President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Today is the Council’s first meeting in its new membership composition. Everyone on the Council is present here today. I hope that the Council in its new composition will make a useful contribution to the work of civil society and of the authorities. This is a very important but also very complex task.
Today we will discuss our work priorities, the work in which the public and non-governmental organisations [NGOs] are involved. I will not list all of these different areas of work as you are familiar with them. You are all working on these different tasks, each in your own way, and for the most part have been doing so for a good number of years now. Among the subjects we will discuss will be, of course, modernising the judicial system, fighting corruption and extremism, military reform and the associated legal and social issues. Then there is the subject of humanising our society in general, protecting children’s rights, and finally, there is the crisis, which is affecting all of us.
I want to say a few words about the NGOs themselves. We will discuss the NGOs’ actual operation and status. I realise that you face difficulties in your work and that there are many cases when restrictions are placed on NGOs’ activities without sufficient justification. Of course, this stems from the fact that many civil servants see NGOs and their activities as a threat to their monopoly hold on power. This is probably the case not only here in Russia, but in Russia we have the added weight of our own history, which to this day still has quite a visible effect on relations between the authorities and civil society, between the authorities and the NGOs.
Speaking of the laws on NGOs, I imagine that you have questions regarding such laws, and I am ready to listen to your views and your proposals on how to improve respective legislation. Clearly, the said laws are not perfect, even though we have spent a lot of time over these last years on improving them. I think amendments are possible, and in some cases even necessary. I am referring to all the different issues involved: taxation of NGOs, procedures governing relations between the NGOs and the authorities, public awareness of NGOs’ activities, state support for civil society organisations, the issue of public expert evaluations, and also public hearings on matters of importance for the society. The laws on NGOs’ activities cover all of these different areas, but there is probably still a lot that can be changed.
I want to put particular emphasis on the oft-stated truth that the authorities and human rights activists have huge scope for working together, and we only need to work out how to best combine our efforts. Furthermore, it is no secret that there is a seriously distorted perception of human rights activities in our country. This is due to our history and to some ideological concepts. We need to understand one simple thing: the state itself has a duty to protect human rights, and all those who wish to do so should also be involved in this work. If we pool our efforts and work together, we can perhaps achieve better results.
Another subject I mentioned at the start is the economic crisis. In the crisis situation, we need to reflect on how to build confidence between the authorities and civil society, because we will not get through the crisis without it. There is an objective need for this work today, and it is important to get the NGOs involved in education in every sense of the term, and in healthcare. I hope too that the Council will work actively on the protection of people’s social and labour rights, because these rights are in a particularly difficult situation at the moment. The crisis has led to an increase in the number of wrongful dismissals and cases of people being forced to take lengthy periods of leave from their jobs. Unemployment is on the rise, and this in turn increases poverty. These are our common problems, and we need to work on them together.
I will not waste any more valuable time on introductory remarks. I think we can get to work right away. I invite Ms Pamfilova to make a statement, and then we will exchange opinions on all the issues that are of concern to you.
Chair of the Board of the All-Russia Civic Movement “Civil Dignity” (COUNCIL CHAIRPERSON) ELLA PAMFILOVA: We prepared very thoroughly for this first meeting. I think that during the presentations you will have the opportunity to study the documents we have prepared. We believe that it is very important for us, crucially important not just to show up, trot out a bunch of problems, and leave it at that. If we bring forth a problem, it means that we are ready to deal with it ourselves and offer you specific solutions, as we see them. After that, it is up to you to decide whether or not you agree and whether or not you will share our point of view.
We divided the issues into four groups.
The first is the most important: the strategy for developing relationship between civil society and the authorities specifically during the period of crisis.
The second group of issues concerns key reforms and involvement of the society in those reforms. At this meeting, we would like to touch on what is happening with judicial reform, military reform, and the problem of corruption (my colleagues will speak about these issues as well).
The third group deals with the problem of rule of law and the implementation of fundamental rights and freedoms, including political ones.
And finally, the fourth group of issues concerns the humanisation of society and government; in our view, it is a very important issue, and you spoke about it as well. This topic is pivotal and concerns quality changes in relations within our nation.
We would also like to come to an agreement with you on the key points, the nature, and the format of our joint work, to identify key priorities in a time of crisis and urgent problems whose solutions the Council could help to effectively facilitate. We are ready to tackle many problems.
We are ready to seriously address the monitoring of social and labour rights. And for this meeting, we conducted monitoring of the most vulnerable groups — children and small businesses, strange as it may seem. We are ready to conduct monitoring on the problems of the elderly.
I would like to note, in regard to the first group of issues, on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), that you are well aware of the situation: the good and the bad, basic complaints on the part of civil society in regard to the legislation governing NGOs. In our view, the very goal set by lawmakers – to keep control of civil society organisations – turned out to be impossible to achieve. Given the bureaucratic burden, many organisations choose not to register, and operate semi-legally. Eventually, even those government agencies that are supposed to work with them now understand even less of what is happening in civil society; they have less information.
In my opinion it were not the amendments to the law that caused the greatest harm, but the fact that many people simply disregarded it – since in Russia to save yourself from bad laws you simply disregard them. That is also bad, and it also fuels legal nihilism. But what is most important is that this created an atmosphere of distrust between the government and social institutions, a kind of hypothetical ‘presumption of guilt’ toward NGOs, especially the human rights organisations. And we are very grateful that in your presentation, you emphasised the significance of human rights organisations. For us, this is very important.
I would like to say again that during a crisis, NGOs may take on a great deal of work, and the Council members are ready, in as much as they have the capacity and power to do so, not only to promote dialogue between governmental and social institutions, but also to promote the formation of a wide social anti-crisis coalition. We feel that this is especially relevant. This is precisely why we are bringing up the issue of the necessity to create a different legal base for NGOs, which would not rest on suspicion, but on mutual trust, and which would promote their development and the creation of a benevolent environment. Perhaps a benevolent environment is even more important than the legal or material components.
Now, regarding the second group of issues. In preparing my presentation and looking through our materials, I noted that if the humanization of society is the good core, then the reverse, negative core is the corruption and a slapdash attitude toward people and toward one’s duties. That is probably the core that accumulates tyranny and civil rights violations by high-ranking officials in any area: ranging from ecology and egregious examples of violence toward children to restriction of political or civil rights.
There will be another presentation regarding the courts. I will just mention some positive developments. For example, the Cassation Board of the Supreme Court recently reinstated Judge Elena Guseva from Volgograd, who defied the regional judicial community opinion and defended all alone the constitutional principle of independence of judges. This has set an extremely important precedent, which we support, and it would be wonderful if there were more such examples.
We are concerned by the situation in law enforcement system. I will criticise with love, but my criticism will be serious. To a large extent, our people see law enforcement agencies not as security elements, but rather, to a great extent, as a personal threat. It is also disquieting that some laws are being unreasonable tightened. The irony of it is that in some cases, the laws are tightened without reasonable justification, while in other cases we observe an ethically criminal ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, a virtual encouragement of crime. It was quite shocking when, in a recent case, a court gave a conditional 3-year sentence to a paedophile for abuse of a 9-year-old boy. There are a fair number of such cases, and it is hard to understand why legislation is not tightened for crimes that are genuinely horrible, while tighter laws and amendments to the Criminal Code, for example, on treason and espionage, are being actively elaborated. The Council opposed to these changes, which close espionage cases to jury trials. And we got some support from you on the idea that it is necessary to go back and analyse the lawmakers’ suggestions in greater detail. Today, we are presenting you with an expert opinion on this issue, based on the fact that in our view, the changes not only contradict the Constitution, but also erase all boundaries between political, human rights, and scientific work. We would like you to make a note of the concern voiced by many experts and NGOs.
In general, in presenting these suggestions, we would like to ask our security agencies, including the secret services, to stop this notorious, primitive witch hunt against human rights activists and against Russia’s small, sometimes marginal opposition, and to focus their energies elsewhere. Human rights activists can actually be very good partners in bringing to light the key ‘fathers’ and founders of criminal networks in organised sexual abuse of children, child pornography, human trafficking, traffic in arms, in drugs, and other crimes that actually pose a threat to our national security. And we feel that these are the areas where lawmakers should show greater harshness – not in their fight against dissidents, human rights activists, and other similar categories of people who defend their views within the law.
We are also presenting you with the Council’s expert report on what is happening in the business sector, based on the fact that there is a very high level of corruption within the law enforcement agencies themselves. And we feel that, first and foremost, law enforcement agencies must find the individuals in their midst who indulge in the creation of these criminal networks; otherwise, no fight against corruption will be possible.
Here is a report entitled Unlawful Seizure of Property with Participation of Banks During the Financial Crisis, which features the most common examples of expropriating from lawful owners of property used as collateral to obtain bank loans, a kind of large-scale corporate raid. We will pass this report on to you. There is also widespread use of criminal prosecution on the part of authorities to achieve business or other goals. This is a very serious complaint against them.
We will present you with recent studies conducted between March 16 and April 10 at the request of the Council in preparation for our today’s meeting. 1,325 small and medium business owners were interviewed. The basic conclusion made is that bureaucrats on many levels are reluctant to handle the problems of small businesses, and pay attention to such businesses only when it is necessary, by putting pressure, to sort of ‘skin’ them a little. I will not give examples, but you can study the report later, it contains many interesting facts.
So, here is the main conclusion: with the exception of certain sectors and particular cases, the basic, necessary anti-crisis assistance to small businesses is not the financial assistance, but rather, the removal of administrative pressure. This is a very important element.
Instead of drawing attention to material or financial assistance (this topic is already widely discussed), I would like to engage a different resource; for example, unleash the human potential to resolve problems that currently exist in our society. We have an enormous reserve, but unfortunately, we are not using it.
One more thing regarding business: we are forced to protect it as well. Given the rising unemployment, we must give more care to stably operating businesses capable of supporting the labour market during a crisis and contribute to social development in their regions.
The Council has received information that the tax services use tax [legislation] loopholes to increase the tax burden on individual town-forming businesses. There is a very serious example in the Vladimir region, and in many other regions, when such businesses are simply forced to cut back production and jobs. This might have a disastrous impact on small towns: growing unemployment, rise in crime, and impoverishment of people.
I would also like to talk about the vicious system of criteria used to assess the performance of law enforcement agencies. For example, the unfavourable criminal trends are rated, first and foremost, as shortcomings in police activity. In this regard, efforts to reduce crime rates, ignoring the real crime control input, have resulted in concealment of crimes from reporting. Unfortunately, this happens, we spoke about this extensively.
The second, equally negative factor is the inadequate, disproportionate role of the detection rate. Law enforcement agencies were forced to act as a barrier between citizens and justice. I will not elaborate on this topic, but the problem persists. Even an order from the Ministry of the Interior issued on August 5, 2005, which sets the criteria for assessing the performance of law enforcement agencies, failed to reverse the trend.
At the same time, securing of civil rights is not used in any way as a criterion of assessing the performance of law enforcement agencies; the number of appeals against action of law enforcement agencies is not taken into account. Complaints of torture are not investigated properly.
Both the President and we, the Council, as a collective public advisor, are all allies in the fight for the rule of law. We are ready to work very actively in this area, to monitor and provide you with information that comes from our experts in every region.
With regard to children, I would like to draw your attention to one important aspect. We all know that never before has so much been done to improve the situation of children and this is very much to your credit. It is the first time in many years that the state has addressed the problems of children.
