COMMISSION ON SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
CENTRAL ASIA AND THE ARAB SPRING: GROWING PRESSURE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBERT O. BLAKE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
STEPHEN J. BLANK,
PROFESSOR OF NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS,
U.S. ARMY WAR COLLEGE
INSTITUTE OF WORLD POLITICS
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
SUNSHINE COALITION, UZBEKISTAN
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:00 to 5:00 IN ROOM NUMBER 2322, RAYBURN HOUSE
OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ) MODERATING
WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2011
REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order.
And good afternoon. Sorry for the delay to all of our witnesses and guests;
the House is in a series of votes. Matter of fact, I’m going to head back
momentarily; we’ll suspend. And hopefully, the other members will be able to
come back and join us for remainder of the hearing.
Welcome to this hearing on the potential impact of the Middle East revolutions
on Central Asia. Though it is far too early to know what will come of the Arab
Spring even in the Middle East itself, it is clear that the revolutions and
uprisings have already changed the Middle East, and it may well yet change
other parts of the world.
This hearing will inquire whether the uprisings and protest movements in the
Middle East and North Africa might inspire and invigorate popular movements for
democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia, or even trigger similar uprisings and
crackdowns, and what our government’s policy ought to be.
Obviously, much distinguishes the countries and peoples of Central Asia from
those of the Middle East, but they also have a lot in common, especially in
what they have suffered. Broadly speaking, in both regions, people are ruled
by undemocratic and corrupt dictators, many of whom have been in power for
decades. Where they exist, parliaments are largely rubber-stamp institutions,
and the judiciary is either corrupt or beholden to the executive. National
resources and state authority have been illegitimately appropriated by small
groups of people closely bound to the ruling class.
There are many differences between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but presidential longevity in office is a defining
regional characteristic. Central Asian dictators have monopolized power for
two decades since the independence movement began, while the public has
effectively been removed from politics. Only Kyrgyzstan is a striking
exception to this rule: In that country, street protests have toppled two
heads of state since 2005, and last year, the country commenced parliamentary
Sadly, in most of Central Asia, democratic reform and observance of human
rights commitments have progressed little in the 20 years since independence.
In general, elections have been controlled and rigged; rarely has the OSCE
given them a passing grade. Opposition parties have been harassed – where they
are permitted at all – and independent media, where it exists, has been put on
a very short leash.
In the most repressive states, there is little or no space for civil society to
function. Access to the Internet is tightly controlled; religious liberty,
particularly for nontraditional religious groups, is constrained; torture and
mistreatment in custody are routine; corruption is common at all levels, and
thwarts not only human rights but also economic development.
Central Asian leaders often claim that their citizens are not ready for
democracy because of their history and culture. This is insulting, bigoted,
unacceptable and absolutely untrue. It is also sadly familiar: Many Middle
Eastern tyrants said the same thing about their peoples, but the recent events
in the Middle East show once again that it is not democracies that are
unstable, but dictatorships.
The conventional wisdom is that similar protest – popular protest movements are
unlikely in Central Asia. Yet a few months ago, that was the accepted wisdom
for the Middle East as well. It is time that we rethink and we need to
challenge our conclusions on both regions; gross and systematic human rights
violations have surely created a just sense of popular grievance in Central
Asia. And Tunisia showed that it is impossible to predict when a people will
decide what that a situation is, indeed, intolerable.
Of course, it is our hope that there will be a (ph) peaceful, democratic
movements in Central Asia, and equally that the governments will respond
peacefully and with significant reforms. Yet we need to think about also –
about the potential for violent crackdowns and what our government policy ought
to be in the region.
I’d like to introduce our very – maybe I’ll wait until the other members get
back; I think that would be better. But I want to thank Secretary Blake for –
and our other witnesses for your patience. And I apologize again; there is a
series of votes on.
How many votes do you think – (inaudible, off mic).
REP. SMITH: I think we have four remaining votes, and then the commission will
convene once again. We stand in recess.
REP. SMITH: The chair recognizes – reconvenes its sitting, and recognizes Mr.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your
recognition, and I appreciate the opportunity to sit here. This is my first
meeting as a member of this commission. And it’s an honor to have been
appointed by my leader and the speaker. I look forward to working together on
issues of importance to the United States and Europe, and our joint solidarity
and cooperation in human rights as we see them, and the need to go forward.
This panel today on what’s occurred in Northern Africa and the Middle East is
most germane. And I welcome the testimony, and I’m very interested to hear
what you say. It’s been inspiring to see all of the folks who seem to be
yearning for democracy, and I think they are – and they should. But it’s
always a constant battle; we have to be vigilant and make sure that the bad
guys don’t take over.
So I look forward to learning today, and then working with the chairman who I
have great respect for, and his work on human rights over the years. And with
that, I thank you for allowing me to come here. I also look forward to the
second panel where Mr. Umarov will be testifying; he’s a graduate of the
University of Memphis, which is above water and doing well, as is our city.
And I look forward to his story. And I yield back for the remainder of my time.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Cohen, thank you very much. I’d like to now introduce Bob
Blake, who is a career foreign service officer. Ambassador Blake entered the
foreign service in 1985; he has served at the American embassies in Tunisia,
Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt. He has held a number of positions at the State
Department in Washington, including senior desk officer for Turkey, deputy
executive secretary and executive assistant to the undersecretary for political
Ambassador Blake served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. mission in New
Delhi, India, from 2003 to 2006, and as ambassador to Sri Lanka and the
Maldives from 2006 to May 2009, and as assistant secretary for South and
Central Asian affairs from May 2009 to the present.
Ambassador Blake earned his B.A. from Harvard College in 1980, and an M.A. in
international relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International
Studies in 1984.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome. And thank you for your patience as we went through a
long – (inaudible) – votes.
ROBERT O. BLAKE: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. It’s a great pleasure
to be here with you and Mr. Cohen today, and I appreciate the invitation to
discuss this very important topic.
With your permission, I have a longer statement for the record, and I’ll just
make a shorter statement.
REP. SMITH: Without objection, so ordered.
MR. BLAKE: Mr. Chairman, differences in history, culture and circumstances
make direct comparisons between the Middle East and Central Asia difficult.
However, in some important respects, the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share a dynamic similar to
those causing the upheavals in the Middle East, including unemployment,
poverty, corruption, little outlet for meaningful political discourse, and a
lack of opportunity particularly for young people.
However, there are also significant differences with the North African and
Middle East countries, which in our view make popular uprisings in the near
term less likely in Central Asia. First, the economic situation is not as dire
in Central Asia. IMF unemployment projections for 2011 in Central Asia range
from a low of .2 percent in Uzbekistan to a high of 5.7 percent in Kazakhstan,
compared to 9.2 percent and 14.7 percent in Egypt and Tunisia respectively – of
course, that’s all official data.
Second, significant proportions of the workforce in poor countries such as
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have found work outside the country, primarily in
Russia, easing unemployment and providing a very valuable source of remittances
for those poor countries.
Third, the hydrocarbon wealth of countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan has
enabled them to cushion the impact of economic hardships in those countries.
While citizens in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere have turned to Facebook and
Twitter as forums through which to interact, organize and exchange ideas, the
vast majority of Central Asia lacks access to the Internet, with 14-percent
Internet penetration in Kazakhstan in 2008 marking the highest of all the
Central Asian countries.
Although Internet access has since grown, governments have succeeded in
blocking outside influences and tightly controlling domestic media through
harassment, prosecution and imprisonment of journalists. The lack of
independent media allows governments to control the dissemination of news and
Another factor is the lack of meaningful political opposition in most of
Central Asia. With the exception of Kyrgyzstan, significant opposition parties
are largely nonexistent, and organized opposition groups are for the most part
either illegal or tightly constrained by the authorities. While these same
conditions seem oppressive to Western observers, residents in some parts of
Central Asia value this stability and are wary of the turmoil and
unpredictability in recent years in neighboring Afghanistan and, to a certain
Still, the profound change that is taking place across North Africa and the
Middle East has profound lessons for Central Asian governments and societies.
One of the messages we have given to our friends in Central Asia is that they
need to pay attention to these events and to their implications.
In my meetings with Central Asian leaders over the last several months, I have
encouraged them to provide more political space and allow for more religious
freedom to allow for the development of robust civil society and democratic
institutions, and to chart a course for economic reform.
Leaders in Central Asia express support for gradual change, and concern that
too much freedom too fast could lead to chaos and upheaval. They are
suspicious of democratic reforms, and with some exceptions have maintained
tight restrictions on political, social, religious and economic life. We think
that’s mistaken. Democracy, as we advocate it, is not violent or
revolutionary. It is peaceful, tolerant, evolutionary, and demonstrated
primarily through the ballot box and a free civil society.
To strengthen our engagement in Central Asia, we instituted in 2009 annual
bilateral consultations that I chair with the foreign ministers and deputy
foreign ministers in each of these countries. I’m happy that Helsinki
Commission staff have participated in many of these meetings. Each of these
consultations constitutes a face-to-face, structured dialogue based on a
jointly developed, comprehensive agenda that includes human rights and media
We’ve also used the annual consultations as a forum to engage civil society and
the business community in the Central Asian countries. In the annual
consultations that we held earlier this year in Kazakhstan, for example, the
Kazakhstani deputy foreign minister co-hosted with me a meeting with
Kazakhstani civil society in the foreign ministry, a welcome precedent that we
hope to duplicate elsewhere.
In the 20 years since independence, the leaderships in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have frequently and publicly called for building
democratic institutions. They have given speeches and issued decrees, but have
done little to put them into practice.
As you’ve said, Mr. Chairman, Kyrgyzstan has been the primary exception in
Central Asia. The democratic gains there made since the April 2010 events are
cause for optimism, even as the ethnic violence in June of last year
demonstrates the fragility of democracy in that country.
Kyrgyzstan faces its next test in presidential elections scheduled for later
this year. We look forward to working with the Helsinki Commission and others
to help organize international support and monitoring efforts.
Other Central Asian states are at different stages in their democratic
development, but there are signs of some hope in all. Kazakhstan hosted the
first OSCE summit in 11 years last December, which included a robust civil
society component which Secretary Clinton found extremely encouraging.
Kazakhstan has also made some progress towards meeting its Madrid commitments
on political pluralism and reform of media and electoral law, although much
more needs to be done.
President Karimov of Uzbekistan gave a speech in November of 2010 calling for
greater political pluralism and civil society development. Uzbekistan has done
little thus far to turn this vision into a reality, but we will encourage the
president and his team to meet the commitments that he made in that speech.
