Amb. Richard Clark Barkley (Last Serving US Ambassador to East Germany)

03.10.2010 - Interview conducted by Joel MacMillan

Q1. You were the last serving American Ambassador to the DDR, so as someone who saw it from such an intimate perspective, what did it mean to the people of both East and West Germany?

That’s a rather broad scale question, and I think they are still trying to sort that out as a matter of fact. It certainly meant more for the people from East Germany, because after-all, they voluntarily decided to join West Germany. They basically had to change their entire societal structure as they went from being a communist, socialist society, with essentially an organized economy to a democratic, open parliamentary system with a capitalistic market. In every aspect there lied dramatic changes.

Q2. You served as head of the US Embassy in Turkey from 1991-1994. The debate over Turkey’s membership in the EU is a divisive topic within Europe. One of the challenges Turkey faces is its human rights record, however they have made improvements in recent years. What does Turkey need to do to overcome their controversial human rights track record, and do you feel this is the biggest hurdle for them to join the EU?

Well, this is a long history. When I was there, in terms of human rights was over integrating the Kurdish population. The Kurds are a group that live in four different countries, and almost 20% of Turkey is Kurdish, and there are also Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and some in Armenia as well. After “Desert Storm” which all of the allies joined to drive Saddam out of Kuwait, Turkey’s southern border to the west was very porous. The area around there previously traded a lot with Iraq, but the trades dried up immediately and it led to massive unemployment. But it was used by Kurdish separatists to push for more independence, and it was resisted strongly by the Turks. It led to a full scale war, an insurrection which took many different forms. It is important to keep in mind however that the Kurdish population was mobile like everywhere else. In Turkey, there were large Kurdish populations throughout the country, and even many parts of Turkey, it began to integrate and inter-marry with the Turks. The leader of that independent Kurdish group, raised the flag of revolt, and it became a very bloody exchange along that border. Whenever you get into that kind of thing, diplomatic and human rights niceties are not always honoured, and of course the Kurds had a lot of sympathy from people who had also suffered at one time or another in Turkey. The Kurdish groups who where in revolt, were also considered terrorists by the Western Allies, so it became a very difficult problem and a lot of Turkish soldiers and Kurds, in a time like that got involved in what’s called ‘Collateral Damage’- which basically society gets involved.

Q3. You also spent two years as the deputy head of the US embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. Since apartheid fell, how would you assess the South Africa’s human rights progress, and what potential do you see in that state as a whole?

Well let me address the timeline there. I am not a visionary, and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, and I haven’t been very well informed as to what is happening there now. When I was there, the process of dismantling apartheid had already begun. I say that in terms of the government was opening up many areas that before had been closed to the populations who were considered under that time under apartheid rule, whether they were coloured, black, or Indian. One of the sicknesses of apartheid is they categorize people by their colour, and it was already starting to open. There was already a tremendous amount of pressure on them. Part of the problem, was that there was differing views with the United States government in that a large part of the government thought the best way to erode apartheid was to expand the economy because the white population desperately needed the workers of these other groups. That was a position that was supported by many Liberation groups in South Africa itself. There was another group where you could only achieve that by punishing the government, indeed it would be forced to relinquish. That group was very strongly represented in the United States, in particular Congress. As a result, the government, this was the government of President Regan, was forced by Congress to put together sanctions against the government of South Africa. It caused many businesses from America, and businesses from other countries to leave, and it had a terrible effect on the economy, but it struck all levels of the economy. It wasn’t only just one level, so when I left, I wasn’t quite sure where this would head. When I was ambassador in East Germany, the news came that Nelson Mandela, who had been in prison for many years had been released, and that the new President of South Africa F.W. De Kler decided it was time to go back and have some kind of arrangement where apartheid ended, and indeed that is what happened. I can only tell you from a personal standpoint I wasn’t there, but the great persona of Nelson Mandela made the transition instantly easier than it normally would have been.  

Q4. Large scale institutions and organizations such as the UN, Oxfam, and Red Cross are sometimes seen as overly bureaucratic. Do you think that the processes of these institutions can be improved to better help development and human rights?

Well the UN has been around a long time and has been criticized a long time. From what I know, I have no interior knowledge of the UN as I never served there, and I hope that I have learned throughout the course of my career to not comment on things I don’t know about. However, I would guess that there is still a great need for the United Nations, primarily as a forum to keep discussions open, and hopefully a forum for President Obama, the people unwilling to unclench their fists and willing to engage in discussion.

Thank you so much for your time.