But of course we have to do even more if we want the situation to change radically. We hear about many horrible cases of violence against children and child abuse, instances that are different in nature but similar in terms of cruelty and cynicism. I will not list them – everyone sees, hears and knows about this and takes it personally. There are so many of them but they all have a common cause. We believe that the reason, on the one hand, is the moral and psychological condition of the society (though that is a separate issue) and, on the other hand, it is the lack of a comprehensive approach to solving problems relating to childhood and the family. There is no full-fledged state body that is able to develop a comprehensive, modern and efficient social policy, including family policy, or respond quickly and adequately to all situations that threaten children, also through effective legislative initiatives and smart, flexible administration. Although much money and effort is expended, I believe that the main reason is that the measures are not arranged logically in a single system and are not interlinked. For that reason many efforts and funds are often inefficient, if not wasted in the first place.
As a result, we have, among other things, absolutely unjustified delays in signing or ratifying international treaties aimed to protect children, including those governing the creation of preventative, protective and criminal law mechanisms to fight all forms of child trafficking, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. In Russia these crimes have increased more than 30 fold over the past eight years. We are all deluged with appalling cases. I am sure people write a lot to you about this as well. It seems that no one is against it, and everyone is for juvenile justice too, but nothing happens. I understand that it is more interesting to lobby concerns and interests of others both in the State Duma and in other institutions, but unfortunately children have no powerful lobbyist in our present-day system.
We tried to make our own modest contribution and prepared letters, eight letters covering eight problems. But it is just a drop in the ocean.
My colleagues will speak about xenophobia so I will not comment on this topic. Let me just give you an example. Here is the manual used by St Petersburg police officers in their studies. But if they study from a textbook which promotes anti-Semitism, what should we expect from law enforcement agencies?
Unfortunately, the number of violent hate crimes continues to multiply and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent and dangerous, despite law enforcement stepping-up efforts (I must admit this is really so). I guess we need to change the climate and occasionally give our law enforcement agencies, certain public organisations, and society as a whole a sign from above.
In conclusion, I would once again like to focus on a non-financial, immaterial factor. This is the time when we need to consolidate the efforts of both the government and the society to overcome a protracted — let's be honest — crisis, but also to ensure effective post-crisis development. Incredible as it may seem, it is necessary to think and act in this direction right now, without wasting time or dragging our heels; we need to formulate a strategy for building the future, including the formation of a legal consciousness.
Since I believe that the crisis is not simply financial and economic, but rather civilizational with ramifications for all aspects of our life – moral, spiritual, ecological, socio-cultural and even ideological – I think it's important to focus on human capital and personal potential rather than on material resources. And it is necessary to first of all change things that do not require material expenditures, but are nevertheless crucial to overcome the crisis and ensure subsequent development — I am referring to the psychological and emotional state of society, the nature of social and interpersonal relations, creating a humane, friendly environment within Russian society, and improving the ethical climate.
The crisis calls for specific, unconventional approaches but at the same time it gives us unexpected opportunities. For example, investments in human capital assets and social infrastructure are not only the most reliable ones, but are actually the saving grace for the government and business. We just need to have clear-cut mechanisms. And getting back to arbitrariness, we cannot leave people who are increasingly falling into difficult situations because of the crisis and rampant arbitrariness of the government and business, to fend for themselves, to fall into desperate conditions. And here again we are ready to make our contribution.
And we need to do more than simply survive the crisis. As we overcome it we need to mobilize resources for future development. We have to believe in the future and not just focus on surviving today. Finally, I would like to address one more problem, the so-called Russian elite: we should probably get a new one. However, the one we have right now should first and foremost set a good example of being success-oriented, promoting and advocating humanisation of society, legal foundation of the state, social justice, and suiting its action to the word. I cannot but mention what we see as the crucial aspect of the changing relationship between the government and the society, between the society and an individual: from indifferent, exasperated, aggressive, disparaging and sometimes abusive attitude, which creates the environment for injustices and violation of rights, to the one that nurtures and protects the individual. This requires emotional endurance and energy rather than money. And we do not have time to waste because this process of a qualitative change for the better, for development is very long.
Regarding quality rating of our national elite: we must admit that making the declaration of income and assets open to the public is a very important step in the right direction, provided, however, that there is a system of civil control to verify the reliability of data and hold responsible for any fraud or concealment of conflict of interests. The location of such assets is just as important: are they in Russia or abroad; and, more importantly, where the children of our elite study and work, whether they serve in the Russian army (like the grandchildren of the British Queen), whether they see their future connected with Russia, and whether they have roots here, in London or elsewhere. These are the key issues, the things in absence of which it is impossible to establish a system of mutual trust between society and the people who shape our destiny, the elite.
You can count on our desire to make whatever contribution we can to helping Russia develop despite all these crises, and to use this crisis as an opportunity for development and change, a qualitative change of the situation in Russia for the better.
Dmitry Medvedev: Now I will give the floor to those of our colleagues who have prepared addresses, and then everyone who simply wants to say something will have the chance to speak.
I also inform you now, at the start of our work, that everything we say here, the transcript of our discussions, will appear straight away on the presidential site, so that everyone interested in our work, our meetings and the discussions taking place will have immediate access to the information.
President of the Association of Independent Centres For Economic Analysis Alexander Auzan: What I am about to say is the Council’s common position and concerns what we think is the need for a radical change in strategy regarding relations between the state and society.
To keep things brief, I will try to set out our position as four main arguments.
First, enough time has gone by in the history of relations between state and society in modern Russia that we can do some retrospective analysis. In the 1990s, when state institutions were in the process of formation, there were practically no conscious strategies, and relations were shaped more by the challenges of that difficult period. But important legal foundations were also put in place during this time, which in part are still working today. A strategy for relations emerged in 2000–2003. In our view, the culmination of this process was the Civic Forum of 2001, which proclaimed the principle of equal dialogue between state and society. This dialogue did take place in practice to a certain extent and made possible reforms of that time, such as getting rid of red tape in economic legislation and developing the needed atmosphere and technology for contact between the public and the authorities.
In 2004–2008, a different strategy was quite consistently implemented — the strategy of state domination and integration of civil society into the political and social system. The most important symbols and milestones of this strategy were the founding of the Public Chamber as the only channel for communication between the state and society, and the adoption of amendments to the law on non-profit and non-governmental organisations, which came into force in 2006. These amendments contained repressive provisions for the NGOs and led to a sharp rise in costs. They met with resistance back then. There was opposition to the specific provisions on registration, accounts and reporting, and checks.
At that time, when due to certain circumstances the economy was growing, such relations were acceptable, all the more so as they were based on a tacit social contract, namely, the population’s loyalty in exchange for economic benefits. But a large section of civil society considered this strategy unacceptable. And I want to emphasise that this strategy did not bring about the Russian economy’s diversification, the country’s modernisation and development of new institutions, although it did have the very real and valuable effect of ensuring stability.
In your interview to Novaya Gazeta newspaper, published today, you said that essentially, what is needed is a new structure that would make it possible to combine prosperity and freedom, and that the Constitution of the Russian Federation is the foundation of the social contract in our country. The Council did not discuss your views in full membership, but I am bold enough to assume that on this issue, the Council shares your view. We therefore think that what is needed now is a radical change in the state’s strategy for relations with society so as to achieve results in our modernisation objectives and get through the crisis.
As for the challenges this new strategy should respond to, this is our second argument. In Russia, as in many countries, the crisis has brought about spontaneous expansion of the state’s responsibilities. In this situation, the authorities run up against real problems on a broad front, and also face the issue of what, to be frank, is not the most effective performance of state functions. From the point of view of the state’s interests, which functions should civil society have in this situation? First, in our view, active self-organising groups should take on part of the responsibilities and help themselves and others, and this kind of independent activity is in itself the road to modernisation. Second, given the weakness of party and political institutions in Russia at the moment, non-political civil society institutions could take it upon themselves to ensure the feedback so essential for making the state services more effective. This brings us to our third argument, which sets out our vision of this strategy.
We think this strategy comprises three interlinked vectors. First, there is support for civil society’s self-organisation. This requires, in our view, urgent and symbolically important changes to the 2006 amendments on registration, accounts and reporting, and checks of NGOs. We have already presented information on this and can do so again – the results of studies and information on our proposals. We then need to work together on new laws, work in partnership on the laws governing both philanthropy and taxation. But it is important to first take this important symbolic step.
Second, there needs to be support for public control and monitoring. To a large extent, the procedures for this have already been established, but regulatory and budget decisions still need to be made. Most important, we spoke about the same areas that you mentioned, Mr President, in your opening remarks, that is, labour market institutions, the environment for small and medium businesses, the courts, and anti-corruption efforts. The problem is not only about carrying out this public control and monitoring, but also ensuring that its results are taken into consideration, and this requires mechanisms for decision-making based on these results.
The third vector is development of public participation.
In our view, this corresponds in spirit and letter with the ten points for developing democracy that you set out in your Address to the Federal Assembly. We are talking about public participation in areas such as local self-government, environmental protection, children’s welfare and so on. All of this, in our view, could produce results.
Our fourth argument concerns the sense of all of this work. The sense is not just to return to equal dialogue. You cannot cross the same river twice, and we face a different situation now, a more difficult and complex situation that requires not just dialogue but action. Really, what we need is to build a partnership between state and society that would take the form of a broad-based public anti-crisis coalition to tackle a wide-ranging agenda covering economic and public-political life. Political competition, if we establish this partnership between state and society, would produce reliable results in terms of sharing responsibilities with active groups in society for anti-crisis policy, modernisation policy and foreign policy, because civil society also has its possibilities for influencing the international scene and has instruments of public diplomacy at its disposal.
If we could achieve this, I think we would be working not just to overcome the crisis, but for Russia’s future. We are talking about changes in our system of values. If the authorities pay more attention to openness, and to guaranteeing greater space for freedom, and if society develops strong values of solidarity, mutual help, and justice, we will have better conditions for carrying out our modernisation.
But now, Mr President, it is important for us to hear your reaction to this question of adopting a new strategy, supporting self-organisation, public control and monitoring, and developing public participation.
CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE RUSSIAN PUBLIC COUNCIL ON EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT AND RECTOR OF THE HIGHER SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS YAROSLAV KUZMINOV: The Council’s membership composition guarantees that its work reflects the various views on the state of Russian civil society and human rights in our country, and the priorities for civic activeness and support for NGOs. This is very important.
But it is equally important for all of us to base our work on objective knowledge of the situation, and this includes clear awareness of the real scale of civil society activity, the real concerns of ordinary NGOs, ordinary people’s view of human rights and their assessment of how their constitutional rights are being guaranteed in practice. Since 2006, we have been monitoring all of this as part of the civil society monitoring work we conduct in cooperation with a number of leading sociological research agencies. Mr President, we have passed on to you a summary of our monitoring results, and you have it before you now.
Overall, our studies show that over these last decades, people have now really started to organise themselves for the first time, especially at local community level in their places of residence, though the scale and effectiveness of this work is still far from sufficient.
In the 1990s, Russia’s civil society organisations relied in large part on what was effectively the import of resources and even ideas from abroad, although they played a generally positive role. Over this last decade, the ideas, means, successes and failures, enthusiasm, abuses committed by some NGOs, state support, and the state’s blunders, are all of our own making.
The level of confidence in society and the economy has dropped two-fold compared to the 1980s. It is now 20 percent as opposed to 50 percent back then, and it did not return to its old level even during the economic growth period. People are less willing to come together, but at the same time, the work of Russia’s NGOs bucks this trend of falling public confidence. The number of people involved in NGOs is on the increase. Over the last five years it has risen from 15 percent to 20 percent, and our surveys show that around 10 million people are now involved in volunteer and other work in NGOs, and two thirds of Russia’s public think that NGOs are necessary. This is a sizeable figure compared to the number of politically active people, and in cases where issues concern people’s real local problems, activeness increases significantly. Looking at the scale of NGOs’ activities, we also need to take into account the fact that homeowners’ associations and garden cooperatives account for a third of these figures. These sorts of associations are cases of people getting together for their own interests rather than in the wider interest, but they nonetheless represent the first step in people’s self-organisation.