Tajikistan has the region’s only legal Islamic party, the Islamic Revival Party
of Tajikistan, even though that party and other opposition officials continue
to be subject to various forms of harassment.
Even in Turkmenistan, President Berdimuhamedov has spoken publicly of the need
to expand space for other voices in the political system.
Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, nearly 36 years ago, leaders from North America,
Europe and the Soviet Union came together to sign the Helsinki Accords,
committing themselves to a core set of human rights, including the fundamental
freedoms of association, expression, peaceful assembly, thought and religion.
As Secretary Clinton presciently asserted at last year’s OSCE summit in Astana,
and as events this spring underscore, these values remain relevant today and
are critical to the building of sustainable societies and nations that are
committed to creating better opportunities for their citizens.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to your questions.
REP. SMITH: Ambassador Blake, thank you very much for your work and for your
testimony here today. And I do want to thank you for, you know, being so
effective over these many years of a very, very stellar foreign service career.
MR. BLAKE: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: I do want to ask you just a couple of questions. You know, when
Kazakhstan was seeking to be chair-in-office of the OSCE, I opposed it and
spoke out repeatedly against it, both at the parliamentary assemblies and
through our venues that we would hold as part of a commission.
I made it very clear to Kazakh government here in Washington that significant
progress needed to be made before they got that position. Obviously, I didn’t
win; they got the chairmanship-in-office. And frankly, hopefully, the message
or the consequences will be positive ones.
But I would appreciate your take on how well or poorly they’ve done with
regards to making improvements in human rights. I mean, you hope they catch
the good infection working with ODIHR and working with other instrumentalities
of the OSCE, working with other governments. But you know, the record seems
not to point in that direction. Your view?
MR. BLAKE: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just say with respect to
Kazakhstan that we did support their chairmanship-in-office, and we did support
their holding a summit. And I think in retrospect that we feel that was a good
decision on our part.
I think in the run-up to the OSCE summit, Kazakhstan played quite a significant
role on many human rights issues. They hosted a conference on tolerance in
Astana; they allowed a whole series of quite robust civil society events,
again, in the week running up to the conference itself, I think surprising many
of the skeptics. And I think they have taken some steps, but not all steps, to
fulfill their Madrid commitments, as I said.
They’ve allowed at least two political parties now to serve in the Majilis, and
so the – in the next elections that will take place next year in 2012, for the
first time will provide automatically for another opposition party in the
They’ve eliminated some forms of criminal liability for libel, which if you
talk to civil society in Kazakhstan, as we do frequently, that’s their
number-one demand. And now they’re also looking at implementing their own
national human rights action plan, which was drafted by Yevgeny Zhovtis who
remains in jail and is, again, a case that we bring up frequently with our
So you know, I think there is progress. Could there be more progress?
Definitely. And we will continue to work towards that.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you with regards to – I know we now have an
ambassador-at-large for – (inaudible) – religious freedom. And certainly,
Uzbekistan remains one of the most egregious violators as it relates to the
International Religious Freedom Act. They are a country of particular concern.
I’m not – I don’t think it’s likely they will be soon taken off that list.
And I’m wondering what kind of – what we convey to Karimov with regards to
religious persecution, what his response is.
And in light of what is, again, happening in Egypt and elsewhere where the
violence against the Coptic church, for example, has gotten worse rather than
ameliorate or get better, do they – you know, are they cracking down? Are they
getting worse? What’s the glide slope there?
MR. BLAKE: Thank you for that very important question. I was – (chuckles) –
just talking about religious freedom with somebody from the Commission on
International Religious Freedom. And as you know, both Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan are countries of particular concern. We have not made any
decisions about the designations for this year, but that’s – you know, will be
With respect to, really, all of the countries in Central Asia, but particularly
those two and Tajikistan, we have made the point that it is very, very
important for all of these countries to allow peaceful worship, and that it’s a
mistake to try to constrain or ban that in any way because it’s only going to
drive it underground and make it even more destabilizing, and in fact provide
an opening for extremists who might try to exploit that.
So we have urged that religious freedom really be one of the pillars of what we
see as a good opportunity for an opening. And again, this is a very important
part of our dialogue. Just yesterday, our office that handles religious
freedom was meeting with the Uzbek ambassador about this, so this remains a
very important subject for us. As I say, I don’t want to try to predict what
our decision is going to be on this, but again, let me just tell you that it
remains a very important part of our dialogue.
REP. SMITH: Understood. Let me just ask you one of the – and this would be
along those same lines – I’ll never forget years ago in Moscow, learning from a
China watcher that the Chinese government – Beijing – had learned from what
happened in the East bloc with the break – or the demise of the Soviet Union
that one of the mainstays that gives people the ability to endure just about
anything is faith, and that – especially, beginning with Solidarity, and the
Catholic church and then the other churches, obviously, throughout all of the
East bloc that remained truly faithful – that there were a number of people who
– you know, there are others who were not motivated by faith, but many others,
including Lech Walesa, who were able – and the Pope – bring about a remarkable
stunning change from dictatorship to democracy and that the Chinese government
had learned this will not happen here, which is why they have significantly
ratcheted up their persecution of all things that is faith-based, including the
Falun Gong, because they’re seen as threats.
If they can control it, they allow it; if not – the “-stans,” the – each of
them – what do you think they’re learning – lessons learned – in terms of
further repression on religious believers, but also on any pro-democracy
individuals who might want to – you know, in Uzbekistan, the People’s Movement
of Uzbekistan, you know, they’re calling for a(n) act of civil disobedience on
June 1st. How do you think these countries will react when some of these kinds
of manifestations take place: iron fist or open hand?
MR. BLAKE: I think it’s a combination of both, Mr. Chairman, to be honest. I
think the countries of Central Asia are not so much looking at what’s happening
in the Arab Spring, although they are certainly aware of it; they’re looking
much more at what’s happening in Afghanistan.
And they are very focused on both the transition that is taking place in
Afghanistan now – they see that our troops are making advances in Helmand
province, Kandahar, they see that a lot of the Taliban and others that are
working with them are being driven into the north and are there now – therefore
now beginning to rub up against their own borders in Turkmenistan and
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They’re worried about – particularly – the porous
border in Tajikistan where people are going back and forth without too much in
the way of border security on the part of the Tajiks, just because it’s a
1,400-kilometer border and very difficult to patrol.
So they are very aware of this and, again, I think we make the point to them
that it’s very, very important to draw a distinction between those who are
engaged in terrorism and violence and those who are engaged in – who want to
engage in peaceful worship and peaceful political discourse and that, if you
drive the latter category underground and don’t allow them to do that –as you
yourself said, Mr. Chairman – that’s going to be destabilizing. And so it’s
very, very important to allow these release valves, if you will.
With respect to religious freedom, I think again, it’s a – it’s a fairly
nuanced situation. I mean, even in a place like Kazakhstan, you see that
Catholics and Protestants and Jews all have freedom of worship there, and it’s
kind of the smaller sects that are quite strictly controlled. Even in a place
like Turkmenistan, which is otherwise quite controlled, they made a decision in
2010 to allow – to open a Catholic church there.
So, again, I think we have openings to try to work with all of these countries,
and we do, and I think that the recent appointment of our – of our
international religious freedom ambassador is really going to help because
we’ll – we’re going to be working very closely with her. I’m going to be
meeting with her next week to sort of figure out a strategy now on how to,
again, work with these countries to persuade them that it’s in their own
interest to do this – not because it’s something that’s some favor to the
United States – and we really believe that it is in their interests to do it.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. Mr. Cohen?
REP. COHEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the testimony, and then
just looking over this – kind of hard to fathom that in 2011 that this – the –
“-stans” have such a poor record on human rights. And from my notes I’ve got
here, it suggests that the worst – it’s hard to – really, I guess, distinguish
too much, but Uzbekistan is one of the worst, most repressive, and Turkmenistan
– I think they win the prize as the most repressive. We have relations with
all these countries, do we not?
MR. BLAKE: We do.
REP. COHEN: Do we have any restrictions whatsoever on what we do them?
MR. BLAKE: We do. (Chuckles.) There are some quite significant restrictions.
In Uzbekistan, for example, there’s a now a prohibition on military assistance
to Uzbekistan because of the events in Andijan in May of 2005 when officially
187 people were killed, but in – unofficially, many more. So yeah, there are
REP. COHEN: But that’s military.
MR. BLAKE: Correct.
REP. COHEN: But otherwise we engage in trade.
MR. BLAKE: We do.
REP. COHEN: Do we give foreign aid to these – (inaudible)?
MR. BLAKE: We do. We think it’s quite important. In many of these – Mr.
Cohen, many of these countries – in fact, almost all of them – are very
important partners for us in Afghanistan. The majority of supplies that are
now going in for our troops in Afghanistan transit through Central Asia,
through what’s known as the Northern Distribution Network.
REP. COHEN: So to bring democracy and the 21st century or the 20th century
into Afghanistan, we make friends with folks that don’t really do much for
democracy or care too much about human rights.
MR. BLAKE: Well, you know, we do what we need to do to support our troops.
And, again, I think the situation is more nuanced than you might think and, as
the chairman said in his opening statement, most of these countries are
governed by people who came up under the old Soviet Union and remain in power,
and they’re suspicious of a lot of the things that we’re trying to encourage.
But at the same time, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an
entire new generation that has grown up since the breakup of the Soviet Union,
that are now 20 years old, and these are people who are quite agile with the
Internet. They know how to get around Internet restrictions, they watch
television, they watching closely what’s going on in the Middle East. And so,
again, I think it just underscores that that all of these leaders in all of
these countries have to pay attention to what’s happening in the Middle East
and North Africa, and they have to provide openings – political openings,
religious freedom openings and also economic openings to allow opportunities
for these young people.
REP. COHEN: I realize your specialty and your unique area right now is in this
area. Have you ever had responsibilities in the – in Latin America or the
MR. BLAKE: I have not.
REP. COHEN: You haven’t? I visited Cuba recently, and when I was there, I was
told by the bishop that they have pretty much religious freedom, and they can
worship wherever they want and that members of the Jewish faith can worship and
really there was freedom of religion.
They’re starting to have some opportunities for people to engage in free
enterprise and have more of a market economies. I don’t know how you quantify
or – the conditions and compare Cuba, but it’s just kind of – I’m just thinking
here about how we don’t deal with Cuba at all. How does Cuba compare as far as
human rights and religious freedoms with this next to most repressive nation?
