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OSCE Chief Promises Freedom, Tolerance, Democracy - 2004-01-15

The new head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says messages of freedom, tolerance, and democracy are crucial for former communist countries. The official is Bulgaria's foreign minister, Solomon Passy, a former dissident.

Mr. Passy told reporters the OSCE represented a beacon of hope for his generation living behind the Iron Curtain. He says that today, people in countries like Turkmenistan still need that type of beacon.

The former Soviet central Asian republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan remain largely cut off from the outside world and are frequently criticized by the OSCE and other organizations for human rights violations.

OSCE officials say harassment of journalists, torture and censorship are common in those countries, and some of them want to expel Turkmenistan, which they consider the biggest culprit.

But Mr. Passy, who will chair the 55-member organization for the year, said the international community must not abandon the people there.

"I believe whatever piece of information we can convey to Turkmenistan and to any other country will be of help," he said. "Freedom and democracy need first of all information and that's why information is a crucial element in our policies."

Mr. Passy went on to mention his own experience as an opposition activist during the cold war, when, he said, information from foreign sources was crucial.

"Isolation is counterproductive," said Solomon Passy. "We need dialogue, which however should be dialogue with the people. I remember from my youth how important [were] the messages coming from Radio Free Europe, from the Voice of America, from the BBC and Deutsche Welle."

Mr. Passy said for this reason education will be one his main priorities as OSCE chief. He also said education is important for the establishment of democratic institutions, and to promote tolerance and create successful market economies.

Mr. Passy said the OSCE will hold a special conference on anti-Semitism, which is growing in Europe, this year in Berlin.