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Newsletter Nr. 2 16.08.2011
1. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Broadly "Welcomed"
2. Parallel events to EU-Russia Summit in Nizhny Novgorod
3. Attempts to Mar EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Parallel Events in Nizhny Novgorod
4. Threats against Steering Committee Member
5. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Growing
6. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Meets the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
7. Thanks to Heidi Hautala
8. Meeting of Economic and Social Committee and Public Chamber
9. Next Forum Meeting in December 2011 in Poland
10. Condolences to Family of Elena Bonner
 1.EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Broadly "Welcomed"

Three months after its establishment in Prague in March 2011, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum receives acknowledgement from top EU and Russia officials.

During the EU-Russia Summit joint press conference with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso stressed the importance of dialogue with civil society:
"Clearly, this modernization must be broad-based to be successful. Transformation is not just about technology. The creative forces of society as a whole must be engaged. The rule of law, the protection of citizens’ rights and a level playing-field for businesses are indispensable. This is a shared commitment, both at the international level and in our Partnership. We welcomed the creation in March 2011 of an independent EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and we have asked the Russian party to support it. It is important that they fulfil their role engaging the societies in these modernisation efforts." Statement in full.
10 June 2011, Nizhny Novgorod, EU-Russia Summit

In addition, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was noted in the joint progress report approved by both EU and Russian side: "(...) In the priority area of promoting people-to-people contacts and enhancing dialogue with civil society, it was agreed to continue existing higher education cooperation and youth exchange programmes. The coordinators welcome the contribution of civil society of the EU and Russia to the development of the Partnership and note the importance of intensifying joint work on projects and activities that facilitate dialogue with the civil society. They welcome in particular the founding of an independent EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in March 2011, and the activities planned for the near future by the European Economic and Social Committee and the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, as well as the recent launch of the think tank DER: Dialogue-Europe-Russia. Coordinators look forward to increased exchanges with these fora. (...) " Report in full.
Gunnar Wiegand, Director European External Action Service, European Union
Andrei Slepnev, Ministry of Economic Development, Russian Federation

9 June 2011, Nizhny Novgorod, Progress report agreed by the coordinators of the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation

In her speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton also hailed the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: "(...) Let me close with a few remarks about other human rights and rule of law issues in Russia. Our Partnership for Modernisation opens new opportunities for cooperation in this field. I welcome the joint project with the Council of Europe on reforming the appeal system for civil and criminal court cases in Russia. I also welcome the opening of new forms of dialogue with civil society, in particular the creation of an EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. (...)" Statement in full.
6 July 2011, Strasbourg, European Parliament, Speech on Preparations for the Russian State Duma Elections

 2. Parallel events to EU-Russia Summit in Nizhny Novgorod
© Dmitry Utukin

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum conducted a series of parallel events to the official EU-Russia Summit: a press conference, meeting with local NGOs as well as meeting with EU officials.

Meeting with Local Civil Society
About 15 local civil society groups and several international NGOs gathered in Nizhny Novgorod for a meeting with members of the Steering Committee of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Local groups represented a diverse array of topics: human rights, flat owners’ rights, social issues, issues of the disabled, freedom of information etc. Steering Committee explained the goals of the Forum, encouraging Russian NGOs to join it. Local groups expressed interest in the networking aspect of the Forum that strengthens international as well as interregional connections. The Forum’s goal of influencing EU-Russia policy on the government level was also discussed with questions about strategies to employ in order to achieve some results in this area.

Meeting with EU officials
In a meeting with EU officials, the Steering Committee made it clear that one of the Forum’s goals is to influence the EU-Russia dialogue on the government level floating an idea to organize high-level meetings of top EU and Russia leaders with the representatives of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as part of official future summits.

Press Conference
On 10 June 2011, Olga Sadovskaya, Stefan Melle and Natalia Taubina, members of the Forum’s Steering Committee, held a press conference in Nizhny Novgorod. They informed about the establishment and goals of the Forum, stressing four working groups (Human Rights and the Rule of Law, the Environment, Social Issues and Civic Participation, Democratic Structures and Processes) and openness of the Forum. While questions about Forum’s structure and possibility to join it were raised, journalists were mostly interested in the harassment of the Forum by local authorities in Nizhny Novgorod.

