- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

Russian ‘backsliding’

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky thinks democracy will prevail in Russia, even though President Vladimir Putin has limited some freedoms in his fight against terrorism.

Mr. Sharansky, on a recent visit to Washington, predicted that democracy’s foothold in Russia would grow because Russians have tasted freedom and will not give it up without massive government repression.

“The country has made giant strides from a society of fear to a society of freedom,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty earlier this month.

Mr. Sharansky, one of the Soviet Union’s most famous human rights advocates, criticized Mr. Putin for “backsliding” from democratic reforms in his fight against terrorism, especially that of Chechen rebels.

He noted that the West deals with the threat of terrorism by advocating the spread of democracy, primarily in Arab nations that breed Islamic fanatics.

“For the West, it means strengthening and broadening democracy, while for Russia, it means, unfortunately, limiting democracy. That, I think, is a huge mistake,” he said.

“There has definitely been backsliding in Russia away from democracy, and we must do all we can through democratic means to oppose this rollback.

“But there is no chance of a return to the Stalinist system because, for this, you need to instill fear in hundreds of millions of people. This is impossible without killing millions, so a return to the past is impossible.”

Mr. Sharansky was released from a Soviet prison in 1986, after serving eight years of a 13-year sentence for treason. A Soviet Jew, he immigrated immediately to Israel and served until recently in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Swede U.N. president

Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson is bidding Washington farewell, as he prepares for his new assignment as president of the U.N. General Assembly session that opens in September.

Mr. Eliasson, who has served in Washington for nearly five years, will be replaced by Gunnar Lund, Sweden’s former ambassador to the European Union. Mr. Lund is expected to arrive on Sept. 1.

Mr. Lund is also a former state secretary at the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. He has served as Sweden’s representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris and at the Swedish Embassy in Denmark.

Mr. Eliasson, meanwhile, will be returning to familiar territory. He served as Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1988 to 1992 and then as the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

Uzbek uprising

Thousands of frustrated citizens rioted in Uzbekistan earlier this month after months of simmering anger over political repression and ruinous economic policies of the Central Asian regime, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The global think tank called for an international investigation into the uprising in the Andijon region, which resulted in the deaths of as many as 750 people when Uzbek authorities on May 13 fired “indiscriminately into unarmed, peaceful civilians.”

The clash followed an assault on the Andijon prison by some demonstrators, who freed 23 local businessmen accused of Islamic extremism. The ICG said “there is no credible evidence” to support the accusations against the businessmen who “had shown no inclination to violence.” The protesters also released as many as 2,000 other prisoners.

The ICG urged foreign governments to demand that President Islam Karimov ease his repressive policies or to isolate the country.

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