Problems with this email? Click here for online version.
Newsletter 5/2013

1. Inside Forum: Celebrating 2nd Anniversary of the Forum
2. Forum upcoming events
3. Meeting of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum
4. EU Partners Call Russian Authorities to Stop NGOs Inspections and Harassment
5. Internal Evaluation: Members Feedback
6. Public Outreach by the Forum: Berlin and London
7. EU-Russia Visa Facilitation: Forum Calls for more Inclusive Agreement
8. Forum Project Updates
9. Ideas and opinions
10. Stay connected and share!

 Inside the Forum: Celebrating 2nd Anniversary of the Forum




Dear friends and supporters of the Forum,

On March 29, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum celebrated its 2nd anniversary. Since the first official General Assembly in Prague, the Forum has grown into a network of EU and Russian NGOs working on a variety of issues. The Forum has developed into a working platform to connect Russian and EU civil society organizations. In two years, the membership in the Forum in two-year period increased with almost 50 per cent and grew to include 112 member-organizations.

Forum in numbers

Total number of members: 112

from Russia: 58, from EU: 43

International NGOs: 11

In addition to networking, meeting new partners and realisation of new joint projects, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is also a place to express solidarity and support to each other. Today, when NGOs in Russian are stigmatized by the government using the law on “foreign agents” and face harsh pressure from the authorities for cooperation with the Western partners, the Forum is not standing aside. It is in times like these that strong international civic solidarity is needed.

Finally, we try to contribute to and influence EU-Russia relations. Forum members produce statements, policy papers, monitoring reports and other materials and send them to Russian and European policy makers in order to advocate for civil society issues with increasing legitimacy. For instance, after the continuous efforts made by the Forum, the list of common steps towards visa free short-term travel between the Russian Federation and the European Union was published by both sides on March 11, 2013. We also try to be a unique source of information on EU-RU civil society issues.

Each of you contributes to the Forum’s growth and success. Let us celebrate this commitment and remember that it is our collaborative spirit of the network that is our most valuable achievement and hope that another year will bring positive change and new venues for cooperation. Thank you for being part of the Forum!


 Forum upcoming events


  • Workshop on the problem of xenophobia of the Working Group “Human Rights and the Rule of Law” in St. Petersburg in June 2013 (dates tbc);
  • Call for applications for Pilorama Lab: July 24-28, 2013 in Perm.
  • The 4th General Assembly of the Forum will be held in The Hague (Netherlands) on 5-7 October 2013. More detailed information will be provided soon. Any contribution to the preparation of the General Assembly is very welcome! Please write us: info@eu-russia-csf.org.

 Meeting of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum




In April, the Forum Steering Committee held a meeting in Berlin together with project and Working Groups coordinators and members of the Communication Team. It was an opportunity to exchange views on the Forum structure and prospects, of its development in the light of two-years experience, of its work, and recent developments of EU-Russia relations. The first day was dedicated to the review of the current state of play and to discuss the Forum’s mid-term plans.

The first session focused on the future structure of the Forum with a view to establish its Secretariat in the mid-term perspective. Besides, the debate concentrated on the ensuing role of the SC and on encouraging the efficiency of Working Groups activities. Special attention was paid to the issue of attracting more EU members as well as to a strategy evaluation in terms of the Forum’s added value. The afternoon session was designed to analyse projects of the Forum members and the Working Group’s and to discuss a paper “European solidarity for Russia’s Civil Society” presented by Stefanie Schiffer (European Exchange).

The second day was devoted to the organisation of the 4th General Assembly, followed by a public session on CSF future strategies and plans that welcomed the presence of CSF supporters: Susan Stewart (German Security Affairs), Cornelius Ochmann (Bertelsmann Stiftung), Ilka Dege( Office Werner Schulz, MEP), and Barbara von Ow‐Freytag (OfFice Andreas Schockenhoff, Bundestag). The proposals of the General Assembly Preparation Group - composed of the CSF members interested in drafting the agenda and format of the next General Assembly - were presented to the Steering Committee and to host organisers, Harry Hummel (Netherlands Helsinki Committee) and Gert Ates (United Against Racism). We encourage all Forum members to contribute with ideas for the upcoming GA by contacting the Steering Committee (info@eu-russia-csf.org). Your engagement is important in making it a success!