 3. Attempts to Mar EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Parallel Events in Nizhny Novgorod

On the eve of EU-Russia Summit, Olga Sadovskaya, local organizer of parallel events and member of Forum’s Steering Committee was harassed by local authorities in Nizhny Novgorod. In addition, local activists reported receiving “warnings” before the Summit with activists based in Nizhny Novgorod region “advised” not to come to town for the days of the Summit. In response, the Steering Committee issued the following statement:

All information agencies in Nizhny Novgorod refused EU-Russia Civil Society Forum without explanations to provide space for a press-conference ahead of summit; the last of them being Rosbalt Information Agency which informed the Forum it could not hold the press-conference in Rosbalt’s premises just a few hours before the event was to take place, although it had previously agreed so. According to informal information available to the Forum’s representatives, decisions to refuse space were taken under pressure from local police and the FSB.

On June 8, the main local organizer of Forum’s events during the summit Olga Sadovskaya, a member of its Steering Committee of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s, and a vice-chair of the organization “Committee against Torture”, was invited to the prosecutor’s office to give explanations about planned events of the Forum: a meeting with local civil society organizations, a press-conference and also a meeting with officials participating in the EU-Russia summit.

Moreover, during these days her credit cards were suddenly blocked due to unknown reasons, license plates from her car went missing and because of that police officers took away her driving license despite that fact that she asked the same police officers for help beforehand.

“In our opinion, such steps hardly can be justified by the security measures during the summit. We can’t understand why the local authorities want to prevent us from undertaking Civil Society Forum activities”, - said Stefan Melle, head of German-Russian Exchange and EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Steering Committee member. “The work of this platform is absolutely open and aims at constructive dialogue and cooperation with governments of both EU and Russia. This can include criticism of one side or another when civil initiatives find grounds for it. For us this is a natural part of open society and democratic government based on rule of law”, adds Natalia Taubina, head of Public Verdict Foundation, another member of the Steering Committee. Local sources also informed that in the last days law enforcement officials conducted conversations with a few civic activists and participants of opposition movements and warned them against conducting any public actions during EU-Russia summit and efforts to pass any information to the summit participants; those who reside outside of Nizhny Novgorod were told not come to the city and were promised to have inspections at their work place and homes.

This harassment prompted an international reaction and attracted a lot of media attention.

Human Rights Watch: Activists Targeted on Eve of EU-Russia Summit, Europe Should Publicly Call for End to Intimidation and Harassment

Moscow, June 10, 2011.
European Union leaders should address the hostile climate for human rights defenders in Russia during talks at the EU-Russia Summit on June 9 and 10, 2011, in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, Human Rights Watch said today. Specifically, they should raise the harassment and intimidation experienced by a number of civil society activists in the run-up to the summit. (...)

"Despite repeated pledges by Russia's leadership to ensure normal working conditions, human rights activists in Russia regularly face intimidation and harassment," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It's outrageous that activists are being harassed because of their activities in the lead-up to the summit. EU leaders should make it clear they won't tolerate threatening activists for their legitimate human rights work." Statement in full.

Heidi Hautala, Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights

Heidi Hautala: EU to demonstrate its support to the Russian civil society
Members of the European Parliament have called for the European Union delegation to support the Russian democratic civil society in the ongoing EU-Russia Summit in Nizhny Novgorod. For the first time, the Russian non-governmental organisations, including a newly established EU- Russia Civil Society Forum, have planned a parallel civil society event. However, the Russian authorities have tried to prevent the NGOs from holding any public actions around the summit.

Concerned about the free development of civil society in Russia, Heidi Hautala the Chair of the Subcommittee for Human Rights and Werner Schulz, the Vice-Chair of the Russia-delegation of the European Parliament have emitted a written appeal to the EU delegation, Mr Barroso, Lady Ashton and Mr Van Rompuy requesting to meet with the civil society representatives and to recognise the parallel event.

Ms Hautala reiterated the call for EU support in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday.

“It would be very important that the EU shows its coherent support to the democratic civil society and to the right to assemble. We have heard of the pre-emptive measures and pressure taken by the Russian authorities against the NGO representatives to impede the organisation of the event”, states Heidi Hautala.

