EU Presidency peaks with Riga Summit

The climax of Latvia's six-month period holding the rotating presidency of the European Union was rapidly approaching Wednesday with the launch of two major seminars ahead of the main Eastern Partnership Summit due to take place May 21-22.

While traffic and transport routes started to be blocked off in order to accomodate the imminent influx of VIPs, conferences dedicated to the role of civil society and to media were already underway at venues in Riga.

Launching the 2nd Eastern Partnership Civil Society Conference
Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said of the Eastern Partnership summit: "It is an opportunity to adapt the Eastern Partnership relations to each country's specific needs."


"The events of the last year in Ukraine demonstrate the important role of civil society in peace and prosperity and what the risks are if it is not allowed to participate properly," Straujuma said.

Juris Poikans, Latvia's ambassador to the Eastern Partnership was keen to stress cooperation over confrontation and signalled the repressive regime of Azerbaijan was unlikely to face serious censure despite its unhealthy habit of locking up journalists.

"I am definitely against excluding Azerbaijan from any international organizations because with that we are losing platforms of communication and engagement. Clearly the progress of Azerbaijan in the field of human rights is insufficient but if you don't have these formats for cooperating and raising your concerns, I don't believe civil society in Azerbaijan will start to prosper," Poikans said.

"What is most important is to strengthen the resilience and independence of these countries so we must carry out reforms together and we must do it as fast as possible. Clearly the Eastern Partnership was not effective in tackling some issues like security so it was not prepared for wartime situations in Ukraine.

"We are learning on the spot but I don't see what else we can do at the moment. We must work together with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and other countries of the Eastern Partnership trying to improve the situation as much as possible, trying to reduce the possible pressure on these countries."

Inevitably much discussion centered on Russia's actions in the region even though it is not one of the six Eastern Partnership countries.

Aless Bialiatski, chairman of the Belarus Human Rights Center summed up one of the main problems - Russia's relentless propaganda campaign which saturates its neighbors' airwaves.

"If you watch Russian TV you can go crazy. You don't know what is real, it's like the propaganda of Goebbels' time. We have to stop such activities. It should be done using legal means... the emphasis should be on independent media who give an alternative view. Such projects should be supported.

"It could be just one information agency or a common agency where independent TV stations could get information but it should be in 6 languages. Only this will help prevent the information campaign which comes from Russia," Bialiatski said.

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