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On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
I’m currently in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a conference organized by Community of Democracies. It’s a loose intergovernmental organization, which includes most democratic countries (and, for some reason, a few undemocratic ones).
Tonight I met, together with a group of activists from other countries, with Hillary Clinton. The meeting itself was off the record, but I may publish what I said.
One of the major problems of the Russian political system is the impunity of those responsible for attacks on activists and journalists. International sanctions directed against these individuals could not only restore justice to some degree but also deter others from participating in persecution. I am pleased to see that Sergei Magnitsky Act that can help implement such a policy is being considered by Congress. I also hope that the European Union will enact similar legislation. I wish the State Department took some steps of its own regarding this issue.
At the very least, those involved in human rights abuses should not receive support from democratic countries. For instance, a number of Western companies, including Cisco and Ernst & Young, are among the sponsors of a large Seliger Forum that will open tomorrow. Its organizer, the former leader of the infamous Nashi group, Vasiliy Yakemenko, is widely believed to be connected, among other things, with the attempt to assassinate journalist Oleg Kashin. I think that a strong statement from US officials could discourage such irresponsible corporate behavior.
This weekend, I participated in Anti-Seliger Forum: a sort of festival/summer camp for civil activists, organized by Khimki Forest defenders not far from Moscow. This was one of the most significant opposition (or, better to say, independent of the government) events of the last year in Russia, an attempt, apparently successful, to reach out to a broader part of the society. According to different estimates, from 1000 to 3000 people participated in it over four days.
I presented a new project that we at Vision of Tomorrow Fund have been preparing for several months: Civil Leadership School. Its goal is to create a community of capable, effective and smart activists who will become the leaders of Russia’s civil society in this decade. Through their participation in the School, they will take part in trainings, engage in discussions, gain useful contacts and get to know each other. Best experts will be invited to speak at the School’s events.
For more on the School, check out CivilLeaders.ru (the full Website in both Russian and English will be launched soon). If you understand Russian, you may also watch the very presentation speech at the Anti-Seliger:
I’m currently on a trip to Romania. I was invited by Ratiu Center for Democracy to meet with activists, academia, and media in Cluj-Napoca. These guys from RCD do a great job engaging the local youth in different kinds of civic and social activity, from helping orphanages to learning about democracy.
I met with a group of Cluj activists and bloggers yesterday. We were supposed to discuss online activism, but ended up talking mostly about the situation in Russia and building democracy in general. The major event will take place tomorrow at Central University Library.
The Moscow Times features an article today about People’s Freedom Party (a.k.a. Parnas) that’s being created by Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Vladimir Milov. My opinion is also there:
“The problem is that there is practically no chance to get registration. Because of this, it is questionable why so many resources should be spent on it,” said Oleg Kozlovsky, a member of Solidarity’s political council.
While he said he does support People’s Freedom, he would abstain from working on the task of getting political registration for it, Kozlovsky said.
Instead, he will focus on forming a new noncommercial organization to strengthen civil society. “With such a weak civil society, parties are useless. This is where we have to start,” Kozlovsky said.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev sentenced to 13.5 years imprisonment for allegedly stealing all the oil their own company, Yukos, has produced. This is almost exactly the term (minus 6 months) that the prosecutor requested. The sentence is combined with their current prison term, so they will stay in prison until 2017 (if they survive long enough in prison camps). The truth is, however, as Khodorkovsky mentioned, they will stay behind bars as long as Putin is in power.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky commented the sentence briefly, saying:
Platon Lebedev and I show you an example: do not hope to be protected by a court from a bureaucrat in Russia. The [Central Electoral Commission Chief Vladimir] Churov Rule [“Putin is always right”] works. But we don’t lose heart and wish the same to our friends.
I will receive the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award this Thursday and participate in a workshop/round-table discussion at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The discussions will be dedicated to US and European relations with Russia and to the Russian pro-democracy movement and how it was changed by new technologies. If it sounds interesting and you are in Washington, please feel free to come by!
The first panel, After the “Reset:” US and European Approaches to Russia, will start at 2 pm. Michael McFaul, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, Kurt Volker, managing director of Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS, and former US Ambassador to NATO, and Angela Stent, director of Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University will discuss the issue.
At the second panel, Democracy: New Tools for the Struggle (starts at 4 pm), I will discuss how new technologies and new approaches are changing the Russian pro-democracy movement. Daniel B. Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert Guerra, project director for Internet Freedom at Freedom House, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, prominent Egyptian democracy activist, will share their comments.