George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
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Press Conference of the SI in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey, 24 March 2012

Luis Ayala, George A. Papandreou, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
Luis Ayala, George A. Papandreou, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
PASOK Press Office
Press Conference of President of the Socialist International, George A. Papandreou, Secretary General of Socialist International, Luis Ayala, and the leader of the CHP Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, after the conclusion of the work of the Special Committee of the Socialist International for the Arab World
 
For technical reasons, missing the top part of the introductory placement Luis Ayala.
 
Luis Ayala:    …of the Socialist International about these transitions. But, particularly, with the uprising and the beginning of the Arab Spring, for the last 14 years, the International have been in contact and working with parties, movements, people, actors of these democratic revolutions. As you have seen here in these discussions in Istanbul, this is a circle that has been widening and more and more Arab members have joined the circle of this discussion and the work of our International.
 
And here in Istanbul, there were about 15 countries represented by leaders, political parties, bloggers, individuals who have been and are today architects of these new political times in the Arab countries. So, we have after discussion issued a statement; there is a declaration that is available for all the members of the press at the moment. It will be available in all languages; English, French, Turkish and Arabic.
 
And then, to start in this Press Conference, our President, who also by the way chaired this Committee. We started it together in the first meeting - this has been the second, in Athens, last year.
 
He chaired these discussions, he will address the Press Conference and tell you about our discussions and our agreements and then, also, the leader of CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, will also address the Press Conference. So, George, you have the floor.
 
George A. Papandreou:    Thank you, Luis. It has been a very fruitful meeting and I would like to thank our host, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on behalf of the Socialist International, and thank him and all the members and deputies of the CHP, who have been very helpful in hosting this and helping for the very constructive atmosphere for our Committee.
 
It is a timely meeting. It is a timely meeting, because of the developments, the continued developments in the Arab World. It is a timely meeting, because of the developments in Syria and, of course, we know that there will also be a meeting soon in Turkey of the Friends of Syria and, therefore, this has been a very positive discussion as to how we see the developments and how we believe things should move.
 
As Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the SI said, we have a large number of participants. Many parties from the Arab World, but also representatives of movements, representatives of opposition in areas where there are still dictatorships, such as in Syria; but also activists, bloggers, individuals, intellectuals, who are here and participate in this Committee.
 
So this gives us a broad spectrum and we bring with us, the Socialist International, 160 parties from around the world. Many of us, such as me, but also Luis here, come from countries that have lived through dictatorships and have lived through transitions.
 
And we are here also, and we have said this to our Arab friends and Arab comrades, is that we are here as equals; to share experience and to learn from each other and help in this democratic transition. That is why today our meeting has concluded with four major points to empower the progressive actors, secure the success of the transition.
 
Secondly, to address the humanitarian and political crises, particularly in Syria, to define from our point of view what we see as a blueprint, a social-democratic, a progressive democratic blueprint for success for these countries that transition. And also, to enhance our cooperation, deepen our cooperation in the region.
 
We have in our discussions condemned the massacres in Syria. The Assad regime refuses to accept that change is inevitable. And as someone said in our meeting, it is not if there will be change, but when there will be change. We stand firmly on the side of the Syrian people, in the fight for democracy, in the fight for human rights. And we have fully backed the initiatives, the efforts of the United Nations and the Arab League.
 
There are six points outlined in the presidential statement of the UN Security Council: Bring an end to the fighting and to achieve the cessation of armed violence, provision of humanitarian assistance, freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists, respect the freedom of association, the right to demonstrate peacefully.
 
We also called, as Socialist International, on Russia and China, as members of the Council of the United Nations, to work in line with the overwhelming sentiment of the international community to protect the Syrian people.
 
And, of course, our ultimate goal as social-democrats is a way to see a way for free and fair elections in Syria. This is the ultimate objective. Of course, we mentioned and we talked about the transition in other countries. Tunisia.
 
There is a constituent assembly in Tunisia and we have said that the new constitution should reflect and acknowledge the equal rights and inclusion of people of all genders, religions, ethnicities, as well as minorities. This is for us paramount.
 
In Egypt, we must keep alive the spirit of Tahrir Square. And for this, we have expressed our concerns on the restrictions faced by the democratic activists, the restrictions on their activities, the bloggers, the members of civil society; and of course we expect this presidential election scheduled for May and June to be held under free and fair conditions. Anything less would be a betrayal of the spirit of the Egyptian Spring and the sacrifices the Egyptians have made.
 