MR. BLAKE: (Chuckles.) I’m not much of an expert on Cuba, Mr. Cohen. But,
again I think we’re – we’re –
REP. COHEN: But if it was a given – if it was a given that they do allow –
that the bishop says that they can worship wherever they want and that – our
representative there in Cuba from our government who said, oh I go to every
Catholic church in the – Havana’s province and we have worship every Sunday,
and it’s not a problem. If that – with that as a given, where would they rank
compared to these countries on a level of religious freedoms?
MR. BLAKE: Well, again, there’s a pretty – I think there’s quite a variance in
between the countries. A country like Kazakhstan’s got a reasonably good
record on the major religions, but again there’s still problems with respect to
these sects, as they call them. Even Turkmenistan, which is probably the most
controlled of all the countries, as I said, has allowed the Catholic church now
to begin to operate and so – and we are engaged right now in a dialogue with
Turkmenistan about getting the Commission on International Religious Freedom to
go to Turkmenistan, and I think they’ve agreed to allow that. So we’re just
sort of setting up the parameters to make sure that the visit, when it does
take place, will actually have real results and will not just simply be a
one-off visit in which, you know, nothing really results from it. So I think
that’s a good example of the kind of engagement that we’re really trying to
promote and we ourselves are very – you know, we attach a lot of importance to
REP. COHEN: Which of these countries, if not all of them – I don’t know – this
is my – have nuclear weapons?
MR. BLAKE: None.
REP. COHEN: None.
MR. BLAKE: Kazakhstan had nuclear weapons and renounced them, and that was,
you now, obviously a major nonproliferation step forward.
REP. COHEN: That’s reassuring.
MR. BLAKE: Yeah.
REP. COHEN: And in reading these notes that the previous president – it
doesn’t give his title, I don’t know if he’s president or whatever – “dictator”
is what he has here – Niyazov ?
MR. BLAKE: Niyazov.
REP. COHEN: He eliminated open law – successor has eliminated – (inaudible) –
oldest policy, such as banning the opera? And circus? What did he have
against the opera and circus?
MR. BLAKE: (Chuckles.) You’ll have to ask him that, Mr. Cohen. I don’t know.
REP. COHEN: Yeah. Well, I’m not too keen on the opera either, but banning it?
Banning it’s certainly a mistake. I yield back the remainder of my time.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you one final question, Mr. Ambassador, and that is on
the issue of human trafficking.
MR. BLAKE: Sure.
REP. SMITH: We know that the TIP report will be coming out very shortly –
MR. BLAKE: Yes, sir.
REP. SMITH: – early June. And, you know, I just wanted to ask you, you know –
Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan – are all watch list
countries, and obviously we’re now at that point where they need to be moving
up or down. It’s no longer a parking lot, and I’m just wondering what your
sense is as to progress that they are making, each of those countries.
MR. BLAKE: Thank you very much for that question, Mr. Chairman, and let me
just say that on trafficking in persons, this is something that I personally
and that my bureau has attached a lot of importance, and we’ve made this a real
priority of ours over the last two years – not just in Central Asia, but in
South Asia where India and Bangladesh are also Tier 2 watch-list countries.
And you know, I think that our efforts and of course those with Luis CdeBaca
and his whole team have borne some fruit. Obviously I don’t want to get ahead
of the decision-making process here, but I’m proud to say that we’ve made a lot
of progress in Tajikistan. I think we’ve made good progress in Uzbekistan as
well where, for the first time – and you’ll appreciate this, Mr. Chairman,
because you worked a lot on these issues – Uzbekistan has agreed to set up a
committee – an interagency committee – to implement and establish an action
plan to implement its ILO convention requirements. And so, that’s a fairly
significant statement, because in the past, we’ve had problems even getting
them to allow the ILO into the country to do this kind of stuff.
So I think that, again, Uzbekistan – and now, they still have to do that, of
course – but the fact that they’re talking about now, again, an action plan and
really taking steps forward on this – they’ve always had a pretty good record
on the sex trafficking side, and they’ve done quite a lot on that, but the
labor, as you know, particularly on the cotton harvest, has been a real issue.
And so I think that this is a real step forward. Now we’re going to have to
decide how we therefore factor that into our rankings and that’s a subject
that’s under discussion.
Likewise, I – you know, I can’t say we’ve made as much progress on
Turkmenistan. I mean, I think there we got to do more. But overall our
record, I think you’ll see, in the SCA bureau’s going to be – we’re going to
have a pretty positive record in, if not graduating several countries, at least
keeping them on Tier 2 watch list with kind of solid action plans to move them
up. So this is something we’ve really worked hard on and will continue to work
REP. SMITH: Appreciate that. Appreciate your work on that. Is your sense
that the possibility of being sanctioned if they were to drop to Tier 3, did
that play any role? I mean, hopefully you used it to the – its maximum –
MR. BLAKE: Yeah. You know, I’m not so sure it’s the sanctions part of it.
It’s just sort of being – it’s the Tier 3, being put in the international
penalty box that really worries a lot of countries, and so in that sense, it
can be useful in some ways. And we try – and certainly we try to leverage that
as best we can.
REP. SMITH: (Chuckles.) Leverage away. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much.
Unless – (inaudible) –
REP. COHEN: It’s – one other question – thank you, Mr. Chair – I’ve got a
learning curve. As I said, this is my maiden voyage –
MR. BLAKE: Please, please.
REP. COHEN: – and I read here how this – the president here in Uzbekistan got
his sole challenger to say he would vote for the incumbent. You know, that’s
terrible, but nevertheless I kind of like it with my coming – elections coming
up – (laughter) – (you know ?) how he achieved that?
REP. COHEN: What did he – how did he – that’s pretty strange, isn’t it?
MR. BLAKE: I – you know, I don’t know – I would be hard-pressed to name who
that challenger even was, Mr. Chairman, so I’m not – Mr. Cohen –
REP. COHEN: He was a long shot, I –
MR. BLAKE: (Chuckles.)
REP. COHEN: And then he’s got these two daughters he put in nice spots in
Geneva and Paris; the one was named one of the world’s worst daughters.” I
didn’t know there was such a list. This – does Mr. Trump have any children on
MR. BLAKE: I have no comment on that, sir. (Chuckles.)
REP. COHEN: You’re a good State Department employee. I’m going to check that
list out, though. Interesting, thank you.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Ambassador, thank you again so much and look forward to
working with you going forward.
MR. BLAKE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
REP. SMITH: And call us if we can ever be of any –
MR. BLAKE: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
REP. SMITH: Thank you.
REP. COHEN: (Off mic.) That’s some bad stuff.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. I’d like to now welcome our second panel, beginning
with a man who is no stranger to our commission, Paul Goble, who is a renowned
specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, whose daily blogs are
read by experts and journalists all over the world.
He is currently a professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington.
Previously, he served in various capacities in the State Department, CIA and
International Broadcasting Bureau, as well as Voice of America and Radio Free
Europe, Radio Liberty and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He
writes frequently on ethnic and religious issues, and has edited five volumes
on ethnicity and religion in the former Soviet space.
Paul Goble is an old friend, as I said. Matter of fact, I’ll never forget when
we had – when I had one of my first hearings on the issue of the rising tide of
anti-Semitic behavior in the OSCE and the U.S. back in the ’90s right after the
Soviet Union’s demise, or soon thereafter. It was Paul Goble who talked about
how it had been privatized, if my memory is correct, and that what used to be
done by governments was being taken over by private citizens with the
acquiescence of government. And it was a very, very keen insight, and
certainly was accurate then, and unfortunately in some places remains accurate.
Dr. Stephen Blank is a professor of national security affairs at the Strategic
Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania – since 1989.
In 1998 to 2001, he was Douglas MacArthur professor of research at the War
College. He has published or edited 15 books and hundreds of articles and
monographs on the Soviet, Russian, U.S., Asian and European military and
foreign policies, as well as testifying frequently for Congress on Russia,
China and Central Asia, and consulting for the CIA, major think tanks and
Scott Radditz (ph) – Radnitz, I’m sorry – is assistant professor in the Jackson
School of International Studies at the University of Virginia – sorry, the
University of Washington, Seattle. I was working with somebody from Virginia –
University – earlier; I apologize. So that’s the University of Washington in
He received his Ph.D. in political science at MIT in 2007. His research deals
with protests, state building and authoritarianism, with an emphasis on Central
Asia and the Caucasus. Dr. Radnitz’s book “Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory
Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia” was published by Cornell
University Press in 2010.
This is Dr. Radnitz’s first appearance before the commission. And the other
commissioners look forward to what he has to say.
And then finally, we’ll hear from Gulam Umarov, who was born in Uzbekistan and
attended high school in Starkville, Mississippi. After graduating from the
University of Memphis, he returned to Uzbekistan where he launched the first
Uzbek-owned private telecommunications company.
In 2005, Gulam’s father Sanjar Umarov founded an independent political movement
called the Sunshine Coalition. After the Andijan events in May of 2005,
widespread repression of human rights activists began. Gulam left Uzbekistan
for the U.S. in September, and Sanjar was arrested in October.
In March of 2006, he was convicted and sentenced to 14-and-a-half years in
prison. In the United States, Gulam tried to get his father released while
representing the Sunshine Coalition. He also managed various programs funded
by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Center for International and
Private Enterprise and Freedom House.
Sanjar Umarov was released from prison in November of 2009. Since then, Gulam
has been serving as president of the Silk Road Group. I’m very pleased to
welcome him to the commission, and look forward to each of our very
distinguished panelists’ comments today before the commission.
We’ll begin with Paul Goble.
PAUL GOBLE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. (Inaudible, off mic.)
REP. SMITH: Without objection; the full statement will be made a part of the
MR. GOBLE: Nowhere in the world has the Arab Spring given greater promise of
real political change for democracy and freedom than in the authoritarian
states of post-Soviet Central Asia. The reasons for that are clear, but not
always clearly understood. It is not because these countries are also
Muslim-majority states, and it is not because they too are ruled by brutal
There are Muslim-majority states where the Arab Spring has not had an impact,
and is unlikely to. And there are authoritarian regimes which either by
brutality or accident have blocked the spread of the ideas of the Arab spring.
Rather, it is because the events in the Arab world have dispelled the myth
promoted by the governments of the region that fundamental change is impossible
or dangerous, and that the populations there must put up with the status quo
because the regimes that rule over them enjoy international support as bulwarks
against Islamic fundamentalism and supporters of the international effort
against terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
It is important to understand that this development is not something that is
going to lead to immediate change, or to demonstrations in the street, and
overthrow governments in weeks or months. But it is a fundamental change in
mental attitudes, which matters a great deal.
