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NEWSLETTER APRIL/MAY 2016


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
System of Social Protection in Yesterday's and Today's Russia >>

TOP NEWS

Legal Dialogue and the 40th Anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group: Welcome to Berlin! >>
"Different Wars" Exhibition at the Yeltsin Center >>


WORKING GROUPS
Annual Report "State of the Civil Society": Kick-Off Meeting in St. Petersburg >>
Open Call Mechanism: "Moving Stories" - Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe >>

MEDIA
Gennady Sheida (Altai Regional Public Foundation for Social Support and Civic Initiatives, Barnaul, Russia): 'The Civil Society Is Alive and Has Been Developing' >>

E-Corner: A New Online Tool and Knowledge Centre for and by NGOs >>

MEMBERS' VIEWS

Stefan Batory Foundation (Warsaw, Poland): "Club PL_RU" Has Come Online >>
Perm NGOs (Russia): Independent Festival "Bridges" - A Successor of "Pilorama" >>
SOLIDAR (Brussels, Belgium): Building Learning Societies >>

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

System of Social Protection in Yesterday's and Today's Russia

On request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Anna Skvortsova, Executive Director at the NGO Development Centre (St. Petersburg, Russia), prepared an essay on social justice in Russia - a topic intensively discussed within the Working Group "Social Issues and Civic Participation":


Social justice is a phenomenon that is relevant at any time, especially for Russia with its wavy history.

The poor have always existed in Russia. The first social programmes to support the poor people appeared in Russia in the 9th century already. The main institution, from which poor people could get assistance, was Church as it helped those in need. The reduction of the poverty was not its goal, though, because poverty was not considered a vice. Church was forbidding the separation of those in need from parasites, as everyone should have received help. The poor throughout the country were begging for any reason - when someone died or someone was born, when celebrating weddings or praying for the dead and, of course, on all the religious holidays. Donations were made by tsarinas, princes, dignitaries, the rich but also ordinary people. These were the times, when the tradition to pay visits to prisons and almshouses to see the poor and the sick was born among “those in power”.

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TOP NEWS

Legal Dialogue and the 40th Anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group: Welcome to Berlin!

On 30-31 May 2016, the the International Symposium “Domestic Law in a Global Upswing? The Strained Relationship between International and Domestic Lawwill take place in Berlin. The event is a part of the EU-Russia Legal Dialogue Programme organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in partnership with the German-Russian Exchange and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany.

The participants will explore influence of existing differences in domestic and international law on the situation of the civil society as well as - based on specific examples - opportunities for NGOs in strengthening international law institutions.

Simultaneously with the Symposium, the Expert Conference on the Occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, will be held. The Forum will gather representatives of the Helsinki movement groups from more than 10 countries to celebrate and discuss the civil society response to existing challenges to peace, cooperation, and security. Apart from the supporters listed above, the conference will take place in partnership with the OSCE German Chairmanship and the Human Rights Watch.

We kindly invite all the interested persons to join the public event on 30 May 2016, between 7pm and 9pm, at the Representation Office of the Federal Land of Saxony-Anhalt (18, Luisen St., 10117 Berlin). The panel discussion "Four Decades and the Future of the Helsinki Movement. The Challenges for the Security and Cooperation in Europe Today" will be attended by Liudmila Alekseeva, Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia); Harry Hummel, Associate Policy Director at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, member of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (Netherlands); Dmitri Makarov, member of the Steering Committee of the Youth Human Rights Movement (Russia);  Maciej Nowicki, Board member of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland); Marta Pardavi, Co-Chairperson at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary). Opening address will be held by Dr Gernot Erler, Special Representative of the Federal Government of Germany for the OSCE Chairmanship 2016, Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia, and the Eastern Partnership Countries at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Germany).

The registration for the public event is open here.

The relationship between international and domestic law will be the common topic for both the Symposium and the Expert conference and give the participants a good opportunity for mutual discussions and exchange. The combination of both events will bring together representatives of NGOs, academics, legal practitioners, and renowned human rights activists from EU member states and Russia. This reunion will be also used to determine new priorities and develop further working formats for the Legal Dialogue Programme.

TOP NEWS

"Different Wars" Exhibition at the Yeltsin Center

On the eve of the Victory Day, 8 May 2016, the opening of the Russian version of the Exhibition “Different Wars: National School Textbooks on World War II” took place at the Yeltsin Presidential Center in Yekaterinburg. About 100 people attended the event, among them officials, representatives of media and NGOs, including Forum members, historians, and the general public.