The Russian civil society representatives have been placed under surveillance, questioned and threatened by the police. Also other measures, such as blocking a bank account and taking the car licence plates, have been taken against the organisers.

“The European Union has been very consistent in its support to democratic development in Russia. Therefore, we ask for the EU delegation to give its full support to the civil society and its event”, xf adds.

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum has been officially welcomed by the EU institutions and has been included in the 2011 EU budget proposal of the European Parliament. The parallel civil society event is to take place on 10 June 2011.

Werner Schulz: EU-Russia Summit Obstruction of the Civil Society Forum unacceptable

Werner Schulz, first Vice Chairman of the European Parliament delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

Werner Schulz, first Vice Chairman of the European Parliament delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee responds to the obstruction of the activities of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum during the EU-Russia Summit:

“Using dramatic means, Russian authorities have attempted to prevent a planned press conference of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum during the Nizhny Novgorod summit. Over and over, Europe gets to hear about how important a renewal of society as a whole is for Russia, one in which the civil society plays a major role. Once again, experience has proven the opposite to be true.

The European Union’s representatives at the summit must make it perfectly clear that they want the forum to be included in the summit activities. The European Parliament has already called for this in its resolution. The behaviour of the Russian authorities is unacceptable and we expect an unsparing investigation of the incidents.

The forum is a unique initiative on the part of groups from various regions of Russia and a large number of EU member states. There is no comparable structure in which NGOs meet, exchange experiences and attempt to find a common basis for cooperation. Despite the incidents on the margins of the summit, the members of the forum are urged to continue their work in a constructive manner.”

International Press

EU and Russia hold 'Vegetable Summit' (10.06.2011,
„Authorities cancelled at the last minute a 9 June press conference to be held by Russian NGOs in the so-called EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. One of the forum's leaders also had her car number plates stolen - putting her at risk of arrest - and her credit cards blocked. Van Rompuy - the EU's top foreign policy representative, (...) added that "the EU-Russia relationship is enjoying its best dynamics for years“. He later noted "there are still strong concerns" in EU member states about human rights in Russia.“

The Vegetable Summit (09.06.2011, The Moscow Times)
„Representatives of the newly formed EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will hold their own meeting parallel to the summit. EU officials have agreed to meet with forum representatives, and it is hoped that Russian officials will join them. This would be a signal that Medvedev is committed to strengthening civil society.“

Russian newswires ‘shut out’ Czech-supported EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (10.06.2011,
„EU-Russia Civil Society Forum founded in Prague reports harassment by Nizhny Novgorod authorities as Russian and EU leaders meet: The Russia – EU Civil Society Forum – established in Prague in March with the support of the Czech foreign ministry—is attempting to hold meetings in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to coincide with the Russia-EU Summit taking place in the city on Friday. Russian news agencies, however, refused to allow the Forum to hold a press conference on their premises as local law enforcement authorities reportedly harass delegates."

In addition, the incidents were reported by Russian services of BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Russian media such as[note: in Russian]

 4. Threats against Steering Committee Member

Soon after the EU-Russia Summit in Nizhny Novgorod, repulsive signs appeared near home of Olga Sadovskaya in Nizhny Novgorod. The Steering Committee issued the following statement:

The Steering Committee is appalled by the threats against Olga Sadovskaya, Member of Steering Committee of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. The threats appeared close to her home in Nizhny Novgorod following her involvement in parallel events of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum to the official EU-Russia Summit in June 2011. The Steering Committee urges the local authorities in Nizhny Novgorod to investigate the origin of threats and to remove the signs as soon as possible.

 5. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Growing

On behalf of the Forum, the Steering Committee welcomes new Forum members. The following organizations have become part of the Forum by submitting applications after March 2011:

  • The Jan Nowak – Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe (Poland)
  • Education for Democracy Foundation (Poland)
  • Human Rights House Foundation (International)
  • Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives (Russian Federation)

The Steering Committee invites all interested organizations to apply following this procedure.

 6. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Meets the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On 17 June 2011, members of the Steering Committee of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Natalia Taubina, Stefan Melle and Yuri Dzhibladze held a meeting in Moscow with the director of the Department of European Cooperation of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Voronkov and his staff. An agreement for this first meeting of the Forum’s representatives with Russian foreign ministry officials had been reached before the recent EU-Russia summit in Nizhny Novgorod.

