Posts Tagged ‘international relations’
I met with President Barack Obama today as a part of the 2010 Washington Human Rights Summit. The meeting was attended by about 20 more human rights activists from different countries as well as by the leadership of the National Security Council (James Jones and senior advisors to the President).
Mr Obama said that he had started his own career as an organizer in poor communities and so he believes that the best change always comes from below. He outlined his view of the US policy in regard of promotion of human rights. He mentioned three points about it:
– US government tries to follow their words and values in their domestic policy including the end of torture, closing Guantanamo base etc.
– US government tries to engage not only with the governments but also with civil societies. When American officials visit other counties, especially the ones with authoritarian governments, they always meet human rights activists, and so do their diplomats;
– they understand human rights more broadly than only freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections, and rule of law. They also include economical rights in their scope because if you are starving, you are unprotected.
What I liked about Obama’s way of speaking is his honesty and absolute lack of demagogy. He bluntly stated that human rights is not the only issue that he has to take into account. Security and trade are also important and he can’t help but try to engage the governments in order to achieve result in these spheres. “We make mistakes and we will never achieve the perfect ideal,” he admitted. But he added that the US government needs criticism from human rights defenders so that they get closer that ideal.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect too much practical result from such meetings. You can’t convey much to the President in 20 to 30 minutes. But the very fact of this meeting bears a message that the US government pays attention to the issues of human rights in the world. How their words correspond to their deeds is something that we still have to see.
I spent last week in the USA. I was invited by Principia College in Illinois to participate in their Lucha Noerager Vogel Program on Moral Courage. I had a speech there devoted to my experience of nonviolently opposing authoritarianism in Russia, and I also mentioned the experience of Belarus and Ukraine. Apart from that, I met with a lot of student at classes and gave an interview for the college’s Internet radio (downloadable here). The guys there are very thoughtful and polite; their interests and questions were very different from political science students who I used to talk to.
Before coming to Illinois, I spent a few days in Washington, DC. I attended a brilliant panel on rule of law in Russia organized by Cato Institute. Karinna Moskalenko and Robert Amsterdam, both prominent international lawyers and both very active in their defense of Russian citizens from political repression (e.g. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a client of both of them), as well as Andrei Illarionov, one of the Russia’s most respected economists, discussed prospects for Russian democracy as well as US-Russia relations. This discussion’s video posted by Bob Amsterdam is highly recommended.
I also had a panel of my own at American Enterprise Institute. I was talking about the numerous problems with freedom of assembly in Russia, from vague legislation to police brutality to violent assaults on protests. I am also going to talk about this issue next week at the Washington Human Rights Summit.
My way back from Principia to Moscow was troubled by the Washington snowfall. Although I was staying in St Louis, i.e. quite far from DC, my flight had to stop at Dulles Airport and was cancelled. After waiting in the town for three days, I had to rebook my tickets and go via Chicago and Zurich. But thanks to that delay, I managed to meet Craig Pirrong a.k.a. Streetwise Professor, a Houston professor of Economics and the author of a great blog on Russia’s economy. He has already posted an entry about our meeting.
PS: I was surprised to know how many participants of the AEI discussion (many of them, too, were students) and not just them read my blog (hi!).
There is a lot of pessimists In Russia and abroad who say that our country is so badly lost, so hopeless that you can’t really change anything from below. I consider it just as wrong as the opposite extreme—bullish optimists who see no problems in Russia and believe that everything will be fine without our involvement. In fact, we have a lot of very serious and difficult problems and the powers that be are not going to resolve them (this is what my blog is about), but we are not helpless too. Even in an authoritarian and corrupt state like Russia we can change things. Some examples of these victories you can find in my blog. Here is a new one, which shows that bloggers in Russia are becoming an increasingly powerful community.
Here is an approximate chronicle of my struggle with FSB over my passport:
Wednesday, 12 PM: I visit my local FMS (Federal Migration Service) department to get my passport after almost two-month wait. Instead, I am given a formal notice that my application is postponed for unknown term because FSB is refusing to give their approval.
Wednesday, 4 PM: I file a complaint to the Prosecutor. They say, the investigation will take a month. But I have to go to the USA in 10 days.
Thursday, 11 AM: I visit the FMS department again, their officers say that I’ll have to wait at least a few months. They know that it is against the law (which only gives them one month to issue a passport), but they wouldn’t argue with FSB.
