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NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 2017


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Post-Truth: What Is the Role of Think Tanks in the Public Debate? >>

TOP NEWS

#GAHelsinki: Civil Society Evolution - Now and Then >>
Ready for Transition: Forum Is Becoming an Independent Association >>


WORKING GROUPS
European Law Enforcers Failed in Action - A New Report by the Fighting Transborder Corruption Group >>

MEDIA
Magomed Mutsolgov (MASHR, Karabulak, Russia): 'There is No Such a Thing as "Compromising Information Request" in the Legal Framework'
 >>
openDemocracy: Subscribe the Newsletter by Forum's Media Partner >>

MEMBERS' VIEWS
People in Need (Prague, Czech Republic): Homo Homini Award for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture >>
UNITED for Intercultural Action (Amsterdam, Netherlands): European Action Week against Racism 2017  >>
Greenpeace and EKA (Moscow, Russia): Environmentalists Joined Forces to Fight against Incineration and for Recycling of Waste >>

COMING SOON
"Different Wars" in Vilnius, Legal Dialogue Journal Release, Forum's Conference in Berlin >>

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Post-Truth: What Is the Role of Think Tanks in the Public Debate?

On request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Michal Vít, Research Fellow at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy (Prague, Czech Republic), shares the findings from the 2016 EUROPEUM’s Go To Think Tank Index presented earlier this year:

 

The recent development of perception of expert knowledge in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) shows significant redefinition of this in the public. That may be perceived from two different perspectives. Firstly, the way think tanks should develop and transmit their expert knowledge in the time, when emotions are winning over rational arguments. Secondly, the experience undertaken by think tanks affiliated to political parties in the CEE Region and lesson learned.

It is very difficult to expect that think tanks will be movers of a broader public debate, when using rationally grounded arguments. In the same context, it is impossible to expect that think tanks will play role of spin doctors or opinion makers if basic conditions are not (often) met - such as institutional stability of financing and personal capacity. Without these basic elements, it is hard to imagine that think tanks will effectively contribute to public debate with expert knowledge without constant need to secure funding for another budgetary period. This leads to the most crucial point. Without institutional stability, it is very hard to work on a long-term goal – broadly recognised reputation. Only if the organisation enjoys a professional status based on the work done, it can influence public debate with a greater extent. It might sound trivial, but recent developments show that only reputation based on professional work can be a tool to justify its activities and relevancy in public debate. However, this is equally emotion-based on a current popular questioning relevancy of expert knowledge. The context matters, and think tanks should be careful, when contributing to public debate.

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TOP NEWS

#GAHelsinki: Civil Society Evolution - Now and Then

On 1-3 February 2017, the 7th General Assembly (GA) of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (CSF) took place in Helsinki, Finland. It gathered around 230 representatives of member organisations, observers, donors, and the media.

‘Finland is a good place for civil society to be: There are 135,000 registered NGOs in the country with roughly 15 million members for 5.5 million inhabitants,’ says Anna Skvortsova, re-elected member of the Forum’s Steering Committee (SC) from St. Petersburg, Russia, co-moderator of the opening session on Finland. ‘This year, we are marking the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence and intense civil society evolution. With the General Assembly 2017, we used the opportunity to revive cooperation with local NGOs, to learn from them, to invite them to take active part in Forum's discussions and let them speak about current challenges they face and new solutions.’

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For official programme, photos, videos, and media items, please follow the link.

TOP NEWS

Ready for Transition: Forum Is Becoming an Independent Association

The 7th General Assembly (GA) in Helsinki, Finland (1-3 February 2017) took another important step towards the Forum's development. Following an earlier strategic decision by Forum members on incorporating the Forum as an independent legal entity, the Assembly voted for a specific format - an association. The founding meeting was attended by 22 representatives of Forum member organisations, who volunteered to join, and happened right after the GA final session.

The founders elected the current Steering Committee members as the Board and two Co-Chairs - Ralph du Long of UNITED for Intercultural Action (Netherlands) and Łukasz Wenerski of Institute of Public Affairs (Poland).  At the moment, the Board members are preparing a comprehensive package of draft by-laws for the new entity, which will be sent to Forum members for comments in spring 2017. The registration procedure is expected to be finalised by the end of July. The seat of the new association will be Berlin, Germany.

