Alex Grigorevs: Azerbaijan should not refuse of friends

(Interview by Turan with the former head of NDI office in Baku)

Question: Last year and a half the Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly and at different levels made serious allegations against the NDI and you personally. In particular, it was alleged that you illegally finance the youth organizations in the country to commit a Facebook revolution. As evidence, the press published a copy of your bank documents confirming that you debited significant amounts of cash. What can you say about all this?

Answer: To begin with, it is unlikely that employees of foreign companies had a lot of people so well-intentioned to Azerbaijan, and so loyal to the authorities of your country, as I am. That is, to the usual rules for NDI - strict compliance with laws there should be added my human sympathy for a country that, like my native Latvia, suffered much from the Soviet Union and more recently began to build a democratic society.

 Some of my friends from the Azerbaijani opposition resented me for what I believed that the way to Azerbaijan democracy along Western lines will be long and that it was with the very foundations: Education and habits of social activities on the grassroots level - the level of Mahalla.

Education was of such activities and the main content of NDI under my leadership. Youth activists were engaged in further lessons with orphans, scavenged, planted trees, developed parks, and carried out light and water to villages, where they were not before. And they did it all in close collaboration with local authorities, as we had taught them.

Projects that we supported financially had the same plan, except for one - the observation of elections.

Unfortunately, until very recently, Azerbaijan refused to register NDI (the Institute was officially registered only in the last year of my stay in the country). Because of this, we did not have a corporate account during the fifteen years of work in Azerbaijan. NDI was funded through a personal account of the director of the office. It is very easy to check. I just continued this practice, while doubling the efforts to register. That is my personal account was actually the account of the NDI office.

It is easy to check and what the money was spent: the maintenance of the office in the center of Baku, fees for the employees, conducting training events: seminars and conferences. During the workshops, NDI paid not only rent for the hall, but all the participants' costs: travel costs till the place of the classes, meals and accommodation. Baku is an expensive city. One seminar could cost up to twenty thousand dollars, depending on the hotel.

I still think that the attacks on NDI were the result of infighting in the ruling circles of Azerbaijan, a sort of trial balloon – what can collide with the Americans? If the consequences were too severe, they could easily turn it to reverse, saying we are not attacking the United States, but Grigorevs! And he is not even American. It happens.

Question: What was the activity of the NDI office in Baku, with whom did you work and what were the projects?

Answer: I have already touched on this a bit. So, the main directions were:

a) Support for civil society, where it is and its development where it does not exist;

b) Election observation. Practically, this was expressed in two types of activities: provision of training and grants from medium to ultra-small (ultra-small grant could be a couple of hundred dollars). The largest grant was provided by the organization of election observation, on which in recent times, alas, fell the wrath of the Azerbaijani authorities. The head of this organization Anar Mammadli, unfortunately, at this time is a political prisoner in Azerbaijan.

Question: In the last period the Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly stated that the NDI and other Western institutions aim to overthrow the government in Azerbaijan. This was used to block the activity of western donors with local civil society. How do you evaluate this policy of the authorities and what could it lead to?

Answer: About the overthrow of the power - it's just nonsense. Most likely, the President is frightened by the Russian special services and their agents. This policy cannot lead to anything good. Unfortunately, the authorities do not realize that suppressing civil society, they lose a partner in negotiations on the future of Azerbaijan, and quarreling with the West, they lose allies that they are likely to need, sooner or later.

Q: Why are the Azerbaijani authorities so afraid of civil society, why do they not use its power for real democratic reforms?

Answer: No power wishes restrictions, limits and observers for itself. No wonder the founding fathers of the United States distinguished between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government so that they restrict one another. Democratic reforms are held at the request of society, and let them be conducted as a result of negotiations, not revolutions.

It is a vicious circle: the civil society is too weak to demand reforms and to be heard, and the power does not let it intensify and develop. As a result, in the case of social upheaval an unstructured rebellion is possible, like the Russian - "senseless and merciless." Then it is not clear with whom to negotiate and on what exactly. There is a public discontent in Azerbaijan is. This is the main internal threat to the country.

Q: Why is the West reconciled with all this, why does it not apply sanctions? Maybe, the local Democrats, who argue that the West traded democracy for oil, are right?

Answer: It is important to understand one thing. Democracy in Azerbaijan can only be the handiwork of Azerbaijanis themselves. Look at Russia, what sort of violation of all international laws and yet the West is slow to sanctions. Real intervention is only in the case of mass destruction of civilians, as was the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Libya. But even in such cases, intervention is not guaranteed.

Russia razed Grozny to the ground, but no sanctions were applied. Look at Syria. This is the most important thing. And mainly the West policy is balancing and trying to find a balance between the economic interests and the moral values​​.  It's not ideal, but still better than if such property did not exist at all.

Question: How do you assess the attitude of the authorities of Azerbaijan to you personally? You were called a CIA agent and an enemy of Azerbaijan, what do you say on this issue?

Answer: It flatters, angers and amuses me. It angers me because I am shown as an enemy of Azerbaijan. They should not refuse of friends this way. I am flattered and amused because my modest person is given a value far superior to the real. -02B-

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