?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 The dissonances of Realpolitik and human rights - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

The dissonances of Realpolitik and human rights

September 14, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

The great Russian humanist, dissident and human rights defender Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), whose 90th anniversary we marked on May 21, 2011, and in whose name the supreme EP award in the sphere of the defense of human rights was initiated, when asked about what kind of universal ideology could be adopted by humanity in the future, described the universality of human rights and our commitment to defend them as the only set of values and ideas capable of bridging the gulfs and reconciling the opposites. Otherwise, according to the patron saint of Russian and East European liberal dissent, we would be trapped in ideological fights and culture wars for the years and decades to come.

How ironic, then, that East and Central European countries, which once immensely benefited from the noble cause of the defense of human rights and human dignity, today tend to violate those rights themselves on the grounds of championing their ethnic and linguistic sensitivities or of fostering their revised and updated historical-political narratives. Yet they are not alone in this. In fact, things are far from it. As we all know, the idea that democracies do not violate human rights and that it is a monopoly of undemocratic and oppressive regimes, sounds as a joke at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

All in all, human rights seem to have become the raison d’etre of the EU. The EU conferred a special role for itself as a key global actor in the field of human rights. Once the EU is a community of values, instead of an immoral trade bloc or a soulless technocratic political player, human rights become top priority, at least in theory. True, there is little disconnectedness or naivite about this, as a better and more reliable criterion to check the political and practical reliability of the state in question, than a close analysis of how our partners or adversaries observe human rights in their respective countries, has yet to be offered. Tell me whether you respect the difference and dignity of humanity, and I will tell you what I can expect of you as a partner. On the other side, suffice it to subtract human rights from the package of liberal democracy, and we will immediately get authoritarian capitalism or technocracy masquerading as democracy.

Therefore, human rights are not only about preservation of the legacy of natural law theory, European humanists, Enlightenment philosophers, or such luminaries as Andrei Sakharov. They are a deeply practical matter and also an efficient instrument of policy-making. Bridging the gaps of memory and sensitivity, and also coming to grips with what we tend to deny as a political echo of the twentieth century, we lay the foundations for a twenty-first-century world which is expected to reconcile what has been separated by modernity – the individual and community, rationality and religion, innovation and tradition, truth and value.

Yet not everything is as beautiful and serene here as it may appear. On a closer look, we can notice the political dissonances in the EU, especially when conservative politicians blame the EP for some resolutions it adopts, implying that the EP deals a blow to the national parliaments and strips them of their dignity. What can I say on hearing this as an Eastern European myself? If we apply double standards refusing to react to the violations of human rights within the EU, yet simultaneously engaging in verbose assaults on Russia, China, or Iran, are we not at the peril of closing ranks with those profoundly undemocratic countries?

What would the dividing line between the EU and Russia be if we had adopted the principle of non-interference with national parliaments on such matters as human rights? This would signify the end of Europe the way it is now. If so much sound and fury comes defending the “holy” rights of the national parliament to criminalize diversity or freedom of expression, are we not at risk of transforming the EU into a value-free political entity? Whatever the case, the EP keeps sending its powerful messages reminding of a simple truth that civil liberties and human rights can never be confined to the nation-state and its domestic affairs. They are not a property of the state, no matter how just and democratic that state might be. Hopefully, they never will, as far as the EU is concerned.

On the other side, human rights are often unscrupulously and easily sacrificed to successful international relations, trade, and foreign policies. Suffice it to recall the efforts of the EU to make it up to Russia and China every time when it comes to the supply of Russian gas and oil for the major European players or trade agreements and major projects with China. Yet the fact remains that both countries infringe human rights, not to mention the overt and methodical extermination of Russian dissenters, critics of the Kremlin, and human rights defenders in Russia, or the war waged by the People’s Republic of China on its civil society, opponents, dissenting intellectuals, and even lawyers already disbarred by the regime.

Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are likely to live in a world where the successful exercise of power, be it plausible violence or good economic performance, increasingly becomes a license to abandon individual freedom, civil liberties, and human rights. Russia and China may best exemplify this sinister tendency, the embodiment of the Chinese alternative to the West, whose essence lies in capitalism without liberty, or the free market without democracy.


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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