Ms Makovetskaya, thank you very much for having agreed to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. In the beginning of September, the GRANI Centre marks its tenth anniversary, but I have the impression that you have been working much longer in the Perm Region, since the range of issues your organisation deals with is extremely large. In your view, what has been the most important issues in the past ten years?
Thank you for the wishes. I would say about several important things. Firstly, we have managed to root in Perm, in the civil society in Perm and Russia (after all, we work not only in the Perm Region!) an understanding what a civilian expertise is, i.e. when not only a position is important but also an exchange of arguments. The older the GRANI Centre became, the more the situation in Russia changed, the better I realised how rare the exchange of arguments became – including expert and well-founded positions, which quite often led to a quarrel. By the way, the GRANI Centre received the “Badge of the Ombudsperson in the Perm Region” exactly for the introduction of the civil expertise technology.
The second thing that seems important to me is our research and work with local communities and active groups. We believe that non-profit energy is everywhere – not only in the field of civil deeds but also in that of civil entertainment. People recreate public spaces along small rivers, they are engaged in separate waste collection as well as try to understand, whether they need dairy kitchens… All these civic groups are extremely important. Therefore, we spend a lot of time at providing them with a wide range of services. We studied them, many people know our report "The Portrait of Russian Non-Political Activism", which I definitely consider as our success.
We also have a co-working – a place, where people can come together and work – as well as a production centre. We are proud of the creation of different kinds of venues, places, where people could get involved in discussing problems that concern them and in making decisions. These can be festivals, clubs, labs, discussions in the form of civil juries, which we have organised many times. Moreover, this is a very important place for the Russian life now, as long as a citizen faces so many problems that s/he cannot tackle alone. It is vital to offer him or her something like an "oxygen tent" – the citizen comes there and is respected by others.
Finally, we are one of the few organisations in Russia, which have been effectively and efficiently working with both federal and local authorities. We believe that one needs to constantly disseminate and extend the experiences in decision-making. We have a high productivity. We have been cooperating with the Ministry of Economic Development, we used to work with the Federal Antimonopoly Service. Our recommendations have been successfully implemented and multiplied. We believe that co-management depends not only on the willingness of the other party but also on the willingness of the society to publicly, responsibly, and in a not-childish way to not only advocate but also be involved in developing solutions.
I would like to address the next question to you as a famous regional expert with a Russian outreach. Recently, you have taken part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as the only representative of the Perm Region. You work a lot with NGOs, also as a resource centre, and you are active in regions as well… Do you see expertise in regions that is often overlooked outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg?
Yes, I see expertise in regions… a wave of a new, complex, and multidisciplinary expertise. Its source are young people, who have gained some experiences in business, administration, non-profit organisations already and propose a new approach. First, it crosses the boundaries of university disciplines. For example, the adaptation or non-adaptation of people, who may not work at full capacity – people with special needs, orphans, people released from prison.
Another important feature of this new expertise is the attempt to find a new language, since, on the one hand, it is difficult for us to operate using old terms and, on the other hand, experts try to question the scripts. The new expertise is diverse. For example, in the game component, participants try to find out the image of the future with the help of "foresights" and business games. The image of the future is one of the objects of a new, emerging expertise. This is an attempt to bring up the taste for the argument.
Let me give you another example. We have worked with our colleagues in many regions of the Russian Federation, and they decided to organise the project "Civil Expert School". We are going to Krasnoyarsk to work with local experts. They work with those people, who are in municipalities and have a position but cannot reasonably argue it.
There are many different kinds of expertise. However, in the contemporary Russia, in addition to expertise one needs something else. It is either charisma that would promote one’s expertise and give access to the most significant sites – the Krasnoyarsk Forum, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Sochi Forum, and so on; or it is some sort of a fashionable topic, a point of view, into which we could pack something. One should be interesting. Therefore, I say to all experts, who are listening to us right now: ‘We just need to be interesting.’
