|11 November 2011
On behalf of the Liberal Democrat group (ALDE) that he chairs in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium) has called on the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to denounce Russia's decision to ban numerous parties from participating in elections, particularly the December 2011 general elections and the March 2012 presidential election.
The former Belgian prime minister, speaking in the capital of Finland and in the same hall where the Helsinki process was born in 1975 and ultimately led to East-West rapprochement and the end of the Communist regimes, co-chaired with former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov the Helsinki 2.0 conference to denounce the lack of democracy in Russia and launch a new process aimed at "exerting external pressure" and securing the rule of law.
The conference was attended by around 100 people, including Soviet-era dissidents and representatives of various Liberal parties from Europe and the United States. Its debates concluded with the decision to set up in liaison with Russian civil society a group to monitor breaches of the democratic rules that Russia promised to respect when joining the Council of Europe and the OSCE, including in its 1993 constitution.
The ALDE group's aim is to pressure European Union leaders to place the issue of democracy and human rights on the agenda of all meetings with Russia. "High Representative Catherine Ashton should establish a new EU-Russia strategy in the first half of 2012 and put it into practice after the Russian presidential election in March," said Verhofstadt in a final address, during which he also mentioned the tactic of the carrot and the stick. He proposed in particular a response to Russia's request for visa liberalisation, recommending "a dual approach: visa facilitation for citizens and a ban for leaders guilty of human rights violations".
David Kramer, head of the Washington-based organisation Freedom House that studies democracy worldwide, recommended that all Western governments take legislative action serving to sanction those guilty of the most serious anti-democratic practices in Russia. "Russian leaders travel to the West and invest their savings in the West: we have to take advantage of their vulnerability to obtain the freedom of their fellow citizens".
By Pierre Lemoine in Helsinki
Thursday 10 November 2011
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