In Yemen, we welcomed the removal from office of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s authoritarian ruler. And we have welcomed, of course, the installation of the new President, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and expressed our hope for success of the national dialogue to be launched in search of a consensus solution to pressing problems that the country is facing.
 
In Morocco, elections have taken place under a new constitutional framework and we see that our social-democratic forces will be holding to account this procedure, of course, this democratic procedure in Morocco. In Algeria, there are forthcoming elections. They will be the measure of democratic rights and freedoms of the Algerian people and our International will closely follow these elections, which need to be free and fair.
 
Of course, in Palestine, the Palestinian authority and President Abbas are holding Palestinian elections this year. We have supported the need to allow for unity of the Palestinian political institutions and parties; a necessity for the urgent realization of a viable and independent state of Palestine. And in this context, we reiterate what we have said many times as Socialist International for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land beyond the 1967 borders.
 
Concerning Libya, we were encouraged and are encouraged by the plans to hold elections to a new constitutional assembly on 20th of June. It is crucial for us that all Libyans and all regions are dully represented and included in defining the future of this country, of the democratic Libyan state.
 
In Mauritania we support the demands of the Assembly of Democratic Forces and its allies, the coordination of democratic opposition in Mauritania for the installation of a transitional government to ensure the parliamentary elections planned for the 31st of March that they comply with democratic standards. And of course we will be following closely.
 
In Bahrain the ongoing detention of democratic activists arrested during last year’s demonstration for us is unacceptable. Ibrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ed) and all political prisoners must be released immediately. And the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry must be implemented without delay. We express our solidarity to Wa’ed and its members and the democrats of Bahrain.
 
On the eve of the Arab summit, which is to take place in the coming days in Baghdad, our Committee transmits its support and its solidarity to President Jalal Talabani. He is and his party is a member of the SI, the Socialist International, but we also express our solidarity with the Iraqi people, and we condemn unreservedly the recent bombings which target innocent civilians in Iraq. These attacks will not weaken our resolve and the resolve of the people of Iraq to achieve peace, stability and economic prosperity. More generally, our International, our movement, is in continued contact and is engaged with the democratic actors of all the revolutions and uprisings over the last 14 months.
 
We have widened the circle of our activities, political parties and movements and bloggers and activists, in the Arab world. And we are continuing to develop, as I said, blueprints, ideas, and proposals, exchange experience, to help this democratic transition. This is an historic transition, not only for the Arab world; it’s an historic transition for our planet; it’s an historic transition for democracy. And we want these transitions to be lasting and to be viable. And these transitions will be measured. We are here not only to support but also to measure these transitions. And they will be measured by the following values: Free and fair democratic elections.
 
That is one measure of whether the transition is going well. Justice, justice for those persecuted under authoritarian regimes. Comprehensive rights and freedoms for all citizens. Equal rights for women. The question of women around the world, in all our societies and of course in the transition to an Arab democracy, is crucial. So we are fighting for the equal rights of men and women, and the inclusion of women in all decision-making processes and government, as well as the equal rights and inclusion of minorities.
 
Another measure will be the openness, the transparency, the accountability of political institutions, the respect of political institutions to the people’s needs.
 
Again, in true solidarity, we are not here to impose our ideas; we are not here to be paternalistic. We have lived through similar experiences in the Socialist International. And this is why we are so close to these revolutions, these changes. That is why we are ready, and we are already helping in giving our experiences in transitions for the parties in the Arab world. Again, let me thank the CHP, the Republican People’s Party. And we expressed also the commitment in our resolution for the efforts of the party to ensure that Turkey guarantees freedom of expression to all, to all its citizens, respect of the independence of the judiciary, a fundamental condition of a democratic political system, and of course freedom of expression and the advance of their social democratic vision for Turkey and for all its citizens. Kemal, again thank you, and you have the floor.
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation from Turkish):    For the past two days now we have had a very good meeting that has been very fruitful. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in this meeting.
 
