Read few comments.
1. How important is it for President Ilham Aliyev that the European Games will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan?
2. Some people, I talked to, think that Aliyev is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Do you share this view or not, and why?
Florent Parmentier, Adjunct Professor in Sciences Po, Director of EurAsia Prospective
1. The very name of the competition is a political claim: I am a European country, so I organise the European games. It is already clear that the pre-emption of the name is a way to make Armenia farther to Europe. The message was similar when Azerbaijan organised the final stage of the Eurovision in 2012, which was not the result of a public relations programme in the beginning, but the result of a victory the year before. It was very debated at the time if the contest should take place in Baku.
Therefore, you can imagine that it is a real PR operation, supported directly by President Aliev. It is a nation-branding project, in a similar way as President Nazarbayev with his Astana team on the Tour de France to praise his capital and country. The games are a part of this strategy.
2. You cannot imagine a European country to be undemocratic: for years, dissents from Eastern Europe have been committed to the idea of Europe as a way to promote democracy at home. As Europe and democracy are mixed in Western and Central European perceptions, claiming to be European is claiming to be democratic.
Now, when you are an authoritarian country, you have two potential reactions: either you say that European values are not what is believed to be, and you embrace conservative Christian values as it is the current trend in the Putin’s regime; or, you claim to be European, but here what is hidden is more important than what is showed: you harass journalist and political opponents, or you close the office of the OSCE without explanations.
Kristof Bender, Deputy Chairman, European Stability Initiative
1. The European Games are one more in a string of similar events – including most recently the Eurovision song contest. The regime spends huge amounts to present a polished image and hide its human rights abuses. It only works, though, because European governments allow themselves to be fooled. Everyone who wants to know realises that Azerbaijan is not a democracy.
2. Azerbaijan did not meet the membership criteria when it was admitted to the Council of Europe in 2001. Critics at the time hoped that membership would help turn the country into a decent democracy. What happened was the opposite. The situation grew worse, with an accelerating trend in the last years. Today the regime holds 100 political prisoners behind bars – more than Lukashenko’s Belarus. These include internationally respected human rights activists like Leyla Yunus and Anar Mammadli, the former adviser to the Council of Europe rapporteur on political prisoners. Independent journalists are systematically harassed, blackmailed and arrested, like most recently Khadija Ismayilova. Media offices – like recently the ones of Radio Free Europe – are raided, its personnel taken in for questioning. By now, the regime has silenced opposition voices inside the contry. Opponents of Aliyev’s regime are either abroad or behind bars.