OSCE Civil Society Forum
These days I took part in OSCE Civil Society Forum. It was held in Helsinki in connection to the ministerial meeting that’s planned for Thursday and Friday. Representatives of dozens of NGOs as well as OSCE officers participated in the event. I addressed them at the opening plenary yesterday:
…I recall what I did at this very day a year ago. It was an election day but for me it was marked by another arbitrary arrest. Just seconds after I commented the elections to an foreign TV channel in the heart of Moscow, I was literally dragged into a police van, threatened and beaten by several anonymous officers. Then they brought me to a police station, held there for a few hours and released without any charges.
I was quite lucky, in fact. A week earlier, an opposition activist Yury Chervochkin was beaten to death, supposedly, by the colleagues of those officers who arrested me. These are just some of the many examples of what Russian “law enforcement” agencies are really busy with.
None of the police officers involved in these operations were brought to justice, as far as I know. Detectives and courts persistently fail to punish public servants who participate in political repression or other human rights abuses in Russia.
Even in rare cases when some part of the truth is revealed, like in the case of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, it remains unknown who gave the orders. I would like to remind that a former police officer and an acting FSB officer are now tried for involvement in this crime.
Human rights violations are not just occasional events in my country, they are in the very core of its system. Opposition political parties are banned or not allowed to register for elections; funding of NGOs is closely monitored and cut; press is unofficially censored; peaceful demonstrations are dispersed; dissenters are harassed and put in prisons as “extremists”; sometimes they even get killed. The ruling elite understand that it can’t keep its power without constant violence.
In Russia, like in some other OSCE countries, we have a failed or even reversed democracy transition. When the police are used to commit crimes, rather than investigate them, when courts obey to the phone calls instead of the law, when media manipulates public opinion instead of providing information, when elections represent a point of view of the government and not the electoral choice, when the state routinely violates human rights but not enforces them, the very role of the civil society changes.
It is said that the civil society is unimportant in authoritarian countries. Indeed, the ability of NGOs to influence public policy is severely limited, their resources are poor and their message often appears unneeded by the population. However, I would say that the role and the responsibility of NGOs is greater in such countries than in established democracies.
NGOs under non-democratic regimes along with independent media are the only effective counterweights to authoritarian ambitions of the ruling elite. No rational politician would like to voluntarily limit his own power, increase his responsibility and shorten his term. Nobody is genuinely interested in introducing democracy in a country except its own people. And thus there is no other way to make a country democratic but to do it from inside, from its own civil society.
This is why I believe that it is not just important, it is vital for stability, peace and development in Europe to cooperate with the civil organizations in countries like Russia, Belarus, or Kazakhstan. Intergovernmental relations are necessary but they can’t bring democracy to these countries. And as we all see, lack of democracy is a threat not only to the population inside these countries but also to their neighbors. There is no long-term security without democracy. There is no long-term cooperation without democracy. And there is no democracy without a strong civil society.
It is well-known that many governments prefer to speak about importance of democracy promotion rather than to really implement it. It is especially true when it concerns countries like Russia. Economical and political interdependency is so great that only few countries dare to risk their relations with the Kremlin by raising issues of human rights and freedoms. It is a sad phenomenon but this is something that we have to deal with. Finland is a rare exception here, by the way.
I want to ask you for help. I call you to establish and strengthen ties with NGOs in Russia and in other non-democratic countries. I ask you to put pressure on your governments to make them implement their declarations about promotion of democracy and human rights. One of the tasks, for instance, could be introduction of an international ban to enter European countries for public servants who are personally suspected of serious human rights abuses but haven’t been tried in their countries. This could be an initial step to break the tradition of impunity which is deeply rooted in authoritarian countries.
It is our common goal to make Europe a continent without dictatorship and tyranny, a continent where democracy, human rights and freedom are respected and protected in every country.
I and other members of the Russian delegations managed to pass several important amendments to the final statement of the Forum which will be circulated among the foreign ministers of OSCE countries tomorrow. The statement now says that the “anti-extremist” legislation should not be used as a means to violate freedom of expression and to persecute the political opposition (as it happens in Russia). We also stressed that the OSCE states must gurantee the right to hold demonstrations, organize NGOs and criticize governments without discrimination or state intervention.