The argument that the governments in Central Asia are using did not save the
authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere, and they will not
save the authoritarian regimes in post-Soviet Central Asia, although it is
entirely possible that the support they’ve received from abroad and will
continue to receive from abroad, as well as their own repression, will keep
them in office for some time. But when a people changes its views of what is
possible, that is the beginning of the change in the societies and the polities
on the ground.
But just as the Arab Spring has affected the peoples of this region, so too it
has impressed the rulers there. It has convinced them that they must take even
more draconian measures in order to retain their hold on power. And the
changes the Arab Spring have wrought in the consciousness of the peoples of
Central Asia thus pose a serious challenge to us. Some of the regimes there
may believe that they can get away with suppressing the opposition with extreme
violence as long as they blame Islamists or outside agitators, as Uzbekistan
president Islam Karimov did this week, everything will be well, and as long as
they support the northern supply route into Afghanistan.
Consequently, it is terribly important that the United States find a way of
encouraging these governments to yield to democracy rather than taking actions
to defend their own power that will ultimately lead to a conflagration which
will produce in Central Asia exactly what they say they are fighting against.
They are the biggest producers of an Islamist threat by their own repressive
policies. That is not something we are very articulate about as a government
and as a people, and it is absolutely essential we say that.
That is no easy task, but the Obama administration, I believe, deserves a great
deal of credit for the way in which it managed the situation in Egypt. With
all the to-ing and fro-ing, nonetheless this combined message was conveyed.
And that approach, one that led to the exit of an increasingly weak
authoritarian president and has opened the way for the possibility of genuine
democratic change, I believe, provides a model for what we should consider
doing when as is inevitable the peoples of Central Asia move to demand their
rights. Whether that will happen this year or next, I do not know. What I do
believe is that the changes in the minds of these people will change the way in
which the future of that region proceeds.
First and foremost, the people of Central Asia now know that a spring in their
countries is no longer impossible. They have not believed that for 20 years.
There was great hope after 1991 that they would be in the position to create
democratic societies, even though in almost none of these countries was there a
genuine national movement seeking independence.
In Uzbekistan, it is sometimes said that Uzbekistan did not leave the Soviet
Union; the Soviet Union left Uzbekistan. But over the intervening period, we
have seen the governments of these regions, and, it should be said, some of
their foreign supporters indicate that the current arrangements must be
maintained because any possible change risks something even worse: Especially
since 9/11, there has been the view that any change from authoritarianism could
open the way to Islamist fundamentalism, which gets it exactly wrong: It is
the absence of change toward democracy, it is the absence of being willing to
make concessions, that makes Islamist fundamentalism more likely in Central
Asia in the coming years.
The reason that authoritarian leaders use such arguments and come down so hard
on any display of collective demands for freedom is that such demands are
contagious. When people in any country dare to be free, to live not by lies,
as Solzhenitsyn said, or to be not afraid, as the Holy Father said in Poland.
Others elsewhere are inspired to do the same, and that is why there have been
waves of democratization. We saw a wave of democratization in ’91 and ’92
which was beaten down in the name of stability; we are now going to see another
wave inspired by outside events that will spread through the region.
I think we have to understand that the greatest defeat to al-Qaida in the last
month was not so much the execution of Osama bin Laden, as welcome as that
event was; it is rather the movements of the peoples in the Middle East
demanding the rights of electoral democracy and the basic human rights that no
one should take away from them. That is the true answer to what bin Laden has
But if we understand that for the Middle East, we should understand it in
spades for Central Asia rather than assuming that we have no choice but to
support authoritarian regimes who promise minimal stability short term so that
we can supply our troops in Afghanistan. That is a recipe to creating
eventually states in this region which will be more hostile to us than anyone
Clearly, as the events of the Arab Spring showed, the peoples of Central Asia
are going to need friends and support from abroad. What happened in Cairo was
the action of the Egyptian people, but it was with the support of millions of
others around the world who were watching television and reading and sending
text messages. And we need to be open to the possibility that we can do the
same, and will do the same, in Central Asia.
Unfortunately, there are reasons to think that we are going to be less likely
to do that in Central Asia, which puts the timing of the Arab Spring for
Central Asia off some time. On the one hand, we know a great deal more as a
country and a government about Egypt than we do about the countries in Central
Asia. It is still unfortunate that in our government, these countries are
routinely collectively linked as the “–stans,” or even worse in some quarters,
not thought of as countries. We still are talking about former republics,
And it is the case that we are increasingly taking a short-term approach to
dealing with them, and worrying about Afghanistan above everything else. I’m
quite concerned that if that continues, we will see in Central Asia within
finite time – that is, within several years – at least one Islamist state, and
probably more. And that is something that would be much worse than any
instability that would be produced by support for basic human rights.
We need to get beyond focusing on specific problems like drug flow, human
trafficking, corruption and the like, and start – and as important as all of
those things are – but rather begin to understand that they are integral parts
of the corrupt authoritarian regimes that exist in this part of the world, and
we need to begin addressing the fundamental problem. That is something which
unfortunately many in this city do not yet appear to grasp.
But if we are to be a true friend to the Central Asians, we need to understand
that the only approach which gives hope of a truly better freedom – or future
for them is a commitment by us to the careful and continuing promotion of human
rights and democracy in that region, rather than assuming that occasional
statements are enough.
Again, I want to stress that what I’m talking about is a mental change, is a
mental sea change in the attitudes of people. That happened in Eastern Europe
in the early ’70s; it was not for some years later that we saw the fruition of
1989. It happened in the Soviet Union, perhaps we can say in 1985; it did not
reach fruition there until 1991.
But we should remember a story which circulated in Eastern Europe in 1968
because it tells us exactly what all this means. There was a Soviet anecdote
at that time about two dogs meeting at the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia,
the time of the Prague Spring. The Polish dog in this story is sleek and fat,
while the Czechoslovak dog is skin and bones. The Czechoslovak dog, who is
heading toward Poland, asked the Polish dog why he was heading toward
Czechoslovakia. The Polish dog replies that he is doing so because he would
like just once in his life to bark.
What we are beginning to see is that people are beginning to have an
understanding that they may have a chance to bark – (chuckles) – and that is
the real message of the spring, rather than the details. It is the beginning
of a sea change, a recognition that that which is on the ground now need not
remain there in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. SMITH: Well, thank you very much for your testimony. Dr. Blank?
STEPHEN J. BLANK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Congressman Smith, it is once
again a great honor to testify to this commission on a matter of critical
importance. The Arab revolutions of 2011 have captured the world’s attention
and demonstrated the power of the revolutionary idea to spread like wildfire.
In this regard, they resemble Europe’s revolutions of 1848 and 1989 that were
also analogized to the spring. But it is precisely this very capacity for
rapid spread, and as in 1848, for subsequent resistance by imperiled
autocracies, that is on Russia, China and every Central Asian government’s
political agenda even if those states will not admit it. And Russia and China
are important here because they stand behind the governments of Central Asia.
Even if these governments suppress news of these revolutions, they and their
partners in the Russian and Chinese governments are extremely concerned about
the possibility of this crisis spreading to their doorstep. Indeed, we already
see demonstrations in Azerbaijan, hardly the worst of these regimes, and there
is talk of demonstrations in Uzbekistan, one of the very worst regimes in the
As of May 2011, governments have fallen in Tunisia and Egypt, and are on the
point of falling in Yemen. However, violence has been used or imported by
rulers with some success in Syria, Libya and Bahrain, attesting to the
determination of these pillars of the old order to retain their power and
prerogatives, and perhaps their staying power.
Indeed, even in the newly constituted governments of Tunisia and Egypt, it is
by no means certain that democracy in one of its variants will ultimately
prevail. It already appears that the best-organized party and movement in
Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood and the constellation of Salafist organizations
As happened in 1848, democrats could fail, and new despotisms backed by force
could come to the fore, or old ones could reconstitute or reinvent themselves.
It is indeed quite conceivable that despite the excitement of the Arab Spring,
the practical alternatives before different Arab societies could boil down to
the new form of military authoritarianism, or Islamic and clearly anti-liberal
and anti-democratic parties.
For a revolution to break out in Central Asia in the immediate or foreseeable
future, it is likewise by no means certain that it would bring liberals or
convinced democrats to power. Democratic outcomes cannot be taken for granted,
and euphoria is clearly unwarranted.
Moreover, these regimes have very powerful advantages: They exercise total
control over their media, and are intensifying those controls. They have
organized their own forces to suppress not only external threats, but also
As Secretary Blake testified, they have a safety valve as long as the Russian
economy continues to grow because they can then export many of their unemployed
young men, the usual incendiary element in demonstrations, to Russia for work,
and benefit from their remittances. And most crucially, they can count on
Russian and possibly Chinese military protection should there be a
They may well also be able to count on U.S. political support as well if they
can credibly argue that their opposition is Islamist and affiliated with
terrorism. This would be an especially strong argument in the context of the
war in Afghanistan.
There are also other factors working for them: Liberal democratic political
activists on the ground in Central Asia who command genuine authority and mass
support are scarce; they have been subjected to 20 years of unrelenting and
ruthless suppression. Moreover, it is by no means clear, neither should it be
taken for granted, that Central Asian populations embrace our concept of
liberal democracy and want what we want.
And past mistakes have undermined the attraction of U.S. or European models.
There is nothing in their experience to justify the simplistic, unfounded and
misleading policy advocacy that Central Asians want what the United States has.
Nonetheless, they do want freedom, even if the middle classes, the historical
mass support for liberal democracy, are weak, dependent and lack organizational
resources and traditions. And civil society may be a concept without a deeply
rooted reality except in limited situations. These governments are, as Paul
said, undermining their own position and sawing off the limb on which they
stand by their repression, and are making it more and more inevitable that the
day of reckoning when it comes will be longer, more protracted and more violent
than would otherwise be the case.
Furthermore, these regimes, backed up by Moscow and Beijing, have learned from
the color revolutions of 2003 to (200)5, the Moldovan and Iranian elections of
2009, demonstrations in Tibet in 2008 and Xinjiang in 2009. They have learned
the importance of blocking media transmission of foreign news, of repressing or
threatening to repress media owners and transmission agents. They’ve learned
to tighten up their control over their armed forces and police, and to
stimulate xenophobic backlashes against minorities and to batten down the
political hatches on their precarious ships of state.