Since 2014, the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum has been based at the German-Russian Exchange (Germany). Before that, it was hosted by DEMAS (Czech Republic).

WORKING GROUPS

European Law Enforcers Failed in Action - A New Report by the Fighting Transborder Corruption Group

Analytical volume "Failed in Action: Why European Law Enforcers Are Unable to Tackle EU-Russian Transborder Corruption" by the Fighting Transborder Corruption Expert Group was published in January 2017 and presented on 3 February, right after the 7th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, at the Finnish Chapter of Amnesty International in Helsinki.
 
The discussion "Civil Society in Fighting Transborder Corruption in Russia and the EU. Is There Any Success?" was attended by the authors of articles – Harry Hummel, Associate Policy Director at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Anastasia Kirilenko, a Russian journalist, Atanas Tchobanov, Editor of the Bulgarian network Bivol.bg as well as Andrei Kalikh, Expert Group Coordinator.

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MEDIA

Magomed Mutsolgov (MASHR, Karabulak, Russian): 'There is No Such a Thing as "Compromising Information Request" in the Legal Framework'

To watch the interview on YouTube in Russian, please follow the link

Thank you very much for your agreement to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Your organisation “MASHR” is the first Ingush human rights organisation in the Republic of Ingushetia. Can you please tell us how the work of human rights defenders is now possible in the Caucasus, particularly in Ingushetia?

The work of human rights defenders is not always a quite comfortable one because no one likes criticism, no one likes, when people point to their violations. Therefore, we have never felt absolutely secure. In recent years, human rights advocacy, independent media and civil society have increasingly been discredited. Of course, it is becoming more difficult to continue our work: We face unfounded accusations, constant pressure and constant checks. They have certain consequences, including psychological and legal ones. Evidence-free accusations and coercion waste a lot of our energy. We have to resist, to litigate, to take part in many legal processes. And then we become a little limited in helping people. We have always provided free legal and information assistance to the population of the republic and internally displaced persons, refugees, who by force of circumstances appeared on the territory of Ingushetia. Actually, we continue this activity, despite the pressure. For some reason, one always tries to accuse us of being active in the political opposition activities. In the Russian legislation, the provision of free legal assistance and even paid legal assistance is called charity work. That is what we are doing. All of us - the staff of our organisation, friends, partners, volunteers - continue to work within the legal framework. At this point, no one is going to abandon human rights activities.

At the end of 2015, your organisation and you personally came under attack. You were charged with absurd accusations. Has this situation been resolved? Or has the pressure been going on?

This is pressure, political speculations, the case is beyond any legal boundaries. Yes, indeed, on 6 November 2015 my house and the “MASHR” office were raided. On paper, it sounded like an ‘inspection’. But no documents were given to us, neither copies nor a chance to make a photo. All documentation of “MASHR” and all my (and my children’s) electronic devices were confiscated. They restricted our movement for seven hours. No one could enter the office or my home. My children did not go to kindergarten. I am convinced that all this was possible only because we were involved in the trial – we upheld the illegality of the act of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic. We won the lawsuit, the act of Ministry of Justice was ruled illegal. But in defiance of all norms, the judge adopted his personal ruling on us in addition to the satisfaction of our claims and ruling the actions and acts of the Ministry of Justice illegal. We are now having legal proceedings; our complaint is already in Moscow. Of course, no one has provided me with a ruling. I was not given a copy. I applied to the courts, all to no avail. The authorities tried to initiate several criminal cases through security agencies, quite offensive cases – porno peddling, justification of terrorism, and other things.

Finally, on 28 December 2016, an order was issued to dismiss a criminal case - due to the lack of evidence of a crime. This is the first ruling, which was given to me in early January. This ruling clearly said that the Investigative Committee requested compromising information on Magomed Mutsolgov or “MASHR” from the Federal Security Service of the Republic of Ingushetia, the Criminal Investigation Department, and the Centre for Extremism Counteraction. I was surprised by the request format, because there is no such a thing as “compromising information request” in the legal framework. They should have asked whether there were facts of violation of law by Mr Mutsolgov or the Human Rights Organisation “MASHR”. Fortunately, all three agencies said that there were no proof of my involvement in any violations, including porno peddling and justification of terrorism. The pressure was also connected with the upcoming election campaign. My younger brother headed the “Yabloko” party in Ingushetia at a time. These attempts to discredit me, the organisation, and my family were two-fold.