Most of our citizens place more importance on social rather than political rights, but at the same time, they think that political rights are less well protected. It is worrying that only 10 percent of people surveyed say they feel genuinely protected from unlawful arrest and torture, only 12 percent feel they really have the right to take part in running society, and the feeling in general is that social rights are not genuinely guaranteed. It is worrying too that only a quarter of the population thinks that progress has been made in respecting their rights, while almost as many think that the situation with respecting their rights has worsened of late.
To give a brief overview of the situation of NGOs and the problems they face: there are 413,000 non-state, non-profit organisations in the country, of which a quarter are consumer cooperatives, and around 70,000 are real NGOs. Most Russian NGOs are very small. A third of them have no staff at all, and a third have staff of up to five people. Even before the crisis, most of these organisations were barely managing to maintain financial stability, and so any new burdens and administrative barriers hit them very hard.
The biggest problem NGOs face is lack of material resources rather than a shortage of volunteers or lack of public interest. Sixty percent of NGOs say they face shortages of material and financial resources, and only eight percent complain of lack of public interest in their work. They also face problems with the authorities. The vast majority of cases are not about attempts to suppress independent initiative, and there are few complaints of attempts to control NGOs. The problem is one of lack of interest or absence of a consistent policy. In general, the executive authorities at local and regional level do not know how to make use of NGOs’ potential, do not help them, and do not know how to go about organising cooperation with them. Yet in many countries, social policy is implemented above all through the NGOs, which manage and carry out budget-funded social assistance, cultural support and continued education programmes. In the Netherlands, for example, NGOs contribute 15 percent of the country’s GDP, while here they account for just 0.5 percent.
I also want to say that NGOs should not be seen in this context simply as a channel for distributing budget money. NGOs are a mechanism for raising citizens’ monetary and non-monetary contributions in addition to public funds, and for sharing the responsibility, which at the moment, in the absence of cooperation with NGOs in the social sector, in the areas for which the state and local authorities have social responsibility, lies entirely on the state’s shoulders.
Regarding the laws on NGOs, I will continue on from what Mr Auzan said. The laws on NGOs date for the most part from the first half of the 1990s, and are certainly in need of revision. There is an obvious excess of the types of legal organisation NGOs can have, and not enough clarity in the differences between them. There are no clearly defined standards for NGOs’ corporate governance, and this gives rise to frequent cases of NGOs being unofficially privatised by their management. There are serious problems with NGOs’ transparency for the public, and even for their own members and volunteers. At the same time, the support for NGOs the state has pledged over these last years is not backed up by the corresponding laws and regulations, above all tax regulations.
The NGOs themselves show a rather contradictory attitude towards the current laws. But the question is what to improve and how. The 2006 amendments caused rather a stir and met with a negative reaction, and not because civil society activists are against order and transparency. Moscow State University and the Higher School of Economics conducted a study into the additional costs to NGOs resulting from the more complicated registration and accounting procedures, and came to an overall total of billions of roubles in extra costs.
But as I said, most NGOs are tiny organisations, and any new official requirements place a heavy burden on their ability to perform their primary functions. And what is the result of all these extra expenses? The vast majority of these enormous reports gather dust and are not even read which is hardly surprising. The same study concluded that to really check NGOs’ activities in line with the provisions stipulated by the amendments, the registration and control services would need ten times more staff than they have in reality. In other words, the control mechanisms are obviously in excess of what the authorities can actually carry out in practice.
The 2006 amendments force a choice between two options: putting obviously senseless time and effort into preparing accounts and reports that no one will actually read, or conducting completely selective checks with no transparent criteria for selection. This second option not only risks generating corruption but also gives rise to suspicion that checks are politically motivated. In practice, it is the first option that has been chosen today, but why maintain a practice that is obviously senseless?
Most important of all, it is unacceptable when NGOs face higher administrative barriers than business enterprises similar in size and profile. It is a mystery why small businesses have benefited from a whole number of positive decisions but the same has not been done for NGOs. A charity-run canteen does not benefit from the same advantages as a commercial shop or cafe.
We have three main legislative proposals.
First: in the area of public and municipal procurement, NGOs should be given the same rights and advantages as small businesses.
Second: NGOs’ property rights need to be protected. Over the last 10 years, a large number of regional NGOs have been evicted from rented premises in town centres and forced to move to outlying areas, which obviously has an effect on their work. Similar steps should be taken in their regard as were taken for small businesses.
Third: there need to be simplified provisions for small-scale day-to-day charity work. We can raise money for many social initiatives from the population at large and not just from the wealthiest section that some continue to rely on out of inertia. We propose setting up within the President Executive Office a working group that would include people from the Justice Ministry, Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry, and also from our Council and the Public Chamber. This working group would have a short deadline, because much of the work has already been done and only needs now to be systematised.
Dmitry Medvedev: What will this working group’s job be – initiating amendments to the laws?
Yaroslav Kuzminov: Yes, drafting law amendments. We already have some 12 proposed amendments.
DIRECTOR OF CENTRE FOR ANTI-CORRUPTION RESEARCH AND INITIATIVE TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL — RUSSIA ELENA PANFILOVA: Mr President! Colleagues! We have already spoken many times today about the problem of trust, the problem of civil control, and the problem of corruption.
We heard about trust, about the fact that present-day Russia really does have a crisis on its hands, a very deep crisis of confidence: nobody trusts anybody. And not only does the society mistrust the authorities; the authorities do not trust the society either, and create special mechanisms to control NGOs.
Here is a public opinion study I got this morning from the website of the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre [VCIOM] on the latest data regarding civilian distrust: 46 percent of people do not trust law enforcement authorities; 40 percent do not trust the courts; 32 percent do not trust the media; and 20 percent do not trust NGOs. These are very high numbers indeed. And within this crisis of confidence, a sort of new Byzantium is forming, where real ideas are being given completely new definitions, where things we really need to counteract corruption, to really establish civilian control, things like transparency, accountability, and integrity, acquire some kind of new meaning. The rule of law is being given a completely different meaning; independent active media are being replaced by informational agitprop [agitation and propaganda]. And people simply cannot understand when we talk about civil society or civil control. Even if we take the new anti-corruption law as an example, public control and civil control are mentioned there many times, but it is unclear to people what they really mean, how they will operate, how they will be implemented, and through what institutions.
Administrative resources and their misuse increasingly substitute real political and economic competition. And people strive to achieve positions of authority not because they want their country to become better, but simply because they want to get to a place that will give them access to the sources of unlawful enrichment.
Look at what happens regularly in our country. What is our most competitive professional field? The government. And this despite the fact that everyone knows it does not offer the highest salaries. And then, all those people disappear somewhere. Let me give you an absolutely atrocious example from my personal experience. As an experiment, I was once giving a course of lectures on the ethics in law enforcement at a law-enforcement school. I was reading the lecture, and these wonderful future law enforcement officers – well, now they are serving officers, this was some time ago, – were listening and listening. And then they said, “This is all great, but don’t you understand that the first thing we must do once we start to work is to pay back the money our parents paid for us to get in this school?” This kind of people comes to work in the law enforcement system, and then we are trying to find a way to control it. But their initial intentions and motivations are different.
But you know, that was not the most disturbing part. The most disturbing part was that some time after the lecture three of the students knocked on my door, came up to me, and said, “we would really like to know how to actually instate this kind of ethical service.” But they could not ask this question in the presence of their fellow students, who had a completely different set of values.
And so, this lowering of ethics standards, trust, and understanding naturally crystallises in many cases of apophasis, many other meanings, which first and foremost fall into the fertile soil of the very systematic corruption that we discuss so much. And there is another apophasis on this topic besides corruption by law enforcement officers, doctors, teachers, or traffic officers, which everyone talks about and which our data indicate; besides our yearly “Russian Corruption Barometer,” which will be published in July. All the figures will remain the same, and it won’t even be that interesting to read anymore: there is corruption in car inspection, law enforcement, and courts, and this has not changed in many years, these studies are 8 or 9 years old. But the apophasis that stands out is the corruption among our highest authorities. People are talking about it again in their kitchens. It is once again absent from public discourse, but we know very well that it exists; otherwise, our corruption would not be systematic.
And in my view, it is in fighting this very kind of corruption that the words “transparency,” “accountability,” and “integrity” are unfortunately not enough. Yes, everyone has learned to use the word “transparency”. I will not talk about integrity; it is very difficult to force anyone to act with integrity. But as far as accountability is concerned (and that is the very issue we are talking about when we use the term “civil control”), I think that we need to think long and hard about it, and set it on a completely new path. Because you often say that everything needs to be resolved within the framework of the law, but in a systematically corrupt setting, courts cannot be an island totally free of corruption. And it is very difficult for people to defend their rights in a judicial system, a legal system where this corruption is present, using only legal methods.
People come to us with complaints and appeals after they have exhausted all legal ways and methods. And that is when our civil control kicks in, and a very simple thing is revealed: control is a double meaning word. Control can mean monitoring, or it can mean inspection and supervision. We are able to monitor, meaning that we observe, collect, and document all of society’s well-known problems.
For example, our charitable organisations have discovered that Russia does not have hospices for children. One would think that the Ministry of Public Health [and Social Development] should have found out that terminally ill children are dying at home in great pain, and no one is helping them. Environmental organisations are detecting environmental law violations. Generally speaking, various protests, dissenters’ marches, and election monitoring are all forms of civil control as a means of monitoring, as a way to document what is happening. If you surf the Russian blogs and look at the top blog post titles, you will see that they reflect all of the problems that exist in the country at a given point in time. Thus, our society is doing a good job of monitoring. But we have a very serious problem when civil control becomes instrumental supervision or instrumental control.
In fact, we do not have that many instruments. Naturally, absolute instruments of civil control include elections, free elections, and real political competition, which does not allow for the preservation of the corrupt bureaucratic elite. Without doubt, absolute instruments of control include independent media, not in the sense of simply being independent, but in the sense that they are diverse, addressing different problems in different ways, and strong civil institutions that not only voice the problems, but also have methods of real supervision. The corrupt, ineffective bureaucrats will have absolutely no need for such civil control, and they will resist it, in the same way that they resist any real anti-corruption effort. They will resist and do everything to preserve access to unlawful sources of personal gain, regardless of what anyone says or demands.
Unfortunately, we will not achieve all of this instantly. Tomorrow, on April 16, we will not suddenly, instantaneously, wake up to have all of this. That is why we need to act gradually, in order to overcome this situation, where, for example, a ranger apprehends hunters who are bureaucrats, hunting without a permit, and the person in trouble is the ranger, not the hunters, and we must defend the ranger. And such examples are numerous.
Generally speaking, in this regard, the fight against corruption is a form of civil control. Indeed, the fight against corruption is always a fight for human rights, because whenever there is corruption, there is abuse of human rights. We can, of course, resolve these problems one after another. If someone comes to us for help, we try to resolve their problem, but we hit the wall of authority. You can resolve it through your own public reception office. But how many years will we need if we try to resolve each of these problems one by one? Every time, we would need to call the governor, or call someone else. That way, it will take us 10 or 15 years to re-establish confidence in civil institutions and in the government, but I’m afraid that we do not have 10 or 15 years, especially with a crisis at hand.
We can create more efficient websites, where all of these things are documented. My young colleagues came up with an idea on how to record all citizen appeals and mandatory replies. We can do this, but again, it will take time. We can establish some kind of Civil Control Days, with mandatory meetings for ministers and civil society representatives, for example, representatives of the focus working groups within our Council. We will meet at least once a month at a specific time, just as we are meeting now, and we would talk about current problems, and they would tell us about how these problems are being resolved. Why not?
