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    RUSSIA AND THE OSCE: HOPES AND DISAPPOINTMENT

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    Vladimir SIMONOV, RIA Novosti analyst

    This week Moscow spoke about Europe. OSCE new Chairman and Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who was in the Russian capital on a two-day visit, met his colleague Igor Ivanov to discuss key areas for the OSCE in 2004. The two senior officials agreed on common priorities, as the organisation's tasks are sealed in the documents approved at the ministerial conference in Maastricht, above all the OSCE Strategy to Address Threats to Security and Stability in the 21st Century.

    About a week ago the main threat - terrorism - resurfaced in the form of explosion in the Moscow metro. Pasi and Ivanov knew the subject at hand when they discussed OSCE tasks in the war on international terror. Russia expects the organisation to more strictly monitor its member states' compliance with anti-terrorism obligations. Moscow thinks the OSCE Anti-Terrorism Unit could also provide greater organisational and technical assistance to the strengthening of anti-terrorism structures in them.

    Russia praised positive OSCE efforts in the humanitarian area. The organisation has become involved in the tackling of major human rights tasks in Europe, such as resistance to all kinds of discrimination and intolerance, the successful struggle against the slave trade, and the protection of the freedom of speech. Taken together, this is strengthening the OSCE prestige as an international human rights champion.

    However, Russia-OSCE relations are far from cloudless. In Moscow Solomon Pasi partners in the talks informed him of their disappointment and complaints, believing that the OSCE frequently services the interests of a narrow group of countries or even individual members.

    There are no saints or outright sinners in the organisation. All member countries tolerate infringements on fundamental human values at home, though to a different degree. But the OSCE attitude to these cases, which happen in all European countries, is noted for a strange geographic asymmetry.

    Members are arbitrarily divided at OSCE forums into so-called problem and problem-free countries. As a result, the organisation is being increasingly used for propaganda purposes, when some countries "teach" others what they should and should not do. OSCE experts frequently apply double standards in their assessment of the human rights situation, the quality of elections or the standards of freedom of the media.

    If they assess elections in Russia or the situation in Chechnya - where political stabilisation has gained momentum in the past few months, they tend to use black paint.

    At the same time, these experts have kept silent, for months now, about glaring discrimination against Russian speakers in Latvia, where the Russian-speaking minority amounts to more than one-third of the population. The amendment to the 1998 law On Education, which the Latvian Saeima (parliament) adopted this February, will effectively preclude 116,000 school students from being educated in the Russian language. As a result, this large group of Latvia's young people will be deprived of the possibility to receive an education.

    Meanwhile, the Latvian press keeps writing about complicity with "colonisers," while the authorities are stepping up a persecution campaign against active members of Russian-language public organisations. The latest example, which sounds like a bad joke, comes in the form of proceedings initiated against Yu. Petropavlovsky, who tried to organise a meeting of school students with Alvaro Gil-Robles, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe.

    The actions of the Latvian administration have nothing in common with the principles of democracy as they are interpreted in the OSCE documents. But despite Russia's efforts to draw attention to this scandalous situation, the organisation keeps silence, which is interpreted as approval of Latvia's gross digression from common European norms and practices.

    Such an inadmissible political attitude to human rights contradicts the goals formulated during the organisation's founding in August 1975 - to create an indivisible sphere of European security with democratic precepts common to all member countries.

    Russia does not want the OSCE to lose its initial image of Europe's integrating force. Moreover, many people in Moscow believe that the significance and hence the influence of the OSCE should grow in the year of Bulgaria's presidency, if only because the organisation's relative optimism stands out against the background of despondency that has infected all other global forums.

    The conflict around the Iraqi war has seriously weakened the UN. Old Europe led by France and Germany fears how the world is succumbing to unilateral method of ruling the world advocated by the USA. But the Iraqi war has shown that the other European countries are ready to accept Washington's readiness to use preventive wars as an instrument for the political reform of individual regimes and even whole regions. As a result, the European Union designed to symbolise the unity of the continent sometimes looks like two-headed Siamese twins.

    In this situation, the OSCE as the world's largest regional security structure with 55 members may rise over many egoistic conflicts of the recent past. It is vitally important for Russia that this chance should not be missed.

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