'Comparative studies of national interpretations of the past are a current historiographical trend. It is interesting to observe how this complex topic was dealt with by an international team of researchers in the format of a traveling exhibition.' told Dmitri Pushmin, Head of Archives at the Yeltsin Presidential Center, while addressing the public at the opening. 'In our museum, you will find such a remark: 'Freedom is to know other people'. This means that there might be different points of view, one might disagree or argue with another, but it is important to hear one's counterpart.'

Welcome speeches were also held by Stefan Keil, Consul General of Germany in Yekaterinburg; Tatiana Merzliakova, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Sverdlovsk Region; Robert Latypov, Chairperson of the Perm Regional Branch of the International Memorial SocietyAnna Sevortian, Executive Director at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

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WORKING GROUPS

Annual Report "State of the Civil Society": Kick-Off Meeting in St. Petersburg

On 16-17 April 2016, a research workshop of the team working at the Annual Report "State of the Civil Society" took place in St. Petersburg, Russia. The kick-off meeting was organised in cooperation with the Centre for German and European Studies.

“State of the Civil Society” Report will be a Forum's major analytical product to conceptualise on the civil society developments – both positive and negative – in the EU and Russia. It will touch on various topics – civil society and relevant legislations in Russia and the countries of the EU; relations between NGOs, state, and businesses; etc. The report will be circulated to interested stakeholders, advocacy actors, think tanks as well as posted online.

At the meeting in St. Petersburg, the participants formed the nucleus of the research group, brainstormed on initial ideas for the report, and discussed possible concepts for the product.

The overall responsibility for the report will be shared between Elena Belokurova (German-Russian Exchange St. Petersburg), Anna Skvortsova (NGO Development Centre, St. Petersburg, Russia), and Kristina Smolijaninovaitė (Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Berlin, Germany). Further members of the group from those, who were present at the kick-off meeting, might be
Polina Baigarova (Forum's Secretariat), Andrei Demidov (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), Bulcsú Hunyadi (Political Capital Institute, Budapest, Hungary), Kirsti Stuvøy (Norwegian Institute of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway), and others.

Already in May 2016, the group is planning to start working on specific cases of interest. The first Annual Report "State of the Civil Society" will be presented at the 7th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum to be held on 1-3 February 2016 in Helsinki, Finland.

WORKING GROUPS

Open Call Mechanism: "Moving Stories" - Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe

On 22-27 April 2016, a European conference in support for migrants and refugees took place near Torino, Italy. Organised by UNITED for Intercultural Action, it also received a grant from the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum within the Open Call Mechanism. By that, the Forum emphasised once again an importance of the topic for civil society organisations from both the European Union and the Russian Federation.

Participants of the conference representing organisations from all over Europe came together to challenge the current narrative on migration. This is for sure not an easy task but with the contribution of experts from Italian and European institutions as well as the testimonies of migrants and refugees themselves, the differences between the narrative and the actual facts were illustrated, while the rhetoric on migration was being disrupted.

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MEDIA

Gennady Sheida (Altai Regional Public Foundation for Social Support and Civic Initiatives, Barnaul, Russia): 'The Civil Society Is Alive and Has Been Developing'

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

Mr Sheida, you are Head of the Altai Regional Public Foundation for Social Support and Civic Initiatives, which counts 20 years of history already. Which projects are you currently implementing? Which topics are the most important ones for your organization nowadays?

Yes, that’s right, our organisation has turned 20 on 5 May 2016. Today, we are one of the oldest public organisations in the Altai Region. One of the main topics of our activities is citizenship education. That is the reason why we joined the Working Group “Citizenship Education” of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Right now we have been implementing the Public Project “Altai School of Practice and Leadership”, or “SHPILka” (“hairpin”), as we call it. “SHPILka” is a real civic project attended by students from different Barnaul universities. Invited experts are well-known personalities in the city - civil society activists, journalists, deputies, politicians, or businessmen. We also work at legal expert opinions. For instance, last year we composed a very detailed report on the law on citizens’ watch, which was being debated the regional parliament. We had a lot of remarks on it and sent our suggestions to the legislative body. Yet, none of our recommendations were taken into consideration, as it is often the case in the modern Russia. As a result, we can see that the law doesn’t work in practice. This is what we foresaw actually. We have a very close cooperation with Alexei Kudrin’s Committee of Civic Initiatives (CCI). There is a branch of the Committee in the city, and our organization is a part of this. We have been actively participating in the All-Russian Civic Forum by Mr Kudrin and his team. The Forum is one of the most important and well-established platforms of the country. Although the Forum has been still in its origins, we can see the first reactions to initiatives by the Third Forum of 2015 already.

You have mentioned that some of your initiatives were not supported on the regional level. And how far are young people interested in civil society initiatives and in the third sector in general in the region in the region?