Congratulations to everyone who spoke and who contributed to this meeting. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank President Papandreou and Secretary General Ayala for their effective management and effective contributions to this meeting. They have been extremely elegant and they have been extremely comprehensive in their efforts. As the CHP party, we are very proud of being able to host an international meeting of such significance. The final declaration, as well as this meeting, will hopefully give hope to the Arab world and will show them that the socialists and social democrats give them full support in their struggle. We are ready to support all peoples who want to seek their rights and who want to become free. This meeting has been a good opportunity to voice our determination to do so. The Socialist International has always underlined the importance of international norms and rules. We have always complied with our principles. This meeting has had deep repercussions in Turkey.
 
There are people whose freedom of expression has been limited, people who have been detained for a long time unfairly, and people who have not been subject to a fair trial. We are hoping that our calls will land on the ears of those who have been grieved and who have actually done them wrong. I hope that the participants will go back to their countries with more hope and more strength. CHP believes in the importance of democracy, rule of law, gender equality and human rights. We have always supported and will always continue to support these principles. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
 
Luis Ayala:    Thank you. Thank you very much. Now we will offer the opportunity for those who have some questions to those on this side of the room. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourself? Thank you.
 
Journalist (Interpretation from Turkish):    Mr. Papandreou has emphasised democracy. I understand that this meeting also focused on democracy. My question goes to Mr. Papandreou as well as Mr. Kiliçdaroğlu. In Turkey we always talk about democracy. However, there are more than 500 students in prison right now. Some generals are being detained. There are detained parliamentarians from three parties, of course no one from the party that is in government. Yesterday a student has been freed, after he was imprisoned for 25 months. And he was put in prison because of a specific headscarf that he used. How do you see this, Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Kiliçdaroğlu? Thank you.
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation from Turkish):    We talked about these issues yesterday. At the opening speech of the meeting Mr. Papandreou talked about some general aspects, and I used the opportunity to talk about the quality of democracy here in Turkey. I tried to be critical of the problems of democracy that we have here in Turkey.
 
As you said, more than 500 journalists and young students, university students, are in prison. And they are in prison simply because they wanted to exercise their own rights. The journalists simply expressed their opinions. The Socialist International has a resolution at a higher body about the detained journalists. That’s why we didn’t go back to the issue of detained journalists. However, let me say that the Socialist International fails to understand why people who have been elected are detained for a long time.
 
We talk about democracy, freedom of thought, peace. We talk about the willpower of the people. And of course you can’t have detained parliamentarians in a country that tries to further strengthen its democracy.
 
This is unacceptable. Let me go back to the issue of university students, journalists, parliamentarians. They are imprisoned not only in Turkey but also in other countries too. But in fact they are the very people who should be given the opportunity to express their thoughts freely. They should not be limited; they should not be detained in any way. Thank you.
 
George A. Papandreou:    Thank you very much. Well, first of all one thing I have said also in my initial statement is that the fight for democracy is an ongoing struggle in each of our countries. And of course there are differences and there are some basic principles, but there are also new challenges around the world, which mean that we need to see how we have democratic oversight.
 
How do we have democratic oversight when you have, let’s say, tax heavens around the world, where capital can move from one country to another, and basically robbing our people of their resources?
 
How can you have democratic oversight when the financial system can make decisions and they from one day to another can wreak havoc, can undermine our economies?
 
Or how can you have democracy when rating agencies can be stronger than our parliaments? But then there are basic issues within our countries, and our socialist family has made statements concerning Turkey also. You know that I have worked closely with Turkey and have always been a proponent of Turkey moving towards membership in the European Union, of course within a framework, within a framework of obligations that we all have, as members of this family.
 
It’s more a family of values, I like to call it, rather than a geographic family. It’s a family of values. And this is why I would agree with the statement of Hannes Swoboda, who has now just recently been elected to the parliamentary group of the socialists in the European Union. And he says that: “We call on the Turkish government to build on the legacy of the early reforms that brought Turkey closer to the EU standards and demonstrate the central importance of human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
 
In this context, as a matter of priority we urge the reform of those provisions of Turkey’s anti-terror law and criminal law that, coupled with the restrictive and often politicised attitudes of judges and prosecutors, lead to persistent violations of freedom of expression in Turkey.”
 
So I think that statement is quite comprehensive. Thank you.
 
Journalist:    I have a question for CHP leader Kemal. You have stated opposition to a military intervention when Syria crashes. So how do you see the possibility of such military intervention and the involvement by the Turkish government? And how would your opposition party to stop such involvement in military intervention in Syria?
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation from Turkish):    Turkey is a member of international organisations. Our founding president was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and said if it is not unavoidable, war is murder. It would not be correct for Turkey to intervene in Syria through the use of military force. I have always opposed this.
 
