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.