My longer written statement goes into detail concerning those tactics. But
what has long been clear is the fact that these policies not only make it
likely that the inevitable day of reckoning for them will likely be even more
violent an upheaval than would otherwise be the case, and that their repressive
policies create serious obstacles, not just to democratization and democracy
promotion, but also to regional security and to U.S. policy.
Therefore, the U.S. government must, under the circumstances, balance its
priority attachment to these governments’ valued allies in the war in
Afghanistan with a robust and visible commitment to democratization and its
insight into the fact that these regimes are ultimately undermining their own
term – their own long-term security by their increasing harshness and greed.
REP. SMITH: Blank, thank you very much, and, without objection, your full
statement will be made a part of the record as well. Doctor Radnitz.
SCOTT RADNITZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members
of the commission for letting testify at this very important hearing on the
potential impact of the Arab Spring in Central Asia, a region vitally important
to American interests, but one that is poorly understood and often neglected by
scholars and policymakers. If you have no objection, I’d also to read a
shorter version of my – (inaudible, cross talk).
REP. SMITH: No objection.
MR. RADNITZ: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Statement will be made part of the record.
MR. RADNITZ: The Arab Spring is a watershed event in the history of the Middle
East, a part of the world that was unfortunately bypassed by the global trend
of democratization of the past several decades. The events in Tunisia and
Egypt offer new hope to millions whose future prospects have long been stifled
by corrupt and repressive elites. The tremendous force behind these grassroots
uprisings caught many off guard, not least the rulers themselves.
The people of post-Soviet Central Asia have also endured hard times over the
past two decades. These countries are led by some of the most repressive
leaders on the planet. Human rights abuses are rampant and basic freedoms are
Yet people in Central Asia, like others around the world, yearn for democracy.
Unfortunately, I believe the grassroots uprisings in the Arab world, while
inspirational to many, are unlikely to take root in Central Asia due to the
region’s inhospitable soil.
I want to highlight two sets of factors that I think are most relevant. First
is a weakness of linkages between the Middle East and Central Asia. Second is
the capacity of authoritarian regimes in Central Asia to withstand challenges
A critical feature of the spread of protest movements across the Arab world is
the dense cultural and economic ties between societies. Like the Eastern
European revolutions in 1989, the Arab Spring is being driven by citizens
separated by national boundaries who have never met, but nonetheless face
similar challenges and share a common identity. Arab citizenries also share
connections through various channels of communication. People in one Arab
country could rapidly learn of protests in other states through international
travelers such as businessmen or labor migrants, by telephone or email, and
through blogs, social networking websites, and cable channels like Al-Jazeera.
The effect of these dense networks of communication were visible in the spread
of protests from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond.
But these forces run up against major obstacles when they reach the former
Soviet Union. Even 20 years after the breakup, the attention of former Soviet
states and citizens is still directed inward, toward the territory of the
former empire. These states share similar kinds of regimes and forms of
corruption. Their citizens still speak Russian as a first or second language
and watch Russian television, including pro-government news broadcasts.
Russian news, unsurprisingly, has portrayed events of the Arab Spring as
chaotic, violent, and provoked by Islamic radicals. People in the former
Soviet Union continue to interact personally through ties of trade and labor
migration, and virtually through the Russian-language blogosphere.
When events happen in the Middle East, dissidents and opportunistic politicians
in post-Soviet states may take advantage by organizing rallies as they have
done in Armenia and Azerbaijan thus far and are rumored to be planning in other
states. But the Arab Spring is unlikely to embolden the mass public. A
success in one Arab state has a galvanizing effect on other Arab societies, but
people in the post-Soviet region have no reason to believe that the constraints
on their political and civil liberties in their own countries have changed
Even the societies of Central Asia, which are predominantly Muslim, tend to
look north rather than south or west. Economic, cultural and political ties
with Russia remain strong, despite efforts of the region’s leaders to distance
themselves from the former imperial corps. Young people seeking work abroad
from Central Asia learn English, or sometimes Turkish, but rarely Arabic.
There is a recent precedent, though, for the spread of protests between former
Soviet states, and that is the so-called “color revolutions” in Georgia in
2003; Ukraine, 2004; and Kyrgyzstan, 2005. These uprisings happened in a short
time period and involved similar dynamics, in part because activists
communicated across borders and learned from one another.
At the same time, however, the region’s governments also showed a willingness
to apply lessons from the mistakes of their counterparts, and this brings me to
my second point: the resilience of Central Asian regimes. In response to
these color revolutions, rulers took measures to shore up their power.
Examples included the closure of Western nongovernmental organizations; the
expulsion of the Peace Corps from Russia; the arrest and harassment of
journalists and human rights activists; the use of violence against peaceful
demonstrators in Azerbaijan and Belarus; the Kremlin’s creation of the
pro-government youth movement Nashi and copycat groups in other states; the
investment and building up of ruling parties in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan,
Tajikistan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan; the use of surveillance technology to
monitor public gatherings and Internet activity; and the nationalization or
increased state control of private businesses.
The upshot of all these measures is more resilient authoritarian regimes.
Regime strength can be viewed as a kind of natural selection, in which the
weakest ones were overthrown, while those that adapted survive.
Central Asia also suffers from a deficit of civil society in comparison with
the Middle Eastern states. Despite their limited political freedom, Tunisia,
Egypt and others in the Middle East have organized trade unions, a history of
student activism, Islamic movements, and political parties with grassroots
appeal. Central Asia, in contrast, has few organizations that are independent
and have popular support so that they can facilitate mass protests.
To conclude my remarks, I just want to say a word about Kyrgyzstan, which is
exception in a lot of ways – (audio break) – people believe may give cause for
hope. However, although the country has seen many protests, these are mostly
not grassroots demands for democracy. The 2005 Tulip Revolution occurred when
businessmen and politicians led protests against Askar Akayev, the president,
after losing parliamentary races, inadvertently causing his downfall. Since
then, politician and businessmen have continued to use street protests to
advance their interests. Ordinary people, although they sometimes protest on
their own, still find it hard to make their voices heard.
Kyrgyzstan, rather than Egypt and Tunisia, may be the most instructive case for
the future of Central Asia. As Kyrgyzstan shows, opposition may not come from
below or occur through conventional channels such as political parties or
grassroots organizations. Threats to regimes can also come from above: for
example, rival political elites or businessmen who strategically ally with the
president, but also have their own power base.
If the president’s coalition collapses abruptly, it will not necessarily lead
to democracy, but may, in fact, be violent. For 20 years, the rules of
managing power in countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
have worked to safeguard elite interests. But these elites have no experience
in dealing with rapid political change, and may not be able to resolve their
differences peacefully when the old rules no longer function.
In short, political change will come eventually to Central Asia, however their
governments – however stable their governments appear on the surface. But
change will not necessarily come from below. It may instead come from within
the regime. And if this happens, we will see new opportunities for
democratization, but also a new set of challenges.
Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.
REP. SMITH: Doctor Radnitz, thank you for your testimony and insights.
I’d like to ask to Mr. Umarov if you would proceed.
GULAM UMAROV: Thank you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Cohen, for the opportunity to
discuss the future of democracy in my homeland.
I would like also to take this opportunity to personally thank the members and
staff of the commission for their assistance and support in securing the
release of my father, Sanjar Umarov, from an Uzbekistan prison in 2009. Our
family is forever grateful for the unwavering support of the members of
Congress: Senator Alexander, Senator Corker, representatives Mr. Cohen and Mr.
Tanner; State Department overseeing Central Asia region headed by Honorable
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake; and all the governmental agencies
working closely with National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, and
other human rights groups around the world. We particularly want to recognize
U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland and his staff at the U.S. embassy in Tashkent
for their enormous support in securing my father’s release and bringing him
safely back to on American soil.
In thinking about the impact that the Arab Spring may have on the Central Asia
republics, one needs to remember the recent history of our region. My country,
Uzbekistan, was founded on the ruins of Soviet Union. As a result, we have
never had a tradition of democracy, individual rights, freedom of assembly, or
freedom of speech. We have always been ruled from top with no opportunity for
average people to impact our government. Sure, people are tired of permanent
rulers and tyranny. But there is no tradition of free speech, and there is
certainly no room for any expression of dissent.
It is also important to remember that the vast majority of Uzbekistan citizens
are very, very poor. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, on a relative scale,
possess much more wealth than people of Uzbekistan. Their citizens, therefore,
have a closer connection to the modern world and great expectations for the
I’m sorry, I was –
Moreover, because of the terrible poverty in Uzbekistan, young people have the
country for work in Russia – left country for work in Russia and other faraway
places. Those that are left behind, especially in the countryside, are elderly
women and men. This does not mean that people are happy with existing regime.
It means their livelihood is (suppressive ?) to this regime. Discontent grows
widespread, but almost everyone is too preoccupied trying to put food on the
table to think of anything else.
We also need to remember some of the specific characteristics of the Uzbek
regime. Time and time again, entire extended families are destroyed because a
son, a nephew or cousin has offended even the most junior of bureaucrats in the
local administration. The use of violence, terror and torture are so common
that they have ceased to shock the society and are, in a very sad way, accepted
as the regular order of things. It is no surprise that people stay off the
streets, fearful that the events that took place six years ago, in May 2005,
will repeat again.
Nonetheless, there is a growing expectation of change in Uzbekistan that is
based not on democratic events, but on demographics. The current leadership is
old, and behind-the-scenes struggle for power has begun.
Evidence for this power struggle can be seen in the often irrational actions of
the government. While 2011 was supposed to be the year of the support for
small and medium businesses, at the same time, the government began to destroy
all the marketplaces, bazaars, in major cities including the capital city of
Tashkent. This policy was adopted in the name of “city beautification” and
ultimately destroyed thousands of jobs and raised the cost of living for
everyone. Why? One can only deduce that the disruption will enrich one
faction of the governing elite at the expense of another.
As a change in the government is inevitable, it will be useful to think about
ways in which the United States can further engage with the government as it
From our experience in the field of human rights, we took cases to the United
Nations, engaged in extensive advocacy in the United States, and pursued
international legal remedies. But of course, it would be better if you could
achieve the same aims through an open dialogue with authorities. The
imposition of sanctions of even the threat of sanctions has proven to be
counterproductive. As a result, the United States should consider a series of
incentives that could be implemented, provided that Uzbekistan accepts
responsibility for its action.
