The Russia Profile Special Report is a quarterly publication that consists of a collection of articles by different staff and freelance authors dedicated to a specific central theme of the editors' choosing. Stories found in our Special Reports are the best-researched, most profound and comprehensive analytical pieces available at RussiaProfile.Org.
The Special Reports are an indispensible tool for any Russia watcher or researcher interested in taking a closer look at the pressing issues that affect the modern Russian society. The reports are a derivative of the print version of our monthly magazine that is no longer published on paper, but is available in various digital formats for the convenience of our readers.
We welcome all feedback and suggestions from our readers, so if there is a specific topic you would like Russia Profile to take a closer look at, please let us know!
By Illegitimating the Conference with His Speech, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Dissolved Russia's Latest Attempt to Play Heavyweight in International Politics
This week Geneva is hosting the Durban review conference, a follow-up to the controversial World Conference against Racism held there in 2001. But even before it began the conference had already stirred more controversy than its predecessor, with some countries refusing to participate off the bat and others walking out halfway through. Russia seized the opportunity to partake in the event for the sake of looking like an important international player, but failed to achieve its goal.
Memories of the 2001 event in Durban were too strong to ignore. That conference turned into a heated argument over Israel’s policy in Palestine. The draft declaration that was under review at the meeting linked Zionism to racism and labeled Israel's treatment of the Palestinians as racist. Both Israel and the United States protested this notion, eventually walking out on the debate.
The wording of the final draft adopted at the conference was milder, and accusations against Israel were removed. The text of the new declaration, as well as the way in which the conference was conducted, left many of its participants unsatisfied.
This time, history repeated itself. The proposed declaration and the list of speakers at the conference alienated a number of the supposed participants, with a total of nine countries choosing not to send delegates to Switzerland.
Canada was the first country to pull the plug on the meeting in January of last year, even before Israel itself announced its intention not to skip the conference, fearing that just like the last time, the event would turn into a parade of anti-Israeli sentiments. American President Barack Obama said that the draft declaration raised a “whole set of objectionable provisions.” These objections were echoed in Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland, who also decided not to attend. A number of European countries including France and the United Kingdom sent low-level delegations.
The fact that an invitation was extended to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, notorious for denying the Holocaust and criticizing Israel, aggravated tensions. Israel even went as far as to recall its ambassador to Switzerland, after the Swiss President Hans-Rudolph Merz met with Ahmadinejad. Dutch Foreign Minister Maxim Verhagen said that the conference was too important to be used for political goals inconsistent with its purpose and for “attacks on Western countries.”
The actual conference lived up to the dire expectations on the very first day. Just like in 2001, Ahmadinejad, who was the only head of state in attendance, sounded off on Israel, delivering what basically served as the conference's keynote address. Despite having toned down his belligerent rhetoric, his speech still touched on a few issues controversial enough to make a number of international envoys leave the room before the Iranian president had a chance to finish. He admonished Israel as a “racist state” and accused the country of conducting nothing short of genocide against the Palestinian people. Delegates from the Czech Republic never returned to the meeting room, effectively joining the boycott.
Though this time Ahmadinejad refrained from calling the Holocaust into question and expressing his hope that Israel will be wiped off the map, he nonetheless stole the show. The conference was once again mired in controversy, with any attempts to hold a rational discussion on racism doomed.
By accomplishing his goals, Ahmadinejad put an end to Russia's hopes of achieving its own. The Russians did not shy away from participating. Moreover, they accepted the offer to be the vice-chair of the Preparatory Committee working on the declaration and the conference’s agenda, thus attempting to play a key role at another high profile international event.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko elaborated on the country’s decision to partake in what few others wanted to be a part of in his interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which was published on the first day of the conference. He said that a number of countries refused to participate before Russia joined in, on orders from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “Today, everybody is pleased with the results of our work. It was a hard thing to do. Over the past few months, negotiations and consultations were going on around the clock, and not only in Geneva,” said Yakovenko.
He claimed that the need to combat racism, one of the world’s main problems at present, was the reason behind Russia’s decision to get involved. But undoubtedly, the country had other interests in the ordeal—it attempted to once again take center stage in global politics, following previous attempts to play a prominent role in tackling major international issues, from directing efforts to fight piracy to combating the global financial crisis. “This is a way for Russia to show that it can be an independent player. By agreeing to participate and serve as a moderator at an event boycotted by others, it proved that it could act independently, most importantly from the Western states. In the words of [French President Nicholas] Sarkozy, you lose if you’re absent,” said Andrei Podoplekin, a political scientist at the Pomor State University.
But far from everyone was satisfied with how the Durban declaration was reworked. The event itself fell victim to Ahmadinejad's political games, since his message was directed mostly at his domestic audience. Gearing up for the presidential elections in June, Ahmadinejad is facing a number of challenges at home, but anti-Semitic rhetoric has worked in his favor so far, garnering just enough public support for him to stay in office. At least in this he succeeded. The Guardian reported that Ahmadinejad received favorable press reviews and a warm welcome back home.
The declaration against racism, xenophobia and intolerance was adopted without voting three days ahead of the schedule on Tuesday. Pillay called the early adoption of the declaration an “answer to Ahmadinejad.” Delegates feared that given more time, more changes could be made, particularly by Libya, which wanted to throw in some amendments regarding Palestine. The declaration stated that the Holocaust “should never be forgotten” and was reportedly signed by Iran.
Despite the declared victory over Ahmadinejad, the conference now appears stripped of any real significance. “Unfortunately, the outcome was exactly the opposite of what the point of the conference actually was. Instead of uniting the efforts of the global community to fight racism and xenophobia, it only served as proof of the inability to reach any common ground on these issues. Instead of becoming an important international event, it turned into an Ahmadinejad show,” said Fedor Lukyanov, the Chief Editor of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
As for Russia, boycotting the conference would not have been a smart move, but investing so much effort into it produced little if any positive results. “Hopes to establish [the conference] as an influential international forum and bolster Russia’s position by presiding over it ended in utter failure,” said Lukyanov.
You may place this material on your blog by copying the link.