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NEWSLETTER JUNE 2015


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Russia and the European Union: Is There Any Chance for Visa Liberalisation? >>

TOP NEWS

EU-Russia Legal Dialogue: Activating the Civil Society >>
Europe Lab: 80 Young Professionals Meet Up in Lithuania >>
Save the Date: 6th General Assembly on 7-9 December 2015 in Budapest >>

STEERING COMMITTEE
Statement "The Law on "Undesirable Organisations" Threatens to Cut Cooperation of Russian Civil Society with its International Partners" >>

Statement "Investigate All Attacks against the Joint Mobile Group and Ensure Safety for Human Rights Defenders in the Chechen Republic" >>

MEDIA

Irina Protasova (Man and Law, Republic of Mari El, Russia): 'Our Colleagues from Abroad Don't Possess Authority We Have' >>

MEMBERS' VIEWS
GRANI Centre and Kostroma Civic Initiatives Support Centre: First Two Organisations Have Been Excluded from the List of "Foreign Agents" >>
Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg: Ella Poliakova Awarded the Hessen Peace Prize >>
Global Nature Fund: Travelling Exhibition "Pantanal - A Natural Paradise in Danger" >>

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Russia and the European Union - Is There Any Chance for Visa Liberalisation? 

Krzysztof Mrozek from the Operational Programme “Open Europe” at the Stefan Batory Foundation (Warsaw, Poland), member of the Forum's Visa Project Expert Group, reflects on questions of visa liberalisation between Russia and the European Union:

 

Visas are one of the most visible obstacles in travelling from Russia to the European Union. Therefore, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum runs a Visa Project Expert Group aimed at providing expertise on visa issues. A second report, describing EU-Russia visa relations after outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, has been published lately and presented on 23 June 2015 in Warsaw, Poland.

Lifting visa obligation is a sign of fulfilment of strict demands by the European Unionin the respective country. So far, the citizens of nearly 100 non-EU countries need visas to enter the European Union. As relations of the country with the EU are improving and intensifying, Brussels may decide on signing of a visa facilitation agreement, reducing a cost of the visa, or entitling some social/professional groups to obtain multiple visas free of charge. Afterwards, if the visa facilitation works properly, a visa liberalisation may start. In this process, a country receives (or negotiates with the EU) a list of reforms to be performed, before visa waiver can be introduced.

Visa liberalisation is both a technical (assessment of implementation of reforms) and political (decisions by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union) process. On the one hand, it ensures EU member states that a country granted with a visa waiver is a reliable partner, able to control migration into and outside its territory, properly managing personal data, not corrupted, etc. On the other hand, a process itself, thanks to its strong conditionality (only after implementation of reforms, visa liberalisation becomes possible) encourages related countries to introduce systemic reforms, not likely to be performed otherwise in the nearest future.

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TOP NEWS

EU-Russia Legal Dialogue: Activating the Civil Society

On 15-17 June 2015, the Conference “EU-Russia Legal Dialogue: Designing a Road Map for the Civil Society“ combined with the Forum's Strategy and Project Meeting took place in a picturesque area at lake Wandlitz near Berlin (Germany). Over 60 civil society actors and legal experts from Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and Spain took part in this event.

‘For the first time ever, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported the civil society groups to be able to contribute to bilateral and multilateral legal dialogue, though the format has existed for years,’ said Polina Baigarova, Project Coordinator at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. ‘The group of nine NGOs from the EU and Russia will publish their analysis on the legal dialogue issues this autumn. The publication will be presented at the next Forum’s General Assembly on 7-9 December 2015 in Budapest.’

The discussion on models and formats of civilian oversight and legal environments for the civil society initiatives in Russia, Poland, Germany, Spain opened up the first day of discussions. Beside Russia, where the civil society actors have been operating in more and more hostile climate, the Hungarian case caught attention of the audience.

‘We observe recent developments in this country with a great deal of concern,’ Balázs Tóth of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee pointed out. ‘The so-called “Illiberal democracy” path that Hungary pursues should not be tolerated within the European Union. Although the solution lies primarily inside Hungary, it is crucial not only to resist these developments on the national level, but to jointly act on the European level, consorting efforts coming from the EU, Russia, and other countries.’

Read more

TOP NEWS

Europe Lab: 80 Young Professionals Meet Up in Lithuania

On 23-26 July 2015, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum goes to the very heart of Europe - Lithuania. 80 young professionals aged between 25 and 35 from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine will discuss current issues within the "Europe Lab" Forum. The competition was really tough both for the applicants and the jury: Of almost 300 applicants, every fourth only made it through to Lithuania.

The discussion "Change Makers: Tapping Potential for a Cross-Border Dialogue" will open the Forum on 23 July in the capital of Vilnius followed up by workshops on historical memory, visa and migration, urban space, and corruption at the Raseiniai Local History Museum. Besides, further interesting speakers are awaited for evening talks.

The list of speakers will include
Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven, Project Director at the Moscow Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (Germany-Russia); Olga Karach, Founder and Director at the Civic Campaign "Our House" (Belarus); András Pethő, investigative journalist und editor at the Direkt36.hu Portal (Hungary); Lilia Shibanova, Head of the "Golos" Association (Russia); Ionuț Sibian, Head of the Civil Society Development Foundation, member in the European Economic and Social Committee (Romania-Belgium).

In the course of the workshops, the participants will formulate their project ideas. Afetrwards, they will be converted into project proposals. The best projects will get consultations by prominent experts and funded. The project results will be presented on 7-9 December 2015 at the 6th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in Budapest (Hungary).