Yet, all these are half-measures. It is certain that we need to aim to bring back the effective civil control instruments that I spoke about earlier, which may have died down somewhat, and in some cases, died away almost completely: free, competitive elections and independent media. Without them, we cannot fight a corrupt bureaucracy.
Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin: First of all, I must fulfil my duty and present you, Mr President, with this annual report.
This report deals with many problems raised in discussions, and I must say I share most of the views the human rights activists have expressed here today. I think the discussions are going ahead in businesslike fashion, (this is not always the case), and this is very good to see.
There is one point in this report that particularly stands out: starting from the second half of last year, the number of complaints began to increase, and has risen by approximately 10 percent. The complaints are above all about labour relations and housing problems, and are related to the economic crisis, of course, though it is also possible that people are also becoming more aware of the institution of human rights ombudsman. But certainly, the crisis is having an effect on our work.
This is the last report I am presenting within this five-year term as ombudsman. It therefore also contains some general conclusions for the whole five-year period. I hope that they will give rise to public discussion. Following the report’s submission, it should be published in [parliamentary newspaper] Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
The report follows some very simple principles. It begins with the constitutional provisions directly related to human rights and freedoms. This is followed by commentary on how each of these provisions is given specific embodiment in the laws, and then, very importantly, come our views on practical implementation and enforcement of the constitutional and legislative provisions.
I do not have the opportunity right now, of course, of going through the main points of substance in the report. I just want to say that the situation with giving embodiment in laws to the constitutional provisions is far from ideal, but work is progressing, in general, and much has been accomplished at the legislative level. But as for the practical implementation of our laws on human rights, the situation is anything but satisfactory, at least in a number of important areas, and in this respect I share the views of the human rights activists.
Some of the specific problems are mentioned today, but there are also many others. The nature of complaints has not changed on the whole, and I will not go over it now. I will only say that the roots of the problem, in my view, are in excessive friction and conflict between the authorities and the human rights activists in our society. I think these conflicts arise from a serious imbalance between the constitutional and legislative provisions on the one side, and authorities’ day-to-day executive work and practice on the other. Overall, this imbalance is not lessening. On the contrary, it seems to me that there have been increasing attempts of late to adjust legislation to fit this everyday practice. In some very important areas, this was achieved, and in a number of other areas, these attempts have not succeeded, which is very good.
So, what I want to do is to make three specific proposals. These proposals are of a procedural nature, but if they are accepted, they could help human rights activity in our country, because we are all closely connected in our work as human rights ombudsmen working at state level. We cooperate with and support each other.
The first proposal is that I think we need to complete work on the legislative aspects of the human rights ombudsman’s activity. We already have proposals in this area. I think they have been set out in a brief and clear fashion in this letter I would like to give you, Mr President.
We advocate the following proposals. For example, the process of establishing the institution of human rights ombudsman overall, at regional and federal level, has still not been completed. When I began my work, there were a little over 20 regional human rights ombudsmen. Now there are 49. In other words, the majority of the regions now have one. This is good, but it is not good that they are not present in every region. Our people deserve to have their rights protected in unified fashion throughout the country, and so we need to make some changes to the law in this respect.
Second, there is the issue of the degree of regional ombudsmen’s independence. This is crucial for human rights protection at civil society level too, because the civil society human rights groups often turn to the regional ombudsmen for support. But in the current situation, we sometimes end up with situations that look like something out of Gogol or Shchedrin.
Recently, for example, a regional ombudsman was appointed in one of the regions (I will not say which, but I have all the documents). Before being appointed to this post, this regional ombudsman spent thirty years working in the state security bodies in senior posts. Believe me, I realise that this is also important work and I am not trying to say that this is a bad person. I think he is a nice person, and I have already met with him once. But nevertheless, you have to have wolves in the forest, and you have to have rabbits too. One depends on the other, and there needs to be a way of regulating these relations.
I have proposed on a number of occasions making legislative changes in this respect, but have been accused of trying to establish a vertical power hierarchy in my particular area of responsibility. I assure you that I have no Napoleonic ambitions. But you can see, we have situations arise in which the federal human rights ombudsman cannot say to the local governor that the public human rights activists at regional level should also be able to have their say. Who is the person with the authority, the person who should be given responsibility for this work? We need to set this out in law somehow, and I would like to see us come back to this issue and work on it once more. There are many other legal questions, but I do not have time now to go through them.
My second proposal is the following: when we met for the first time after you became President, we agreed that from time to time, on a quarterly basis at least, we would meet and discuss the most serious human rights issues in completely practical fashion, without the press present and so on. So far, this has not been possible. I realise that you have one of the tightest schedules in the world. I think that even the most serious issues, crisis issues, they are all extremely important during the crisis, and I say this without any irony, but keeping a finger on the pulse of human rights activity in the country is no less important. I ask you please to keep this circumstance in mind and make the relevant practical recommendations to your Executive Office.
My third specific proposal is that it could be wise to look at the question of including the human rights ombudsman in some capacity or other on the Security Council, either as a member, or as someone with a standing invitation, say. In this way, human rights aspects will be taken into account when examining the most important state affairs. Otherwise, human rights issues find themselves squeezed to one side by law enforcement considerations and the whole law enforcement environment not just on a case-by-case basis but on a permanent basis at the practical level. Perhaps some even better proposal could be made, but I think this is a practical measure that we could take.
As for the report, it would be good if there was an instruction from the President to send out the report I have presented to you to the governors. We could do this ourselves, and the governors could then receive instructions to organise broad-based public discussion of the report, especially of the aspects directly related to their own regions.
FORMER JUDGE OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AND ADVISOR TO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION TAMARA MORSCHAKOVA: I warmly thank you and my colleagues for allowing me to speak once again about problems in the courts, the judicial system and judicial reform. These problems have become part of popular discourse for a long time now but, unfortunately, I believe, as does the expert community, that we have not yet found appropriate solutions to these problems – neither at the level of legislation, nor at the level of enforcement.
As my colleagues have done, I would like to mention briefly just a few sample problems and avoid talking about the concepts behind the complete reform of the judicial system and the courts, something that the Council is, of course, also developing.
What do I think is absolutely the most topical thing we should focus on now? Issue number one is absolutely topical and quite practical as well – it was laid out for you in an explanatory note that accompanied the draft law which our Council supports. The project is linked with developing the legal institution of the jury. We do not want this institution to be understood in an excessively narrow sense because it corresponds very well to the idea of promoting civil society in our country. This institution really turns people into citizens. And it demonstrates the experience of jurors, the experience of public organisation and associations of jurors that have been established.
Due to the fact that recent legislation has limited the competences of the jury, we are trying to put forward a draft (and we are very much counting on your support of this project) that would allow us to increase participation in the administration of justice with virtually no expenditures of public funds. This institution provides protection on several levels. It protects against inadequate investigations and prosecutions, protects the independence of the court, something that today is far from ideal in Russia. And finally, the institution of the jury ensures the participation of citizens in the administration of justice, something that is currently so minimal that it is almost zero.
I would very much like these proposals to be considered and I think that the Council would be willing to participate, including in working groups established to develop legislation to improve the judiciary and judicial system. This is idea number one and one we think could greatly benefit from a positive signal from high echelons – from the President, for example – which will make it easier to move forward in the legislative assembly.
The second issue that I cannot but mention is linked to reducing bureaucratic methods involved in organising the judicial system. This has already been noted about different types of vertical power structures within the judicial system, not from outside. Well-defined methods of bureaucratic management have developed, which in practice deprive the courts and the judicial authorities of their sovereignty within the system itself, to such an extent that it becomes a problem of national security.
Citizens cannot obtain protection from the courts not because they have no recognised legal rights to do so, but because the courts have focused on other things. The point is that today procedures such as forming the judiciary and depriving judges of their judicial status, practices which practically nullify the status of judges provided for by the Constitution, as well as their independence and irremovability, tend to dominate. At the 7th National Congress of Judges we talked about the rather strange method of appointing judges – initially for three years, and then waiting all these years for the moment one could remove an unfit judge. Poor judges must be disposed of without waiting for three years to pass. But the professional formation of the judiciary has not yet been achieved; in Russia it is organised according to bureaucratic principles.
And in this regard, I would like to draw your attention to the factors that influence the formation of the judiciary. Indeed, the appointment of judges (and these are federal judges) is one of the constitutional powers of the President. And the current procedure for allowing the President to exercise his constitutional powers substantially restricts these very powers. Because after the qualifying examination the rest of the procedure for choosing or rejecting a candidate is completely closed: it is not clear how the choice is made, the motives behind it, and the suggestions the courts make to the President are not disclosed. The whole process of discussing the candidacy after the recommendation by the qualifying panel is not clear. Only one thing is clear: that no candidate can reach the Presidential Executive Office without having the support of the Chairman of the Supreme Court for their candidacy — not only of the court that put the candidate forward but also of the Supreme Court. Obviously, these procedures require more transparency.
Also, serious damage to the principle of irremovability of judges is caused by the system of removal of judges, which is practised and based on some very vague foundations and lacks secure mechanisms.
From this perspective, I would very much like support for the idea of establishing a special disciplinary body consisting of judges that do not work in the general judicial system, because those working in the system remain subject to the chairmen of their respective courts.
I will cite very briefly just two examples of the overreach of powers of a court president, not to mention the distribution of cases, on increasing the qualification levels of judges. Court presidents may, for example, set the size of allowances the judges are eligible to according to the law due to the special, complicated and intensive nature of their judicial activity. It turns out it just depends on their immediate superior.
My second example: a court president appeals to a qualifying panel of judges with the suggestion that a judge of a military court should not continue with military service, and this matter is resolved by vote simply because the judge has completed his term of military service and cannot remain a member of a military court. I think that something must absolutely be done about this.
And the last point I would like to touch on. Figuratively speaking, this issue can be described as the criminal methods of economic management. I would like us to all take stock of the danger of this phenomenon from the perspective of the judicial system. The point is that criminal prosecution initiated arbitrarily with the sole purpose of redistributing legally or illegally acquired property simply must take into account the legitimate judicial acts of the highest judicial authorities and other types of jurisdiction related to criminal jurisdiction. Acts confirming the legitimacy of property ownership by higher judicial bodies, such as the Supreme Court of Arbitration, are not recognised by district investigators. They do not even refute any of the procedures used in criminal prosecution that ultimately contravene constitutional principles such as the presumption of innocence (because any doubts about the evidence should be overturned), and such principles as the legally provided composition of court for each case.
The legal validity of judicial acts is completely undermined by this type of criminal prosecution methods. Civil legal relationships become criminalized when civil legal regulation is replaced by a kind of civil criminal law. In this respect, explanations given by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on legal matters which will eventually allow any civil legal transaction to become a criminal offence play an important and negative role.
Of course this is not everything. I would just like to say that the representatives of the Council are prepared to participate in any body that would actually ensure that this kind of practice is addressed in legislation and can be removed from our legal reality with the help of the law. In my view, this is a direct means of addressing what we call legal nihilism.
MEMBER OF THE COORDINATION COUNCIL IN THE UNION OF THE COMMITTEES OF SOLDIERS’ MOTHERS OF RUSSIA IDA KUKLINA: I will begin by making an appeal that may seem unexpected coming from our organization, which has been dealing with the problems of the military for 20 years. We request you not to stop military reforms regardless of the circumstances, adhere to their purposes and goals and ensure these reforms are fully implemented.
The wording “military reforms” has lost much of its value, because there have already been so many reforms and plans for reforms in the past (some defense ministers managed to successively declare multiple military reforms). Nevertheless, we see the steps regarding the armed forces as reforms and hope these reforms will be completed; otherwise, our army will cease to exist, as over the course of two decades, it has begun to turn into the decaying remains of the Soviet Army.
