Since the summer of 2012, the Russian civil society has been under increasing pressure. All over the country, NGOs have been experiencing inspections and raids, and the legal proceedings against the opposition activist Navalny started. Above all, “GOLOS”, the association which observes elections and “Memorial”, the human right organization, are experiencing harassment. “GOLOS” is the first Russian organization against which the controversial ‘Foreign Agents’ Law is applied. Meanwhile, other regional NGOs are accused of failing to register as ‘foreign agent’.
On this occasion on 13th May 2013 in the Deutscher Bundestag (German Parliament), the coordinator of the German-Russian Civil Society Cooperation and a member of the Bundestag Dr. Andreas Schockenhoff organised a discussion on the current situation of civil society in Russia. The following activists took part in the panel discussion:
- Lilia Shibanova, Golos (Moscow)
- Arsenij Roginsky, International Memorial (Moscow)
- Rostislav Valvoda, People in Need (Prague)
- Stefan Melle, German-Russia Exchange (Berlin)
Rostislav Valvoda and Stefan Melle are members of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum that they both represented that evening.
Andreas Schockenhoff, the moderator of the evening, gave the first word to Lilia Shibanova. She provided an overview on the situation of Russian NGOs and the legal framework that Russia currently operates with. Arsenij Roginsky, on the other hand, fascinatingly described the historical background of NGOs in Russia since 1990s to show how the situation of today has been developing in the last twenty years and how NGOs come to the current repressive environment under control of the Russian government. He concluded that Europe in general and Germany in particular can do “almost nothing” in this situation but only help symbolically. However Mr. Roginskij was also optimistic in saying that “I am convinced that we (NGOs) will continue to exist in one or other form” and that “we (NGOs) will try our best to persevere against the demand of the government to register us foreign agents till the very end”.
The European guests at the podium discussion who represented the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum showed their solidarity too. Rostislav Valvoda was convinced that European NGOs should consolidate their work and coordinate common activities to achieve its goal in protecting human rights and free space of civil society for the Russian NGOs. He named an example of one coordinated action as President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin was visiting Germany and the Netherlands earlier this spring. German and the Netherlands organizations coordinated their actions to highlight problems faced by civil society and restrictive measures performed by the Russian government. Stefan Melle added that the role of the EU and Germany is not only showing solidarity towards NGOs that are obviously suffering in Russia, the European community has to strive for media freedom and a pluralistic parliament system in Russia too.
The discussion was followed by many questions, with participation of 140 people from NGOs, think tanks and universities among many others with keen interest on the situation in Russia who came that evening to the Bundestag to take part in the discussion. Some of the guests of the evening like Prof. Eichwede put it simply: “We have to be blunt and direct that this situation like what is now existing in Russia is unconceivable and cannot continue”.