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The OSCE after the Kyiv Ministerial

OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on 5 December in Kyiv

OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on 5 December, 2013, in Kyiv. Photo: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly/flickr.

“Today, the OSCE is not the organization over which foreign ministers are racking their brains when they wake up early in the morning.” This was how Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore characterized the state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the end of Ireland’s presidency in 2012.  A year later, however, the OSCE for once finds itself in the headlines. Just a few days before a routine meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government – which holds the 2013 OSCE presidency – decided to move the country closer to Russia by breaking off trade negotiations with the European Union. In the run-up to the meeting, police violence against peaceful protesters and the biggest street demonstrations since the 2004 “Orange Revolution” dominated the scene in Kyiv.

US Boycott

In response to Ukraine’s actions, only half of the 57 OSCE members sent their top personnel to Kyiv. US Secretary of State John Kerry deliberately boycotted the event, and Britain and France sent deputies in lieu of their foreign ministers. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, decided to meet with Serbian and Kosovar leaders in Brussels instead. By not attending this year’s ministerial meeting, Kerry and others did the OSCE a disservice. For 40 years the organization has been a powerful symbol of dialogue and the search for consensus and compromise between East and West. Boycotts and deliberate snubs may be useful for alliance-building and zero-sum games, but they are not in keeping with the “spirit of Helsinki” or the principles of cooperative security. » More

Finding the Urban Crisis Tipping Point

Mukuru, Kenya

Mukuru, Kenya. Photo: SuSanA Secretariat/flickr.

By 2015, three billionpeople will be living in urban slums according to UN Habitat. As the number of vulnerable people living in urban slums rises, aid agencies are struggling to identify the tipping point at which chronic urban vulnerability turns into a humanitarian crisis. IRIN spoke to aid staff to find out what they are doing about it.

Accurately tracking vulnerability is more complex in densely populated towns and cities, particularly in informal neighbourhoods such as slums, than it is in rural areas. Aid agencies and donors have therefore been slow to take on the challenge, inadvertently creating a rural-urban divide. » More

Russian Politics Towards Ukraine are Illogically Consistent

The European Parliament on September 12 called on Russia to respect the right of EU Eastern Partnership members such as Ukraine to enter Association Agreements. The resolution, which received overwhelming support across the parliament’s political groups, called on Russia to not use trade sanctions to force Ukraine to choose the Eurasian over the European Union.

It is doubtful whether the resolution will have any impact in Moscow because Russian policies have been consistently heavy handed and counter-productive over the last quarter of a century. Besides predicting dire consequences of an economic collapse when Ukraine no longer has access to the CIS market following entry into an Association Agreement, Russian leaders are also claiming that Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine will split away. Sergei Glazyev, one of President Vladimir Putin’s senior advisers, said that Russia would be legally entitled to support eastern Ukraine in such a split, comparing this to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in the 1990s. » More

Why Vote-Rigging in Ukraine’s Elections Shouldn’t Go Unpunished

Protesters in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution of 2004. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova

The October 28, 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine are likely to be best-remembered for widespread protest voting, seemingly endless vote counting in disputed voting districts, allegations of vote-rigging and a rather lackluster public protest in Kyiv. However, an abundance of citizen media reports, live online broadcasts and other monitoring initiatives is what makes this election – not to mention violations that occurred before, during and after the vote – memorable. As Ukrainska Pravda journalist Kateryna Avramchuk commented via Twitter on the situation at one of the contested voting districts:

There’s a live broadcast of our votes being stolen […] And you expect people not to be apolitical after that? » More

Global Media Forum Day 1: First Encounters

Global Media Conference poster in Bonn / photo: Cristina Viehmann, ISN

Global Media Conference poster in Bonn / photo: Cristina Viehmann, ISN

Once the capital of West Germany, the city of Bonn appears unexpectedly modest and tranquil today. However, some converted official buildings and the placards reminding of the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic do actually bring back the city’s important steps in Germany’s democratic history.

Despite its apparent modesty, what Bonn represents today is a perfect conference city. Exempli gratia, more than 4,000 participants are meeting these days in Bonn for the Climate Change Talks.

These talks are taking place very close to the World Conference Centre, hosting the 1500 participants that have registered for this year’s Global Media Forum. (Just as a side note: I was told by one of the organizers that 1500 will unfortunately not be the real number of participants. Numerous registrations from African countries were more of the fictive kind, since visas were only accorded to the very few.)

My first insightful encounter was with the people from U-Media, a Ukranian Internews project. Internews is an NGO fighting for the independence of information by empowering local media. As for U-Media, its goal is to develop a more robust media sector that works to serve the interests of independent media in the Ukraine.

U-Media staff explained how difficult it is to attain such a goal in country whose economy is about to fall. And yes, the good news is that bad media – as they call it – is disappearing. But the bulk of the biased media is not – it remains in the hands of oligarchs. As for the support of new media, it is very hard for U-Media to make its way through in a country with an internet penetration of only 22% (you can compare it to the 53.9% in the neighboring EU member country Romania.)

Like the USAID-sponsored Intermedia, the Thomson Foundation trains and supports journalists throughout the world. With the Thomson Foundation representative I discussed the case of Mizzima.com, the New Delhi based news agency run by Burmese people in exile offering coverage on the country. A Deutsche Welle reporter for Hindi told us about his idea of India supporting Mizzima to establish a rebel radio for Burma.

Many ideas in the air, as you can see. Looking forward to the conference itself and to more encounters tomorrow.

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