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NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2014


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Persecution of the Environmental Activists is not the Solution to the Environmental Problems >>

TOP NEWS
General Assembly in Tallinn: Commitment to Democratic Values and Procedures >>
Statement of the General Assembly "The Decision on Liquidation of the "Environmental Watch on North Caucasus" Contradicts with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" >>
New Strategy for the Forum >>
Meeting with Federica Mogherini >>

STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Bring Back the Values of the Autumn of 1989" on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall >>
Statement "Appeal for Justice for Anna Sharogradskaya and the Regional Press Institute" >>

EXPERT GROUPS
History Group Meets in Prague to Start Project and Advocacy Work >>
Trans-Border Corruption in the EU-Russia Relations >>

MEDIA
Interview with Michal Veselý, Project Coordinator of the Environmental Partnership Association >>

MEMBERS' VIEWS

EPDE: Experts' Mission Conclusions on the Presidential Elections in Romania >>
Heinrich Böll Foundation: New Historical Memory Project >>
NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg): 13th Forum "Social St. Petersburg: New Solutions" >>

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Persecution of the Environmental Activists is not the Solution to the Environmental Problems

Special for the November edition of the newsletter, representatives of the Working Group "Environment" prepared an essay. Please note that the contents of the essay are sole responsibility of the authors and don't necessarily reflect the views of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as a whole:

Intensifying in last year, the persecutions against environmental activists by the Russian authorities continued in 2014: The court decided to terminate the work of “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”; Evgeni Vitishko has been imprisoned; environmental protests have been suppressed; environmental activists have been charged with administrative and criminal offences; civil organisations have been put under constant monitoring by the state.

The year 2013, which was heralded as the year of environmental protection in Russia, became notorious for growing repression of environmental activists. Three activists were killed that year: Igor Sapatov (Tatarstan) was killed when he tried to stop forest destruction in the conservation seashore territory; Murmansk environmental activists – Nikolai Podolsky and Sergei Malashenko, who fought against poaching – were killed during an attack on their environmental camp. Editor of the “Khimki Pravda” Paper Mikhail Beketov died due to severe beating. An international team from “Greenpeace” was arrested and put in custody after campaigning against oil and gas production in the Arctic. Heads and activists of regional environmental organisations were searched, interrogated, and arrested. Following the growing repressions against environmental activists in Russia, a new project “Ecoprisoner” was created to collect information about the persecution of activists by the state and business representatives who believe that activists violate their interests by fighting for the environment.

Read more

TOP NEWS

General Assembly in Tallinn: Commitment to Democratic Values and Procedures

On 29 November 2014, the 5th General Assembly (GA) of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (CSF) ended its work in Tallinn, Estonia. It gathered over 150 representatives of member organisations, observers, donors, and the media.

‘Ensuring diversity of civil society actors and their free interaction, moving towards civil society beyond the borders was a cross-cutting theme of the 5th General Assembly’ says Anna Sevortian, Executive Director of the EU-Russia CSF. 'We also talked a lot about the democratic principles - starting from the opening address by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, who emphasised civil society's role in democratic development. On the last day of the Assembly, Forum exercised one of the core democratic processes and elected several new members of the Steering Committee. We are proud to have had Grigori Melkoniants of the GOLOS Association observing the election.'

Forum members held consultations within their working groups (WG)– “Human Rights and the Rule of Law”, “Environment”, “Social Issues and Civic Participation”, “Democratic Structures and Processes”, “Citizenship Education”, “Historical Memory and Education”, discussed the Forum strategy and its internal development as well as presented  common cross-topical projects on visa facilitation and liberalisation, policy and advocacy, and trans-border corruption.  

One of the panel discussions moderated by Anna Skvortsova, Director at the NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg) and a re-elected member of the Steering Committee (SC), resulted in a new initiative on specific solidarity actions for civil society actors.

‘Solidarity is a highly important issue now: Not only Russia but also a number of the EU countries, and Hungary in particular, show moves in the authoritarian direction,’ considers Rostislav Valvoda, Eastern Europe Programme Coordinator at “People in Need” (Czech Pepublic) and a resigning SC member. ‘Only with concerted efforts of the EU and Russian NGOs and activists, we can break that trend. A symbolic circle with hands we all built at the end of the discussion proves that we are standing by democratic values together and ready to take up responsibility for their defence.’

Another solidarity action was an ad-hoc decision to picket the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Tallinn requesting freedom for Evgeni Vitishko, an imprisoned activist of the recently liquidated NGO “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”, as well as appeal related to the closure of the organisation on behalf of the EU-Russia CSF prepared by the WG “Environment”.