We certainly understand this is a very difficult task, as there is an enormous mess of problems within the military which is overwhelming and unwieldy. I wish I could raise many of these issues, including some abolished grounds for occupational determent and need to reinstate others, protecting the health of our conscripts, or seeking out those who are missing in action. As you can see, there are many problems, but I will not speak about them now; we will submit our letters and our detailed reports instead. Right now, I would like to raise three hot-button problems that must be resolved urgently. All of these problems concern South Ossetia and the Russian troops stationed there.
The legal status of Russian troops in South Ossetia is solely defined by your executive orders, which specify that the military are there on a peace-keeping mission. The problem is that our legislation does not allow for the involvement of any conscripts in any kind of peacekeeping operations. For such operations, certain provisions of law must be observed, but they do not apply to the military and therefore our soldiers are stationed there illegitimately and in breach of Russian legislation.
The legal status of the Russian forces in South Ossetia is a problem which concerns not only conscripted soldiers, but all servicemen stationed there. We welcomed the agreement with South Ossetia on the legal status of border security forces. Now similar agreements should be made on other Russian military units in South Ossetia. Given the understandable difficulties of the situation, such agreements may be made on a temporary basis. Currently, the legal standing of any serviceman is determined only by his immediate superior. There have already been unpleasant incidents; everyone wants to avoid them, but they have been happening and will happen again as the armed forces operating in these kinds of conditions will inevitably degrade and face all sorts of emergencies, including those involving local community. We must restore legal immunity for all Russian military, distribute legal responsibilities between South Ossetia and Russia, at least to some extent; and we must guarantee proper legal standing for Russian servicemen in South Ossetia. It is very important to address this problem, because otherwise, trouble is certain to come.
I repeat this is a difficult problem. Perhaps we cannot make permanent agreements at this time; that is all right as well. But we need some kind of temporary agreements, because right now, soldiers are entirely at the mercy of their superiors, who have absolute power; there are no checks or surveillance; this is a volatile situation, and sooner or later, it will detonate.
Furthermore, we must withdraw all conscripted servicemen from South Ossetia.
And finally, another issue regarding South Ossetia that is of great importance to the military (understandably so) is the issue of receiving war veteran status. I have a leaflet here, which we are trying to distribute as widely as possible, concerning the search for pilot Koventsov who was shot down over Tskhinval [during the military actions of August 2008]. What is his status? Is he not a war veteran? Can we really say that the military stationed in Eritrea, for example, are war veterans, but Mr. Koventsov, the pilot (whether he is dead or alive, and we certainly hope that he is alive), is not? This problem concerns an enormous number of people. Right now, interpretations of the issue differ. South Ossetia and Georgia are not on the list of military conflicts and respective dates of military actions, but a war veteran status may only be granted if a conflict is officially recognized as such. What about the people who fought in South Ossetia, who fulfilled their duties, risked or sacrificed their lives, and yet are not acknowledged as war veterans? That is simply unjust and needs to be rectified urgently.
Chairperson Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva: The topic of my speech is “Peaceful gatherings: rallies and demonstrations, marches and pickets,” or in other words, the right guaranteed to citizens by Article 31 of our Constitution.
Average citizens have limited access to mainstream media, so street demonstrations are an important way for people to express themselves on political issues, as well as day-to-day concerns. This is the only method available to the majority of our citizens for making their concerns known to authorities. Our law on the freedom of assembly is perfectly democratic, but there is a clear discrepancy between the written law and the manner in which it is applied. This law is violated in every region. Moreover, it is violated everywhere in exactly the same way. This leads us to believe that the authorities are acting on the basis of regulations that are unknown to us, which effectively cancel out our constitutional right to free assembly.
According to the law, citizens are obligated only to inform local authorities about planned demonstrations while the authorities’ responsibility is to provide assistance to citizens in practicing their rights. The authorities do not have the right to prohibit public gatherings; they may only request that gatherings be held at a different time or place. Furthermore, requests of this kind must be justified and conferred with demonstration organisers. Thus, freedom of assembly is a fundamental right, and its limitations cannot deprive citizens of their right to hold a demonstration.
Often, the authorities suggest changing the time and place of a demonstration in the form of an ultimatum, and refuse to discuss alternatives with organisers. However, in doing this, the authorities devaluate the very process of coming to a mutual agreement with protest organisers, a process that assumes equal rights of both sides. By sending demonstrators to hold their rallies in remote areas, the authorities are depriving them of the opportunity to express their opinions to their target audience, thereby rendering the expression of their opinions useless. Authorities justify limitations on the size of rallies by proclaiming that there are established regulations on the maximum capacity of a given space. However, regulations of this kind should be the same for everyone; instead, maximum capacity grows tenfold when the very same spaces are used for gatherings by the United Russia party, or by Nashi pro-government youth movement.
Employing the OMON [Special Purpose Police Squad] or otherwise using force against citizens is only acceptable when there is a real threat that a peaceful gathering will turn into a riot, which, to demonstrators’ credit, happens very rarely; however, OMON is called in quite frequently. It is also common for the organisers of peaceful demonstrations to be persecuted in one way or another, to be fired from their jobs, detained for contrived infractions, or stripped of their driving licenses.
Mr President, it is you who must make it clear to authorities at all levels that peaceful demonstrators are no criminals to be neutralised, but citizens exercising their constitutional rights. The bylaws which local authorities apply to interpret the freedom of assembly, must be revised. The freedom of assembly is an extremely important form of feedback between the authorities and society, and peaceful protests are a normal expression of such feedback. However, the authorities perceive any kind of protest as destabilising and seem to feel that rallies demonstrate their subordinates’ inability to take proper charge of the districts assigned to them. This misconception is particularly dangerous now, during the crisis, when people have reasons for discontent, and their inability to express this discontent through legal means will heighten tensions and may indeed become a threat to stability. Stability should not be retained through the forceful suppression of protests, but rather, by promoting dialogue regarding public concerns and fulfilling lawful demands.
Mr President, I would like to draw your attention to the situation unfolding in Kaliningrad where last week a mass rally was held for the 25th time to protest against shutting down the city’s best hospital, which serves all Kaliningrad residents with sea-related professions, and there are many such individuals both in the city itself and within the surrounding region. The hospital is located in the city centre, and it would appear that someone took a liking to that land and those buildings. Protests have been held for 25 weeks, but as of now, the governor or his people have not reacted. Turning a blind eye to demands of the people: that is the real danger to stability.
I would like to talk specifically about Moscow’s situation in regard to freedom of assembly, which in many ways is similar throughout the country. Moscow authorities refuse to engage in any dialogue with rally organisers, and when disagreements come up, they send out the police force to deal with the public. One of the explanations for this given by the authorities is that protests and demonstrations are an inconvenience for residents of the central neighbourhoods. It has been suggested by the authorities that Moscow create some sort of a Hyde Park, a specially designated place for public demonstrations. But the location proposed for it is the Shevchenko waterfront where mostly industries and garages are located and where no one would ever witness the protests or demonstrations. Mr President, in London, Hyde Park is located in the very centre of the city, not far from the royal palace. The natural Hyde Park equivalent in Moscow would be the Red Square traditionally used for mass events. But for this, Mr President, your approval is required, as the law stipulates that the rules regarding public events held on the Red Square are subject to approval by the President; at this time, however, these rules have not been established. An affirmative decision on this issue would send a clear message that our authorities respect individual rights and freedoms.
PRESIDENT OF AUTONOMOUS NON-PROFIT ORGANISATION CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS GEORGY DZHIBLADZE: I will continue with the subject of non-governmental organisations, but from the human rights point of view, and more specifically, from the point of view of freedom of association.
Freedom of association is one of the fundamental human rights cemented in international law and the Russian Constitution. Together with freedom of expression and freedom of assembly it forms the triangle of vital rights and freedoms without which no democratic and rule of law state can function.
Not so long ago, it was still possible to hold what I consider the mistaken view that in the context of rapid economic growth and political stability brought about by the centralisation and increased role of government, the state would be able to get along without an independent civil society. But today, in the crisis situation, it is obvious that unless people have the possibility of self-organisation, unless there is development of horizontal contacts and dialogue in society, and public supervision of government bodies, our country will not come through the crisis stronger, more modern and democratic, and governed by the rule of law.
To guarantee freedom of association, state policy needs to ensure the independence of civil society institutions and create a favourable environment for their development. Dialogue with civil society organisations as equal partners, respect for and recognition of their independence, tolerance to different ways of thinking and to the critical appraisal typical of NGOs are essential conditions for an effective state policy on NGOs.
Regrettably, the changes in state policy and the law on NGOs in 2005–2006, took relations between the state and civil society institutions in the opposite direction, and the past three years had a very negative impact on the situation for NGOs and the freedom of association. I recall that the argument given for passing these amendments was the need to bring order to regulation of NGOs’ activities and prevent the potential threat to the state it was felt arose if NGOs were manipulated by hostile forces from abroad and engaged in unacceptable political activity or got involved in extremism and other illicit activities.
It will soon be exactly three years to the day that these amendments entered into force, and we can say with certainty they have not only put civil society institutions in a worse position, but have not achieved their stated aims. Tens of thousands of organisations have been subjected to lengthy paralysing inspections, received numerous warnings, been threatened with closure, and spent an enormous amount of time, paper and nerves on dealing with the inspectors and taking care of unproductive bookkeeping and paperwork instead of working on projects for the public good. Thousands of new groups have been unable to register, and thousands more have been closed by decision of the registration service. At the same time, enforcement of the new provisions has not revealed any cases of NGOs’ activities presenting a threat to national security, or any serious level of unlawful activity by Russian NGOs beyond inaccuracies in carrying out the new accounting and reporting procedures and processing routine paperwork. The very idea that NGOs could pose a threat to territorial integrity, sovereignty, and national identity has proven groundless. Mr President, the real terrorists and extremists do not use this law and do not register non-governmental organisations.
As for political activity, everyone, the state authorities included, realises now that coming up with and proposing changes to laws on state policy and civil society institutions is the mission and inalienable right of such institutions.
What is this Council’s mission? What are we discussing today? Politics, of course, just like in other similar consultative expert bodies. But the signal was sent out that NGOs are a threat to the state. Unfortunately, it has become the norm of late for state officials to blacken the name of NGOs. Not a month goes by without top government officers, regional governors or agency and ministry heads declaring that NGOs support terrorists and separatists, are financed by organised crime, push drugs on our youth, engage in espionage and so on. But almost never do they provide concrete evidence or name the specific organisations allegedly involved.
All of this has helped create the image of NGOs as a hostile force, especially those who express critical views and work on complex and sensitive issues such as human rights, fighting corruption, environmental protection, and public control over the law enforcement agencies. This turn in events has been perceived by many public organizations as an offensive against civil society.
The result is that the regulators have come to see their principle mission as being to reveal threats, search for cases of NGOs breaking the rules, and punish them for these infringements. There is now a presumption of guilt with regard to NGOs, and the law is enforced in such a way that rather than correcting and developing, it punishes and represses. Few serious violations of the regulations have been revealed, but in practice, checks and inspections have set out to detect and often invent infringements and problems in NGOs’ operations, usually concerning paperwork and compliance with the organisations’ own charters. Rather than bringing order, the way the law is applied has led to unpredictability, uncertainty, arbitrariness and extra paperwork. We know that internationally recognised rules and standards allow for state intervention and restrictions on rights only in cases stipulated by law and in the measure essential in a democratic society, with the lawful objective of guaranteeing national security, preventing riots or crimes, protecting public health and morality, or the rights and freedoms of other individuals. Our law does not meet these requirements.
The amendments to the law have created new problems for NGOs at every level of their interaction with the supervisory bodies, from registration procedures to closure of NGOs. As has been mentioned, in the view of experts, the 2006 amendments are contradictory, unwieldy, have created new administrative barriers for NGOs, created an environment conducive to arbitrary and selective enforcement, have given the regulators excessive powers to intervene in NGOs’ work, contain provisions potentially conducive to corruption, and are perceived as politically motivated.