Vladimir Voronkov has been working in the Russian MFA system since 1989; in particular, he served as a Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to OSCE in 2005-2008, and since September 2008 he has been the director of the Department of European Cooperation. He is one of the key actors in the EU-Russia dialogue, including “Partnership for Modernisation” programme. In particular, Mr. Voronkov is the main Russian negotiator on the issue of liberalisation of the visa regime between EU and Russia.

The CSF representatives told Vladimir Voronkov and his colleagues about the history of establishment of the Forum, results of the founding conference in Prague and plans for the near future. Representatives of the Forum especially underlined their interest in establishing regular interaction with Russian and EU authorities for submission and discussion of the Forum’s participants’ proposals on the issues of their concern in the context of inter-governmental dialogue, in particular, in the framework of semi-annual EU-Russia summits, development of “Partnership for Modernisation” programme, negotiations on adoption of a new basic treaty between the two parties, and meetings of various intergovernmental working groups. In this context the Forum representatives shared a recent experience of holding the CSF parallel events during the summit in Nizhny Novgorod and expressed their concern about actions of the law enforcement agencies, aimed at not only blocking of these events but also of any civic activity during the summit and at intimidating civic and political activists. They stated that these actions directly contradict declaration of the Russian leadership about important role of civil society and the very spirit of EU-Russian cooperation and expressed their hope that nothing like this takes place in the future.

Vladimir Voronkov underlined that Russian MFA and personally the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov had repeatedly expressed support to civil society institutions and to interaction between civil society organizations from EU and Russia as an important part of a dialogue between the two sides. Illustrating this position, the Russian MFA representative pointed at the “Statement on the Progress in Implementation of the “Partnership for Modernisation” Programme”, signed by the two sides in Nizhny Novgorod. It speaks, in particular, about support to the establishment of the independent EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as well as to the development of cooperation between EU Economic and Social Committee and the Public Chamber and the beginning of the work of a new analytical centre “Dialogue EU-Russia” (DER). Mr. Voronkov expressed regret about the problems that had happened in Nizhny Novgorod and recommended to “establish trust” with the law enforcement agencies in order to avoid repeating such situations in the future. He also suggested that the Forum’s proposals should be submitted six weeks before the summits in order for them to be taken into account. In the opinion of the MFA representative, it might be possible that the Forum’s proposals could be included in the set of the summit documents as an appendix to the official papers. He also recommended the Forum to look into the themes of different working groups existing in the framework of several “spaces” of EU-Russia dialogue as well as into the jointly approved directions of implementation of the “Partnership for Modernisation” Programme; these could be used by the Forum as particular areas of engagement. Different government agencies are in charge of implementation of these dialogues and therefore it is necessary to establish direct contacts with them.

Vladimir Voronkov also suggested that the Forum could express support for the need for positive and concrete steps to be taken in the field of the visa liberalisation regime with abolition of visas between EU and Russia seen as an ultimate goal. Apparently, this is a rare case when interests and positions of civil society and Russian authorities coincide with each other entirely, Mr. Voronkov pointed out. Partners from the EU do not seem to be ready to move to the solution of this problem at the pace suggested by Russia, and support from civil society would be quite welcome here, representative of the Russian MFA stated. In response the representatives of the CSF agreed that this issue is indeed of high interest for civil society, and concrete proposals from the Forum in this area could be elaborated soon. However, the Forum’s representatives underlined that problems exist not only on the EU side. Often citizens of the EU, including NGO representatives, face difficulties with receiving business visas; they run into problems with Russian migration authorities and security services and face burdensome registration requirements. Russian NGOs often cannot act as an inviting party because of bureaucratic regulations. There is also a problem of “black lists” of foreigners who are banned from entry; they include, among others, representatives of foreign NGOs. Participants of the meeting agreed to continue in-depth discussion of this topic, and Mr. Voronkov suggested meeting with him specifically on these issues in mid-July after the next round of EU-Russia negotiations on the visa regime.