Now we have put the lid on the matter. There was no crime. However, we lost all our electronic devices. They returned everything, but when they say ‘we have found some videos on your computer’, of course, we could no longer use these devices. It is simply a security measure. I formatted hard drives and gave the devices to my friends, civil society activists and low-income families. A few things were spoiled - camcorders, one system unit… They did not return several financial documents, our business cards, badges, and a number of reports of human rights organisations, including international organisations. In due order, we drew up an act, documented all items, which had not been returned to us, and put in our internal documents file. I bought new devices. We work now again, everything is alright.

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MEDIA

openDemocracy: Subscribe the Newsletter by Forum's Media Partner

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is entering a new strategic partnership with openDemocracy Russia (oDR).

oDR is a non-partisan media platform that covers political and social developments in the post-Soviet space. It works with activists, journalists and researchers to publicise issues that are either censored or left behind by mainstream discourse and covers topics that are underrepresented in most other media outlets: environment, gender, labour, minority and human rights, social inequality, migration, freedom of expression, cultural politics and media critique.

It was agreed that media coverage, interviews, and round tables with Forum members would appear on a regular basis on the oDR platform starting February 2017. The first item in the series was an interview with Alexei Kozlov of Solidarus (Germany), member of the Forum's Steering Committee, after the discussion on Russian civil society at the 7th General Assembly in Helsinki, Finland.

We encourage you to subscribe the oDR newsletter, which we will be circulating throughout the whole month of March on a weekly basis as a trial (available in English or Russian).

Besides, to stipulate our partnership, all Forum members are welcome to join oDR discussions - as contributors, commentators and interview participants! For inquiries, please contact Polina Aronson, the oDR Debate Editor, at polina.aronson@opendemocracy.net.

MEMBERS' VIEWS

People in Need (Prague, Czech Republic): Homo Homini Award for the Committee of the Prevention of Torture

The Homo Homini Human Rights Award by "People in Need" for 2016 goes to the Russian non-governmental organisation "Committee for the Prevention of Torture".

They are being awarded the prize for the courage and stamina they maintain in order to assist those who are victims of torture, police harassment and violence and impunity, while also defending their rights not only before Russian authorities, but also on the international level.

Read more
 
UNITED for Intercultural Action (Amsterdam, Netherlands): European Action Week against Rascism 2017

The events of last year appear to show a Europe that is deeply divided. Divisions between rich and poor, young and old, minorities and majorities, are dominating headlines and having major effects on political processes. Rather than trying to heal these divides and work together towards a more equal and just society, populist and rightwing forces are seeking to increase these divisions and use them to their advantage. Divisive “us and them” rhetoric is threatening the foundation of our communities and the stability of our societies. As the European antiracist movement, we must stand together and call on the people of Europe: Don’t be divided, Stay UNITED!

Every year, UNITED coordinates a weeklong Europe-wide campaign around 21 March to protest against all forms of racism and discrimination, and celebrate the diversity that enriches European societies. European Action Week against Racism 2017 will take place on 18-26 March, with the slogan “Don’t be divided, Stay UNITED!”

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Greenpeace and EKA (Moscow, Russia): Environmentalists Joined Forces to Fight against Incineration and for Recycling of Waste

Environmental rights organisations “Greenpeace Russia”, “Separate Collection”, and EKA have joined their forces. They created an alliance against incineration and for waste recycling to inform the Russian public about dangers of incineration technology.

The cause for forming the alliance were the plans for the construction of incineration plants in the Moscow Region and Tatarstan and prospects of the further spread of incineration to other regions of Russia.

Read more

COMING SOON


6-31 March 2017, Vilnius, Lithuania
Exhibition "Different Wars: National School Textbooks on World War II"

April 2017, online
Legal Dialogue Journal - No. 3 Release

15-16 May 2017, Berlin, Germany
Forum's Conference




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