Tag Archives: europe

Alternative history: The Nobel Peace Prize goes to Eurafrique!

by Rhodri C. Williams

As we all know, the European Union (EU) received the Nobel Peace Prize last week for “over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”. The award has been debated, not only because it comes at a moment when a largely self-made economic crisis is severely straining the very element of European solidarity that justified it, but also because it comes after a series of other controversial recipients – most notably Barack Obama in 2009, whose contribution to peace consisted, according to many commentators, of not being George W. Bush.

Although there has always been a perceptible undercurrent of skepticism about the extent to which the EU is built on a foundation of unalloyed idealism, it has rarely been expressed more concretely than in a fascinating commentary in the edition of the Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter (DN) that appeared the day before the Nobel ceremony. There, the Linköping University researchers Stefan Jonsson and Peo Hansen give a preview of their forthcoming book, “Eurafrica: The untold history of European integration and colonialism”. For Europhiles well-versed in the use of Google translate, it will not make for comfortable reading.

Without denying the pacific effect of early economic integration measures such as the European Coal and Steel Community, the authors note that their primary motivation may have been a last ditch attempt to shore up the European colonial project. Faced with an increasingly assertive global anti-colonial movement and the humiliation of the Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956, the EU was founded in no small part as a means of economically integrating not only Europe but also its remaining African possessions. Consider, for instance, a curious passage in the foundational 195o Schuman Declaration:

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European restitution in a nutshell

by Rhodri C. Williams

NB: This text is actually an opportunistic reposting of a rather lengthy response I did to a comment on my previous post on displacement and transitional justice. The writing of it proceeded too quickly and smoothly to be true, so I thought I’d better put it out there for discriminating TN readers to pick apart. 

The rule in Europe is that redressing ‘historical’ property claims is generally a matter of political discretion. The bottom line is that property confiscations undertaken after a country has acceded to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) will be reviewed by the Strasbourg Court for compliance with the rights to property and the home, but those taken beforehand are not subject to retroactive review.

Only in cases where a state has voluntarily adopted a remedy for historical takings will the Court review its application in order to address claims of discrimination or procedural unfairness – as in the ‘Bug River’ line of cases that involved Poland:

http://echrblog.blogspot.se/2008/10/pilot-has-landed.html

Controversially however, these rules have not always been consistently applied, for instance in the Blecic v. Croatia case discussed in the below post (which describes resulting efforts to ensure that past wrongful confiscations are at least taken into account in political decisions related to European integration):

https://terra0nullius.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/the-pace-poulsen-principles-can-the-coe-shake-up-europes-restitution-debate/

The ultimate failure of European institutions to politically or legally address these issues in candidate countries such as Croatia has been underscored by findings that they constituted acts of persecution amounting to crimes against humanity by the ICTY:

https://terra0nullius.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/yugoslavia-tribunal-issues-gotovina-judgment-discriminatory-property-laws-deemed-persecution/

However, these concerns have more force in relatively recent and clearly wrongful confiscations related to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Earlier nationalizations and other confiscations may have actually been fully permissible under human rights law at the time, at least insofar as they were not punitive or discriminatory (if you are really interested see my 2007 piece comparing Czech de-nationalization with post-conflict and Apartheid restitution processes):

http://ictj.org/publication/contemporary-right-property-restitution-context-transitional-justice

Nevertheless, some critics have maintained that the Court has gone to excessive lengths to dodge considering such cases. These critiques are described in a bit more detail in a recent paper I co-wrote on the Court’s approach to the Cyprus property issue:

https://terra0nullius.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/when-do-home-and-property-part-ways-new-report-on-the-echr-and-the-cyprus-property-question/

Finally, a good example of historical takings that are clearly wrongful is confiscations of Jewish property by the Nazis. It has been a long time coming, but there is now recognition that such property should in principle be restituted:

https://terra0nullius.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-terezin-declaration-and-new-guidelines-on-inter-generational-restitution/

Europe, stop voting now! (The Eurovision contest returns to a democracy)

by Rhodri C. Williams

“Europe stop voting now!” shouted the well-scrubbed hosts of the Baku 2012 Eurovision finals last night after a dizzying round of 26 acts featuring babushkas, boats, bread ovens and backflips. And with that, the first truly free and fair exercise of democracy on Azerbaijani soil was completed. Too bad it was not a real election, but the results for Azerbaijan’s politics remain somewhat unpredictable.