Of primary importance is a continued assistance for use – assistance reducing
threat posed by religion extremism. Let there be no mistake: There is an
active, an increasingly assertive extremism threat in Uzbekistan. In order to
address this threat, United States needs to focus not only on police and
military action, but also on underlying causes of religious extremism in
Among these are a widespread sense of injustice caused by the absence of
functioning civil institutions, monopolies in virtually all spheres of business
and the destruction of Uzbekistan’s most popular, most important asset: its
There are specific initiatives that might begin to address these issues:
A concerted effort to support the authority and operation of the parliament.
If Uzbekistan can make a real transition towards democracy, a truly functioning
parliament is essential.
Demonopolization. Over the past few years, the United States has invested tens
of millions of dollars in the development of the Northern Distribution Network
to support operations in Afghanistan. Almost all of the economic benefits
occurring from operation of the NDN benefit a very small group of insiders.
The United States should use its investment in the Northern Distribution
Network to encourage the growth of competition in Uzbekistan.
Finally, as has been noted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the
mismanagement of the water resources in Central Asia and Uzbekistan is causing
great damage to agriculture, which accounts for two-thirds of the population’s
livelihood. The U.S. should greatly increase its support for the development
of local, national and international water management (SIMS ?) in the region.
In conclusion, just as Egypt has been considered the linchpin of the Arab
world, so Uzbekistan is considered to be the linchpin of Central Asia. All
good citizens of my homeland fervently pray that we can avoid a situation where
the people utterly give up hope and take the streets. Should this happen, it
will be disaster, not only for Uzbekistan, but for the region as a whole.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Umarov, thank you very much. Let me just ask you: When you
talk people taking to the streets, what does it – do you think it’ll look on
June 1st? What is this called civil disobedience – could you elaborate?
MR. UMAROV: Well, civil disobedience has been called from the – from abroad to
Uzbekistan. In my personal belief, I don’t think anybody will go on streets or
they will protest. So this, yes, this has been very promoted from the outside
of Uzbekistan, but from within Uzbekistan, no one really knows about it other
than militia, police, and the people who have access to the Internet, which is
very limited number of people.
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask you, in terms of how is information conveyed to
the Uzbek people: Are the Chinese cyberpolice advising the Uzbek government in
a way that Lukashenko in Belarus is being, we’re told, you know, mentored in
how to use the Internet for those few people who might have it so that
dissidents are spotted and apprehended as they do in China, in Vietnam and
elsewhere? How do people get information? Is it all through the state-run
MR. UMAROV: I’m sorry.
REP. SMITH: No, please.
MR. UMAROV: If this is the fact, I’m not aware of any Chinese representatives
advising our government. I just know that our secret service is very good in
making sure that they’ll stop whatever is going – whatever might happen before
it will happen. They’re very good at it.
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask you, and the others who might want to respond to
any of this. Was Andijan kind of like the Tiananmen Square of – did that send
a message that if you take to streets, you’ll be killed, you’ll be slaughtered?
You know, we know that the Chinese government has had numerous – matter of
fact, the biggest was in response to the one-child-per-couple policy where a
mini-Tiananmen Square occurred and people were just brutalized, especially
women, and I held a hearing on that a year and a half ago. But I’m wondering,
you know, did Andijan have that chilling that they were looking for?
MR. BLANK: I think it would appear that Andijan had a chilling effect on
domestic unrest in Uzbekistan and perhaps in Central Asia as a whole. But
beyond that, it also crystallized the emergence of a kind of coalition or
alliance of states determined to prevent the color revolutions at that time, or
anything like that from coming on. If you follow what the these governments
learn from the color revolutions, and what they have learned from China’s and
Iran’s efforts to deal with internal unrest in the examples I cited, it’s very
clear – and for example, there’s a big article in today’s Financial Times about
this in China’s case – that they have emulated each other.
There’s a learning curve going on. I have little doubt that officials in all
of these states are sharing information and experiences with each other in
order to prevent this from happening. So I would suspect that Andijan had a
chilling effect, but it also had a chilling effect not just because it
frightened anybody who might think of opposing, but because it gave strength to
the resistance of the counterrevolutionaries.
MR. GOBLE: I think it was a defining moment in three ways, just to extend
what’s been said.
First, I think it was an effort that was directed at a group of people who were
not primarily Islamist, but by using the invocation that they were Islamist,
the government ended up becoming an advertisement for the worst opposition
rather than the best.
Second, I think the fact that calling the people who stood up in Andijan
Islamists or Islamic radicals played so well in so many places in Europe and
the United States as a justification, and there were a great number of people
in the West who were saying that if these were Islamist radicals it was OK. It
taught people – it taught the people in the regimes how they could present what
they were doing against them.
And third, I think it is that Andijan is responsible for some of the things
that we’re talking about today. And that is the notion that societies in
Central Asia, which lack many of the traditions that we know about in Eastern
Europe, are likely when they go – when there is a public manifestation – that
it will turn to violence. And that has made it even more difficult.
And I’d just like to footnote the business about June 1st, I believe that was
probably – has probably been arranged as a lost battalion strategy by the Uzbek
security forces that is only going to be too pleased to say, look, no one
showed up, as a way of demobilizing the opposition.
But all of these things, all these things taken together, have the effect of
meaning that those who will continue to oppose the regime will be the people we
say we most don’t want to see in power. And that the people that we would like
to be able to see come to power will be less likely to take action. But I
really think that we’re, as much as these governments move to control the media
and the Internet, the amount of a success they have in that direction should
not be overstated.
The splash effect from a small number of people, who have access to information
to spread it in society, is rather larger than we suspect. And if you look at
the way in which revolutionary information or transformational information has
spread, you don’t need all that many people to be the primary nodes; then it
becomes spread elsewhere. And I think we make a mistake if we simply measure
the number of people who have an Internet account and say that’s the measure of
the impact of the Internet on that society.
MR. RADNITZ: So I think the Andijan Massacre was also an attempt by the
government to set an example, and in particular because the Andijan protests
occurred two months after the Kyrgyzstan revolution of 2005. And at the time
there was real fear in Uzbekistan and other places that there was another
domino to fall. And so I think at that moment the president of Uzbekistan
decided to put his foot down and say, right, this is where it ends.
But it’s also instructive of how, under certain circumstances, people are
willing to come out onto the streets and assert their demands even though it
might be dangerous. In Andijan these protests, as Mr. Goble mentioned,
occurred without the use of technology. Facebook wasn’t even around in 2005.
Word spread from person to person, through local neighborhoods, perhaps through
mosques even though Imams are appointed by the state, and gradually it built
up. And I think somewhere around 10,000 people ended up joining these protests
in the central square in Andijan. And it was at that point, I think, that they
decided, you know, if we let this go on longer it’s going to get out of hand.
It’s also worth noting that these protests didn’t spread beyond Andijan, it was
a localized event. It was people rallying around a local grievance; that is,
local community benefactors had been arrested. So it was important for
Andijan, but people in neighboring provinces of Uzbekistan perhaps saw what was
going on but didn’t see that it was so relevant for them and that’s why it
didn’t spread more widely.
MR. SMITH: Let me ask next question with regards to the consequences of having
the Kazaks in the chair-in-office, have any of you looked at whether or not
that had any positive consequences or was it nothing?
MR. GOBLE: Mr. Chairman, I can only agree with your opposition to Kazakhstan
being a member of the – to getting the chairmanship-in-office. One of the
great tragedies that has happened since 1991 is propensity on the part of
Western governments to label as democracies countries that are anything but.
To act as if having ceased to be communist, the only remaining option is to be
a liberal democratic free-market ally of the United States, and to call people
democrats just because they’re not communists anymore is one of the things that
we have done that has devalued democracy in the eyes of many people.
I believe that we played – that kind of activity played a significant role in
the recession of interest in promoting democracy in these countries because
democracy came to be seen – as defined by us for them, as opposed to defined by
us for us – as not all that wonderful. I think that it would be – it’s useful
if Kazakhstan is in the chair that people can say, you are in the chair,
therefore you should do certain things. But I think the idea that we should
reward a country that is, shall we say, far from democratic in any real sense
with that position was a mistake. And is part of a much larger set of mistakes
to label as democratic things which are not.
I wish we would be willing to say that just because you’re (sic) a communist
doesn’t make you a democrat. And that’s something we have been very, very
reluctant as a country to say in this part of the world.
MR. BLANK: Yes, fine. I’d like to add that I think your opposition to giving
this plum to Kazakhstan was completely justified. We heard that they made some
minor steps forward, but in reality during this period when they were, as you
might say, on probation, before assuming the leadership and then after the
leadership, they passed draconian Internet and media laws, they had an election
which made the president president-for-life – they just had a snap election,
and Mr. Zhovtis, who is the author of this human rights plan, is sitting in
jail on trumped-up charges, although he was in an automobile accident.
And even more now the government is talking about creating what can only be
described as a Potemkin opposition, the government’s own opposition party, in
order to ensure somehow that when President Nazarbayev leaves office that he
can be certain that the, as the Russians would say, the dacha stays within the
family. (Laughter.) And that nothing untold would happen to jeopardize the
Rewarding Kazakhstan by making it OSCE chairman I think undermines the
credibility of the OSCE, it weakened its ability to stand up for human rights
under its mandate, and I think suggests to other governments who are members of
the OSCE, but whose record leaves something to be desired, that the mandate for
human rights is not something they have to take all that seriously.
MR. SMITH: I appreciate that. I have a markup in the foreign affairs
committee on Libya resolution and the vote is at 4:45, but Commissioner Cohen
has graciously agreed to chair the remainder of the hearing. And I do thank
you for your extraordinary insights; it does help us do our job better, and
also by extension all who will read the transcript because it does get
widespread publication. So I want to thank you so much and please continue
providing those –the information to our commission, it is most helpful. I
REP. COHEN: Thank you, sir. Mr. Umarov, where is your father now?
MR. UMAROV: He’s in Germantown.
REP. COHEN: Germantown?
MR. UMAROV: Germantown, yes sir.
REP. COHEN: He didn’t want to get complete freedom and move to Midtown?
MR. UMAROV: (Chuckles.) No, not yet. He’s thinking about downtown though.
REP. COHEN: Tell me, what did he tell you about his time when he was in
prison? How was he treated?
MR. UMAROV: He wasn’t treated very well. I mean, though it was a very long
time where he had no communication with anyone at all. His last three months
before he was released he was placed in psychiatric department in the prison
hospital. I mean, he was talking about all sorts of torture that was applied
to him where they would basically cuff him to the bed and there was – it’s not
very pretty picture.
If you look at him right now, though, he’s already got the belly and he’s
looking great. The only mark of the torture is his voice; he still has the
harsh voice. I mean his voice cords were torn apart due to torture. That’s
the only physical –
REP. COHEN: Was he beaten?