To learn more, please go to the website of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

Forum for Young Professionals "Europe Lab" is organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in cooperation with the Raseiniai Regional Administration, the Raseiniai Local History Museum as well as the NGOs "Antikomplex" (Czech Republic), Transparency International Lithuania, and "Interra" (Russia). The project is suppoted by the European Commission, the Stefan Batory Foundation, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

TOP NEWS

Save the Date: 6th General Assembly on 7-9 December 2015 in Budapest

The 6th General Assembly (GA) of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will take place on 7-9 December 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. The Secretariat in cooperation with the Steering Committee as well as local partners has commenced preparation work for the event already.

The major discussion topics will be issues, which turned out to lately become acute for both the European Union and the Russian Federation, - crackdown on independent voices in various European countries, migration, rise of far-right movements and far-left populism, etc.

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum encourages its members to save the date and come to the most important decision-making body of the Forum to Budapest. We also invite guests and observers to openly discuss challenges for civil societies on both sides as well as to contribute to this important event with their ideas and experiences.

See you in Budapest!

Read more on the GA format

STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "The Law on "Undesirable Organisations" Threatens to Cut Cooperation of Russian Civil Society with its International Partners"

The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its deep concern and dismay over the adoption of the federal law introducing the legal notion of “undesirable organisations” (Federal Law No. 662902-6 “On the Introduction of Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation”).

The Russian authorities should hold on to the principles of international law and international obligations of the Russian Federation and repeal this law, believes the Steering Committee. We support the position by the Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which claimed the character of this law was unconstitutional already at the drafting stage.

The law on “undesirable organisations” - along with the law on “foreign agents” adopted in 2012 - is another blow to the Russian civil society and its cooperation with partners and like-minded associations in other countries. It is another step towards international isolation. In the modern world, open dialogue, exchange of ideas, and useful criticism are indispensable for the development of democracy and the rule of law. This includes establishment of representations of international organisations in the country and their legitimate operation.

The law on “undesirable organisations” is violating these core democratic norms and is aimed at singling out organisations. In legal terms, the Russian legislation has enough instruments to shut down the entities, which ‘pose a threat to the country’s constitutional order, defence capacity, and state security’.

Read more

STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Investigate All Attacks against the Joint Mobile Group and Ensure Safety for Human Rights Defenders in the Chechen Republic"

The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its deep concern and indignation about recent and earlier attacks on human rights defenders from the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) of the Committee against Torture (CAT) in the Chechen Republic.

On 3 June 2015, a group of masked men carrying hammers and crowbars attacked the office of the JMG in Grozny. Members of the mob were a small part of a larger demonstration of several dozen Chechen residents, who gathered in front of the JMG office to protest against the CAT work in Chechnya; many participants came there at the orders of their superiors at work and did not even understand where they came to and for what purpose. A group of mobsters vandalised the JMG vehicle and stormed into the JMG office by prying open metal doors and climbing onto its balcony. When the JMG employees, fearing for their own safety, escaped the office through the window, the mob destroyed the organisation’s equipment and took away documents related to the ongoing legal cases the CAT is working on. 

This is the second attack against the CAT in the last six months. In December 2014, the JMG’s office in Grozny was destroyed in a suspected arson attack. The JMG personnel was arrested, detained, and searched without any explanations or search warrants. Computers, photo cameras, and mobile phones of the JMG members were confiscated.

Read more

MEDIA

Irina Protasova (Man and Law, Republic of Mari El, Russia): 'Our Colleagues from Abroad Don't Possess Authority We Have'

To watch the interview in Russian please follow the link

You represent a well-known regional organization – “Man and Law” from the Republic of Mari El. It has even become an interregional organisation lately. Can you please tell us more about how you manage to continue your activities in the light of the fact that “closed institutions” remain closed in Russia?

We have been doing the work on human rights protection for almost 16 years. Originally, our field of activities included human rights protection in the penal system and the police system, child rights protection, and protection of civil activity rights. Hence, we have several areas we have been involved in. One of them is civilian oversight over places of forced imprisonment in general and authorities in particular.

Our second area of activities is legal enlightenment of the public officials. Since 2004, we have had a very professional team of trainers, which works in almost 50 per cent of Russian regions. We had a seminar on human rights with the staff members of the Federal Penitentiary Service and the Ministry of the Interior. We are currently providing educational activities with our colleagues from other regions to enable them to conduct such seminars on human rights for staff members of the Federal Penitentiary System and the Ministry.

And the last area of our activities is legal assistance. All three areas of our activities (legal assistance, civilian oversight, and legal enlightenment) have proved to be efficient and turned out to be fruitful.

Read more

MEMBERS' VIEWS

GRANI Centre and Kostroma Civic Initiatives Support Centre: First Two Organisations Have Been Excluded from the List of "Foreign Agents"

The Ministry of Justice announced that first two organisations were excluded from the list of NGOs which had been recognised as "foreign agents". These are the GRANI Centre of Civic Analysis and Independent Research (Perm) and the Kostroma Civic Initiatives Support Centre (Kostroma).

 

Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg: Ella Poliakova Awarded the Hessen Peace Prize

Ella Poliakova, Head of the Human Rights Organisation "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg" and member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, became a laureate of the Hessen Peace Prize. It was announced at the media conference in Wiesbaden (Federal State of Hessen, Germany). The prize presentation ceremony will be held on 17 July 2015.

Read more (in Russian)

 

Global Nature Fund: Travelling Exhibition "Pantanal - A Natural Paradise in Danger"


The travelling exhibition by the Global Nature Fund about the world´s greatest wetland is going on tour under the title "Pantanal - A Natural Paradise in Danger". 36 colourful charts of the nature photographer Günter Ziesler present the wonders of Pantanal in their full magnificence.
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