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Analysts: Confronting Tyrants Means Taking on Their Enablers

OSLO – Denouncing dictators is only partially effective without also naming and shaming their enablers, said analysts and activists Tuesday at a key international human-rights conference in the Norwegian capital.

“Let’s not just expose the ugliness of the pig; let’s expose those applying the lipstick, too,” Jamie Kirchick told participants at the fifth annual Oslo Freedom Forum in his address, “Devil’s Advocates.”

Kirchick – a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, columnist for Haaretz, and contributor to The Tower Magazine – said “postmodern dictators” pump tens of millions of dollars into public-relations efforts to help whitewash their dismal human-rights records.

Aided in that endeavor, however, are intellectuals and former statesmen who ought to know better. Kirchick singled out a group of Harvard political scientists who in 2006 authored a secret PR memo outlining methods to improve the reputation of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Former statesmen, he said, have also found themselves shilling for despots:

“Soon after stepping down as German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder became a well-compensated consultant to Gazprom, the Russian state oil company, and he has lauded Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ‘model democrat,’” Kirchick said. “Meanwhile, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has raked in millions of dollars as an adviser to Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of the oil-rich former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, which murders striking workers, shuts down independent media, and ‘wins’ elections with 96 percent of the vote.”

“An increasingly key tool in the arsenal of dictatorships is suave PR,” Kirchick told TheTower.org on the conference sidelines. “Relying on force of arms and other physical tactics are no longer sufficient. Dictatorial regimes now call upon the services of professional lobbying firms, former government officials, think tanks, business leaders — even journalists and non-profits — to make their case in the West.”


Jacob Mchangama, co-founder of the international human-rights group Freedom Rights Project, lauded the remarks as a “home run.”

“Western politicians, PR and consultancy firms and even NGOs whitewash ruthless dictators,” he told The Tower. Human-rights defenders, Mchangama said, now face “a new but crucial battleground: They must now confront these well-funded and well-connected spin machines as well as the dictators they protect.”

[Photo: Roland20002000 / YouTube]