MR. UMAROV: Oh he was beaten and – I mean, all sorts of things. Yes, beaten
as well, on several occasions, not once.
REP. COHEN: And his crime was forming this political party?
MR. UMAROV: Well, officially they put all different crimes, of course. But,
it was very interesting, all the problem – trouble began right after he
announced about a political movement, Sunshine Coalition. So it was, like,
literally right afterwards. And nothing happened before and then all of a
sudden all of the relatives began having troubles. And it’s not just our
family but our extended family. They were forced to leave the country and
they’re still in many, many places, I mean, different places.
REP. COHEN: Was that typical of how the prisoners were treated or was he
treated particularly worse?
MR. UMAROV: It is typical for political prisoners. For other prisoners, it’s
not quite that typical but, I mean, they also have other ways to get even the
food to them. I mean, their relatives, their family members, at least are able
to pass the food – some packages from home to them. In our case we couldn’t
even do that.
REP. COHEN: Did you get a chance to visit your father during those four years?
MR. UMAROV: My mother did, I hadn’t had a chance because it was too dangerous
for me to go back there and it was unpredictable if I would be arrested or not
due to my activity here in the United States.
REP. COHEN: Where are you spending – are you spending time totally in the
United States now or are you over there as well?
MR. UMAROV: I’m totally here in the United States.
REP. COHEN: OK. Has there been cessation of activities against your family
since your father’s release?
MR. UMAROV: We haven’t experienced any yet, but we’ll see what’s going to
happen after this public event. We’ll see.
REP. COHEN: You don’t expect much on June 1st?
MR. UMAROV: On June 1st? No.
REP. COHEN: What is this – the group that’s putting this together, the –
what’s the name, the People’s Movement?
MR. UMAROV: The People’s Movement, people from – basically it’s still the same
people. I mean, one day they – it’s called one movement and another day it’s
another movement ,but the core of the group, it’s all the same. I mean, this
is the same group of people that are trying to make a difference in the
country. I mean, they are active. But they’re outside of the country.
REP. COHEN: They’re outside of the country?
MR. UMAROV: They’re outside of the country, correct.
REP. COHEN: I see, I see. Otherwise they’d probably be arrested, I presume?
MR. UMAROV: Most likely.
REP. COHEN: Yeah. What’s happened to the group that your father was involved
with or started? Was it the Sunshine Group, or –?
MR. UMAROV: Sunshine Coalition? The people are still there, they’re just –
it’s wiser not to talk about it; at least openly. But folks are there,
organization is not functioning, but whatever everyone else can do they’re
trying to do in terms of influencing the direction that the country is going to
be going, because it’s – we also, we don’t want to see Uzbekistan to become the
REP. COHEN: When you say the next Afghanistan, and this could be for anybody
on the panel, what I find interesting is that these countries are so repressive
and have such a poor record on human rights, political freedoms, anything we
find basic to civilization. And yet, we support these countries. Mr. Goble,
you were saying we’re creating the seeds of an Islamic takeover by not
permitting democracy, these countries are –
MR. GOBLE: That’s right. And by supporting these countries in essence we’re
somewhat sureties for – (inaudible, cross talk) – to come. I think it could be
said that we are facilitating in some respects, by looking the other way or
talking about nuanced changes, rather than being very clear that what these
countries are doing, in many cases, are creating – are taking the kinds of
actions that will lead to eventually exactly what they say they, and we say we,
If you do not allow any kind of organized opposition, if you make all
opposition illegal, then anyone who opposes the system is engaged in an illegal
activity. What that means is that people who are angry enough will be
underground, or they will be out of the country and come in underground.
People who are in that kind of environment are vastly more likely to pursue an
authoritarian agenda, a revolutionary agenda, that would bring – that would,
when/if it achieved power be as repressive or even more repressive than the
existing regimes and lead to a whole variety of violence.
What we need to do, and what I fear we are unwilling to do because we take a
very short-term approach to these things, is to make it very, very clear
anytime we interact with them that they are taking steps that are against their
own interests, their own interests of stability and progress of their country,
and making the likelihood of extreme radicalism more – its emergence more
One of the reasons that we see the emergence of very radical groups around the
world is because they come out of societies where basic possibilities of
participation are prevented, and therefore people seek other ways. I once had
occasion to tell the former president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, that the
best thing that could happen to Azerbaijan was his reelection with 60 percent
of the vote, because if he got 60 percent of the vote that would mean there
would be other people who got 40 percent. But he came out of a society which
thought that elections are referenda and therefore 90 percent plus is the only
The consequence is that you deprive yourself of, not only safety valves, not
only the expression of multiple points of view, but what is especially serious,
and it’s been alluded to in several of the comments here, democracies make
possible succession. No other system does that very well. Except, perhaps, a
monarchy if you have enough children and even that doesn’t always work, as we
have reason to see.
If you have elections, you have a process by which you can replace people and
go forward. We are looking in a number of these countries to aging leaderships
which will eventually go away because they will – the actuarial tables will
kick in. And if there is no process, there will be instability, which some of
the worse elements will exploit.
And then, when the worst elements exploit it, those who want to maintain an
authoritarian system will invoke that fact as justification for behaving even
in a more authoritarian fashion. And we will see this cycle up in exactly the
wrong way. Because we have certain short-term goals with respect to these
countries, and because we have, I think, utterly failed as a society in the
post-communist world to make clear that just because you’re not a communist
doesn’t make you a democrat, because we say some very strange things about
people who are anything but democrats, with a small “d.”
We have made that process less – that transition in a positive direction – less
likely. We’re not to blame for all of this, we’re not to blame for Islam
Karimov’s thuggishness. What we’re to blame for is failing to give aid and
comfort by our statements that Islam Karimov’s regime is not a democratic
regime. That what it is doing is producing the extremism that it says it is
fighting. And that if it wants to fight extremism in a serious way, it’s got
to open up to a more democratic system, or you will get extremism. I mean,
that is the lesson of authoritarian regimes around the world.
REP. COHEN: Dr. Radnitz, you wanted to comment?
MR. RADNITZ: In terms of American policies towards the region, because you
asked, why is the U.S. still working with these authoritarian regimes. If you
look over the past 20 years the U.S. has actually pursued a wide variety of
policies towards the Central Asian countries, sometimes more engagement,
sometimes less, sometimes more incentives and foreign aid, sometimes sanctions
or the threat of sanctions.
And the result, more often than not, has been they will – those regimes will
continue to do what they’re doing because the leadership has their own
interests and they do pretty well from the system as it is; mostly thinking
short-term. They also get support from Russia and China when the U.S.
withdraws our foreign aid. And so, in the long run, I think we’ve discovered
that our leverage is quite limited.
I think the Obama administration’s sense of its policy toward is that, well,
we tried emphasizing democracy and human rights previously, we tried speaking
out, shaming regimes for their human rights abuses. In the end it hasn’t made
any difference to human rights on the ground. And so the Obama administration
has been prioritizing operations in Afghanistan over all else.
Whether that’s the correct policy or not, I’m not sure. But I think we’ve been
extremely frustrated over many years by the fact that we tried everything and
everything in the middle and we’re still stuck where we began.
REP. COHEN: Let’s assume that tomorrow Jimmy McGovern and Dennis Kucinich take
over the world and we withdraw from Afghanistan, and then the day after that we
go back to the government like it is today. How does our government deal with
the “–stans” in Central Asia if Afghanistan is not a factor?
MR. BLANK: If I may, if Afghanistan is not a factor then our current strategy
towards Central Asia, regardless of who the president may be, has disappeared
because if – every statement of official U.S. policy toward Central Asia, not
just by this administration but by the Bush administrations, both terms, and
even before that the Clinton administration, took as a priority geopolitical
interests of the United States.
Since 2001 that has been the war in Afghanistan and it is understandable that
this war, which is very important to us, has taken priority and we can see that
it has taken priority over the promotion of democracy. Indeed, Secretary
Blake’s statement today is very clear, where he said in summation, and I quote,
“In conclusion, we seek a future in which the United States and the countries
of Central Asia work together to foster peace,” that means victory in
Afghanistan, “security, economic development and prosperity, and advance the
democratic values and human rights that unite free nations in trust and
respect.” Democratic values comes last.
And that, unfortunately, has been the case, despite the fact that many private
and public organizations within and without the government have and are
continuing to make efforts both privately and publicly to advance human rights.
So it’s not a question of Congressman Kucinich or former Senator McGovern or,
let us say, the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. It is rather the
national interest of the United States. It’s not a partisan political –
REP. COHEN: Oh, I understand that, but it’s all about Afghanistan, really.
MR. BLANK: It is.
REP. COHEN: So I’m staying – but if Afghanistan disappears –
MR. BLANK: Then we have no strategy for Central Asia, plain English.
REP. COHEN: You don’t think – but do we withdraw some of our foreign aid, do
we eliminate our air base in –
MR. BLANK: Well, on the conditions of – given the economic conditions in the
country now, and some statements to the fact that we are going to withdraw from
Central Asia and the fact that, in the case of Manas in particular in
Kyrgyzstan, there is ferocious Russian pressure to get it out. It strikes me
as being entirely plausible that if the Afghanistan were to go away,
hypothetically, then the base in Manas would leave with it, and with it a lot
of U.S. military and economic influence including the Northern Distribution
REP. COHEN: So we could save a lot more money with getting out of Afghanistan
than just simply the money we’re spending in Afghanistan. We could save money
throughout the Central Asia territories as well.
MR. BLANK: No, because what you would do then is probably create a situation
that brings about much more security dangers within the region. I mean, there
is a threat from Afghanistan to the governments and that’s real enough threat.
But the real threats in Central Asia are from within and between states.
If you look at Uzbekistan, for example, Uzbekistan has terrible relations with
all of its neighbors and almost went to war with them last year. As I pointed
out in my paper, all of these states are spending more and more money on
military budgets because of, A, their determination to repress domestic unrest
and B, they feel threatened by their neighbors.
So even if Afghanistan were somehow to be converted into a Jeffersonian
democracy, that would not alleviate the fundamental security equation in
Central Asia. We would save money from combat operations in Afghanistan, but
the amount of money being spent to maintain Manas or other government programs
in Central Asia is quite small relative to that sum. And by creating a, excuse
me, a field for larger security crisis we don’t end up saving very much at all.
This is not a question of dollars and cents but of fundamental strategic
conception and policy.
