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Reporters on the Job

WAITING FOR DEMOCRACY: One of the things that seems to die very hard in the former Soviet Union, says reporter Fred Weir, is the tendency to create personality cults around the leader through massive use of state media, the education system, and the government's ability to control public spaces. Fred went to Baku, Azerbaijan, expecting to see some moderation of this tendency.

"Baku is a very cosmopolitan city," says Fred. "You have the strong influence of Western oil companies in the country, and of the Turkish example (the Azeri language is almost identical to Turkish, and they have close and growing ties) had made them modernize more rapidly than some other post-Soviet states in the region. But the development of its democratic culture remains stunted."

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Fred cites as Exhibit A, the press conference given to visiting journalists by the head of the Azerbaijan electoral commission. "He was telling us about all the efforts to make this an open, free, and fair election. Then he launched into a paean to President Geidar Aliyev and asserted with confidence that his son would be elected with a majority (page 7). There was no sense that this might not be appropriate for an official charged with ensuring the independence of the electoral process," says Fred.

David Clark Scott
World editor

CULTURAL SNAPSHOT