovalev

The Dominance of a hypocrisy fraught with very dangerous consequences


Report by Sergey Kovalev at the meeting between the EU delegation and a delegation of Russian NGOs on the eve of the new round of EU-Russia consultations on human rights defence (Ljubljana, April 16, 2008).

I intend to talk about what sort of position the ideas and concepts of individual rights and freedoms hold in the practices and motivations of decision-making in European organisations (and also in wider international institutions, in which Europe exerts a key role); in other words, about the extent to which the activity of these organizations coincides with their ceremonial declarations about supreme principles and priorities. Or, to put it bluntly, I will talk about the dominance of a hypocrisy fraught with very dangerous consequences.

It is useful to recall a few well-known facts. It was clear to observers that a global attempt was once undertaken to subject politics to moral criteria – this means to subject it to the fundamental principles of Law, which are based on such criteria. Immediately after the Second World War (and it was no coincidence that it occurred then) the central point of the most important international decisions turned out to be the conception, according to which, the rights and freedoms of the individual held a universal importance and were the first priority and the highest aim of democratic politics. Together with the creation of democratic states, this priority represents not only a primary goal of politics, but also the main political instrument of creating international security and a just world. The “triumph” of this new, widely-supported political paradigm would seem to have been effectively demonstrated by establishment of the United Nations and its founding charter.

The original principles of this paradigm, however, were not at all implemented in international politics and in no way became a primary priority for any state. They are mentioned with pleasure and often imitated for the sake of prestige and an attractive stance, but they don’t very much influence important political decisions.

The clear disregard of the international community to its own grandiloquent declarations is clear: we remember the carpet bombing or atomic destruction of peaceful cities; half of Europe conceded to the slavery of Stalin’s tyranny; many thousands of people delivered to this same Stalin for sentences in penal colonies without trial or sometimes death. How do we combine these practices with the fact that clearly at the start of the war against Nazism the allies had already proclaimed the very slogans of freedom, humanity and rights?!

Alas, a very clear example of this double-sided, contradictory political understanding was revealed in such a significant event as the Nuremberg Trials. Disregarding the epochal importance of the resolution to show the world that henceforth supreme state power would carry responsibility and would undergo punishment for crimes committed under its aegis and in spite of the demonstration of political will by the victors to confirm this principle with all their power, the Nuremberg Trials very clearly exposed a completely inverse reality – the undivided rule of traditional hypocritical politics – and eloquent declarations were moved to the field of political rhetoric. It is quite possible to not even remember the reciprocal power of this law, specially designed for this court, or other transgressions against the standards of human rights; it suffices to reflect on the fact that the court spent three days examining the culpability of the Nazis in the shooting of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn. It is not important that the charge was not considered proved and that everyone then became silent, most probably as the result of a complex political compromise, including the secret records of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – which were what they wished to conceal in this “judicial” process. What is important is something else – everyone knew who and when they shot thousands of Polish officers. One cannibal was judging and punishing another cannibal for cannibalism. There you have it: the unshakeable principles of justice – the independence (and political indifference) of the court, the equality of all before the law and so on and so forth.

I understand perfectly well the acute necessity of a public, detailed and clear exposure of the monstrous crimes of Nazism. It goes without saying, I understand, that then it was absolutely inconceivable, unjust and even simply impossible to stop the USSR from forming conclusions about that terrible war, in which they sustained such losses and gained such victories. However, it was also pointless to begin the construction of a new world, by employing, as it happened after the war, the amoral and dangerous rule “the end justify the means”, used with ease to justify and allow oneself all that one sees fit. For centuries this rule has been exposed, for centuries it has been masked, for centuries it has been practiced. What can we build on such foundations? Only a traditional real politic, which is principally incapable of embodying a new political paradigm as they are irreconcilable. There is no need to construct a new politics – it already exists. But to replace the foundations, which have somehow supported the entire building for several hundreds of years, is not that simple.

