Dear Annegret, MitOST has been a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum from the very beginning. You were at the founding meeting in Prague and at the second meeting in Warsaw. What was your impression from the General Assembly in Saint Petersburg? What are the developments you are observing?
I think the Forum has a high potential which is above all in its imminent power to represent Civil Society. This creates a voice – and it is good and important to have this voice. But the potential is not fully exploited yet. Of course, no one can expect this after such a short period of time. Still, it is a great achievement of the Steering Committee that they could set up everything we have achieved so far. But I think we have to continue and develop the full potential.
What do you mean?
The organisations which are represented in the Forum are very diverse and have diverse expectations of the goals we want to reach within the Forum. I think that we have to find a consensus, no matter what. The Forum’s potential is in particular to reach something better than any single one of us would be able to. We have to join forces, exchange experiences, develop joint actions – that is exactly the potential of this Forum and that is what makes it unique! In contrast to other formats it does not serve a specific target group, but is really reaching out. We have to take full advantage of this potential. And to do so, everybody needs to know our common ground, why we are here. In my opinion, this discussion, developing common ground is missing today. But we really have to initiate this now.
How do you want to find this common ground in your opinion?
I think the General Assembly is the central format. If we say that it is our topic to produce horizontal connections and to lobby specific topics at the same time, we have to create a framework to accommodate these efforts. People have to get to know each other. So we must create a framework to meet each other. We have to visualise the connections for our cooperation.
But are these connections not visible in the working groups?
As I said, there are many diverse interests, there are diverse approaches. But I personally think that there are more topics that can be addressed. More responsibility could be assigned to the people represented here. I also believe that new connections could emerge. The topic of "active citizenship education" for instance is at a completely other level. This is not a topic, rather an approach to work. There are people in the working group "ecology" who implement active citizenship education in connection with ecology, others do it with human rights. It would be nice to have the possibility to mix. If these working groups are set in stone and if there are no other possibilities to meet, we will lose our dynamic working style very quickly.
But how to manage the logistics of working group sessions and project sessions in different constellations in the framework of the General Assembly, which usually takes only 1.5 days?
You have to define your expectations precisely. Is this really the place where we need to draw up policy papers? I consider policy papers as part of the lobby work as very important and they are absolutely necessary. But they should be thoroughly prepared. This does not necessarily need to happen here. Here is a place of networking, where we get together. Here we develop the ideas for policy papers – and for other forms of our cooperation.
I think we need a purpose-driven design for our formats. What do we want to achieve? What is possible in the framework of such an assembly? What is not possible, what has to happen elsewhere? And then you need to organise them in such a way that it fits the purpose.
What are your wishes for the next General Assembly?
I wish to have a really open discussion about what we define as common ground.
We need to discuss questions what we want to achieve in the Forum, what we can do better by ourselves. But also: Do we represent civil society? Who is still missing in the Forum to achieve this goal? We also need to address the question what we understand as civil society? This might sound quite banal, but I think that we will get a very differentiated view in the end. Another question is what we have on our agenda. And: Is this only about Russia, as it is mostly the case in our discussions? And finally we have to clarify what we want to achieve for our common goals in the framework of the Forum.
We have to think about it, how we want to do this. Maybe there are also better forms than a plenary discussion.
And I also wish for other possibilities for free exchange and for horizontal networks. This is also a question of the format.
I don’t want our members to come to this meeting with the impression that this is a conference with a set programme. Something else is more important! Either we are members and we are actively driving and developing this Forum – or it will not come to life. And then everything else will not work out either. I am convinced of this.
St. Petersburg, 10.10.2012
Interview conducted by Polina Baigarova, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum
MitOst is member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum since 29.03.2011.