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Dameron Discusses RFE/RL History, Move To Prague

Read an excerpt from the article below and see the original on American Circus, a cultural commentary journal.


A Letter From Prague: Asleep at The End of History

Charlie Dameron | American Circus

December 23, 2011

The continued existence of RFE is usually a surprise to those old enough to remember
the USSR, the Berlin Wall and duck-and-cover drills. “That’s still around? Isn’t Europe free already?” True enough.

But the world still has plenty of places that aren’t, or that have only the most tenuous grasp on freedom. For these corners of the globe — from Armenia to Kosovo to Chechnya to Iran to Pakistan — the lonely fight to preserve rational discussion against the totalizing impulse of ideology goes on.

Last week a researcher from Human Rights Watch, Steve Swerdlow, came by RFE to discuss a new report on torture in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan — or, as Herman Cain has colorfully dubbed it recently, “Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan” — is a human rights abuser par excellence whose most notorious accomplishment in the realm of the grotesque was to boil alive at least one political prisoner a few years ago.

The Human Rights Watch report was of some interest, since Swerdlow is the only foreign human rights activist in years to have been allowed to do field research inside the country. He spoke movingly about his interviews with torture victims and their families, lawyers, and local human rights workers — a small class of courageous souls willing to undergo an almost endless cycle of arrests and interrogations.

The Uzbek regime is more or less as bad as they come. Outside of perhaps North Korea, Burma, and Turkmenistan, you would be hard-pressed to find a more loathsome system of state repression.

The problem for RFE — and the Uzbeks — is that precious few people in the West really care one way or another about human rights in Uzbekistan. In a conversation with Swerdlow after his presentation at RFE, I mentioned how hard it must be for Human Rights Watch to grain traction with American audiences about the situation there. Swerdlow nodded his head. “My own dad doesn’t care too much about Uzbekistan,” he said...[READ MORE]