The worst case scenario will be a return to repression as usual, but with the additional alibi of having ascended to the ranks of Eurovision-hosting countries. The rest of Europe, in other words, is free to resume voting periodically in meaningful elections, while Baku will continue to exercise its own discretion in the matter. On the other hand, the fact that the honors fell in this case to Sweden’s Loreen may help to ensure that the contest does not simply move on, allowing a free hand to the Azerbaijani authorities to crack down in its wake.

The Swedes are one of the few countries in ‘old Europe’ to still take the contest seriously; this is their fifth win, placing them second behind Ireland in overall trophies. When we opened the window at midnight yesterday, the air veritably shook with lusty Viking voices “going up-up-up-up-up”. The Swedes also have a sense of fair play and a streak of impatience with countries that fail to live up to Nordic standards of democracy and rule of law, particularly where they are forced to cohabit the same European institutional spaces with them. Local reactions to the skeletons in Baku’s human rights closet were late in coming but strong. Last Thursday, for instance, the foreign policy spokesman of one of Sweden’s ruling coalition parties called for EU sanctions against Azerbaijan of a similar nature to those applied against other post-Soviet failed democracies like Belarus.

However, the latter piece raised at least two Swedish negative points on this issue. First the author explicitly noted that cooperation between an affiliate of Swedish telecoms giant Telia-Sonera and the regime in Baku is likely to make it easier for the latter to track down dissidents. Second, and implicitly, the relatively low level authorship of the piece emphasized the near-silence on this topic from the actual Foreign Minister, the ordinarily loquacious Carl Bildt, who could only be troubled to give recent mention to Eurovision 2012 as something of a distraction from regional security issues in his prolific blog (though he had expressed hopes the contest would improve the country’s human rights record a year ago – while at the same time praising Telia-Sonera’s investments there).

Nevertheless, on Friday night, the Swedish public television’s evening news was refreshingly well-informed about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan – and even stumbled onto a demo where grim-faced plain-clothed heavies didn’t let the rolling cameras crimp their style as they hustled protesters into waiting minivans (see minute 43 and onward of the broadcast). The Swedish reporter also took the time to visit a squalid home for IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh (she swoons visibly while pronouncing “27 families to a single toilet”) just minutes away from the ‘crystal hall’ built for the contest, as she notes, by the President’s own shell company. She also reports on disappointment in Baku over the passive approach of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and risks to activists (who have been ostentatiously filmed by the police) once the contest is over.

The segment ends with the former Swedish ambassador to Azerbaijan, Hans Gunnar Aden, who gives a candid take on the caviar diplomacy recently described by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), stating that the country is sliding toward dictatorship while demonstrating a marked ability to “deceive – or bribe” Western observers such as those in the Council of Europe. In other words, awareness of Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record and its successful campaign of obscuring these abuses in order to retain membership in prestigious European institutions has sunk in here in Sweden. Of perhaps the most practical use to Azerbaijan’s dangerously exposed democracy activists is the fact that the new Queen of Eurovision, Loreen, took the trouble to meet them personally and will no doubt remain interested in their fate. As reported by the BBC last week:

The Swedish singer Loreen, one of the favourites to win this year’s Eurovision, has already had a meeting with local human rights activists, much to the annoyance of the Azeri authorities.

The return of Eurovision to a country that consciously seeks to live up to European standards on human rights and democracy rather than to undermine them will make for a refreshing change. However, last night’s jamboree in Baku has both helped to legitimize an undemocratic European regime and to tarnish the reputations of both the Council of Europe and the European Broadcasting Union. Having won the battle for Eurovision last night, Sweden must now consider how it can contribute to winning the war for the assertion of core European values in countries that aspire to European membership.

Few signs of Spring in Baku (and less in Strasbourg) in the leadup to a tainted Eurovision final

by Rhodri C. Williams

As much as I am a big believer in maintaining a healthy firewall between work and life, the human rights branch can sorely test one’s ability to compartmentalize. As a result, I face a dilemma next Saturday. On one hand, my kids are now old enough to genuinely share in my (not unlimited) fascination with the annual sanitized bacchanalia that is Eurovision. So my private-me would love to break out the popcorn, pile onto the couch with the family and squirm through this year’s crop of ethno-retro-monstro-disco with an untroubled conscience.