The main task today in our view (this is the Council’s consolidated position) is that the repressive 2006 amendments to the law on NGOs should be repealed as soon as possible. We consider it of principle symbolic importance that this proposal be submitted to Parliament directly by you, Mr President, before the end of the Duma’s spring session. For our part, without waiting for a working group to be set up and new legislation to be drafted, we have taken the initiative of drafting these proposals and are ready to present them to you as soon as possible.
The next step after the repeal of the 2006 amendments should be to draft and adopt new constructive legal provisions in this area, provisions that comply with our Constitution and with internationally recognised rules and standards, and that will foster civil society’s development and give effective guarantees for realisation in practice of the freedom of association.
President of the Non-Profit Organisation Glasnost Defence Foundation Alexei Simonov: In Russia today non-governmental organisations exist in a climate that allows crimes committed against the leaders of civil society – journalists, civic activists, lawyers – to go unpunished. This impunity is as much a product of the law enforcement agencies' refusal to act as it is of their actions, as the previous two speakers have already said to some extent.
For example, over the past two years, several dozen journalists have been arrested and beaten while covering protest rallies and dissenters’ marches. This is the work of OMON [Special Purpose Police Unit] officers, who are brought en masse on rally weekends, outnumbering the alleged participants by a factor of three or four, and who have been told that they are fighting against enemies of the state. And after they have administered this rough justice, then it's time for inactivity: not only do those who have broken the law go unpunished, but the initiation of criminal proceedings against these so-called law enforcement officers is obstructed in every possible way. The fifteen journalists beaten up while covering the December protests in Vladivostok are going through this very process as we speak.
On the other hand, there are the murders of Dmitry Kholodov, Anna Politkovskaya, Vladislav Listiev, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Vladimir Kirsanov in Kurgan, Eduard Markevich in Yekaterinburg. In not in a single case have the killers or those who gave the orders been identified. And even the most minimal progress must be made against the resistance of the relevant departments, against the Byzantine intrigues of public ambition and private interests.
For example, how has the investigation gone in the most notorious cases of the murder of journalists? Take the city of Togliatti: Valery Ivanov and Alexei Sidorov, two editors of the same newspaper were successively killed there. How did the process outlined above go to work? First: no one has even admitted that the reason they were killed involves their work as journalists. Second: in both cases during the week after the killings they simply grab someone, then the (now former) Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov announces loudly that the perpetrators have been found and they will be punished. In one case, two of the three arrested were released for lack of evidence and the third died in prison – there never was a trial. In the second case, a welder was arrested and beaten until he confessed, but in court the prosecution's case fell apart and he was released for non-involvement in the crime. The investigation is now suspended, in both cases no access to collected evidence is permitted, and the killers are still at large and free to commit more outrages.
Analyzing the statistics involving murders of journalists, we found that on average these murders are eight times less likely to be investigated properly, compared to murders and other serious crimes against ordinary citizens. And in recent years there has been a new trend, whose victims include the leaders and activists of civil society organisations, trade union officials in Togliatti, Kolpino and St Petersburg, members of the Solidarity movement. Two days ago Stanislav Yakovlev suffered broken teeth and a broken nose, a week earlier it was Lev Ponomarev, the leader of a human rights movement and Elena Vasilyeva, the leader of the organisation Forgotten Regiment. Michael Beketov, the editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda wespaper, was beaten and badly hurt. There have been direct threats made against Svetlana Gannushkina and Galina Kozhevnikova who are here today, the murder of [Stanislav] Markelov, a lawyer and [Anastasia] Baburova, a journalist.
Did you know that at Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor you heard from the day before yesterday, they now have a rule that requires anyone wishing to meet with a member of staff to be accompanied by a security guard employed by the newspaper? What else can they do, given the fact that five of the paper's journalists have been killed? And what are we to make of the fact that the investigation of the beating administered to Lev Ponomarev was only launched after we announced a news conference to discuss the law enforcement agencies' inaction? Incidentally, at this news conference there were four TV channels shooting, three of them were foreign. What are we to do when for years we have asked you and your predecessor to show mercy to people who, from our point of view, despite their innocence were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison? I am talking about Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov. We have not had a single reply to our letters. And yet in both cases there were flagrant violations of justice, conclusions obtained from unqualified experts and things that amounted to a contemptuous denial of common sense. Did anyone read those letters to the end or at all?
I am taking this opportunity to appeal to you directly here today. We must take action to change the climate in this country, where dissent and civic participation are seen by law enforcement authorities as a crime against the state, and civil activists, journalists and lawyers have to live every day with the threat of violence.
What are we asking for? By addressing this issue on television, you can use the opportunity to speak to the political and moral aspects of these cases. You can show people that you view these things as we do. You can instruct the heads of law enforcement agencies to take personal responsibility for the cases cited and for similar ones and not to neglect their duty to inform society of the actions they have taken. You can require them to respond effectively to the threats that have occurred. To speak frankly we are sick of being told by law enforcement officers: “Well, at least they weren’t killed, but for goodness sake, when they are killed, by all means come and see us.” We would like to make a suggestion: Isn’t it time to amend the law so that civil activists, journalists and lawyers acquire the same status as public officials, law enforcement officers and judges? We have other suggestions and all of these are contained in our letter.
CHAIRPERSON OF THE EXPERT COUNCIL OF REGIONAL JOURNALISM CLUB NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION IRINA YASINA: Mr President, thank you very much for taking so much time to listen to us. I will try to be brief and will speak off the cuff.
In her opening remarks, Ella Pamfilova said that perhaps society’s greatest need today is to become more human. All of us in our country, we as citizens, and especially you as President, have inherited a terrifying legacy. Throughout the entire twentieth century the value of human life was negated, and human rights were trampled underfoot, to put it mildly. We today, the children and grandchildren of those who lived through those events of the twentieth century, we who are living now in the twenty-first century, need to try to change the situation. You, as President, and the entire summit, elite, call it what you will, have a huge responsibility to bear today. I say this because Russia is a country where state power, if not sacred, is certainly deeply respected, even worshipped by some. The example the authorities set is the example that people will follow. So far, the authorities have not provided the best examples.
We spoke about corruption. We spoke about this and that. Colleagues, I think that, to a great extent, all of these problems you have just spoken about at such length and so well, have their roots in the negation of the value of human life and the prevailing attitudes towards human dignity. What’s more people themselves have forgotten that they have this human dignity.
Examples of mercy and humane attitudes need to come above all from you at the top, from your wives and children. I say this in all seriousness. I recall examples from European history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Essentially, we are going through just such a period now. But we have followed a different road in our development throughout these centuries, is this not so? And so you, and the ministers, and the State Duma deputies, have the immense responsibility of proving yourselves ready to undertake this work and set the example. You all have to do this, and not just some village fool, because as things stand now, those involved in philanthropy today look like fanatics, not normal, but everyone should be a part of this work, all the more so now, in the crisis. Much has been said about making use of people’s potential. We could accomplish a lot by just pushing a button on the TV and not watching programmes about murders and turning one’s grandchildren into meatballs. That’s what my own daughter jokingly says – again someone’s turned his granddaughter into meatballs. Watch something else instead. People do have other interests too.
I am involved in philanthropy and education, and I am absolutely by no means a pessimist about this situation. I know how people react. When I get people together at charity concerts, they thank me for dragging them out of their homes and collecting three thousand roubles from each of them for the needs of Tarusa District Hospital.
Another important point: I am in a wheelchair myself, and so I could not stand when you greeted me. I won’t go into all the full detail of just how difficult life is for me in this country. But this too is not a hopeless situation. I recently met a woman who heads the social welfare department in the District of Columbia, that is, in the capital of the United States. She is 61, and she said that when she was five and her mother was ready for her to start school, no school would take her, because they did not have inclusive education back then. There were no ramps, nothing at all. That was in the 1950s, in the United States. Now this girl is 61 and everything is open to her. What I am trying to say is that in the space of just a single lifetime things can change dramatically, and they achieved this themselves, her mother, and all the mothers of other such children who the schools would not take.
Public initiative is hugely important. But here, the mothers of disabled children say they are just struggling to survive. This is true, but it is our duty, the duty of civil society organisations, to explain to them that without their initiative no one will lift a finger and no one will come to their aid. Why does no one help the disabled? I think the reason is because people do not see them on the streets and simply are not aware that they are there. People see me on the streets, and you know, everyone helps me, everyone offers their help, offers to help carry my wheelchair, and since there are no ramps, my wheelchair is always having to be carried. But I am optimistic even so that these problems can be resolved. It would not even be such a costly undertaking. All that is needed are amendments to the legislation. We have excellent legislation on the disabled. Everything we need is there, everything except two points: responsibility and deadlines for actual implementation, without which it is all no more than fine words.
We need to humanise society in every respect. We need examples, positive examples, and there are many of them. We need films about people who have overcome adversity. We need success stories. You know, our people have become zombies to a considerable extent. I admit that I am ready to make use of this zombified nature for positive ends, but we do need to become kinder and willing to extend a helping hand to those in need. I repeat once more the importance of your role, that of your family, your friends, the children studying in the same class as your son. Studying in the same class as Ilya Medvedev should not just be ‘cool’ and prestigious, but should carry with it a sense of responsibility. These children could visit a hospice and read books, poetry, to dying people. There are such examples. Eleanor Roosevelt, when she was a little girl, used to go to a school for immigrants in Brooklyn to teach them English. Her parents sent her there. Later, when her husband, who was in a wheelchair, became president, she said, “I am my husband’s legs”, and she went down into every mine with him, clambered around every factory with him.
The last thing I want to say is something that is also directly related to humanising our society. The case of Natasha Morar and Ilya Barabanov is personally very close to me because I see them as if my own children – they are the same age as my daughter. Now they are apart. I won’t bring up the legal rules, convention on reuniting families and so on. No one has even explained to these two young people why they cannot be together. According to the information we have received from journalists in Moldova and from Natasha’s family, she is now at home. She was called in for questioning by the [Moldovan] Prosecutor General’s Office. She was not asked to make a written undertaking not to leave the country, and was not taken into custody. No measures at all were taken against her. She is completely innocent, even in the eyes of the Moldovan authorities. But the feeling that our country began causing problems for this girl and her husband continues to trouble me. We, that is, the council members, agreed that we will watch this affair closely, because we want to be a merciful country, a country that in the fine details and the big picture pays attention to people’s everyday problems.
Finally, Mr President, I very much want to feel pride in my country and pride in my President. I still have time to hope that this will be the case. I am ready to do everything I can, and so are my colleagues. So long as we live, we have the strength to accomplish this. Let’s begin then.
Journalist Svetlana Sorokina: I had prepared an entire speech, but I am going to cut parts of it, because we have been sitting here for a long time, and because you are already familiar with many of the problems facing children, so there is no need for me to explain them or convince you of their importance. We have prepared several letters regarding these issues.
Still, there are several things that I would like to say to you directly, because when system doesn’t work, we want to turn to the person in charge and ask him to “take a look under the hood.” On my way here, I received phone calls from several children’s organizations and their representatives, asking for me to inform you of certain things.
First of all, I would like to talk about the infamous law regarding guardianship and foster care. Throughout the last two years, we fought, alongside the Ministry of Education and representatives from public organisations, to make certain changes to that law; but unfortunately, we lost that battle. I still cannot understand the deputies’ position – it seems as though they are acting purely out of spite. I cannot understand why a law on guardianship got rid of the concept of foster care. I want to draw your attention to this, because foster care allows for orphans aged seven and older and children with disabilities who are not accepted into any other social care system to be placed in families. Foster care allows this because it gives joint responsibility of the child to the government and the new family. But now, this concept has been eliminated from the law.
