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THE INDEX — July 29, 2009

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Jonathan Power: Russia, Europe's Other Half

Read it for yourself, and don’t dismiss it, as most western commentators have. The Pan-European Security Treaty, proposed by Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, is worth a read. Doubtless it can be modified, improved and ambiguities removed. But it makes a lot of sense, and it would be another step forwards to what the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, urged—the creation of a “European house”, that contains Russia as one of its inhabitants. Only those “with one foot in the Cold War,” to quote President Barack Obama on the eve of his recent visit to Moscow, should find it objectionable. Indeed, play down Bolshevism and the Cold War. The moment communism, the Cold War and all its baggage were over, Russia itself quickly revived. This was, after all, a period of only 70 years in Russia’s long history—which began even before Prince Vladimir, its ruler, accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and for his people a thousand years ago. It is 500 years since Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of the Church’s leadership to Russia. When Constantine in 326 AD moved the throne of the Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his newly adopted Church with him, the city became the headquarters of the Christian faith and its patriarch. When it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453, the only place for both the spirit and the headquarters of the Church to move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic lands.  The “legitimate Church” was now the heritage of Russia. And 1453 was also the end of the Roman Empire. The consequences for Europe have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy in Russia saved Europe from the full impact of the eastern nomads and Islam. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the West. In 1767, the Empress Catherine categorically stated that “Russia is a European state.” In his ambitious study of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that “Fears of the ‘Bear’ did not prevent the growth of a general consensus regarding Russia’s membership in Europe. This was greatly strengthened in the nineteenth century by Russia’s role in the defeat of Napoleon, and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Chekov.” Indeed it is clear that when it comes to the proficiency in all the arts, Russia has no peer in Europe. Even in the worst of times under Soviet totalitarian rule many individual Russians, not only Gorbachev, in their hearts wanted a European identity—not difficult to believe among those who were conscious of the natural links of their country’s artistic talents and their (repressed) Church. The end of the communist dictatorship enabled Russians and many of the other peoples of the former Soviet Union to greet, in Vaclav Havel’s phrase, the “Return to Europe."

Ruthie Ackerman: Liberia's Difficult Path Toward Reconciliation

Ruthie Ackerman's Rebuilding Liberia, One Brick at a Time was published in the Summer 2009 issue of World Policy Journal. The blog post below addresses recent developments in Liberia, including the trial of former president Charles Taylor at the Hague and the implication of current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Recently in Liberia, the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission shocked foreign observers by implicating President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, widely admired in the United States and in the international women's community, in the destructive 14-year civil war. It recommended that she be banned from holding public office for 30 years. The TRC’s final report recommends nearly 100 names for prosecution, including Sirleaf, who, ironically, set up the commission when she took office in 2006, outraging many of her supporters as well as the warlords who took part in the conflict. The TRC believes Sirleaf did not show remorse or give a full account of her involvement with former president Charles Taylor, whose defense has begun at The Hague for war crimes against the citizens of Sierra Leone. In contrast, warlord-turned-preacher Joshua Milton Blahyi, better known as “General Butt Naked,” was judged to show sufficient remorse for killing up to 20,000 people and was left off the TRC’s prosecution list.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Many Liberians are angry at what seems like arbitrary justice. And anger can easily bubble over into violence. The problem is that the peace in Liberia is fragile—for example, sexual violence against women is as high as it was during the war—and the uncertainty and chaos caused by the TRC’s recommendations may foreshadow even more trouble ahead. After the commission recommended that Sirleaf be barred from office at the end of her tenure in 2011, commissioners began receiving death threats. Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson, a former warlord of the rebel group Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, reportedly warned of violence if there are any attempts to arrest him based on the TRC’s recommendations. Leymah Gbowee—who was recognized with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her efforts organizing the women’s protests that played a central role in ending the Liberian civil war—says the report has a lot of potential to wreak havoc on the country. But she does not think Sirleaf will step down as president, something her critics are urging her to do. “She’s a fighter and I think she will work through her mandate,” says Gbowee, who is the star of Abigail Disney’s award-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” “The worst case scenario,” Gbowee believes, “is that as a result of the report she wouldn’t seek a second term.” In order to write its final report, the TRC statement takers traveled around Liberia for three years, hearing the testimony of more than 22,000 people affected by the civil war, which left a quarter of a million dead, millions displaced, and a majority of the women raped. Yet even the commission acknowledges that the public is likely to be disappointed, in expecting “that the TRC will produce a one-size fits all remedy to decades of injustice and violent armed conflict in a neatly bow-tied end product.” The next step is to create a separate human rights commission responsible for implementing all the TRC’s recommendations, including investigating individuals further and following through with prosecutions. Even in the best of circumstances none of this will happen immediately. Nor should it. The TRC act calls for a quarterly report on the progress of the implementation of its recommendations. But they are only recommendations. The commission itself cannot decide if an individual has committed a crime, or even award reparations. That would require a go-ahead from the government, and it is unclear whether the political will exists.

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