“We must also look at home”

FDP politician Markus Loning has been the German government's human rights commissioner for almost a year now. He just returned from a trip to Tunisia, where he took stock of developments since the revolution. A balance sheet interview – also on his term in office.

CBA: Mr. Loning, what is the situation in Tunisia like??

Loning: People on the ground are clearly talking about a revolution for dignity and democracy. All my interlocutors have made it clear: We want transparency and responsible government representatives. People are preparing for the elections to the constituent assembly in June. At the same time, there is a lot of thinking about reforming the justice system.
CBA: How optimistic are you that the protest movements in the other North African and Arab countries will be similarly positive??

Loning: First of all, I really hope so. In Egypt, too, the democracy movement has already gained a lot of ground. Of course, this is all a long, arduous process that involves a lot of work. We have experienced this in Eastern Europe. And it doesn't always have to be about revolutions – in the kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan, changes from within are definitely underway and possible.
CBA: In Egypt, there were several violent clashes between Muslims and Christian Copts during the revolution. How threatened is religious freedom in the country??

Loning: It should not be overlooked that many Muslims and Christians demonstrated together for freedom and against these attacks. This is an internal social dispute that has not only religious but also social causes. My appeal goes out to political leaders to protect religious freedom, and to social groups to follow a path of peaceful tolerance, and to show those who incite violence and hatred their limits.
CBA: On 1. April marks your one year in office. What are you most disappointed about?

Loning: The handling of press freedom in Turkey.
CBA: What surprised you the most?

Loning: Turkey, too – the good development of human rights there in many other areas. For example, the open discussion about minority ies, the Kurdish question, about the Armenian question or the rights of religious minorities.
CBA: What are your biggest "construction sites" in the coming months?

Loning: North Africa certainly plays a big role, because we should do everything we can to support democratization. Another construction site is the South Caucasus, where protest movements are currently developing along Arab lines but are still suppressed. I am very concerned about Azerbaijan, where a lot of young people have now been thrown into prison for calling for demonstrations. The Balkans and Turkey remain building sites. But I am also concerned about some European problems: the Roma problem, for example, the treatment of homosexuals in Eastern Europe, and the general treatment of minorities. But we must also see at home that we live up to our own expectations.
CBA: What deficits do you see in Germany?

Loning: Dealing with the Muslim minority. The events in North Africa have collapsed the world view of the Sarrazins of this world – they show that democracy and dignity go very well together with Islam. I would like to see less exclusionary discussions in Germany, and more inclusive discussions. The core value of our society is not a religion, but is human rights.

The interview was conducted by Karin Wollschlager.

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