This question is quite hard to answer and needs a detailed sociological research. Nevertheless, the experiences of our activities and our organisation show that there is a strong interest in our projects. For instance, a new semester of our school for already the second group in this year started in April. Although there are quite a lot of such offers from public organisations, we know our niche and our possibilities and wake an interest in the topics we suggest - fight against corruption, development of independent media, activities of business communities and the local parliament. I would say that the Altai Region is a positive example in comparison to the Russian civil society landscape, hopefully, also thanks to our efforts. We have quite a lot of initiatives, and the most of them are not being suppressed, while the most striking issues like, eg, protection of unique Altai pine forests have no chance not to become public. The government puts pressure on some people or organisations, includes NGOs into the list of “foreign agents”, but it has to cooperate in some cases anyway. Besides, new initiatives have been evolving. All in all, one can’t say that possibilities of civil society have been narrowing down under conditions of a stronger executive power. The civil society is alive and has been developing.

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MEDIA

E-Corner: A New Online Tool and Knowledge Centre for and by NGOs

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is launching the Civil Society Knowledge E–Corner, a space to share acquired knowledge, tools, good practices, guidelines, and analysis to support the work of civil society organisations with particular focus on those, who are Forum members. 

The E-Corner intends to become an online library and resources centre focused on gathering and producing contents of practical usability not only for Forum members but also other NGOs. Its overall objective is to enrich the existing know-how of civil society organisations by sharing knowledge and tools.

'I find this a good idea,' thinks Alessio Scandurra, Observation "Detention Conditions of Adults" at the Antigone Association (Rome, Italy). 'I suppose there are extremely significant activities carried out by Forum members in the area we work (protection of prisoners' rights), while we know nothing about it. The E-Corner must be a precious networking tool for such members as us, who work in the same field but might not be aware of that.'

Indeed: The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum followed a common request from our members to have a space to share and develop common solutions to potentially similar problems NGO face in Russia and the EU, despite the very different legal, political, or socio-economic frameworks they work in.

The platform hosts different formats like Case information Sheets documenting good practices identified among Forum members; Fact Sheets proposing evidence-based debates on relevant topics; time lines showing policy and legislative developments affecting the civil society sector.

'The flyer helped me a lot in promoting my project,' says Maria Slesazeck, Project Manager at the German-Russian Exchange (Berlin, Germany), while talking about the Case Information Sheet "Overcoming War Together" analysing a project providing internally displaced Ukrainian activists with support to overcome the effects of the conflict. 'As long as we had not a flyer on our own, we could distribute the English and the Russian version of the Case Information Sheet.'

We look forward to having feedback from all the Forum participants on the materials shared and the platform itself and hope it will serve as a basis for a more intense cooperation among our members.

MEMBERS' VIEWS

Stefan Batory Foundation (Warsaw, Poland): "Club PL_RU" Has Come Online

The Stefan Batory Foundation launched the "Club PL_RU", a platform for exchange of ideas and  cooperation between representatives of the younger generation of Polish and Russian experts, publicists, and public actors.

Exactly 100 participants are in the Club, among them political analysts, social scientists, economists, historians, artists, and cultural anthropologists.

Discussions which are held during the meetings promote mutual understanding and the understanding of Polish and Russian views on the most important issues regarding national and international policies. The meetings also strength overcoming of borders, prejudices, and stereotypes.

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Perm NGOs (Russia): Independent Festival "Bridges" - A Successor of "Pilorama"

On 15-19 June 2016, the "Bridges" Festival will take place in different venues in Perm, Russia.

"Bridges" will be a city festival of activities, discussions, and entertainment. The festival will be the logical continuation of the “After Pilorama” Festival, which took place in 2015 as a successor of the “Pilorama” Forum, which was cancelled in 2013.

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SOLIDAR (Brussels, Belgium): Building Learning Societies

As we watch the switch from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, lifelong learning (LLL) plays a crucial role in achieving social inclusion and strengthening active participation in society. Rapid technological changes and unstable employment situations lead many people to undergo several transitions in their lives as they continually seek to gain additional knowledge and competences. Broader learning opportunities, both outside and within formal education settings, are necessary in order to address these needs. However, access and participation in lifelong learning still remain an issue in many countries. Overall, education and lifelong learning in Europe are heavily affected by austerity policies that have seen cuts in their national budgets.

This is also the result of SOLIDAR’s Education and Lifelong Learning Watch (LLL Watch) initiative, where we monitor the development and commitment of national governments towards learning societies and where the state of play in promoting access and participation in lifelong learning is one of the six benchmarks that the SOLIDAR Foundation focused on this year.

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