‘There have been much done by the Forum already, but there is still much more to be done – both in the field of external and internal development,’ sums up Simon Papuashvili, Project and Advocacy Coordinator at the International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium) and a newly elected SC member. ‘I appreciate trust in me and activities of our organisation expressed by the Forum members and can assure that the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will continue to engage in development of democratic societies and structures, promotion of human rights, and implementation of best social practices.’

The GA was supported by the European Commission, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Open Estonia Foundation, the Stefan Batory Foundation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia. The Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty provided an official media partnership for the GA.

TOP NEWS

Statement of the General Assembly "The Decision on Liquidation of the "Environmental Watch on North Caucasus" Contradicts with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms"

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its deep concern about the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Adygea dated 24 October 2014, which acknowledged the request of the Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Adygea on the elimination and exclusion from the register of legal entities of one of the most active non-governmental environmental organisations in Russia, member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum the Interregional Environmental and Human Rights Charity Public Organisation “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”.

A matter of particular concern is that the judgment was held in the absence of representatives of the organisation, which has not received a copy of the request from the Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Adygea depriving the organisation the opportunity to speak in its protection.

“Environmental Watch on North Caucasus” raises a large number of hard-hitting questions in the field of environmental protection and environmental rights of citizens before the authorities, such as environmental impact of the Olympic Games in Sochi, plans for the economic development of the territory of a World Natural Heritage Site “Western Caucasus”, construction of recreational facilities for VIPs in protected natural areas and on the Black Sea coast, implementation of various megaprojects without consulting the local population. Thus, there is a reason to conclude that the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Adygea was politically motivated and its true purpose was to stop the work of one of the most effective environmental non-governmental organisations in the South of Russia.

Interdiction of official activities of such NGOs and activists, who - based on their competences and law - are trying to solve important problems in the public interest, contradicts not only with the common European legal norms but also with common sense. Imputed violations on the organisation have formal and technical nature and can be removed without forced liquidation of the organisation.

Read more

TOP NEWS

New Strategy for the Forum

In anticipation of the General Assembly in Tallinn, the Expert Group on Strategy met on 29-30 October 2014 in Moscow to discuss the Forum's future development until 2017.

The work on strategy is coordinated by the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Moscow), Member of the Forum's Steering Committee, and moderated by Alexei Bodungen from the "Golubka" Training Centre (Moscow). The meeting was attended in person and via Skype by representatives of EU and Russian Forum members - People in Need (Prague), Memorial Italia (Milan), Russian Forest Trust (Moscow), and NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg) - forming the Strategy Group and externals as well as Anna Sevortian, the Forum's Executive Director, and Stefan Melle, Head of Consortium and a Member of the Steering Committee. 


In advance, the questionnaires prepared by the Strategy Group were sent via e-mail to the Forum members. Thus, all Forum participants had an opportunity to have an impact on the final document of the meeting indicating an in-depth analysis of the current situation, main alternatives for the Forum, strategic options, and recommendations.

One week before the General Assembly, this paper was distributed amongst the members to let them prepare for the debate in Estonia. The final document is due to be adopted by the Forum members in March 2015.

TOP NEWS

Meeting with Federica Mogherini

On 10 November 2014, Anna Sevortian, Forum's Executive Director, Stefan Melle, Head of Consortium, and Stefanie Schiffer, Director of European Exchange (Berlin), a Forum member, met Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice-President in the new Collegium of the European Commission.

In the course of the roundtable, which took place in the German capital and gathered a number of NGOs and think tanks, the Forum representatives had an opportunity to mention important expectations of the platform towards the EU Russian and Eastern European politics - stronger public and financial support for Russian civil society; opening of programmes for unbureaucratic reception and support for human rights activists, who are at danger, as well as co-operation between NGOs from Russia, the EU, and the Eastern Partnership countries, especially Ukraine; prompt implementation of specific (also unilateral) steps for better visa regulation and other conditions for direct people-to-people contacts; support of territorial integrity of neighbouring states. As regards the European Union itself, such questions were mentioned as problems with the migration policies, Internet control as well as xenophobic and authoritarian tendencies in some EU members states, inter alia, Hungary.

Besides, the colleagues presented some Forum materials, including the Visa Facilitation and Liberalisation Report, to the EU High Commissioner and reminded her of the Appeal of the Steering Committee to the new EC Collegium issued just before its inauguration, taken into account with gratefulness by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and received by all the EU Commissioners.

STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Bring Back the Values of the Autumn of 1989" on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 - the most visible sign of the Cold War times “Iron Curtain“ - was a historic event of enormous impact. It became a symbol for people demanding and retrieving their freedom. It was made possible by the democratic movements of millions of citizens in Hungary, Poland, the GDR, and other states in Central and Eastern Europe, who spoke out against repression, monopolised power, failed economics, and state control. It was prompted by the perestroika in the USSR under the General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his willingness to end imperialistic claims of the Soviets. Back then in the late 1980s, Gorbachev formulated a new vision for the USSR and Europe: construction of a common European house. It is a house where all nations live together peacefully, in a free and democratic way, conscious of their common history and committed to principles of ‘glasnost’ - or transparency and openness, including transparency of the borders.

Across the globe, Gorbachev enjoys great respect for this leadership in the 1980s. His actions not only led to unification of Europe, but also opened a window of opportunities for Russia and many post-Soviet countries – in the form of participation in common supranational institutions in Europe, adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights and access to the European Court of Human Rights. But by many Soviet citizens these achievements were seen as Gorbachev’s weakness, especially after the call for independence had reached USSR republics and the Soviet Union had fallen apart.

However, the wish for a common European space has united a lot of supporters in Russia and Europe until now. It is also one of the principles underlying the idea of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, with its 130 NGOs from 19 countries, and it retains an enormous potential today.

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STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Appeal for Justice for Anna Sharogradskaya and the Regional Press Institute"

On 19 November 2014, the Statement of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was published appealing for justice for Anna Sharogradskaya and the Regional Press Institute. The Statement became even more important, when the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation included the NGO in the list of "foreign agents" the next day. 

Here is the text of the original statement:

 

'The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is deeply concerned about the situation around the Regional Press Institute – a member in the Forum - and its Director Anna Sharogradskaya.

On 14 November 2014, the Moscow District Court of St. Petersburg overruled a legal claim by Anna Sharogradskaya, which had followed the events of 5 June 2014. On that date, she was stopped at the Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg for a 6-hour clearance control, while she was trying to leave for the United States, where she has been holding lectures on an annual basis at the Summer Institute of the Bloomington Campus of Indiana University for 20 years. As a result of this inspection, personal belongings of Anna Sharogradskaya – a laptop, an iPad, and a number of memory sticks – were confiscated.

According to Anna Sharogradskaya’s lawyers, the associates of the transit police station of the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation at the Pulkovo Airport also informed the court that an initiation of criminal proceedings according to Articles 280 and 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Extremism) – based on contents of files on the withdrawn storage media - was foreseen. For over 5 months, these materials have been circulating between the Ministry of the Interior, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Investigation Committee and back to the Ministry of the Interior again and again. Now it became clear that those findings would be transferred to the Regional Bureau of the Federal Security Service, which had initiated the original customs inspection...

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EXPERT GROUPS

History Group Meets in Prague to Start Project and Advocacy Work

The Working Group “Historical Memory and Education” met on 20-24 October 2014 in Prague to work on the project within the framework of the Sub-grant programme initiated by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (CSF). The meeting was organised by Antikomplex and hosted by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.

Organisations from different EU countries and Russia participate in the project: Antikomplex (Prague), German-Russian Exchange (Berlin), KARTA (Warsaw), Memorial Italia (Milan), Society of German-Russian Relationship (Münster/Münsterland), Kostroma Civic Initiative Support (Kostroma), International Memorial (Moscow), and Youth Memorial (Perm). Moreover, the group members also strive to include further organisations from Ukraine, the Balkan countries, France, and Spain in the project in order to have a wider and more complete European perspective on historical memory, which may be conflicting or uncomfortable to deal with.   

The kick-off workshop was primarily devoted to the interpretations of World War II found in school textbooks in Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Lithuania and Italy as well as presentations of national examples of conflicting memories. “Currently in Russia the war of historic memories is ongoing. The official ideology of today tends to present only one memory of World War II or, for instance, one memory of victims. This memory is heavily polarised into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘white’ and ‘black’, ‘heroic’ and ‘cowardly’” explained the History Group’s member Nikita Lomakin from International Memorial (Moscow) talking about conflicting memories and rhetoric in Russia.

Read more

EXPERT GROUPS

Trans-Border Corruption in the EU-Russia Relations

Just before the 19th Autumnal Talks on 7-8 November 2014 organised by the Forum's member German-Russian Exchange and the Evangelical Academy Berlin devoted to the fight against corruption in Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union this year, the kick-off meeting of the Trans-Border Corruption Expert Group of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum took place in the German capital on 6 November 2014.

