Upon request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Karsten Fledelius, President at the Danish Helsinki Committee (DHC), and Carl Erik Foverskov, DHC Project Manager, outline the activities of the organisation with Russia and Ukraine:
The Danish Helsinki Committee has a long tradition of cooperation with civic organisations and institutions from both Russia and Ukraine. We have also established good contacts and implemented projects together with several member organisations of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. So, Karsten Fledelius has been chairing the Danish-Russian Association, which has been working in particular with the development of scholarly and personal contacts between Denmark and Russia. For his turn, Carl Erik Foverskov has also had many years of experiences with this crucial aspect of international understanding.
Our most important recent partners in Russia have been the NGO “Rassvet” (Sunrise) in Arkhangelsk and the Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg. Along with our partners in the North working with local authorities, we have had several mutual visits devoted to fighting AIDS and drugs addiction, eg, in local prisons. Regarding the Soldiers’ Mothers activities, we have supported their social work among suffering conscripts. Additionally, we have often participated in the preparation of the annual Russia conferences in the Danish Parliament organised by the Danish-Russian Association. The next such event is happening on 9 November 2018 and is entitled "Russia and the West – Confrontation or Diplomacy?". It will be attended by speakers from both Russia and Denmark.
However, since 2013, our main scope of work has been implemented in the countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular in Ukraine. Seven of our active members had or have had projects in these countries.
Our activities in Ukraine started 25 years ago, when three members of our organisation went to the country on a fact-finding mission. We were invited by the Association of Democratic Communities with the purpose of establishing cooperation with Danish NGOs for transferring experiences about developing a democratic civil society. As a result, the Danish Helsinki Committee gathered 28 representatives of Ukrainian NGOs for a week-long seminar “Danish Democratic Institutions and the Role of the NGOs in Developing a Democratic Society” in Denmark, which was supported by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The seminar resulted in a project with the Ukrainian NGO AHALAR about citizens’ social and cultural rights. The cooperation with AHALAR has continued until now, and we are starting a new project with AHALAR about education for local democracy soon. One of the active members of our Committee, Hanne Severinsen, has been a Danish Parliamentarian and a PACE member. At PACE, she was a special rapporteur for Ukraine in 1995-2008. Later (2008-2010), she served as an advisor to the Ukrainian government.
In 2011-2013, the DHC major activity in Ukraine was the “Legal Monitoring” Project. Our lawyers were getting insight into legal cases against prominent members of the opposition – Valeri Ivasсhenko, Yevhen Korneichuk, Yuri Lutsenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Our experts also worked as advisors to the Council of Europe about reforms of the legal system in Ukraine. Last year, the DHC Prison and Probation Service Group – together with the Ukrainian NGO “PAU” (Penitentiary Association of Ukraine) – implemented a project aimed at transferring knowledge from Denmark to Ukraine about probation. The project was a great success and will probably form the basis for a project on a bigger scale. Since 2015, the DHC in cooperation with the NGO “Studentland” and the Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky State Pedagogical University arranged a yearly conference camp for Danish and Ukrainian students. The Ukrainian participants are expected to use the experiences from the camp and from continued contacts with their new Danish friends to strengthen everyday democracy in the country. One of the project results was the establishment of the Danish-Ukrainian Student Organisation (DOSU) in 2017.
An important field of work with the entire region was launching of a conference devoted to the relations between the European Union, Ukraine and Russia in the times of the war in Ukraine. The first conference took place in January 2015, the second edition in December 2017. The speakers at both events were members of the Danish Parliament, former Danish ministers of foreign affairs, journalists, as well as representatives of Russian and Ukrainian NGOs and think tanks. As active friends of both countries, we are very worried about the deteriorating relations between the two nations. At the Danish Helsinki Committee, we very much hope that NGOs from all participating countries can play an active role in the reconciliation process between Ukraine and Russia and the creation of a much better cooperation between EU and Russia in the future.
This is our mission in the region we see nowadays. We are open for further cooperations and share of experiences.