Statement by Russian and International NGOs “On the III Regional NGO Congress of the Council of Europe”

We, the representatives of independent non-governmental organizations, announce our critical view on the organization of the III Regional NGO Congress of Eastern European Countries under the Auspices of the Council of Europe and our disagreement with the principles on which it is being organized.

 We believe that the event planned for the beginning of December in Penza (Russia) cannot be called the III Regional NGO Congress because it does not contribute to the development of the Council of Europe principles – Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law. Neither by the way it is being organized nor by its contents does it reach the goal of NGO Congresses as stated by the Council of Europe – “to gather leading national NGOs to discuss current problems of civil participation in the development and consolidation of democracy”. This evidently breaks continuity regarding the two previous congresses, which took place in Warsaw in 2005 and Kyiv in 2007. The actual organizers of the congress – the representatives of Russian authorities and the Council of Europe – are responsible for the situation.

The main role in organizing the previous congresses was played by international organizational committees which included NGO representatives from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and the congresses themselves were planned as the communication of equals, who discussed civil activists’ practical experience and the common problems of civil construction in our countries. To the contrary, during the organization of the meeting in Penza, equal cooperation between NGOs was substituted with an obscure interaction between the Federation Council of the Russian Federation and the Council of Europe, who made key decisions. All alternative suggestions about the organization of the III Congress that were proposed by independent NGOs during spring-fall 2008 were rejected or ignored.

The civil activists of our countries are offered to play by the rules set without them at an event that was supposed to become their own meeting and a field for free communication. Unfortunately, the NGO Department of the Council of Europe and the INGO Confederation of the Council of Europe has put up with the new “rules” in Russia offered by the power structures and influential circles, and could not or did not want to insist on organizing the Congress in its original format, which showed the importance of civil organizations in a democratic society. At Eventually, the independent NGOs of our countries were offered to play the role of “technical assistants” and “a crowd of extras” for the leaders of the Public Chamber. Furthermore, an open discussion of the real challenges of civil society in our countries for replaced with an imitation. An event organized in such a way does not contribute to the promotion of the basic values of the Council of Europe – moreover, it even undermines its prestige and damages the civil society of the whole region, especially in Russia.

Should the event in Penza be recognized as another NGO Congress of the Council of Europe, it would mean that the structures of the Council of Europe support Russian authorities in their approach to civil society and by that reinforce and legitimize the policy of controlling NGOs and setting bounds to their independence, as done in some of the countries of the region.

The fact that this meeting is organized in such a way by Russian authorities and the “official civil activists” close to them does not surprise us. It is absolutely right-on. But we are surprised and extremely disappointed by the Council of Europe, which supports such activities. Not only does it obviously damage the image of a respectable international organization, but also humiliate Russia, as a matter of fact. It seems that, according to the Council of Europe, the norms, standards and regulations, according to which democratic organizations in other European countries work, do not apply to Russia. This includes countries that border Russia, such as Poland and the Ukraine, where the democratic rules of organizing an NGO congress did work and where the Council of Europe entrusted NGOs with the organization of their congresses without interference or control on the part of the authorities, while in Russia the organization of a public event had to be re-entrusted to the federal authorities. So, Russia has been as good as excluded from the club of democratic countries by agreeing to cooperate upon terms of “sovereign democracy” and making everyone believe that another way is impossible in this country. We disagree with that strongly.

We believe that Russian civil organizations and their partners from abroad are able themselves to organize a real NGO congress to reach the goals it was meant to reach: to create a field for free interaction between NGO leaders and for exchanging positive experience of the civil initiative in the sphere of promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We see no point in imitating the discussion of “the examples of positive cooperation with the authorities” instead of a real dialogue with them, the very sense of which is heated debates with independent civil leaders, not the confirmation of support for the power vertical on the part of the invariably loyal pseudo-public organizations.

Basing on these principles, we pass a no-confidence motion against the organizational committee of the Penza event and refuse to call it the NGO Congress of the Council of Europe. At the same time, we support the intention itself of the Council of Europe to organize a congress in Russia and announce that we are ready to start helping with the organization of a real NGO Congress in the nearest future in order to promote the values of the Council of Europe and form civil networks of cooperation and solidarity – according to the “Principles of Preparation and Organization of the III NGO Congress of Eastern European Countries under the Auspices of the Council of Europe”, developed by a group of independent Russian NGOs and sent to the Organizational committee of the Penza event and to the Council of Europe on the 11th of November. We are not going to play along the political conditions of the authorities of the host country and international officials, and will make our civil forum truly public and prove to our compatriots that their civil representative are able to work efficiently without the authoritative bureaucratic “crutches” and the notorious “administrative resource”. We ask all the concerned civil organization of Eastern Europe to join us.

Composed on the 26th of November, 2008, and open for signing by the concerned non-governmental organization of Central and Eastern Europe and New Independent States.