That’s why a maxim was never created saying “the law outside of politics and above politics” protecting against arbitrary rule, against so called “political expediency” and against double standards. That’s why over sixty years ago the centuries-old use of political hypocrisy, which was born with the creation of politics, has gone uninterrupted, and perhaps even strengthened – for new declarations have become ritualistic invocations reinforcing the same hypocrisy. Thus this use extends up to the present as ceremonial promises turn into blank stamps lacking any sort of meaning.

I will just mention a few useful examples supporting the aforesaid.

Here you have the Council of Europe – all members of the European Union take part in it. One purpose of this organisation (in fact the only purpose) is the intervention in cases, where in whatever Union member-state, there is an obvious failure of individual rights and freedoms. For everyone is agreed now (if only in words) concerning the principle that “human rights are not the exclusive internal affairs of states”. For more that ten years several commissions of different memberships from the Council of Europe have dealt with the problem of the military conflict in Chechnya. However, not once was the question of state terror openly presented – the sole question suitable to the Chechen situation; torture, falsification of charges, the demonstrative impunity of war criminals, the sentence without trial of kidnapped people – all these were for many long years elements of the Russian state politics in the aforementioned conflict. Incidentally, the recent electoral record of Chechnya – 99.4% for one of 11 parties taking part in the elections – is a natural consequence of such Russian politics (of course, not the only consequence). Alas, this obscene record was assisted by the indifference of the free-world. This is how we are constructing the world and all transnational institutions, without exception, are taking part in this construction.

The OSCE in December 2007 and in March 2008 did not take part in the monitoring of the Russian, if one may call them so, “elections” (exactly like the OSCE Mission to the Chechen capital Grozny in December 1995). The real reason for the refusal from monitoring is more than apparent – it is because of deep and very well-founded suspicions about the barefaced discrepancy between the Russian elections and democratic norms. Let’s be frank, it’s not even suspicion; it’s certainty, except that it’s not substantiated by correct, formal legal evidence. Social so called “administrative resources”, involving direct pressure on officially dependent voters; the blatant unequal access to the means of mass information for electoral candidates; traditional nonparticipation of those candidates, supported by the authorities and known favourites well before the elections, in public debate with opponents; the disgraceful results of the vote in all of the republics of the North Caucasus (and not only in these either), like the results in Chechnya – what else is needed for such certainty? This list can carry on for an eternity. But who was it who directly and publically expressed his suspicion? Which transnational organisation, European or Global? Maybe, the European Union? Or some official from a respected democratic country? Well not quite - to speak out? And say what?... “We congratulate you on the elections”. No one risked setting an example by even taking, it would seem, such a restrained and natural position as: “We, of course, continue our mutual business ties and will not move to a confrontation, however, don’t take it amiss, if quite a few are not intending to hide their deepest apprehensions concerning your legitimacy”. Evidently there are no beasts more frightening than Moscow. It is necessary to say that such cautious unexacting criticism greatly enables the exclusive peculiarity of Russian democracy.

There is no need to demonstrate that this, putting it mildly, “caution driven by political correctness” indirectly gives incentive to other unhealthy practices of the Moscow authorities. Such practices like, for example, the lenience shown to their own special services, when they solve delicate problems with “dirty” methods (expressing the President’s turn of phrase of the everyday man).

The most important parliamentary functions (and parliamentary immunity) were purchased a short while ago by a certain Lugovoi, the fledgling of the same nest as V. V. Putin - the KGB – a man who is currently accused by English investigators of the murder of their former general colleague in this agency, Litvinenko. Evidence, collected by English investigators, is numerous and very well-founded. Alas, this evidence has not gone to court for approval, because the Russian authorities do not have any claim to Lygovoi and do not trust other authorities. One piquant detail is that the murdered Litvinyenko was a fierce critic of the current Russian regime and his publications were extremely well-known. Can a constitutional state allow a man under suspicion for murder to become a member of the national legislation, if the suspicion has not been disproved by appropriate legal methods?

