By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
Yesterday, the “President” of Uzbekistan, Islam A. Karimov, was in Brussels to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with European Union President Jose Emanuel Barroso on energy cooperation. While that’s not newsworthy in and of itself—as evidenced by any Metro experience, insane people interact with the mentally healthy all the time— but the European Union went a little too far in giving Karimov red carpet treatment, complete with government-legitimizing photo-ops. Big Pappa (as Karimov is called in Uzbekistan—seriously!) was photographed with the President of the EU as well as NATO SecGen, Aders Fogh Rasmussen, by reporters from the state-run Uzbek media. While most of the Western news organizations haven’t picked up on the story, Notorious B.I.G, er, Islam Karimov will likely use the glamorous photo opportunity with Rassumssen and Barroso to legitimize David Ortiz’s—no, wait–Islam Karimov’s regime and maybe squeeze the noose a little tighter on the “opposition” parties he’s been terrorizing since the break-up of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
EU President Barroso defended the decision to engage Karimov because:
“The European Union follows a policy of critical, conditional and comprehensive engagement with Uzbekistan,” he said. “I have raised all key concerns of Europe, notably regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms, which stand at the heart of E.U. foreign policy. I believe it is through such a robust eye to eye dialogue, and not an empty-chair policy, that we can further the E.U.’s unanimously agreed policy of engagement most effectively.”
President Barroso’s assertions aren’t totally incorrect. The debate between engaging and ignoring is almost as old as international diplomacy itself. There’s no right answer between carrots and sticks, and most informed foreign policy practitioners will likely say that every situation requires a different degree of positive and negative incentives to achieve a good outcome.
That being said, President Barroso picked a worse candidate for engagement than Nicholas Cage. Karimov isn’t somebody who’s going to decide to stop boiling political opponents alive because Barroso (supposedly) revealed that burning people to death doesn’t really follow the golden rule. Uzbekistan has been kept at arm’s length for a reason: in 2005, according to the Uzbek government, “protestors” (civilians) “rioting” (peacefully gathering) against “government members” (crime bosses in positions of power)in the Fergana Valley town of Andijan were “dispersed” (massacred by the hundreds) by “security forces” (See “crime bosses” above). Human Rights Watch and other organizations have put together detailed reports on the massacre, to which Karimov has shrugged and continued to work on hard on bankrupting his country and improving his higher ranking in the worst dictators in the world list.
While the people of Uzbekistan are suffering everyday under the iron-fisted rule of Karimov, the EU is only making matters worse by giving him a stage on which to parade. Everyone can agree that Karimov is bad news, so the EU shouldn’t give him any more chances to make headlines.