MR. GOBLE: It also is terribly important to understand that making the Afghan
war go away means getting the Americans out of it. We’ve left Afghanistan
before. The fundamental strategic problem that Afghanistan presents is that
Afghanistan and the Pashtuns spread into the North-West Frontier province of
Pakistan which has nuclear weapons. And that the instability that would happen
in Pakistan with our departure would necessitate ultimately some kind of
re-American intervention down the pike which would probably be even more
It is the inconstancy of our policy, our in-and-out in Afghanistan, our
in-and-out advocacy of democracy that has, more than anything else, subverted
what we say we want to achieve. I’m much more worried about Afghanistan
spreading into the North-West Frontier provinces of Pakistan because Pakistan
does have nuclear weapons, than I am about its impact north. But it will
spread north, because the Northern Alliance is a heavily Tajik organization
with people across the boarder – there the IMU is in the North-West Frontier
provinces and also in Afghanistan, which means you’re talking about an Uzbek
threat emerging if there is no longer an American force to contest it.
If we define what we were going into as only being a counterterrorist operation
that’s one thing. We have now faced a counterinsurgency which is something
quite different. And we’re also facing the possibility of what is in effect an
internationalization of the war with the North-West Frontier province being
Now, if we make a decision that we want to save money by not fighting in
Afghanistan now, that is a decision that I can imagine being made. The
consequences of that, however, will be that there will the spread of the
fighting that is in Afghanistan and it will go into Pakistan and it will
constitute a greater security threat to the United States. And as we pull out
of the – of Central Asia, as in our eyes we draw down we will see others all
too willing from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s end to invest in there.
And if, as we do all of this, we do not make very clear what it is that we
want, I – I’ve often had the opportunity to testify before Congress and my
usual response to – the first question I get is, what do we do? And I would
say the first thing we do is we don’t lie. Don’t lie to ourselves. Do not kid
ourselves in thinking that these countries are democracies because they’re no
longer communist. Do not think that Afghanistan is about us – not just about
us. It is about Pakistan. And Pakistan is decisively about American strategic
interests in the Indian Ocean area.
REP. COHEN: Thank you, sir. Dr. Radnitz?
MR. RADNITZ: Just to bring things back to Central Asia briefly, if the war in
Afghanistan were to end, we do still have ongoing democratization policies in
Central Asia. We still have – we give $10 or $20 million to each country a
year in foreign aid through USAID, through organization like the National
Endowment for Democracy, NDI, IRI, we have these ongoing programs.
It doesn’t add up to a strategic vision of what we want to happen in Central
Asia, but on the level of our governments and quasigovernmental organizations
to their societies, there are still connections that have been made and that
are still being developed. And below the radar the U.S. is still working, I
think, toward strengthening civil societies toward at least the possibility of
future democracy and toward greater development of their societies. It’s not
prioritized, but this still goes on.
And regarding the issue of the base in Central Asia, that is, Manas Base in
Kyrgyzstan, I actually don’t think that that constitutes much of stabilizing
force in terms of the region. The U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan is very
contained on the base, it acts as a logistical stepping stone to Afghanistan
and perhaps my colleagues know better than I do, but I think if the U.S. were
to remove that base perhaps the Russians would like to move in. But I don’t
see any immediate destabilizing impact, if the war in Afghanistan had ended
already, if the U.S. were to withdraw its troops from Kyrgyzstan.
MR. GOBLE: I don’t think – I agree that the simple closing of a single base
would not necessarily be destabilizing, although it could entail destabilizing
consequences over time. I would suggest that many of the programs that have
just been mentioned are very good. However, they are often predicated on three
things which I think are not true.
The first is that a DONGO or GONGO is not an NGO. A donor-organized or
government-organized nongovernmental organization is not a nongovernmental
organization. And yet we make our assessments, in many cases, about how much
progress there is to democracy by counting DONGOs and GONGOs as if they were
NGOs. They aren’t; they’re something else. Otherwise you have to say the
Soviet Peace Committee was a NGO, which I don’t think anyone would really want
Second, I think that the – we are very, very – we as a people are very good at
individual cases. I’ve said to I don’t know how many national movements, give
me an Anne Frank. If you can give me an Anne Frank for your nationality then
people will pay attention because we’re very good at focusing on individual
cases, which is a good thing. The consequence, however, is that we can be
manipulated into looking at certain cases and we have been.
And the third thing, I think, is that precisely because these things are below
the radar screen, precisely because they’re not what’s being doing by the top
leadership and we aren’t saying these things very clearly about our broad
vision of social transformation and political opening, that people in these
regimes treat this as a necessary evil rather than as a fundamental thing.
There are many people in these regions who say, they hear something from our
ambassador but they hear something else from the secretary of state and if
that’s the case, guess who they decide they should pay attention to? It’s a
high-level thing, and if you do the under-the-radar things, which sometimes you
have to do – they’re not alternatives – if you do only that, you may find at
the end of the day that you accomplish less than you intended, than the more
public kinds of expressions of where we want to go.
REP. COHEN: I understand we’ve got this room until 5:00. I don’t know what
happens and who comes in at 5:00, but obviously we go out. But let me ask you
this. I know we used to have a Radio Free Europe and now we’ve got – what,
Radio Free Asia –
MR. GOBLE: We’ve still got RFE/RL, it still exists.
MR. BLANK: We do have Radio Free Asia, that’s more recent.
REP. COHEN: Right. Are they at all effective at maybe opening up – Dr.
Radnitz? Are they effective in Central Asia, do you think?
MR. RADNITZ: I have strong feelings toward the American broadcasting programs.
I think they’re extremely important especially in these societies where the
media environment is deteriorating rapidly, especially in rural areas of
Central Asia where people may not even be learning Russian, may not even be
able to watch Russian television broadcasts, flawed as they are. They’ll
instead become captive to their own government’s horrible propagandistic news.
REP. COHEN: Do the governments try to block the broadcast of these – of those
MR. BLANK: Absolutely. In the last several – and it’s not just Central Asia,
it’s Russia and China, and their practices then are emulated by the local
governments. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have essentially created a blackout
of what’s going on in the Middle East now.
MR. GOBLE: I was director of research at Radio Liberty and I was later
director of communications for RFE/RL, and I’d like to speak to this. We have
created a situation which is where the governments are in – have much greater
ability to shut down the messages. A decision has been made to shift from
shortwave broadcasting to FM broadcasting. And one of the consequences, if
you’re going to broadcast on FM, what you have to do is do it from a base
somewhere in the country which means you have to have a license from people.
In the old days, in the Cold War, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty broadcasted
in short-wave. We’ve moved away from short-wave which is a mistake because
lots of people in these countries still have it, and we have not moved, which
would be the next revolutionary step, to direct-to-home satellite television.
If that happens, if we get to that – and that’s an expensive thing, mind you –
we would be able to have the same kind of penetration.
And one last point about these broadcasts. The most striking thing I have ever
seen in my relations with the leaders of these countries came when the
president of Estonia showed me the notebooks in which he had recorded each day
from 1953 until 1989 whether he could listen through the jamming to our RFE/RL,
Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC.
This is important for the following reason , and this is something that the
domestic-radio-driven policies of the BBG have gotten us away from. What you
want to do with international broadcasting is a long-term strategy rather than
a short-term commercial selling of soap. And second, it’s about influencing
key elites. It’s about influencing people who are going to matter. It is not,
by the nature of things, going to be something where you’re talking about a
mass audience. What we have done in the last decade is to shift away from a
concern from key elites, which is what we always did during the Cold War – we
were much more interested that – (inaudible) – and Sakharov listened to Radio
Liberty than we were that 18-year-olds on the streets of Moscow.
I was once told by the member of the BBG that an 18-year-old who listened to us
counts just as much as the president of the country. Well, I think that’s
silly, saying things like that. I don’t care whether we have 6 percent of the
audience of 18-year-olds in a population, but if you can give half of the
political elite and you’ll let me get them on a regular basis to communicate
the kinds of thing that RFE/RL and the Voice of America can do well, BBC used
to, we can transform the world. I think international broadcasting played a
key role in the spread of democracy into Eastern Europe and some of the former
Soviet space and I think it can do the same elsewhere.
But we have now moved away from shortwave, which means we’re dependent on
licensing in local countries, we have shifted in many cases away from
broadcasting entirely to Internet delivery. And those are very different
things in terms of your ability to reach populations and they’re very different
things in terms of host governments being able to block them.
And that’s something I would hope that you and the Congress would look at this
as an issue because I think we completely need to revisit the question of how
we try to reach audiences, rather than assuming that the proper model is the
model of selling soap on AM/FM radios in the United States.
MR. BLANK: I might add that if you go through the expert literature on this
question, it is now quite clear that governments who have a vested interest in
suppressing freedom of information have capabilities that are no less
impressive than we do for disseminating information, and as a result, the idea
that the Internet – that because people have Internet, or that the Internet is
present in their country, that somehow this is what’s going to drive the
revolution or make them liberals and democrats and that’s because they’re on
Facebook and Twitter, that doesn’t hold water.
It’s not empirically proven and it’s not factually grounded. Certainly you can
use those technologies to disseminate information, but the government has at
its – these governments have at their disposal the means, effectively, to
suppress and counter these techniques and to essentially put a whole province,
like the Chinese did in 2008 and (200)9 in Xinjiang, under lockdown from the
information point of view.
MR. GOBLE: It is like military action, it is a constant struggle of offence
and defense, that each side can make progress. We surrendered largely in a
wholesale fashion by deciding to go over to FM radio broadcasting in these
countries because it gave these countries the right to take away the license
anytime. And it meant that RFE/FL broadcasts in many countries, the first
question journalists and editors ask is, will this cost us our license? That
changes the nature of what you’re communicating and that’s a huge thing which
the drawdown from shortwave broadcasting has cost us enormously.
REP. COHEN: Well, I think each of you for your testimonies and for giving us –
and for educating me some, particularly on this issue of Radio Liberty and –
because that’s something I visited when I was in Prague, and have got some
interest there. And particularly, Mr. Umarov, nice to see you, thank you on
behalf of all the members of the Tennessee delegation who worked, and others,
on your father’s release, for your statement. I’m happy – and Germantown’s a
wonderful place. (Laughter.) One of the – I have a precinct in Germantown,
it’s a fact that I won’t – but it’s a wonderful place. I live in Midtown. But
I want to thank each of you for your testimony and I believe – I presume like
any other committee, the commission could possibly have questions that could be
submitted later and you’ll have time to respond and then if you – all your
statements will be made a part of the record. And with that I will declare
this meeting – (sounds gavel.)