If the United Nations makes a resolution to this end, and if the Republic of Turkey feels their responsibility as a member of the United Nations, it will fulfil whatever responsibility falls on its shoulders. However, besides such a UN resolution, entering Syria, declaring war against Syria or creating a buffer zone would not be correct.
 
Journalist (Interpretation):    I have a question to Mr. Kiliçdaroğlu. Yesterday, when he left for South Korea, Prime Minister Erdogan talked about ending terrorism. He said that, as political powers, we would never sit down at a table. And rather than that, we would like to say that we have already talked to the political extensions. And here he means the BDP party. What would you reply to this? The Prime Minister says that we may continue our talks with the BDP. What do you say about this?
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation):    Well, we have no opposition to that. We’d only be glad if he continued his talks with the BDP.
 
Journalist (Interpretation):    Do you think that such a talk would put an end to this anti-terrorism movement? 
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation):    Any bilateral talk cannot stop terrorism; that’s my personal idea. This issue is a basic issue for Turkey. We need conciliation around the community. We need to find a solution from the people, through the people.
 
I think that we can reach better solutions if we adopt this perspective in our approach. We can only get better and more sustainable solutions by using this method.
 
Journalist (Interpretation):    I have a question to Mr. Kiliçdaroğlu. Mr. Cemil Çiçek sent a new proposal about the national education system that is called the 4+4+4 system. What would you like to say about this new proposal?
 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (Interpretation):    Well, I will reply with a joke. It is said that Cemil Çiçek said don’t tell my mom that I simply work in archiving of documents. She still thinks that I am a parliamentarian.
 
Journalist (Interpretation):    I’d like to ask a question in French, please. How come – do you organise a meeting like this for every occasion? No, let me ask you this. Let me put it this way. How come, whenever there is a meeting about the Arab world, such a meeting is never hosted by an Arab country? That’s what I’d like to know. The first meeting of this committee was in Crete. The second meeting is here in Istanbul. So I’d like to know why this meeting is not held somewhere in the Arab world, since this meeting is all about the Arab world itself.
 
George A. Papandreou:    The third meeting will be in an Arab country. We haven’t decided, but we also, sometimes for practical reasons – don’t forget that we are talking about countries. If we have a meeting in an Arab country, we are talking about having a meeting not generally in an Arab country but where the revolution and the transition is taking place. Otherwise the symbolism is not, I think, there.
 
We want to help. And don’t forget that sometimes, because of the transition, the organisational problems can be there. But maybe, Luis, you want to say something on this. But our next meeting, we have decided in this committee, will be in an Arab country. We haven’t decided where yet, but we will soon announce it.
 
Luis Ayala:    I think it is part of what we are trying to do. You know, if we would have been able to have a meeting in Damascus, we should have been there, I’m sure. We would have been very happy to have a meeting in Syria. But you know we are a global family, and we are all committed to our agenda. And here is a commitment of our members, and it is reflected also on this kind of hospitality that we receive, and to where we are invited. This is a party in Turkey committed to the causes of freedom, democracy, rights for the Arab people. And we are very pleased to be with the CHP.
 
The same happened in Athens, and also the fact that the President Papandreou is the chair of these discussions is also a reflection of the fact that he invited us to the very first meeting there. But there are many other invitations, and we will go the next time to an Arab country. But most important of all this is that we are also present almost weekly everywhere, as an international.
 
I just came back myself three days ago from Yemen. We will be going in a delegation next time to elections in Algeria or elections in perhaps Mauritania for the end of the month. We are present throughout the Arab world. President Papandreou and myself, we have plans now to visit some other countries. So we are permanently flying the flag of the International everywhere. Thanks.
 
George A. Papandreou:    And I could just add to this one more thing. I think it’s also important to bring many of the representatives of the Arab world and the transition to different countries also outside the Arab world, so they could also give their view.
 
They often have meetings with the press. They discuss, they inform the public. We need to keep this transition and this effort alive in the minds not only of the Arab world but also of the whole world, because this is something which we all need to contribute to.
 
Luis Ayala:    Thank you. More questions? OK, dear friends, we thank you very much. I would repeat what I said at the beginning. There is a declaration, this three-page document which is available and which you can take with you. Thank you very much.
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