Inconveniently, however, my public-me has long since foreclosed this option. Unlike earlier contests, this year’s final in Azerbaijan is tainted not only by the unapologetic disdain for human rights and democracy displayed by its hosts, but also by the self-defeating failure of the European institutions responsible for safeguarding these values to attach even the frailest of strings to the massive PR coup of holding the contest. Free but unwilling to lob criticism from the safety of Brussels, Strasbourg (home to the Council of Europe or CoE, to which Azerbaijan has made binding human rights commitments) and Geneva (in the case of the European Broadcasting Union or EBU, which sponsors the event), these organizations have displayed nothing like the courage of ordinary Azerbaijani activists and journalists who face blackmail, police beatings and hard time for expressing dissent.

In an age in which European leaders are all too willing to disown previously indispensable autocracies in the Middle East, how to explain this blindness to their own backyard? Will presumptive president-for-life Ilham Alijev become for the Council of Europe and the EBU what Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi ended up being for the LSE? And what legitimate claim will the rhetoric of ‘European values’ have on the loyalties of ordinary Azerbaijanis when and if the substance of those values actually prevail? These questions have been raised in a very pointed and concrete manner during recent weeks by a number of international and local organizations.

Beginning with the international advocates, my former Bosnia colleagues at the European Stability Initiative (ESI) today released a blockbuster report on the systematic campaign of ‘caviar diplomacy’ designed to win and retain “the stamp of legitimacy conferred by Council of Europe membership”. The ESI alleges that by offering annual gifts of caviar and flash trips to Baku, the Aliyev regime secured the loyalty of key members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (composed of national parliamentarians from CoE member states), as well as the organization’s secretariat. In return, Baku received “ever more anodyne, even complimentary” reports on its blatantly rigged elections and deteriorating human rights record.

In the words of ESI, the Aliyev regime succeeded in only five years in neutering Europe’s oldest human rights organization:

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Warming up for Eurovision in Baku

Herewith, a belated update to my earlier pieces (1) noting the campaign of forced evictions in Baku in aid of the last minute construction of a venue for the forthcoming Eurovision finals, (2) pondering the extent to which the European Broadcasting Union may wish to reconsider its essentially passive response to these acts, and (3) speculating on how much of the rest of Azerbaijan’s current rash of human rights violations may also be related to the music contest.

More recently, I stumbled across Human Rights Watch’s revelation of how the local press is likely to fare when they are so indelicate to cover such abuses in neighborhoods where they live, whilst wearing clothing clearly indicating they are journalists:

Approximately 20 policemen and SOCAR security guards attacked (journalist Idrak) Abbasov, beating him with fists and kicking him until he lost consciousness. Abbasov was taken unconscious to the Baku Hospital No.1, with multiple bruises and hematomas and blood all over his face.

 Light your fire, indeed.
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Bosnia twenty years on

by Rhodri C. Williams

Observant TN readers will have noticed that Halisa Skopljak’s recent guest posting on lingering return and restitution issues in Bosnia was taken down a few days ago. Halisa found it necessary to ask me to remove the piece for compelling reasons that I am not at liberty to disclose. However, I am hopeful that the post may return from its business trip shortly, allowing the broader public to benefit once again from her unique analysis of a little-known judicial case with important national (and even regional) implications.

In the meantime, I thought it might be worth pointing out a few contextual issues. First, the case Halisa describes is generating a good deal of political heat in Bosnia. Most recently, the Sarajevo based broadsheet Dnevni Avaz described this week’s eviction of Faik Zulcic from his home in the terms it is perceived by many Bosnians – as a judicially sanctioned and ethnically biased attempt to roll back the relatively meager gains achieved by those displaced persons that took the right of return set out in the Dayton Peace Accords seriously. As the Office of the High Representative (OHR) noted, in apparent response to Halisa’s posting, the decision threatens the “right of returnees to the peacefully enjoy their prewar homes.” With the story now having been picked up in Al Jazeera’s Balkan service, there is a chance it may soon hit the mainstream media.

Unfortunately the nature of this case tends to play into Bosnia’s post-war ethnic stereotypes; here, the high court of the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia upheld the ruling of a (subsequently discredited) lower court judge in expelling a returned Bosnian Muslim from his home for failure to pay exorbitant and legally dubious compensation for improvements made by the Serb wartime occupant. However, as Halisa pointed out in her posting, this ruling comes as part of a nationwide failure to fully act in the spirit of the Dayton Accords. Indeed, the most significant ongoing return-related problem in Bosnia is arguably the failure of the Muslim-Croat entity of Bosnia to implement a European Court of Human Rights decision requiring remedies for the wartime confiscation of semi-privatized military apartments. In this case, the victims are overwhelmingly Serbs.