Vladimir Voronkov attracted attention of the interlocutors to one more issue where the Forum, in his opinion, could express its position. This is a problem of the situation of non-citizens in the Baltic countries, an issue traditionally of concern to the Russian MFA. There are about half a million people in this situation now, according to Mr. Voronkov, and there is no progress in addressing the problem of non-citizenship despite the fact that Russia has been constantly raising this concern with the leadership of these countries and the European Union. The Russian side is particularly concerned about the situation of the elderly people who have difficulties in passing language and history tests, and of young people who were born after restoration of the independence of these countries. CSF representatives informed Mr. Voronkov that this issue has not been discussed in the Forum yet and that there are representatives of NGOs from the Baltic states among the Forum members whose opinion will be important.

Responding to the CSF representatives’ question about prospects of adopting a separate chapter on the issues of rule of law and human rights in the draft of the new basic EU-Russia treaty which would be equal in importance to other chapters covering economic cooperation and security issues and ensure that interaction in this field will be not limited to a symbolic “common values” nature but rather be a permanent dialogue and cooperation, Vladimir Voronkov pointed out that it is exactly this approach that has been already adopted by the negotiators and that the draft treaty envisions such a chapter.

In addition, CSF representatives expressed the need for the working materials of inter-governmental dialogue to be made available to the Forum’s participants in advance to allow civil society representatives to develop their proposals more efficiently with the knowledge of the positions of the governments. Mr. Voronkov promised to provide assistance in this issue within the area of his competence and recommended to establish relationships with other departments of the MFA and other Russian ministries involved in the dialogue with the European Union.

In conclusion of the meeting, Vladimir Voronkov once again underlined support from the Russian MFA to interaction with civil society in the framework of EU-Russia dialogue. In their turn, representatives of the Civil Society Forum reiterated their desire for regular interaction with official representatives of the Russian government and the EU and expressed their hope that the Forum will prepare proposals on a number of issues that concern civil society in time for the EU-Russia summit in Brussels in December this year.

 7. Thanks to Heidi Hautala

Heidi Hautala, Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights

On 23 June 2011 Heidi Hautala stepped down as Chair of Sub-committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament to become a minister in the Finnish government. Organizer of annual Finnish-Russian Civic Fora, Ms Hautala was very active in EU-Russia relations for a long time. Since the very beginning Ms Hautala was a staunch supporter of the idea of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and contributed a lot to make this venture possible. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is grateful to Ms Hautala and wishes her the best of luck in her new position of minister.

 8. Meeting of Economic and Social Committee and Public Chamber

On 28 June 2011, Fraser Cameron, member of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum joined a 4th meeting of the Economic and Social Committee and its Russian interlocutor the Public Chamber in Brussels.

Speaking at a meeting of the Economic and Social Committee and the Public Chamber in Brussels on 28 June, Fraser Cameron outlined the origin and purpose of the Forum, highlighting the recognition by the EU and Russia of the growing importance of civil society, not least in the modernisation partnership. He rejected criticism that the Forum had excluded the ECSC and Public Chamber. The Forum was ready to cooperate with both bodies but wished to promote a bottom up approach involving independent NGOs from both the EU and Russia. He hoped those present would encourage other NGOs to join the Forum.

 9. Next Forum Meeting in December 2011 in Poland

During the Polish Presidency of the EU, another meeting of the Forum will take place in Warsaw on 1-2 December 2011. In their specific fields of interest, working groups will finalize their recommendations to EU and Russian governments to be officially handed over to the political leaders during the EU-Russia Summit in Brussels in December 2011. More information will be published on the Forum website.

 10. Condolences to Family of Elena Bonner

© European Parliament

On 18 June 2011, the earthly way of Elena Bonner came to its end. It was a life of a great person in her sincere service to the ideals of freedom and dignity. We, representatives of civil societies of Russia and the European Union are mourning over this loss.

Life path of Elena Bonner, difficult and full of events, was exceptional. It was due not only to historical circumstances. Neither hardships of the war time nor withstanding the test of violence imposed by her own country that fell to the lot of Elena Bonner's generation broke her will or enslaved her. Her whole life was riddled with pain for the man and his pride trampled. Elena Bonner will always remain one of those life-filled symbols of our time, which will be eternal landmarks for future generations in their opposition to falsehood and violence.


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