At the meeting, the goals, methods, and strategies for progressing work concerning trans-border corruption were addressed, and the first agreements were made on co-operation, communication, and working methods. Additionally, the participants of the meeting discussed some potential initial case studies for future elaboration and had an opportunity to take part in the sessions of the Autumnal talks.

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and its members consider it essential to firstly raise the public’s awareness of trans-border corruption practices and attract the attention of EU and Russian officials to such problems as well as advocating cases of that kind on the level of relevant international bodies. Secondly, the Forum strives to increase political and public pressure on companies and investors with a request to comply with the norms and regulations of the EU beyond its borders. These are some of the mechanisms that are effective only for the protection of citizens’ rights and their environment as well as socio-economic circumstances, which are threatened by the implementation of large foreign or international investment projects.


The Trans-Border Corruption Expert Group is coordinated by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.

MEDIA

Interview with Michal Veselý, Project Coordinator of the Environmental Partnership Association

To watch the interview please follow the link

The year 2014 is marked by a series of persecution actions on NGOs in Hungary. One of members in your Association - Ökotars - was also struck by these moves by the government. In your opinion, what is the reason for those harassment practices and how do you see their development?

To be honest, for us it was a real surprise, while it was happening in Hungary. We were partly informed by Veronika Móra, Director at Ökotars, about this development. But nobody expected that something like that can happen in the 21st century. Briefly speaking, the essence of the story is that our Hungarian office administered the so-called ‘Norwegian Funds’ for the NGO sector in Hungary, like our other member organisations do in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania. So, “Ökotars2 was accused in the first hand of funding an opposition in Hungary and in some non-standard manipulations with money, though the audit which was ordered by the Hungarian government found nothing special. Beside the fact that the Hungarian office was closed by the police in August, the computers were taken away, the memory sticks were taken from the staff, the police came to the home of our Hungarian Director. It was really a very non-standard situation for us, and we were surprised that a private organisation that has a direct agreement with the Norvegian government can be accused of something like that and that the police and the state may attack a private nonprofit organisation in Hungary this way.

How did your Association react to the mentioned persecution practices by the Hungarian authorities?

We contacted our MEPs, we also tried to get support from the NGOs around Europe to express that they know about the situation and that they don’t agree with that.

What do you expect from other NGOs, and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in particular, to change the situation?

The situation in Hungary is, as far as we know, still unsolved. The NGOs in Hungary are still under pressure of the government. We are scared that the situation can be even worse in the future, and in that situation the expression of support from such an international platform like the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is really crucial. It can help the Hungarian NGOs and can also show to the Hungarian government that the local NGOs are not alone. This makes sense to discuss these issues within such formats as the Forum.

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MEMBERS' VIEWS

EPDE: Experts' Mission Conclusions on the Presidential Elections in Romania

The European Platform for Democratic Elections began its experts’ mission on 29 October 2014 for the presidential election that took place in Romania on 2 November 2014. The mission was composed of 14 EPDE representatives – members of citizens’ election observation organisations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine – who observed the election day proceedings in approximately 100 polling stations in all six districts of Bucharest.

Furthermore, EPDE conducted several meetings with the representative of the Permanent Electoral Authority, political stakeholders, and representatives of civil society. Due to the limited observation period, this statement mainly focuses on some aspects of the election campaign, electoral legislation, and the election day procedures and their implementations.

 

Read more

 

Heinrich Böll Foundation: New Historical Memory Project

The confronting of state and person as well as human resistance to state violence and injustice is, unfortunately, one of the "eternal themes" of Russian history. In the context of what is happening nowadays civic movement of recent past becomes particularly important - here we mean finally formed by the end of the 1960s, the human rights movement in the USSR, which is widely known as "dissidents".

With the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Internet portal Colta.ru will publish interviews with participants of the Soviet dissent, made in the summer and autumn of 2014. Among the first interviewees who shared memories of the recent past with the editors of Colta.ru is Gabriel Gavrilovich Superfin.

Read more (in Russian)

 

NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg): 13th Forum "Social St. Petersburg: New Solutions"

On 14 November 2014, 13th Forum "Social St. Petersburg: New Solutions" took place in the Congress Centre "Petrocongress" (St. Petersburg) organised by the NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg).

The main goal of the Forum is to bring together non-governmental organisations in order to find common solutions to urban problems and help citizens of St. Petersburg. As usual, more than 200 representatives of charity, social, environmental and human rights organisations, including civil activists, journalists, and governmental authorities from St. Petersbug participated in the Forum.

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