  EU Partners Call Russian Authorities to Stop NGOs Inspections and Harassment


photo AP, Checks in the office of Memorial

Starting in March this year, Russian government moved on implementing the law on “foreign agents” adopted last year. This highly restrictive law has been strongly criticized by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, other international NGOs and representatives of inter-governmental organizations. It restricts rights of civil society organisations and threatens many independent groups. Prosecutor’s office and other Russian controlling agencies have carried over 600 checks of NGOs across Russia, with a special focus on democracy, human rights, election monitoring, and environmental groups. Russian authorities checked a high number of Forum members for compliance with this law. Results of these inspections are predictable. One of the Russian Forum members, Golos Association, has received an administrative fine in the amount of around €12 000 and ordered it to register as a “foreign agent”. Another member of the Forum, Centre for Support of Civic Initiatives in Kostroma, is currently under a trial on similar charges. Many other members of the Forum have received an order from the Prosecutor’s office to register as “foreign agents” within 30 days, or a warning saying that they conduct “political activity”. If they decide to receive more foreign funds, they will have to apply to the government list of “foreign agents”, too. Refusal to register will lead to punitive measures, including heavy financial fines, closure of organisations and even criminal prosecution of NGOs leaders up to two years of prison. Russian civil society leaders are trying to draw attention of the international community and the media and circulate petitions to stop the harassment. Over 50 Russian NGOs leaders signed an appeal, which was supported by more than 600 signatories. If this unprecedented campaign of harassment is not stopped in the nearest future, dozens of NGOs will be closed down and civil society in Russia will suffer an irreparable damage.

EU High Representative Catherin Ashton has expressed her concerns aabout the negative situation of Russian civil society. A series of statements from other EU member-states, such as France and Germany, have followed raising their concerns about massive inspections of Russian NGOs. The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum has also called Russian authorities to stop the inspections harassment immediately, both in its general statement and a specific appeal on behalf of Golos and Kostroma Centre for Support of Community Initiatives. In addition, the Steering Committee sent a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel to attract her attention to systemic deterioration of the environment for Russian NGOs on the eve of her meeting with President Putin (in Hannover on April 7, 2013). So far the reaction of official Russia has been the defense of the legitimacy of the law legitimacy and denial of negative consequences for civil society.

Ksenia Vakhrusheva from “Bellona”, a member of the Forum’s Steering Committee, presents more a detailed account of these checks in her interview on our website: http://eu-russia-csf.org/newsdetail/article/643.html.

We call on the members and supporters of the Forum to join the international efforts to protect Russian civil society which is going through a very difficult moment in its history. If you would like to participate in joint solidarity efforts or propose your ideas on how we should respond to this attack, please write to the Steering Committee (info@eu-russia-csf.org).


 Internal Evaluation: Members Feedback




In March the Communication Team run an internal evaluation to learn more about the experiences of the Forum members. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is clearly perceived by the majority of its members as a platform of cooperation and networking. There is higher interest of Russian groups in participating in the Forum than European at this stage. The Forum is also viewed as a learning place. The majority of members participate in joint projects under the auspices of the Forum and engage in drafting position papers. There is a certain discrepancy between the EU and Russian NGOs about how much the Forum is a policy instrument to influence EU-Russia relations. The EU members are more prone to view the Forum as an advocacy tool than Russian members.

Forum members see three parallel tracks of further action: 1) Forum as a platform for setting a joint agenda for civil society groups from Russia and the EU about wider issues of democracy, environment, development and civic participation on the European continent; 2) Forum as an instrument of civil society consultations and a solidarity pillar for Russian NGOs under increasing restrictive internal climate for the sector, especially human rights and democracy groups; 3) Forum as a platform for joint Russian-EU civil society projects.

We would like to continue this discussion about the development of the Forum and invite all members to contribute their ideas on the eve of General Assembly and during our joint meeting in the Hague.


 Public Outreach by the Forum: Berlin and London


Public debate in Berlin, April 10, 2013
April 16, Seminar at Chatham House

In April, the Forum organized two public events in the EU to discuss current developments in Russia in the non-profit sector. One was held in Berlin on the eve of the Steering Committee meeting and the other took place in Chatham House of the Royal Institute of International Relations in London.

A public discussion in Berlin was co-organised by Robert Bosch Foundation and German-Russian Exchange. In the light of the recent pressure on Russian NGOs by the Russian government, the event attracted many German participants to discuss perspectives of cooperation between Russian and European non-governmental organisations. Natalia Taubina (“Public Verdict”, Moscow) updated participants on the impact of restrictive laws that limit civil society organization and described latest developments related to overwhelming NGO inspections. Anna Skvortsova (“NGO Developmen Centre”, St. Petersburg) emphased that Russian civil society is at the crossroads and that Russian authorities’ actions result in exacerbating mistrust and divisions in the society (please find the full text of Mrs. Skvortsova’s presentation here). Rostislav Valvoda (“People in Need”, Prague) stressed that under these circumstances, if Europe wants to see future Russia as an open and free society, it should stand up for Russia’s civil society now that it is getting under increased government pressure. In the discussion that followed the participants shared their views on deteriorating situation for NGOs in Russia and expressed personal opinions on this matter. Finally, Zuzana Zalanova (DEMAS, Prague), Project Manager of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, highlighted how the permanent common platform of the EU-Russia CSF and its activities build on mutual and horizontal cooperation and coordination of civil society organisations from Russia and the EU (please, see the Power Point presentation here).