There are solid foundations to assume that the President of Chechnya Maskhadov died not as a result of an armed skirmish, but was enticed into a trap and killed. Of course this version was not investigated.

Two Russian citizens (apparently, there were three in reality, but one was protected by diplomatic immunity) blew up a car in Catar, in which sat the Ex-president of Chechnya Yandarbiev and his son, who was still a minor. Here, there was no suspicion or assumption – the murderers were arrested, tried and condemned on the spot, in Catar. Because of a petition in Russia they were handed over to Moscow to serve their punishment at home in Russia and Russia met these heroes with a red carpet at the airport. I doubt that it would be possible to find these men in any Russian prison; they are morel likely on the list of secret citizens.

It is unknown (and has not been publically discussed), who sanctioned the use of anaesthetic gas in the theatre hall held by terrorists, where they were showing the musical “Nord-Ost”. This sanctioning brought with it the death of more that 125 hostages and only by a miracle – despite their threats, the terrorists didn’t succeed in blowing up the building – were a few hundred remaining hostages saved. The assault on the school in Beslan, held hostage by terrorists, brought in yet more dead bodies of adults and children alike. Neither the investigation, nor the protracted court case had any wish to investigate the most pertinent questions about the key circumstances surrounding this assault. It would not be hard to prove that saving the lives of the hostages was, in no way, the first priority in the actions taken by the Russian authorities. This unwavering power presents before the idol of state prestige hundreds of human lives. Yet between them, not one transnational organisation demanded from Moscow a comprehensive report about how high the value of human life stands in these anti-terror operations.

Besides the mentioned Maskhadov, Yandarbyev and Litvinenko, victims of clearly political killings included Starovoitova, Golovlyov, Yushenkov, and Politkovskaya. They all happened to be outspoken opponents of the government. What a strange coincidence. Or is it a consistent pattern? Does it mean that some secret supporters of the government are so resolute and free in their choice of methods that they would not stop at using this particular method to serve the government? It strongly suggests itself that the security services were either directly or indirectly involved in, or knew about, the killings. However, the law enforcement authorities never investigated such a possibility, even though by law they should have done so.

And finally, the deadly explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. A suspicion of security agents’ involvement in this terrible crime was inevitable and necessary (especially in view of striking inconsistencies in official reports, reaching their peak in the scandalously different, in fact mutually exclusive statements made by two agencies – the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Interior – alleging a joint "security exercise" in Ryazan; their conflicting reports revealed beyond doubt that the official information was intentionally misleading). I am convinced that the civil society should not rule out this horrible possibility: we know from our history about vivid examples of too many monstrous crimes committed by authorities. A civilized government must respect and appreciate the society’s right to know. The only thing the government can do to disprove the horrible suspicions is to conduct a transparent, detailed and impartial investigation, including, in particular, the theory which is damaging to the government. But the Russian government does the exact opposite. They fuel suspicions by refusing to discuss them. The authorities wriggle out of political responsibility like a student hiding his poor academic performance. The authorities ignore parliamentary enquiries or respond in a merely formal and irrelevant manner. Even courts fail to uphold the legally established right of a State Duma member to access official information. Very often, the official reports are blatantly and grossly misleading (the abovementioned statement about the so-called "anti-terrorist exercise" in Ryazan was the most striking example of an official lie). Suspects facing charges for the blast attacks were low-level technical assistants of the actual terrorists, such as Dekkushev and Krymshamkhalov. Apparently, they had been involved in manufacturing the explosive device and its transportation to Volgodonsk, but their involvement in the Moscow blasts was not proven.

It is important to note that the night-time explosions in apartment houses in the autumn of 1999 had played a key role in the fact that the Chechen war was resumed and Putin triumphantly won the presidential elections. However, the Russian security services and the top Russian officials (most of whom, incidentally, had begun their careers in the same security services) never attempted to disprove their involvement in this public tragedy; they simply ignored the suspicions. It is strange that Russia’s partners in the free democratic world also seem to disregard the probability of this terrible hypothesis; no one, for example, asked to explain the mysterious contradictions between the two most important "power ministries" in their interpretation of the scary Ryazan farce. I believe that this dangerous shortsightedness encourages the habitual criminal conduct of Russia’s increasingly powerful security services. This fearful indifference is conveniently described as political correctness and used as an excuse to avoid unpleasant discussions.