Given this context, one of the central contributions of Halisa’s post was to shift attention from the heated and frequently unconstructive political debate over these issues, and refocus it squarely on legal arguments and Dayton obligations. At a time when neighboring Croatia is on the threshold of the EU and the Bosnian political discourse is increasingly (and rightly) dominated by European integration issues, it is useful to recall that EU accession should not only signal a new beginning but also closure for the lingering grievances from the past. Supporters of Bosnia’s rapid accession should therefore be concerned by the case of Croatia, which is likely to enter the Union with a number of property and return-related skeletons still jangling in its closet. In fact, a comment on Halisa’s posting by ‘Chris’ touched directly on potential synergies arising from this connection:

Maybe the issue of so called unsolicited investments could be resolved the way it has been in Croatian with the State offering extra judicial settlements to temporary users of occupied properties for the investments made. This is the solution the EU pushed for in Croatia, maybe somebody within the EUSR office should remember about it.

Meanwhile, a few observers have noted the fact that it is now twenty years since the spring of 1992, when the full horrors of ethnic conflict cascaded across a beautiful country inhabited by resilient people who had already survived enough privations in the past and deserved a far better future. For me, it was a time of grim political awakening. As a Fulbright scholar in a sleepy town in northern Bavaria, I followed the blood-streaked headlines from not-at-all-so-far south, and felt the tipsiness of 1989 fade into something sadder and more realistic. However, Ed Vulliamy, who reported from Bosnia at the time, has reminded us of the fates of those who fell directly into the path of the war’s immeasurable cruelty and are still struggling with its legacy. Even twenty years on, it would be grossly unfair to expect ordinary Bosnians to just get over it, but one might ask more of their courts and elected representatives.

Gallery

Musicians abused in Eurovision host-city

For most of us, the word ‘torture’ has been associated with the Eurovision song contest only in a figurative sense. The relationship may now be more concrete for activist musicians in Azerbaijan who are currently being held in incommunicado detention … Continue reading

Eurovision in Baku: Should the European Broadcasting Union care about human rights?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Last week, TN reported on a wave of forced evictions of Baku residents unfortunate enough to live in the path of a grandiose development scheme meant to beautify the Azerbaijani capital for its hosting of the Eurovision song contest next May. Quite coincidentally, TN also carried an update on the progress of voluntary guidelines meant to ensure that respect for human rights standards was ingrained into the practices of even private, non-political actors. A closer look at the situation in Baku indicates that the latter story might perhaps make salutary reading for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the ‘non-political’ Eurovision contest.

The latest twist in the EBU’s clammy relationship with its current interlocutors in Baku comes from a recent Guardian article that begins with an airing of the debate on the merits of a boycott of this year’s Eurovision contest. The piece quotes Emin Milli, a blogger beaten and jailed in 2009 over critical YouTube videos, on the importance of the event as a chance to focus the international spotlight on Azerbaijan and its poor record in human rights and democracy. However, this courageous assertion is followed by the EBU’s rather less obviously noble views on the issue of boycott:

Azerbaijan, which won the right to host Eurovision after winning the contest in 2011, has given the organisers, the European Broadcasting Union, a guarantee that foreign delegates will be secure and free from any censorship during their stay.

“We would be very disappointed to have any boycotting,” said an EBU spokesman on Saturday. “We believe strongly that Eurovision is not political. In real life, politics do come up at Eurovision. There was some talk of boycotting England in the 1970s over what was happening in Northern Ireland. But Eurovision can act as an agent of change. It is an event to unite countries and communities and bring understanding. It’s important to know that Azerbaijan’s prime minister has given a guarantee of press freedom during the contest, although we cannot ask for a guarantee for the next 10 years also.”

“It is an astonishing guarantee to have to give,” said Milli. “What does it say about Azerbaijan for the rest of the time?”

This is indeed a fascinating wrinkle. First and most obviously, of course, with regard to the Azerbaijani government, which, as Milli notes, has just conceded that it is not prepared to guarantee media freedom or refrain from censorship at any time other than during the scattering of days when the Eurovision contest is in full swing. How, one wonders, does this apparent policy of default media un-freedom comport with Azerbaijan’s longstanding human rights commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to numerous UN rights treaties?