We are imploring you to reinitiate a review for making changes to this law. These changes are prepared by the Ministry of Education. Please give this issue some attention.
There is another problem that I would like to highlight. I was very shocked by a recent study: we may think that the most impoverished group in our society is seniors, but in fact, that is not the case. Our most impoverished citizens are families with two or more children. No other group compares to large families in terms of poverty, and that is just awful. I fear that the crisis will make this situation even worse.
That is why I would like to request that you increase child benefits several-fold, because otherwise, this situation cannot improve. After all, the number of children in our nation is decreasing at an alarming rate.
And there is another alarming trend that concerns orphans. We have increasingly fewer children who are adopted. And I imagine that with the current crisis at hand, things will only get worse. That is why we must think about what we can do. Perhaps we need a national program that can apply the best methods in addressing the problem of orphans in our society. I believe that we must break down our current system, which is fully government-controlled. Because right now, the only people addressing these issues are civil servants and governmental wardship [and guardianship] authorities, who are not letting anyone else come in and help – especially in orphanages and institutions for children with disabilities. So I believe that we need to provide access to professionals and public organizations, because we will never resolve these problems if the only people addressing them are civil servants.
In conclusion, I will say this. Please consider that we really need to create centres for training adoptive families and guardians, as well as professional assistance to families. I also think that we need to promote the idea of partnership rather than conflict between the government and non-profit organisations, and we need active social advertising, which is almost entirely lacking on our central television channels.
Speaking of which, I would like to draw your attention to a new legislative project brewing in the State Duma, which really goes beyond all reason. It is being suggested that social advertising should be paid for at the same rates as regular commercials. If this law passes, we will be left without any social advertising at all.
And finally, there is one last thing that I would like to say. You know, I am among the 95,000 people who signed a petition addressed to you regarding Svetlana Bakhmina. I did this in spite of the fact that I do not like petitions. I would like to remind you about Svetlana Bakhmina and say that in my view, release on parole should be granted more widely and frequently to women who have minor children, who are pregnant, or who give birth in prison. I feel that this practice should be applied more often for women whose crimes are not related to violence or, for example, drugs, although clearly, cases should be dealt with on an individual basis. Like Irina Yasina, I would very much like to hope that we are not living in the most merciless of countries.
President of Russia’S Association of Art Restorers Savely Yamshchikov: I know that it is difficult to sit and listen for so long, but I would like just a few minutes to talk about our problems.
In Russia culture is effectively an obsolete idea. Unfortunately over the last 20 years the protection of our monuments has gone very badly, much worse than we would have liked. But the worst disaster facing us at present is that we are on the verge of losing one of our most important cities, a city — museum, the city of Pskov. And I must tell you that over the last four years, all the media, from VGTRK [All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company] to Izvestia newspaper and others have been discussing this terrible problem. It has even been said that Pskov — its monuments and natural setting — is now in a position much more horrible than in July 1944, when the Nazis finally pulled out. This is absolutely true.
The city has built townhouses next to the monuments. Meanwhile all the monuments have been left to decay. They put a five-star hotel 20 metres from a one of a kind 15th century monument that was on all of UNESCO's lists. A church is decaying. They said that they were ashamed, that they would find the money to restore it. They demolished it and built a casino on the spot – they are much more profitable.
Two governors did not pay the least attention to this. It was immoral to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Pskov, since all the monuments had been destroyed. They built townhouses all around the Kremlin and the Trinity Cathedral. No need to call this a crisis, since after the war things were far worse. Yet even as the war was still on, we began to restore the palaces and parks of Leningrad, Novgorod, and Pskov. And when I went to Novgorod and Pskov 50 years ago, I thought they looked like a wasteland. And yet everything had been done: the churches had been cleaned, we could work there, walk there, but now in Pskov you can't get near those churches. But I have to tell you that Novgorod is 200 km away, and there everything is in perfect order compared to Pskov. I believe that now is the time to launch an appeal. Pskov has a new, young governor and tomorrow we are going to have a big meeting there to discuss all these painful questions. We need help, Mr President, this is our borderland, right next to the Schengen zone. Take the 16th century Pokrovskaya tower, for example. There is nothing like it in Europe. The roof caught fire 20 years ago and this turned the whole thing into a toilet. When they talked about this on television, the newspapers immediately wrote that: “the restoration will cost 280 million roubles”. I called the specialist carpenter restorers and they said 10 million. Then a month later Mr Baturin, whom you know well, announced that tenders would be let for the tower: they were going to turn it into a restaurant. We said: “over our dead body.” A Pskov restoration outfit built a 9-storey residential building twenty metres from the tower. This is all taking place in Pskov.
And one more thing. In Pskov there is one place that has not been harmed: it's Mikhailovskoye, the Pushkin Memorial Museum. Its director is Georgy Vasilevich, a member of the Presidium of the Presidential Council for Culture and the Arts. For the last six months, local authorities have put together a huge spectacle involving the seizure of documents. When we tried to find out who was behind it, they said that the order came from Moscow. And for a month now Georgy Vasilevich has been in serious condition in hospital after all these hardships. If they destroy Mikhailovskoye … But at last we have begun to revive the Pushkin Days – this is very important. I have brought you an invitation to the Pushkin Poetry Day. You must give this very serious attention.
I have spoken with your advisers, with Yury Laptev. They know all about this and have promised their full support. We are looking forward to your support as well. So please accept this invitation to the Pushkin celebrations. And on 21 April we will be giving out the first awards in Russia for the custodians of our heritage, a very important event. I would very much like you to be there.
And finally: the Ministry of Culture asked me and I suggested this to them: a decree establishing the title of Distinguished Restorer of the Russian Federation, because restorers don't get the recognition they deserve.
CHAIRPERSON OF CIVIC ASSISTANCE, THE REGIONAL PUBLIC CHARITY FOR AID FOR REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA: I will be very brief, but if I don't speak at all then later this evening my refugees will probably tear me limb from limb.
Naturally I want to talk about another problem of a humanitarian nature, namely the situation of refugees and other migrants, of whom there are many in our country and who of course need a sense of dignity and self-worth, in the same way that children and the disabled require us to invest in their future. And most importantly our legislation is absolutely not designed for something that Irina Yassina talked about, namely obligations and deadlines. Authorities tell us that the refugees are entitled to this or that, but they don't specify a date by which the state is obliged to comply with these obligations.
There are several types of refugees and displaced persons whose needs have not been met for almost 20 years.
There are, for example, 25,000 people in Ossetia who are refugees from central Georgia and who have been granted Russian citizenship but have not been granted any housing and live in terrible conditions.
There are other people displaced from Abkhazia and currently stateless. Now that Abkhazia has been recognised as an independent state, we can't claim that Georgian refugees from Abkhazia are the responsibility of Georgia. We have to treat Abkhazia as an independent state, which refuses to take the refugees back. Consequently the 30,000 Georgians who left Abkhazia and now cannot return must be given some kind of legal status here.
And at this point we have not solved the problem of Armenian refugees from Baku either.
Russia is being criticised for not protecting ethnic Russians. The Russians who fled Chechnya and who are obviously not going back received 120,000 roubles as housing support. It is evident that this sort of money cannot suffice to buy even a tumbledown shack in a village. We have to acknowledge that this is a scandal, because the state does know what sort of money is really required for housing support. We have written to you about this repeatedly and to Vladimir Putin and talked about it. So, when the state realises how much money has to be provided in assistance, it grants subsidies of up to three million roubles per family, because that is the minimum for people to buy some house for themselves.
I would very much like to discuss migration policy reform, since we are talking about all sorts of other reforms here, but Russia has no migration policy, so there is not subject for discussion. In recent years, the Federal Migration Service has been reorganised six times, a government commission on migration policy has come and gone, and there is no overall concept for a migration policy. I urge you to initiate procedures to restore the government commission on migration policies with the participation of experts and of course the Federal Migration Service, with which we have worked and to which I am very sympathetic, as well as non-governmental organisations.
I really beg you to pay special attention to the refugees we have been referring to, as we must not let these problems drag on for twenty years without a solution. People should live in Russia rather than merely remain in Russia.
Executive Director of Greenpeace Russia Sergei Tsyplenkov: I am surprised and pleased that we have found the time to talk about the environment too. It is more the tradition in our country to only start talking about the environment when disaster strikes. But if we look at the tens of millions of people living in bad environmental conditions today, if we look at the state of our lakes, rivers and seas, the air we breathe, the amount of industrial waste, we can say that disaster has struck. Mr President, disaster has struck.
Last year, when you and Vladimir Putin spoke at the Security Council, ecologists had a shock in the good sense: finally the authorities had decided to pay attention to environmental issues. The only question that worried us was what would come next? We were afraid that events would develop along the usual lines of wanting the best but ending up with the same old story.
Unfortunately, a year later, we see that most of the issues raised at that Security Council meeting have not been followed through. What’s more, 6 weeks after the meeting, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov signed an order on building a ring of waste incineration plants around the city, and his example was soon followed by the authorities in St Petersburg and a number of other cities, despite the fact that incinerating waste is a dead-end solution to this problem in environmental and economic terms, and most countries have already abandoned this method. These decisions were made even though they contradict completely what was said at the Security Council. I want to go as far as to quote from your speech at that Security Council meeting. You said, “We cannot develop clean technology without resolving the issue of waste disposal and recycling. I think that the only real modern solution to this problem is to develop a whole waste processing industry throughout the country and make a transition to resource-saving technology.”
Mr President, at the start of February, your Executive Office received more than 100,000 letters from Russian people supporting your policy. But nothing has been done so far. As far as I recall, the Council also made some detailed proposals. But what needs to be done is to impose an urgent moratorium on building new waste incineration plants before it is too late.
Another example is that of the problems we have, as you too said, in the situation with protected natural territories. These territories account for only a percentage of Russia’s total area, but they represent the most unique places in the country, and believe me, everyone who can be bothered, the authorities at every level, go after them with even more zeal than they put into making life hard for small businesses.
To give just one example, there is the situation with the Utrish Reserve in the Krasnodar Territory. What is happening there is the height of cynicism, especially in light of your speeches. Instead of creating a nature reserve there, as the government planned, the unique centuries-old juniper and pistachio forests are being cut down. There is no other such forest anywhere in our country. Why is this happening? The local people are convinced, and the local authorities are happy to keep it this way, that the Presidential Administrative Directorate has plans to build facilities there. In other words, this act of legal nihilism is being carried out in your name. Public action has managed to temporarily halt the destruction of this unique forest. Why only temporarily? Because, as I learned, the Natural Resources Ministry received a week ago instructions to draft a plan for establishing a national park there. And why establish a national park? Because the rules applying to national parks make it possible to allocate territory for construction and cut down the forests.
Thousands of people in Russia have written to your Executive Office asking for a nature reserve to be established on this territory, as was planned by the country’s government. To set up a nature reserve, the territory has to be set aside and protected, otherwise it will be destroyed. It is being destroyed in your name and the Presidential Administrative Directorate’s name. It is too juicy a morsel, a unique tract of intact virgin forest.
These two examples, concerning waste disposal and protected land, illustrate the general situation in our country. I would say that we have seen degradation of our nature conservation legislation and environmental protection institutions. There are numerous complex and systemic problems, and perhaps the Council could devote one of its meetings to environmental problems.
I want to raise one problem today, namely the fact that since 2007, the institution of state environmental impact assessments [EIA] has essentially ceased to exist. This was part of the steps taken to improve the town planning and urban development law. As a result, only town planning evaluation reports remain in place, but their specific purpose is to assess projects’ compliance with technical regulations, and there are no technical regulations on environmental security and no plans to introduce them. We therefore have no instrument at our disposal.
