On 22-23 April 2015, eleven representatives of non-governmental organisations from the Russian Federation and the European Union – members in the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum – met in London. The objective of this meeting was to discuss cooperation and support to civil activists.
‘This visit to London helped to focus public attention on the challenges of NGO work in Russia and to highlight the role of their European counterparts in providing solidarity. It was also a good chance for NGOs to re-think the current political and socio-economic climate and talk about existing and new opportunities for the civil society,’ sums up Anna Sevortian, Executive Director at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.‘
Several events have been part of the visit – as the Conference “Supporting Civil Society in Russia and the EU: Crisis as a Time of Opportunity?” and the Public Discussion under same name at the King’s College London. Sergei Lukashevsky of the Sakharov Centre, Moscow spoke at the Chatham House event “Abusing Russian History: The Effect on Politics and the Public”. Russian activists also went for the interviews at the “Guardian” newspaper and the BBC.
‘Today, when such important freedoms as freedom of speech and press freedom are in danger in the Russian Federation, we expect international organisations to express their firm stand on this troublesome situation,’ says Anna Sharogradskaya (Regional Press Institute, St. Petersburg). ‘The Russian authorities should be aware that the repressive laws and legislative acts restricting and abusing these and other human rights in the country produce negative effect on people within the country and abroad. In the course of our discussions in London, my colleagues and I insisted on necessity of continuing a dialogue with EU partners by carrying out various events with and in Russia, inviting interesting speakers from both sides and providing an overall assistance to endangered activists, who are forced to flee the country, as well as resolving visa issues in a fast and easy way.’ While giving a talk on civil society in Russia at the Pushkin House, Anna Sharogradskaya made it clear that – as the solution of multiple problems the Regional Press Institute has been facing – her leaving Russia is out of the question.
The members of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum – Harry Hummel from the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (The Hague) and Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć from the Citizens Network Watchdog (Warsaw) – used the opportunity to meet the London-based prominent organisations on the spot – the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a member in the Forum, and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC).
‘Personal arrangements with such prominent organisations are of a great importance for our advocacy activities,’ considers Harry Hummel, who has been also active in the Forum’s Policy and Advocacy Team. ‘For them, the Forum is an opportunity to get in touch with many NGOs to potentially cooperate with. The Forum can also benefit from their expertise on the foreign policy of the EU and on the pan-European cooperation in the Council of Europe.’
Along with the representatives of NGOs mentioned above, the list of participants included Andrea Gullotta (Memorial Italia, Milan-Glasgow), Grigori Melkoniants (Golos Association, Moscow), Sergei Shapkhaev (Buryat Regional Union on the Lake Baikal, Ulan-Ude), Rostislav Valvoda (Prague Civil Society Centre), Annegret Wulff (MitOst Association, Berlin), and others.

The visit to London was organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum with a kind support from the European Commission and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.