However, even more interesting is what this quote implies about the EBU’s role in affirming (or ignoring) respect for human rights. In the long quote above, the EBU spokesperson begins by denying that the song contest is political, then goes on to defend it as a means of bringing about positive political change, and then brandishes a one-week suspension of Azerbaijan’s media clampdown as an example of such positive change. Should we be impressed?

First, one might take a substantive rights approach. Is a temporary suspension of human rights violations involving censorship sufficient? The US Department of State human rights report indicates a number of other systemic issues in Azerbaijan as recently as 2010. Perhaps EBU might have flexed its muscles a bit. How about extending the one week suspension to cover torture and killing in official custody, for instance? Arbitrary arrest and detention of political activists? Restrictions on political participation and religious freedom? TN readers might suggested forced evictions as well, of course … ?

The absurdity of the situation quickly becomes evident. What would a ban on police torture be worth if it ended as soon as the disco balls came down? Is a temporary ban on media repression worth more? However, at a deeper level, the absurdity of the situation reflects a lack of engagement with what human rights actually mean. Azerbaijan has already committed itself to European institutions and its fellow UN member-states to suspend all such violations for all time. It has acceded to or ratified numerous human rights conventions and is, by all accounts, manifestly failing to comply with these commitments.

In this context, the EBU misunderstands both its role and its power. Its job is not to induce promises of good behavior from Baku. That has already been done and in a legally binding manner. The EBU is no more required to act as a judge of Baku’s compliance. Human rights NGOs, UN treaty-bodies and mechanisms and the European Court of Human Rights have done all the heavy lifting there. But in the face of such overwhelming evidence of skeletons in the closet of the next Eurovision host, the EBU should have anticipated that its ostensibly non-political role would be politicized – both by a regime craving international prestige as a substitute for clear democratic legitimacy and a population craving political rights.

As Europe expands eastward, it bears both carrots and sticks. The Eurovision contest, however silly it might appear to jaded western Europeans, is still seen as a juicy carrot in some quarters. While its administrators are not required to take over the role of wielding the stick of human rights, they should be aware that failure to ensure a minimum degree of coordination and policy coherence between these two approaches will undermine both. This is particularly evident where, as in the case of Baku’s recent evictions, violations of European human rights standards are undertaken in direct connection with hosting the Eurovision contest.

It is high time for the EBU to go beyond the mantra of being non-political and explore how it can complement, rather than contradict, the effort to build a democratic Europe founded on respect for human rights.

Euroviction: Azerbaijan demolishes homes for a song (contest)

by Rhodri C. Williams

Hat-tip to TN guest-author Anneke Smit for pointing out Azerbaijan’s most recent contributions to the busy field of forced evictions. (And apologies to ToL for partially appropriating their pun. I only realized later – proof, one hopes, that great minds do think alike…)

In many respects, recent rounds of ‘urban renewal’ in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku have followed an all too familiar forced evictions playbook. For instance, according to a February report by Human Rights Watch, the authorities in the oil-flush country have violated their own laws and constitution as well as their international obligations through a well-known litany of omissions including failure to provide notice of evictions, no meaningful consultation or recourse, no protection of residents’ health or safety and inadequate compensation and resettlement assistance.

Moreover, in a manner befitting one of the remaining outposts of the former Soviet Union that has made few concessions to even managed democracy (and may not need to as long as the petrodollars keep flowing), the Azerbaijani authorities also appear to have carried off the evictions with a certain panache. For instance, Zulfali Ismayilov, the senior municipal official in charge, described displaced residents as “greedy” in a press conference covered by ToL, and then went on to make one of those off-the-cuff statements that speak more loudly than volumes of best-practice guidelines and workshop conclusions:

Ismayilov would not answer any additional questions from a reporter. But when a member of one of the last families in the building said she would immolate herself if police came to forcibly remove her, Ismayilov offered to help her do so.

Such an offer can only with some difficulty be reconciled with the embrace of human rights values professed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. In fact, the gap between the MFA’s windy declaration of Azerbaijan’s official aspirations and Mr. Ismayilov’s terse expression of its actual governance approach is precisely what makes these evictions shocking. In a country with current membership in the Council of Europe and long-term aspirations to European integration, forced evictions are clearly counterproductive as well as wrong.

