November 15, 1997 in Nation/World

A Plea For Tolerance And Human Rights First Lady Lauds Former Soviet Lands For Respecting Their Ethnic Diversity

Laurie Kellman Associated Press
 
Tags:travel

In Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging government leaders to “create a civil society” - code words for cleaning up their human rights records.

She is encouraging girls to “become as educated as you possibly can,” without mentioning indications that they are working or married instead because their governments do not compel their school attendance.

Social prescriptions wrapped in diplomatic language have been Clinton’s calling card on her visit to the developing republics of the former Soviet Union.

On Friday, she suggested that warring societies in some volatile countries should learn from the Jews, Christians and Muslims who have lived peacefully in Samarkand for thousands of years.

Indeed, there is concern that rapid changes in some former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan could prompt violent resistance. But Clinton cited other examples.

“In Bosnia and Rwanda, in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, you will … see places where extremists hijack holy traditions, not to lift people up closer to God but to push them apart,” she told about 100 Uzbeks at the Afroseyob Hotel in Samarkand.

“I have come to learn from you,” she added. “To learn from you not only about your rich past and rich culture, but also about the deeply rooted traditions of respect for religious and ethnic differences which have enabled this culture to flourish for so many generations.”

Clinton’s agenda during her eight-day, five-nation tour, is mapped carefully around diplomatic land mines.

According to the State Department, Uzbekistan’s human rights record has improved but serious problems remain. The government denies registration to independent political parties and other potential critics, and public meetings and demonstrations require approval. Islamic leaders have been harassed and arrested, and there is significant discrimination and domestic abuse against women.

Besides Clinton’s visit, the United States has made many efforts to promote friendship with the republics.

American aid has flowed into the region.

Clinton, for example, held a photo session on the tarmac in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, this week with a truckload of $2 million in drugs and clothes from Project Hope. She has presided over the openings of two women’s clinics supported by American dollars. The United States is paying for 12 other such clinics in the republics.

To symbolize peaceful coexistence between cultures, Clinton visited a 400-year-old synagogue in Samarkand that survived Soviet efforts to disband it. It is down the street from a mosque and a traditional Muslim fountain.


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