This week’s 15th annual Forum 2000
-- a Prague ideas conference begun in 1997 by former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, and philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa -- played host to three journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Gregory Feifer
, a senior RFE/RL correspondent and Russia expert; Natalia Churikova of RFE/RL’s Ukranian Service
; and Jan Maksymiuk
, a senior editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service
The conference, which also featured appearances by Nobel laureate and Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, was focused on the topic of “Democracy and the Rule of Law.”
Feifer moderated a panel discussion
that examined the current, dismal state of the Russian legal system and analyzed prospects for improvement in Russia’s democratic structures. Feifer, who just returned from a trip to the unstable Russian provinces of Daghestan and Ingushetia, also participated as a panelist for a discussion
of Russia’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
The panelists debated the possibility of Russia’s modernization -- Feifer argued strongly that under its current political leadership, “Russia can’t modernize” -- along with the implications of Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that he will remain in power by again seeking the Russian presidency next year.
Citing his recent travels in the region, Feifer also called Russia’s decade-long pacification campaign in the Caucausus a “central trope” of Putin’s rule, which Feifer believes depends upon the existence of a terrorist threat in the republic’s predominantly Muslim south.
Churikova moderated a panel discussion on Ukraine and its clouded road to democracy. The panelists pointed to an “atmosphere of fear” and decried the country’s lack of civil engagement, shaky international relationships with the EU and Russia, and outstanding ethnic issues, particularly a worsening climate for Ukraine’s Crimean Tartars, a minority Muslim population. Just several hours after the discussion, former Ukrainian president Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in a trial widely condemned by the international community.
Maksymiuk spoke during a panel discussion, “Belarus: Trading Human Rights For Economic Support?” Describing a recent visit to Belarus, Maksymiuk explained that although Belarus’s capital Minsk appears to outsiders to be a relatively prosperous “Western capital,” with access to Western goods and brands, ordinary Belarusians have seen their purchasing power sharply curtailed by the global economic crisis.
-- Kristyna Dzmuranova and Deana Kjuka