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They should build institutions – interview with Emma Bonino

Published on June 18, 2012 by: in: Politics

If we are talking about Arab Spring, the main subject of your interest, we have to ask about dramatic situation in Syria. Yesterday, during the Atlantic Council Freedom Award ceremony in Wroclaw, you have said that the governments always tend to talk about dramatic situations in countries at domestic war, that it is very complex and they are not able to act and prevent genocide. What do you think about the situation in Syria? What international community and European instiitutions should do in that situation?

Well, Syria for me is a great case in which we should say the truth to ourselves.


There are situations in which we are hopeless. And that is the clear example in which we have reached such point at this moment in case of Syria. We have waited too long, we were to much embedded in the regime. We don’t learn this lessons from history that dictators exist but you have to be more than conscious dealing with them. It was not the case. Our Turkish friend even opened the border and announced zero problem policy with neighbors. And at the end of the day dictators, even if they start as nice and soft ones, they are still dictators. In case of Syria international community is split, Russia is still supporting Baszar al-Assad regime, Iran also. And it looks like again a situation in which the power, the superpower, regional powers are fighting against each other in particular country like it has been Afghanistan. It was a superpower war of Russia, USA, Pakistan, India, China. They decided to use Afghanistan to settle their own problems. And Syria is a little bit like that, because Russia has its own interests with Assad. But if we take away Assad, the situation in Syria is still very complicated, it’s a clannish society, deeply divided and every clan has its own sponsors abroad. The diaspora doesn’t have so much contact with people that remain inside, so this is a real situation in which the only thing that international community could do is to speak in one voice. At the moment this is not that simple, because there are still major superpowers who openly or not openly are supporting Assad-regime for geopolitical reasons. That is why I don’t think that a military intervention today in Syria would definitely help and is possible. First of all, eventual intervention will be without a Security Council’s decision, because Russia will definitely at this moment withdraw it. Syria doesn’t have oil, but it has a geo-strategic interest, so it is different case than in Libya. Libya doesn’t have any geo-strategic position, but it has oil. I think also that from Iraq, from Libya, we have learned some lesson. If you decide to go to war with dictator and win it doesn’t mean always that democracy will flourish. Frankly speaking that’s a life worth bet.

I would like to turn to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and ask you about the character of this democratic movement. Do you think that we can talk about real, democratic, freedom movements or rather as Lech Wałęsa was talking during the Wroclaw Global Forum also anti-capitalistic movement?

There are many elements, I would say. The common element was catchphrase: “enough is enough”. These people, who are 30 years old said “basta”. That was the common ground of those situations. I remind you, most of the people in Egypt, 60% of population is less than 25 years old. They’ve never seen anything else in their life than Mubarak’s face. So you can imagine that when they say “basta” it’s really “basta” and the same happened in Tunisia. Most of the people have never seen anything else than Ben Ali, not to mention Gaddafi. The situation economically was not good, but the main factor was always the same and at the end it was “basta”. Inside this “basta” there are different aspirations, which is normal, we are used to it. In our countries, in our societies, people are capitalist and liberals or even liberals in economy like myself. But you know – society is a complex thing. Every group has its own priorities – the women group, the young group, the Greens, etc. The same is for Arab societies – behind this “basta” there are many factors and it has to find its own structure, their own way how to structure different ideas. What we have learned in our society is to organize ourselves non-violently and legally – so you have Communist party, the Socialists party, the Liberals etc. But they decided to have some rules for the debate, to have rules and timing for the election. People are changing their ideas, but there is a mind set that the best way to organize complexity is to have political parties, rules, timing, institutions, elections, independence of the jurisdiction. So it’s not only election. We have to remember about institutions and the system. Unfortunately all these factors are totally absent in Arab countries yet, so they have to build their own frame. They are at the beginning and there’s no real assurance that they will succeed, because it’s a fragile way and it’s someway different for the Eastern European countries. Basically the Eastern countries were, let’s say, in any case inside the European family. They have also the aspiration to join the European family, so the framing was more or less there already. Even with a frame in place some countries two years later voted for the Communists. Seen from our side it was quite spectacular. Democracy was so difficult and so complicated that Eastern countries decided to go back eventually to a Communist regime. We thought in Western Europe – oh, that’s all. That democracy has failed, that’s over and it was not over, it was a step back, but then it started again. People are the same in the North or South and I think it will be the same long and painful path in the South Mediterranean. No guarantee that they will succeed.

Teheran scenario is possible?

No. The world is much more independent now. As you have seen, people were not referring not to let alone Osama bin Laden, but they were not referring to Ruhollah Khomeini either. Eventually they were referring to Erdogan, which is already quite a change, in any case. They were mostly referring to Erdogan let’s say. So I am confident, but I know that it will be long and painful. One very positive thing that Rami Kuri wrote recently is exactly that people now are passionate about the politics. If you walk in the street not only in Cairo but even in Aswan or whatever you want, in any cafe people are really asking for whom are you voting. I’m voting for this, no you vote for that – that is totally normal for us, for them it is totally unknown, never experienced before.

And what do you think about the role of Turkey? I wonder if Ankara could be a kind of stabilizer in this region?

Well, Turkey in recent days has been going in my opinion very badly. Not economically but politically. The decisions of Erdogan to cancel the abortion law, to arrest journalists, I think that it is a case in which at the end the power without proper checks and balances can also fail. As European I think we are also guilty because we have been unable to make compromise and we should have been faithful in the negotiations on the accession of Turkey, but we have not dons so. So we really are in no position to teach lessons. We decided one thing and one year later we decided another thing, which is also resonating in the Middle East. People look at us and say “A-a, you are really force less Europe. You have rejected Turkey because it was Muslim, because you are anti-Muslim”. Our behavior towards Turkey has been bad both because of our credibility or lack of it, secondly because it sent a message to many people in the Mediterranean that we are the Christian community or a Catholic community, whatever, we dislike Muslims etc. This is partly true by the way. In any case when Turkey felt that  is not accepted in Europe willingly, they decided to have their own policy also based on the fact that they are behaving brilliantly economically for the moment. So at the beginning “zero problems with neighbors” policy didn’t go so far. Neighbors are there, but there’s no zero problems, there are plenty of problems. Iran, to begin with, the situation about Syria, North Iraque and the Kurds or whatever up and there. Turkey is also very difficult case and their international situation is not so easy.

Interview: Błażej Lenkowski

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About Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino is currently vice president of the Italian Senate. Until April 2008 she served as Minister for International Trade and European Affairs and before that, she was member of the European Parliament. Between 1994 and 1999, she was European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Fisheries, Consumer Policy, Consumer Health Protection and Food Safety. Since March 2003 she has managed the Arab press review for Radio Radicale. Thus, she became one of the most authoritative experts and commentators on problems in the area. It is from this viewpoint that in January 2004, with the NGO “No Peace Without Justice” and in collaboration with the Yemen government, she organized the first regional inter-governmental conference on democracy, human rights and the role of the International Criminal Court ever held in the Arab world. She is also a trustee of the Arab Democracy Foundation.

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