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What are the current tasks for the Sakharov Centre now? Have they changed since its foundation?
In 1991, a year after the death of the academician, friends and relatives decided to establish a Public Commission for the Preservation of the Heritage of Academician Sakharov, which set itself the goal of promoting the values advocated by Sakharov. In this sense, the appearance of the centre a few years after his death was a completely logical development of the initially chosen line. Apart from the museum devoted to resistance against lack of freedom in the totalitarian Soviet society, we have been having spaces for free discussions and events for over ten years so far around the topics, which interested Sakharov – historical memory, politics, democracy and human rights values up to the environment.
Which new projects are you implementing now?
We noticed that, on the one hand, there was a huge demand for human rights non-political volunteering in the society and, on the other hand, NGOs would like to directly interact with the people. So, we tried to meet both ends and a year ago established a hub for volunteers who would be interested in doing something useful for human rights organisations. Not long time ago, we finished a project together with the NGO “Civic Assistance”. Now we are engaged in monitoring psycho-neurological establishments along with the Moscow Helsinki Group. We are also launching Wikitons, which are joint Wikipedia editing sessions, for instance, in cooperation with the Public Verdict Foundation and other human rights organisations dealing with torture issues.
Which current topics do you see high on the agenda between the EU and Russia nowadays?
A dialogue is vital for the development of international relations. Firstly, we have been living in a globalised world and should negotiate regardless of our nationality. Secondly, a lot of problems that have been applicable for Russia throughout several years so far, such as the right-wing populist U-turn, worsening situation with NGOs, inability to have a normal interaction with the government, become reality for single EU member states, in particular, Poland and Hungary. We as experts in the field of legislation on “foreign agents” and other repressive measures are not necessarily what we like to be. However, as we can help our Western partners exactly in this realm, it would be unwise to disregard that.
At the General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum this May, you were elected a Board member. What is your opinion, now in this role, on why the Forum is needed and important?
Russia, at least from my perspective, is a part of a globalised Europe. The absence of dialogue with Russia possibly leaving the Council of Europe, especially in the context of existing sanctions, would lead to isolation of both parties and cease in validity of joint instruments for the EU and Russia. The dialogue is important both within the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and as a constituent of every human work aimed at the common good. Anyway, civil society in the shape we have it now is one of the best inventions of the 20th century.
Interview was shot by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 21 October 2018 in Berlin, Germany.