However, the irony of Baku’s most recent demolitions is that they have been undertaken for the express purpose of beautifying the site of next May’s Eurovision song contest, an annual event dedicated to promoting “the cultural union of Europe”. In explaining the historical paths along which Azerbaijan has converged with Europe and its annual glam pop extravaganza, the official Eurovision website highlights both Azerbaijan’s own painful experience of conflict-based internal displacement and its aspirations to democratic rule of law:

In spite of the sad results of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan (Armenia occupied the territory of Nagorny Karabakh and 7 neighboring districts. One million out of total population of eight million are refugees), our country mobilized its potential and had great successes in building democracy. Azerbaijan manages to successfully overcome the difficulties and continues making important and firm steps towards the establishment of a democratic and lawful country with civil society.

While it is true that Azerbaijan has struggled to cope with the effects of conflict and internal displacement, the current imbroglio over the Eurovision contest demonstrates a failure to learn from these experiences. As reported recently by the Brookings Institution, for instance, the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities initially allocated private homes to internally displaced persons on an ad hoc basis and then failed to build alternative housing that would allow the quick return of the occupied properties to their owners led to findings of violations by the European Court of Human Rights. In a country virtually sloshing with oil revenues, such an eventuality was not only unfortunate but also unnecessary.

Similarly, the current botched and abusive nature of the evictions of residents of the nascent Eurovision zone appears to result almost entirely from poor planning and disdain for legal niceties. On one hand, Human Rights Watch notes (Section II) that respect for the procedural requirements for resettlement under Azerbaijani law was nearly impossible in light of the narrow window between the country’s victory in last May’s contest and its hosting of the 2012 contest in two months. However, this would seem to be a rationale for at least minimizing the scope of resettlement necessary, e.g. by refraining from demolishing a nine-story building housing 72 families simply because it “blocks the view from the Crystal Hall.” Moreover, while Azerbaijan may not have had time, it certainly has money, suggesting that any deficit behind the failure to pay adequate compensation to victims (HRW, Section V) may have been of a democratic rather than a fiscal nature.

It is undoubtedly difficult to keep politics out of Europe’s premier kitsch culture event. In the case of Azerbaijan, this is most clearly indicated by the tersely worded notifications on both Azerbaijan and Armenia’s official Eurovision sites that the latter has sent its regrets and will not be attending. While the failure of the authorities in these neighboring countries to resolve their territorial conflict is unfortunate, it reflects poorly on them and not the Eurovision contest itself. However, the new evictions in Baku raise the question of whether the Eurovision contest risks damaging its own standing. When pressed by HRW (Section VII), the European Broadcasting Union disowned the evictions on the grounds that the ‘improvements’ behind them were planned long before Azerbaijan won the right to host Eurovision:

[Joergen Franck, director of television for the EBU] reiterated the EBU’s position that there is no connection between the expropriations and the Eurovision Song Contest, and said the people in the area would have been evicted even if the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest were to be held elsewhere. “The EBU does not believe its brand has been tainted by government actions or by articles in the press,” he told Human Rights Watch. Franck said that although the EBU is seeking explanations from the Azerbaijani government about development plans in the area, the EBU would not be seeking assurances from the government about addressing eviction-related abuses. Doing so, he said, would interfere with the non-political character of the Eurovision Song Contest. Franck also said that organizations could take advantage of the “bright spotlight” the Eurovision contest was throwing on Azerbaijan in order to highlight human rights violations, and that this was “a good thing.”

While HRW dispensed with these arguments by noting that the current rationale and the timing of the evictions is clearly linked to Baku’s impending boy band invasion, there may be a deeper question involved. Eurovision celebrates European culture in the spirit of unity through respect for diversity. As a result, the winning formula typically involves spicing up a generically catchy piece of synth-pop with some pan pipes or dancers in rustic smocks or terrifying Nordic monster outfits in order to reinforce the idea that Europe is not a bureaucratic steamroller of the things that distinguish member states in inoffensive and enjoyable ways. However, if there is any type of culture that truly distinguishes ‘Europe’ as a post-World War II project and a sum that is greater than its parts, it may well be the culture of respect for democracy and human rights. Be prepared for a clash of cultures in Baku.


Serbia masters the difference between restitution and restitution

by Rhodri C. Williams

As part of its EU bid, Serbia has passed a law allowing for the restitution of property nationalized during the Cold War. Curious that the EU should take a strong stand on principle when it comes to rights extinguished three generations ago through distasteful but not necessarily illegal expropriation proceedings, while giving neighboring Croatia a pass on rights extinguished much more recently through acts now unambiguously deemed crimes against humanity. One also wonders whether the EU is making similar headway clarifying the intricacies of the restitution concept to the authorities it oversees in Kosovo. All grist for a much longer post if I only had the time…