See the interview on YouTube EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (CSF): What are the reasons for spreading of far-right movements in the EU and Russia and how can these tendencies be discontinued?
Ralph du Long: I think there are a number of reasons. First of all, societies are changing and populations are changing. In the EU, for example, there’s a freedom of movement, of people – it’s amongst the basic freedoms of the EU, but it also means that societies are affected by this. It has an influence on societies. Not only for the EU is this true, but it’s also true for other countries in Europe – and for Russia.
Then, a second one is, after 2001, there has been a widening gap between Islamic populations and other groups, other populations in the EU, and I guess, I’m afraid, not enough was done to ensure that these gaps were being bridged. Then we have the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. There’s still high number of them trying to enter Europe. For many of them, Greece and Italy are the first points of entry. For Greece especially, it is a big problem, the number of refugees combined with the crisis combined with the EU that has looked away for far too long, combined with a lack of good policies in Greece itself. It has really led to big problems.
And then, the last one, I would say is that mainstream parties did not come up with solutions or were not willing to discuss any of the problems I mentioned before. Far-right parties and racist parties, populist parties, thus, were able to set the political agenda – not for the good but in a very negative way. But they got a lot of support for it being the ones – seemingly the only ones – willing to address these problems. Again, this is not only in the EU, but we see this in other European countries and Russia as well. And I think, to discontinue this trend, we’ll need first of all that mainstream political parties and political institutions across Europe will pick up this challenge and really start discussing, what our societies should look like and how the differences, first of all, the differences between populations can be bridged, and as far as I’m concerned, of course, on the base of human rights, it requires these key players to go into the mainstream of society, to get into, for example, Athens neighbourhoods or any other similar city that has these problems and to listen and really hear what is going on there.
What measures should be taken to provide a better security to refugees?
Refugees are a topic for United. If you look at this year alone, again, many people have died trying to enter Europe, we publish a death list every year. It is devastating, there are many-many names on it. Every 20th of June, we have the Refugee Day, trying to get attention to the position of refugees, but that’s not enough, of course. What is needed is a more thorough discussion – not only on policies and not only on new laws, but one step before, which is – asking ourselves the reasons why so many people try to enter Europe and die. And I guess, one of these reasons is the huge imbalance in wealth between North and South.
Do you also observe conditions of refugees from the South-East of Ukraine?
We do not specifically monitor the conditions of refugees in the South-East of Ukraine, but United, being a network of over five hundred supporting organisations, does have organisations in the region that do, those are members of our network and they do monitor the situation in Ukraine.
Which challenges do you see for the work of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum now?
I guess, the biggest challenge for the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum at the moment is, of course, how to deal with the changed relations between East and West, that have once again become very cold, it’s not going to be easy, but I think the dialogue, that has started between civil society in EU and Russia, should be tightened and continued most certainly and strengthened. Now I think that one of the challenges is the number of laws against civil society in Russia – many laws already adopted and implemented, making the work of NGOs really not easy, and more laws to be followed. It’s a challenge for NGOs to keep on doing the work they have been doing, the way they did. Having said that, I think we need to take care that we do not only focus on what is going on in Russia but keep an open eye on what is going on in the EU as well. For us, the Forum is important in terms of exchange of ideas, platform discussions, understanding what is going on elsewhere.
What would you like to wish to the Forum’s members?
I wish the members of the Forum, first of all, that they will keep on finding each other, despite all the changes in the EU-Russia relations, that they keep exchanging ideas and strengthening the network, because it is very much needed, especially now.