Michael Andersen: EU policy in Uzbekistan only a matter of geopolitical interests
Uzbek authorities recently postponed a media conference that was to be co-sponsored by the European Union. This media forum was to take place in Tashkent in late May, and was slated to become an element of the EU-Uzbek human rights dialogue to confirm progress made by the Uzbek regime. According to Uznews.Net, however, official Tashkent cancelled the forum following the suspension of sanctions by European politicians against Uzbekistan.
Ferghana.Ru news agency approached one of the potential participants in the forum for comments. He is Michael Andersen, a political scientist and journalist from Denmark who spent several years in Central Asia. Andersen dedicated the last three years to work on the unique film which focused on the transformation of EU policy with regard to Uzbekistan from what it had been before the massacre to right after the tragedy and beyond to three years later.
Ferghana.Ru: Michael, can you tell us, please, what importance the media forum would have had for Europe and for Uzbekistan?
Well, it seems now that this media forum was a cynical joke from the very beginning. The Uzbek regime obviously knew, full well, that they never wanted to allow 15 western journalists in. The first proof of this is that the journalists were not supposed to receive accreditation as journalists - in other words, they would not be allowed to work in Uzbekistan. They were only supposed to have been performing public relations for the Uzbek regime, one of the most brutal regimes in the world. And, unfortunately, one also has to doubt whether the EU foreign ministers who, last week, praised this media forum, in reality ever thought that it would take place. It probably was only a Potemkin mirage – make believe.
It seems to me, that the media forum played the role of giving both sides a good justification to suspend the sanctions against Uzbekistan.
Which western journalists would have participated in the forum and what was the planned format?
Honestly, I don’t know – this was all very secretive and I am not convinced the format and so on was ever seriously discussed, seeing as the leaders of both sides probably knew that it would never take place.
Why were you, yourself, and the well-known German journalist, Marcus Bensmann, not invited by the Uzbeks? Are you persona non grata in Uzbekistan?
Yes, of course, journalists like Marcus and myself – well, any proper journalist who has written critically and truthfully about the Karimov regime - is persona non grata in Uzbekistan. I have not seen the final list of journalists who should have participated in the seminar – but none of the journalists I know who have worked in Uzbekistan, and who know the country, have been invited. Having critical journalists in the country would, I guess, frighten the Uzbek regime. The biggest threat to the Uzbek dictator is, obviously, that people would get to know what really is going on.
Why has the media forum been postponed?
As I said, this was only a dual PR stunt by the Uzbek regime, the German government and EU’s political leaders. I doubt anyone ever planned for this conference to really take place.
Has there, in your view, really been progress in the area of human rights and freedom in Uzbekistan, as some European observers argue?
Please note, first and foremost, that the only people who argue that there has been progress on human rights in Uzbekistan is the German government and the EU commission. All experts who know the real situation in Uzbekistan – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Helsinki Federation, The Crisis Group – say the opposite; that the situation is at least as bad as always. I get reports from contacts in Uzbekistan almost every day about people having been tortured to death, truly horrific stories about fathers and mothers having their sons’ mutilated bodies delivered to them after the Uzbek police have tortured them to death.
In many ways, the situation in Uzbekistan is probably worse than before. And the fact that the European Union now so clearly demonstrates that we do not really care about human rights in Uzbekistan, must make people there feel even more forgotten and alone. As you can see from my reaction, it is difficult for a European person who knows the situation in Uzbekistan, and the motives of the European Union for ignoring it, not to feel deeply ashamed.
Why has Europe, which at first reacted so critically to the massacre in Andijan, now seemingly ‘forgiven’ Tashkent for this crime against its own population?
Firstly, don’t forget that, yes, the European Union did criticize the Uzbek regime immediately after the massacre. But, then we waited five months before we agreed on a set of very weak sanctions. I mean, the EU identified a list of 12 Uzbek officials who we believed were to blame for the massacre of 1,000 people in Andijan. These people were put on a so-called visa ban list and would be refused entry into Europe. But the Uzbek dictator, Karimov, was not on the list. Can anyone imagine that the massacre took place without Karimov being in charge? We even know that Karimov was in Andijan that day. In my film about the massacre, when I asked the leaders of the European Union about this, their cynicism shocked me: we did not put Karimov on our visa ban list, they openly told me, because Uzbekistan is a strategically important country and Karimov would get angry if we placed him on the list….and this would harm our relations with Uzbekistan! This was the day I understood that the policy of the EU in Uzbekistan has nothing – nothing – to do with principles, it is only a matter of geopolitical interests.
A few months later, the EU even ignored its own visa ban list and allowed the minister of the interior, Almatov, who, with Karimov was the main perpetrator of the massacre, no doubt – to be treated for cancer in a luxury clinic in Germany.
In my film about the massacre, I asked the German government about this and was told that they allowed the Uzbek interior minister to be treated because – and this is a direct quote – “Almatov was very ill and needed this treatment. He deserved this treatment”. And that the German government did not think that this hurt the image of the EU in the eyes of the Uzbek population! When I asked about whether the many hundreds of wounded in Andijan did not need and deserve treatment and help much more than Almatov, I was told not to be naïve.
What is the main focus of your film? The main heroes? What conclusion have you made on the basis of your work with this film?
We have worked on this film for three year now. We started, basically, two days after the massacre, when I went to Kyrgyzstan to visit the refugee camp for people who had fled the massacre. The film is called, “A Predictable Massacre”, and is based on the sad fact that foreign and local experts and human rights activists, long before the massacre, had predicted that something like Andijan would happen. People like the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. I remember talking to the Uzbek academic, Bahodir Musayev, in the winter of 2004-05 after the riots in Kokand. Musaeyv, almost word for word, predicted what happened a few months later in Andijan.
My film focuses on the role and the responsibility of the West. As Craig Murray tells me in the film, “The West shares part of the responsibility for the massacre in Andijan, because we led Karimov to believe that he could do anything he wanted”. Remember how many times Western, and especially American high-ranking visitors, came to Tashkent and praised Karimov, shaking his hand and smiling? Remember Rumsfeld’s many visits? How many times we pretended, just like now, that there was progress on human rights in Uzbekistan? In the film, a former top minister in the British government tells me that, “we were willing to do anything to get access to Afghanistan – even to sleep with the devil (i.e. Karimov)”.
The film shows the background for the massacre, we interview eye witnesses and have much new material showing that the demonstrators in Andijan were not, contrary to what the Uzbek regime claims, terrorists. We analyze the Western policy, right up to this week and the suspension of the sanctions against the Karimov regime. Politically, we are now, almost, back where we were before the massacre: We – the EU and the US – are now, again, playing the “Great Game” with Russia and China – and Uzbekistan is one of the main prizes. Western soldiers are again using Uzbek soil to enter Afghanistan, we hope to get access to Uzbek natural resources. And in return, our politicians are willing to pretend that the Uzbek regime is making progress on human rights.
It is, as an Uzbek journalist tells me in the film, “as if both sides are pretending that the massacre never took place – it is business as usual”.
You ask me about the ‘hero’ of my film; for me, the heroes of my film are the incredibly courageous Uzbek human rights defenders and journalists who have refused to keep silent about the massacre. Many of them have paid with the own lives or the lives of their loved ones. During the filming, we had the opportunity to follow their work closely and they have my deepest respect. In fact, several of them were threatened by the Uzbek authorities for speaking to us, but they still did, because they want people to know what happened in Andijan. The Uzbek population can be proud that such people exist amongst them.
The film ‘Andijan: A Predictable Massacre’ (length 60 minutes) has been produced by the Mulberry Group – please see www.mulberrygroup.org for details about sales and contacts, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org