An expert seminar in Chatham House in London featured presentations by Yuri Dzhibladze (Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Moscow), Fraser Cameron (EU-Russia Centre, Brussels) and Zuzana Zalanova (DEMAS, Prague), Project Manager of the Forum. The discussion focused on the issues of increasingly restrictive environment, especially for those NGOs seeking to improve the rule of law and human rights. Experts discussed the impact on NGOs of the “foreign agents” law, the state of civic activism in Russia, strategies of donor organisations and future implications of these developments.


 EU-Russia Visa Facilitation: Forum Calls for more Inclusive Agreement


Press conference in Moscow

On April 23, members of the Steering Committee Stefan Melle (German-Russian Exchange, Berlin) and Yuri Dzhibladze (Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Moscow) presented to the media a policy brief on the visa issues in relation to the preparation of the amended EU-Russia Agreeement on Facilitation of Issuance of Visas for Short-Term Travel. The brief was submitted to the leadership of the European Union and the Russian Federation. The 5-page document contains civil society perspective on the current stage of the EU-Russia dialogue on facilitation and liberalisation of the visa regime as well as concrete recommendations to decision-makers and participants in the negotiations.

CSF representatives stressed out that effective facilitation of the visa regime between Russia and the EU and energetic progress towards a visa free agreement are of outmost importance for public interests. Despite of the progress made recently, the existing visa regime between the EU and Russia is still a huge barrier for human contacts as well as civil society, business, scientific, and cultural cooperation. "The more cooperation and exchange between people there are, the closer Russia and the European Union will come", says Stefan Melle.

As the amended EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement might be signed during the June EU-Russia Summit in Yekaterinburg, the Forum visa expert group prepared recommendations to stress the importance of several key issues. It is of utmost importance that the amended visa facilitation agreement includes not only a privileged group of service passport holders but is also aimed at protecting interests of ordinary citizens. The Forum proposes to add the following categories of citizens into the agreement who would benefit from facilitation of the visa regime: representatives of civil society organisations, participants of youth exchange programmes, municipal exchange programmes and projects of cross-border cooperation, professionals participating in international exhibitions, conferences and similar events, journalists and technical crews accompanying them, people travelling for medical purposes and persons accompanying them, representatives of religious communities, and close relatives of individuals legally residing in the EU or Russia.

In autumn 2013 the Visa Expert Group of the Forum will prepare another more detailed visa policy report in its effort to provide independent expert opinion to the participants of the official dialogue. Follow the work of the Visa Group online.


 Forum Project Updates


The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is advancing on developing more collaborative projects among members of the Forum and other civil society organisations from Russia and the EU. Below are some of the recent activities that feature NGO cooperation under the auspices of the Forum.

In February six young staff members from the CSF member organisations were selected to participate in the Youth Exchange Programme. Two young specialists are coming from the EU and four from Russia, involving 12 organisations from Italy, Poland, Germany and different Russian cities. Project ideas involve several work fields, for instance, ecology, the right of the public to information, civic engagement and communication. See detailed list of youth exchange winners. On March 18-19, 2013, the participants presented their project concepts at a two-day introductory seminar held at the Sakharovski Centre in Moscow. The youth exchange programme participants have started to share their first imporessions from the internship.



Youth exchange program

In March five Russian human rights activists from the Forum member organizations travelled to Prague to participate in a five-day training program on video production and advocacy. Organised by Prague-based “People in Need” (PIN) organisation, the training employed PIN expertise in assisting Russian human rights organizations by strengthening their advocacy and outreach capacity and took advantage of a parallel scheduling with the largest human rights documentary film festival in Central Europe “One World”. Read more about the program.



The Steering Committee of the Forum jointly with coordinators of the Working Groups and members of the Forum is working on preparing a new proposal for funding to the European Commission to support the work of the Forum beyond the current financial support ending in 2013.


 Ideas and opinions




We found these publications interesting and would like to share with you:


 Stay connected and share!




In response to requests from member organisations, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum has designed a new ad hoc communication format to respond to the increasing interest in its activities: apart from the Newsletter, our quarterly comprehensive dissemination format, we have started to distribute the News Summary, a brief format to share news and updates on a more frequent basis. Please read the first News Summary here.

We have also developed a new section on the Forum web site called “Opinions and ideas”. Do share your stories with us to find new partners and promote your work.

Stay in touch with the Forum and follow us on Internet and social media:

Official Facebook page of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum;
Sectorial Facebook page on the Visa Facilitation Project EU-Russia CSF: Visa Facilitation Project;
Twitter account (@EU_Russia_CSF)

"To unsubscribe to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Newsletter, please contact us at info@eu-russia-csf.org"

 

 

EU-RUSSIA CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM (secretariat)

Address: DEMAS – Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights, Pohorelec 6, 118 00 Prague 1, Czech Republic

Website: www.eu-russia-csf.org
E-mail: info@eu-russia-csf.org

 

Disclaimer: This website has been produced with the assistance of our donors. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of our donors.