The idea of a new political system based on the rule of law and focused on an individual, his/her freedom, dignity and security, rather than the needs of the state - this idea is going through a crisis on a global scale. An alien watching us from space would describe our universal values, by order of priority, as oil, gas, and political correctness (i.e. peaceful comfort of international bureaucrats). This crisis can be easily illustrated by other examples in and outside Russia. As I said, the ideas of a new political paradigm have been pushed into the sphere of pompous rhetoric, subjected to political imitation, and serve the traditional hypocrisy of real politics. Does it mean that 60 years of the Universal Declaration is a sad anniversary, and the ideals are unattainable? We should not forget, however, that the new paradigm emerged and established itself after the previous political crisis – the infamous Munich crisis, the deadly crisis of the Second World War. The Holocaust, the unimaginable number of war victims and the superweapons capable of destroying life on Earth were the parents of this paradigm. These factors are still here. Having assumed new forms, they continue to threaten our dignity and our life itself. The choice is ours.

Understandably, a radical change of political system takes longer than a few weeks, months or even years. Age-long realities of traditional politics cannot be abandoned overnight, because it may result in chaos and catastrophe. A slow and challenging route lies ahead of us, likely to take the entire 21st century. But the end-point of this route must be clearly stated; it must dominate everyday politics consistently and explicitly; it must be present in big, but also in small, short-term political decisions. Otherwise, it will be lost. The mere fact that the European Union emerged and has gone through a slow and difficult evolutionary process is a good source of hope.

Here are two examples of decisions - local and far from radical - which might be considered right now.

Take the EU-Russia Agreement, which has expired, so a new Agreement has to be negotiated. The text of the previous Agreement set out in minute details the rules and procedures of economic and financial interactions between the parties. In contrast, the few provisions on human rights and humanitarian issues contained general phrases, correct, but counterproductive, because they amounted to nothing more than vaguely expressed good intentions. These texts were pompous, but at the same time pathetically helpless, because they lacked concrete content. They lacked clearly defined obligations and mutual monitoring mechanisms. Admittedly, Russian official representatives are not the best possible partners for achieving a substantive interaction in this area – in fact, their objective is the exact opposite. However, it is better to admit that the parties have failed to reach an agreement (and publicly explain why the agreement is impossible and what the issues are), rather than mar one’s reputation and undermine the precedence of law over politics by signing meaningless political ramblings. I would like to hope that in preparing a new Agreement, the European Union will manifest a commitment to principles and consistency.

Elections are the main instrument of democracy. Let us face it: there are no genuine elections in Russia once again. It appears obvious that the United Europe would do the right thing and show its commitment to principles by discussing in a straightforward manner, in the framework of its institutions, the Russian electoral legislation, systems and practices. There is no doubt that elections are now a key area of pressure against Russia - pressure which Europe needs as much as Russia itself. It makes sense to apply such pressure in various ways.

Here is one of such ways, maybe the quietest and easiest. Instead of taking steps which one party (e.g. OSCE) will perceive as a demarche, while the other party will dismiss as a mere whim, it makes sense to suggest consistently, time and again, that Russia agree to adopt a detailed monitoring procedure, including assessment criteria, reasonably sufficient powers of the monitors, the necessary number of monitors, the timelines, etc. – in other words, every little detail. It would be nice to involve former members of the USSR and the Soviet bloc in the negotiation process. Let Russia make a public choice whether to sabotage the efforts or to adopt an effective monitoring system.

Once the great US President James Carter said, “I cannot send marines to free the Soviet prisoners of conscience. But I will do everything else.” We should all do everything else - stubbornly, honestly and openly.

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