Several years ago, you were one of the organisers the "After Pilorama" Festival. Then, it was turned into "Bridges" (Mosty) – a festival that has already become traditional. How has this format developed so far?
"Mosty" is a city public festival, which is organised by the public with money collected from the public. I am a member of the organising committee and one of the initiators of this festival, which was indeed created in memory of the "Pilorama” Festival but was not its continuation. We had the idea that the place of such a festival should not remain vacant. The place of discussions and debates should be constantly re-produced. This is what we are doing now.
The format is extending. This year, there were many different kinds of discussions that raised rather tough questions but in different formats. For example, the question of what kind of history Russia needs. We talked about it at three discussion slots (one after another) and also at a business game. It was very important that those, who were not comfortable with the format of ‘talking in the back of those who speak for you’, or those, who were not comfortable with the format of a detailed presentation could freely make their own remarks. Thus, we develop the idea of a comfortable, proportionate way of talking about what worries people.
We tried to focus on the space of the present and the future. I am very proud that every year we organise something interesting. In 2017, we held a "Best Failures" Conference. We discussed the cases of failures of the people, who are unequivocal winners in the public space. When they talked about their personal failures in something important, concerned with public issues, and how they got out of it, it was quite a right tone for talking about major things.
In addition, we hold the Case Championship "Of course" (Razumeetsya). So, more and more young people are getting involved in non-profit activities. Throughout the country, 300 people play "Razumeetsya", and then the best of them come together to Moscow. In September, the new year of the championship is starting. This case laboratory was born out of the feeling that it is necessary to focus on a specific story and a specific person, who overcame something in his or her life. People believe more in such a story than in assurances.
As for the "Mosty" Festival, it is pleasant time from dawn to dusk. It is an appealing environment involving new people. I think that "Mosty" has a good future and a good potential.
The GRANI Centre is a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Why is it important for you to be a part of the Forum?
I would name a few points. Firstly, there is an important messianic aspect. If you consider yourself and Russia to be a part of the European space, then you should support as much as possible any platforms and dialogues that allow restoring this normal tradition of a common European space that includes Russia in solving European problems.
Secondly, even if I do not always find topics that seem interesting to me, I am always curious about what language people are using to talk about issues that concern them. I am sure the search for language, the formation of communicative communities through language texts is perhaps one of the most important tasks, which we need to work on.
Thirdly, it is necessary to restore and retain a great civil style. It is associated with the fact that, regardless of whether there are top officials or not, whether people come to our events or not, we have the right to responsibly and reasonably talk about what concerns all Europeans. And the Europeans representing the citizens’ unions are Europeans who just do not have the right to be silent, they must speak. It is not clear what we will leave to next generations. I think it will not be the text. But the style of conversations, discussions, attempts to take responsibility, regardless of how irresponsibly your partner or someone else behaves, is a very important thing.
Finally, Russia and the European Union are facing serious challenges. For example, we face a threat of domestic terrorism – when heavy vehicles run over people. We attempt to preserve the culture and in accordance with these cultural codes to open the borders for people, who need help now. This is an attempt to understand, what is currently happening with our leaders. This is an attempt to assess the balance between freedom and responsibility and the price that we are ready to pay for it – a personal price, as a taxpayer and as a responsible person. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is not currently the venue that does this, but it can become such a venue – the one with dialogues, various projects, an opportunity to quarrel right at the event (but not to break up), an opportunity to meet and see, how a public, non-profit activity looks like.
What would you like to wish to the members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum?
Firstly, I would like to wish an interesting life – the best people around, interesting projects, etc. I wish also everyone to stay healthy. At the same time, I would like to wish responsibility and concentration. It would be nice to look around and see if you are in charge of an important sector in our civil society defence line. We hope for solidarity. Thus, we must be responsible, scrupulously accurate and… interesting.
The interview was recorded by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 21 August 2017 in Perm, Russia.