Thursday, 7 PM: I describe the situation on my blog and on Twitter. The post (in Russian) receives 100+ comments and is reposted by more than 60 bloggers.
Thursday, 7:40 PM: The post is first republished by the media, an online news Website Kasparov.ru.
Thursday, 9:30 PM: Echo Moskvy radio reports on the matter.
Friday, morning: Head of Russian FMS Konstantin Romodanovsky orders that the problem is settled immediately.
Friday, 3 PM: I am invited to the local FMS department and told that FSB gave all necessary permissions.
Friday, 5 PM: I receive the passport.
Thanks to the bloggers’ active support, we managed to defeat the seemingly undefeatable FSB machine—in this concrete case. Instead of silently and patiently waiting for months, we managed to solve the problem in less than 24 hours.
Of course, not every problem may be solved like this. In fact, I was lucky both because my post caused such an outcry (if I weren’t an activist, few would care) and because Gen. Romodanovsky decided that his agency shouldn’t be responsible for FSB breaking the law. However, the very fact that the civil society can make the powerful FSB reverse their decisions says that Russia is far from being hopeless.
When one speaks of advantages of the Putin’s regime over the Soviet system, one achievement is almost never disputed—the freedom to travel abroad. In the USSR, very few people were able to visit the Soviet Bloc countries, and only a tiny minority could see the “capitalist world.” But after the USSR collapsed, Russia opened its borders, removed numerous obstacles for international travel, and millions of Russians could travel the world. After Putin came to power most of the freedoms we had enjoyed were reduced or eliminated, but this one was left almost untouched.
For me, this freedom seems to be over. Yesterday, I was informed that FSB is refusing to give their approval for re-issuing of my passport. The official reason is, they failed to receive information about whether I had access to any state secrets during my military service (which I, of course, hadn’t). Ironically, I was drafted into the army two years ago with direct involvement of FSB when they tried to isolate me during the presidential campaign. Now, they use it as an pretext for not letting me out the country.
Unfortunately, the FSB’s decision is already ruining some of my plans. In early February, I was going to visit the USA to speak at American Enterprise Institute about the freedom of assembly in Russia and to read a lecture for students at Principia College. These events will now be postponed or cancelled.
FSB is violating the law, which clearly says that a passport has to be issued within a month (almost two months passed already). I have filed a complaint to the prosecutor, but officials say, “You can’t beat FSB, they will always win.” True, FSB as a KGB successor consider themselves above the law and never mind to violate it in their interests. But I will use any legal methods and will eventually make them obey the law.
PS: Thanks to Robert Amsterdam for writing about the story.
Russian National Exhibition, a grand event organized by Russian government to attract US investment, opens in Chicago tomorrow. Russian bureaucrats and businesspeople will try to convince their American counterparts that it is safe and profitable to put money in Russia’s economy. This difficult task appears even less achievable after today’s tragic death in Moscow custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Investment. He was arrested a year ago on tax evasion charges and, according to the defence, the investigators tried to coerce him into giving false testimony against his boss William Browder. Heritage claims that corrupt police officials have used its stamps and documents to steal huge amounts from the national budget as tax compensation. But it was Magnitsky who those same officials later charged with tax evasion. He complained multiple times about his health and was refused health care, his attorneys say. His death is another sad warning to those who risk to invest in Putin’s Russia.
The organizers of the Exhibition will not ignore the humanitarian aspect too. They even have a whole 2.5-hour long session on “Formation of Civil Society.” Five regional ombudsmen (from Samara, Yekaterinburg, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria), an editor of an online paper and an unkown (to me) expert will be explaining how Russia develops its civil society. The apparent lack of any NGOs’ representatives speaks for itself: the government has no activists to show to their Western partners without loss of image.
I came to Washington DC for a few days. Lots of meeting is planned with NGOs, think tanks and officials. I’ll try to share some impressions here and, briefly, on my Twitter.
Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s advisor on Russia and Eurasia, has commented today on my post about a “reset” in US-Russia human rights issues. The note was based on Kommersant’s report that “the USA are not going to teach Russia democracy any more and cause irritation in Moscow; they are going to focus on practical work with NGOs instead.”
McFaul comments (it’s in my Facebook, so not everyone can see):
Kommersant grossly misquoted me. See Interfax transcript if you want to see what I really said. And anyone who knows anything about my thinking would be suspicious of such an assessment of my views. My next book , out in a few weeks, is called “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can.”