  1. Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)
  2. Coalition “We, the Citizens!” (Russia)
  3. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
  4. International Foundation of Political and Law Research “Interlegal”
  5. International Youth Human Rights Movement
              The statement has been supported by:
  6. Nizhniy Novgorod Human Rights Union (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)
  7. Foundation “Public Verdict” (Russia)
  8. Movement “For Russia without Racism” (Russia)
  9. Omsk Journalists Trade Union (Omsk, Russia)
  10. Interregional Human Rights Group – Voronezh / Chernozemie (Voronezh, Russia)
  11. Human Rights Centre (Tula, Russia)
  12. International Movement against Crime and Corruption “Our Right”
  13. Youth Human Rights Group “System of Coordinates” (Vladimir, Russia)
  14. Free University (Voronezh, Russia)
  15. Civil Actions Movement “GROZA” / Green Alternative (Russia)
  16. Civic Assistance Committee (Russia)
  17. Foundation for Legal Technologies Development (Belarus/Ukraine)
  18. Kazan Community Foundation (Kazan, Russia)
  19. Centre of Peace-Making Initiatives (Kazan, Russia)
  20. Foundation “Open Altai” (Barnaul, Russia)
  21. Institute of Public Problems “United Europe” (Orel, Russia)
  22. Information Agency “Centre-Rus” (Orel, Russia)
  23. Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization “Novorossiysk Centre for Human Rights” (Novorossiysk, Russia)
  24. International Public Foundation “Golos” (Voronezh, Russia)
  25. “Ecodefense!” (Kaliningrad, Russia)
  26. All-Russian Organization “Young Europe” (Russia)
  27. NGO "Terra-1530" (Galesti, Moldova)
  28. Voronezh Regional Branch of the All-Russian Public Movement “For Human Rights” (Voronezh, Russia)
  29. International Youth Resource Centre (Ukraine)
  30. Saint-Petersburg Human Rights Council (Saint-Petersburg, Russia)
  31. Helsinki Association (Armenia)
  32. “National Capital” Group of the All-Russian Civil Network (Russia)
  33. Committee in Defense of the Victims of the Repressions “Solidarity” (Belarus)
  34. Azerbaijan Human Rights Centre (Azerbaijan)
  35. Human Rights Centre (Georgia)
  36. Foundation “Europe-XXI” (Ukraine)
  37. Ostgruppen – Swedish Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (Sweden)
  38. Youth Public Organization “New Forms of Social Technologies (People’s Foundation)” (Moscow, Russia)
  39. Foundation “For Ecological and Social Justice” (Russia)
  40. Penza Regional Branch of the All-Russian Public Movement “For Human Rights” (Penza, Russia)
  41. Youth Public Organization “Youth Institute” (Russia)
  42. Youth Human Rights Group – Lvov (Ukraine)
  43. International Public Movement of Support for Migrants and Their Association “Forum of Migrants Organizations”
  44. Ecological Human Rights Centre “Bellona” (Saint-Petersburg, Russia)
  45. Human Rights Centre “Memorial” (Russia)
  46. Foundation “Democratic Initiatives” (Ukraine)
  47. Penza Society “Memorial” (Penza, Russia)
  48. Kharkiv Human Rights Group (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
  49. International Historical, Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Movement "Memorial"
  50. Youth Group for Tolerance “ETHnICS” (Krasnodar, Russia)
  51. Centre “Demos” (Russia)
  52. Moscow Human Rights School (Moscow, Russia)
  53. Voronezh Regional Branch of the Association “For Civil Education” (Voronezh, Russia)
  54. Helsinki Human Rights Foundation (Warsaw, Poland)
  55. “The 42nd Article of the Constitution” (Tbilisi, Georgia)
  56. Komi Human Rights Committee “Memorial” (Syktyvkar, Russia)
  57. The Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Russia)
  58. Anti-War Club (Russia)
  59. Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization “Research and Methodology Centre Humanist” (Moscow, Russia)
  60. Youth Centre of Human Rights and Legal Culture (Moscow, Russia)
  61. Public Union “Blago” (Karaganda, Kazakhstan)
  62. Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization “Synthesis-Theatre “Do” (Penza, Russia)
  63. Zhitomir Public Human Rights Organization “Teachers for Democracy and Justice” (Zhitomir, Ukraine)
  64. Foundation “Legal Initiative” (Nazran, Russia)
  65. Non-Governmental Organization “European Choice” (Ukraine)
  66. Ryazan School of Human Rights (Ryazan, Russia)
  67. Kola Association of Female Lawyers (Russia)
  68. “Memorial” (Murmansk, Russia)
  69. Humanitarian and Charitable Centre “Sostradanie” (Russia)
  70. Public Movement “Russian People’s Democratic Union” (Russia)
  71. Soldiers’ Mothers Committee of the Kaliningrad Region (Kaliningrad, Russia)
  72. Ryazan Regional Branch of the All-Russian Public Movement “For Human Rights” (Ryazan, Russia)
  73. International Foundation of Humanitarian Initiatives (Moscow, Russia)
  74. International Committee of Civil Diplomacy (Moscow, Russia)
  75. South Siberian Human Rights Centre (Russia)
  76. Youth Agency of Civil Education (Russia)
  77. Regional Foundation "Confederation of Millennium" (Krasnodar, Russia)
  78. Center of Civic Freedoms (Ukraine)
  79. Centre of enlightenment, art and cinema "Youth" (Voronezh, Russia)
  80. Public Association “Center for Social Innovations” (Belarus)
  81. Public Association ECOU-XXI (Moldova)

What Civil Society Russia Is Building

We publish english translate of the article by Ihor Zhdanov (Open Policy Analytical Center), Halyna Usatenko (Europe XXI Foundation) and Yulia Tyshchenko (Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research)

Original text in Ukrainian we can read on the Center for Independent Political Research site.

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