Thanks to the Sochi Olympics and pressure from the IOC [International Olympic Committee], state environmental impact assessment of nature zones under federal protection have been restored, but this does not solve the whole tangle of problems. Theoretically, someone could build a production facility that presents a chemicals hazard right under your windows, or cut down the forest around your dacha. The state has no levers for assessing the environmental impact of these actions and stopping them. In your case, I hope you would be able to stop such actions, though you would have to act outside the law. But the rest of our 142 million people have no legal possibility for action, and the state has no legal possibility for assessment.
Mr President, it is essential to restore the practice of state environmental impact assessments. This is the Council’s point of view.
One final problem I want to draw to your attention is the situation with a global environmental problem – climate change. We are one of the few countries with no national strategy on this issue and not even any state organisation responsible for drafting and implementing such a strategy. I could say plenty about this subject, but I just want to mention one point. We will never build a modern innovative economy if we keep on increasing our economy’s energy consumption, and all of the existing strategies today are built around an increase in our energy consumption. The energy strategy for the period to 2020 will see energy consumption double, and this has a direct impact on climate change issues. We think it essential to send a political signal.
Mr President, if you were to announce that you will personally take part in the international conference on climate change planned for the end of this year, in December, in Copenhagen, and if you could persuade the G8 leaders to personally take part in this conference, which has to make a decision on the climate change issue, it would be simply wonderful. This is a global problem and it needs global leadership. Why should Russia not become the global leader on climate change? All the more so as the world has already had anti-climate change leadership in the form of George Bush, but he is gone now.
I would like to end by quoting your words. At the Security Council meeting, when you spoke on the huge environmental issues we face, you said, “To resolve these tasks, the authorities at every level and the public environmental organisations need to work together, and they are ready to do so.” You are absolutely right. Society is long since ready for this, and people have long since been waiting for the moment when the authorities would be ready to work together on solutions to these problems.
Director of [Autonomous NGO] Human Rights Institute Valentin Gefter: Going alphabetically, the word “ecology” is followed by the word “extremism.” In my view, two main topics must be addressed when discussing extremism in our country: terrorism, which, for whatever reason, is regarded in nearly the same light as extremism, despite the fact that it is a separate problem, and xenophobic violence in Russia – in particular, violent crimes against individuals.
I will not talk in length about what has been going on in recent years. Unfortunately, the violence continues, despite positive steps that have been taken by law enforcement agencies to catch and prosecute the people responsible for these horrific, inhuman crimes against “others,” and the problem still remains. All of this is discussed in the analytical report that we gave you.
This is also a problem that is compounded by various phobias. We used to have a problem with Islamophobia, and in fact, it remains a problem in certain regions. Now, during the crisis, it may get worse because of its correlation with migrant-phobia, and others. But we have also seen a new, seemingly unexpected problem, which we call unjustified anti-extremism. Federal legislation on this problem is extremely flexible, and in some cases, its practice is completely unreasonable, made worse by horrible practices in applying the law toward individuals who are regarded as extremists. A number of people here have already talked about attacks, and about other things. I can just tell you about one thing, because sometimes, it is easier to relate to a real-life example. Right now, there is a 23-year old philosophy student named Alexei Olesinov sitting in a Moscow prison. On Hitler’s birthday, he is likely to be sentenced to five years in prison, although he has not actually done anything; investigation and other agencies claim that he is one of the Antifa movement leaders. I do not support this youth movement like many others with fairly radical views, but not engaged in violence. Still, when a person is at risk of being sentenced to five years in prison for getting involved in a fleeting skirmish, not with a law enforcement officer but with another individual, this serves as an indicator of what our law enforcement authorities’ priorities are.
And so, in order to address these problems – both the problem of racist violence and the problem of unjustified anti-extremist measures – we would like to ask you take one small measure, which we believe could improve things. In addition to simply making public statements condemning various actions, the government and society must combine their efforts, and coordinate law enforcement with other departments. In order to do this, we are suggesting that you either create a committee to address xenophobia, discrimination, and racist violence, or that you appoint a national coordinator. We need someone who can coordinate the efforts of both the government and non-governmental organisations. We, the NGOs, have had a great deal of experience dealing with legislation and we have particular experience in working with law enforcement agencies. If you look at the book from the Ministry of the Interior that we gave you, you will see some of the things that future policemen and other law enforcement officers are sometimes forced to read regarding extremism.
If we do not pull together and focus on forming a common, united front against this social ill, it may become as widespread and acute as many of the other problems that you have heard about today.
HEAD OF ST. PETERSBURG HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION CITIZEN WATCH BORIS PUSTYNTSEV: I’m sorry, but this problem is not merely a result of this book; rather, it results from the highly unfortunate state of affairs within the management of the Ministry of the Interior [MIO]. Why does the largest MOI educational institution print and distribute extremist publications?
In our view, this situation began to occur when Lieutenant General Vladimir Kikot took over as head of the MOI Human Resources Department, because until then, things were entirely different. And it was he who ordered an end to all communications between the university and human rights organizations, as well as a range of programmes. We think that without some significant staff changes within the ministry, it will be impossible to end these dangerous trends in training future law enforcement officers.
And in conclusion, as a result of the scandal, university management withdrew the textbook from its library; but through the beginning of April, it could easily be purchased at the university bookstore, and some of the copies were sold. Like any large group of people, the university has professors and students who hold a wide range of views, including some radical right-wing convictions. And Xerox copies of this so-called textbook are already circulating.
Mr President, we are asking you to bring these facts to the attention of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which must go to court in order to recognize this textbook as an extremist publication that should be banned from distribution.
Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, I will comment on some things, and there are others that I will not comment on because I myself still need to figure everything out, because there are many documents that require careful attention. The one thing I can guarantee is that I will read all of these documents personally. I do not know whether or not I will agree with the arguments they present, but when I do agree, I will deal with it and give orders to colleagues who are responsible for a given aspect of government work.
We have had a long discussion. First, a few words regarding NGOs in our country and the corresponding law that was passed in 2006. On many occasions, I have had to discuss this law with various people. You know what my feeling is? By the way, I would not say that the law is ideal and works perfectly, that it merely needs to be complied with, and subject to such compliance everything will be great, NGOs will operate within the legal framework and everyone will be happy, especially the government.
However, as I see it, the issue now is somewhat different. The application of the law has created a certain trend of how NGOs are perceived. I have to admit the fact that the law has been interpreted in such a way that many officials are now under the impression that all NGOs are enemies of the state and should be fought, so that they do not transmit some sort of disease that may undermine the foundations of our society. I think such interpretation is simply dangerous. The law was never intended for such an interpretation which is just impossible. I agree with the opinion that real law offenders or those who threaten national security would never bother to register NGOs and would engage in their activities through other means.
Nevertheless, the government must monitor these processes. Let us at some future point return to the issue of the legal grounds for the NGOs operation in the country. I will instruct the Presidential Executive Office to review your suggestions. No doubt, the initiatives incorporated into the 2006 law included some rational ideas, therefore we should not toss everything aside. Instead, we should look critically at the practice of applying this legislation, taking into consideration the points you made and the issues I have outlined. I will instruct the Presidential Executive Office and the Government accordingly.
Now, a few general notes. I would not break the history of the relationship between the government and society into some chronological periods, such as up to 2001, 2001 to 2004, or 2004 to 2008 – although in terms of dating, it may be possibly done, as certain times are usually associated with activities of certain people, with certain leaders, or certain decisions. I agree we must shape a sound and adequate communication strategy. There must be political competition and nothing can replace it. So I think we should set a working group to see what can be done. I am in favour of such an idea.
In regard to civil control and confidence crisis, I believe you know the confidence crisis is global. In any case, everyone I meet to discuss economic issues begins by talking about one and the same thing: the effects, or rather, the cause of today’s economic crisis lies in the loss of confidence in economic institutions and in the ethics behind their operations. That is why I do not feel that the crisis of confidence is specific to Russian society or to the relations between our society and our government. True, the 20th century was dramatic for Russia and hence a deep-rooted public distrust toward institutions of power. Such distrust has not been fully overcome and in some respects has even grown greater – an extremely dangerous development which must not be ignored.
That is why control, including civil control, is important — both in regard to law enforcement and in regard to civil servants. I cannot and will not deny evident facts, and moreover, I myself have stated that our government machine is steeped in corruption. For a long time, I reflected on attitudes toward corruption in general, whether it should be addressed or not, because when I came up with those ideas, I naturally heard a variety of opinions on the subject. People would say, why bother, the problem may not be sorted out overnight anyway, there will always be complaints that certain facts are not disclosed and certain officials are immune to investigations. But ultimately, I decided that it would be an unforgivable mistake if I do not make the step, as the process must be initiated in any event. Even the tiny steps we have taken or the legislative instruments we have passed, even the tax declarations we have published, these are all the right moves. I do understand all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but it is still a step in the right direction, and it is useful if a step like that is initiated by the President. Doing something is never easy.
We need to move forward, and I fully support the idea of developing all sorts of civil control, including the Web blogs that were mentioned, among others. Blog-reading is a reliable and fairly independent indicator which I sometimes use when I want to get information that has not been retouched by my colleagues, my staff, who naturally do their jobs well. But nonetheless, sometimes it is important to have access to unfiltered information – and not just sometimes, but really, every day.
Nevertheless, I should say the blogosphere is not an ideal instrument, because it is a corporately organised medium, so when you visit some blog, you are aware that the bloggers who submit their comments there would evidently share more or less the same opinion. I only say that to demonstrate there are no perfect scales or control instruments, therefore every tool must be employed.
I will have a separate discussion with Mr Lukin. I was under the impression that I was in fact keeping my word, but this turns out not to be the case. It seemed to me that the number of times we met corresponded to what we had agreed on, that is, once every quarter. But if I have missed out something somewhere, I am ready to make up for it.
On the issue of the legislation that Ms Morshchakova raised, I am ready to take a look into all of these draft laws, but I will need you to send me the letter you spoke of. I am indeed opposed to the rule established at one point of a three-year trial period for judges. I think it is a senseless idea that contradicts the general principle of judges’ irremovability from office, and creates opportunities for petty manipulation, putting pressure on judges to toe the line. This is all the more so, as I said at the congress, that if someone is unworthy of the office, why wait three years to release him from his duties? Such a person should be dismissed from office after a month, not three years. And so I think that this issue should be indeed fully addressed.
arding the selection of judges, I cannot but agree that this process needs to be made more transparent. I have already made some steps in this direction. We no longer have the completely distorted procedures that existed at one point, but further steps are still needed. This could include setting up a disciplinary body or disciplinary court, composed of judges, including retired judges, who would have no fear of taking any flack.
On the issue of military judges, here we need to stick to our policy: there should be no military judges, no judges in military uniform. Judges must be civilians – this is obvious. Incidentally, there was practically no debate on this issue. There was a separate discussion on military prosecutors, but in the case of judges, everyone agreed that judges should be civilians otherwise it undermines the foundations of judicial proceedings.
It was good to hear that human rights activists are supporting the military reform. Have no doubt, the reform will be fulfilled. As a matter of fact, it is the first military reform ever, while the previous efforts were pure imitations. I do not want to name or blame anyone in that respect, as there were various reasons for the lack of such reform in the past, there simply wasn’t enough funding, or political will. This is the first reform, so it is fairly harsh, and naturally, it triggers disagreements. Still, the military do understand they will benefit from the reforms as it is clearly better to be paid 100 or 150 thousand roubles a month rather than ten thousand, for risking your neck.
Now, turning to the issue of the treaties and agreements with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, frankly, I want to work out first exactly what you are referring to, because not so long ago I signed separate agreements with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Ida Kuklina: They state that on military issues there are plans to conclude…
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, but this means we are dealing with a different legal situation here. This is not an order of just one individual, even the President of Russia, it is an international agreement. Nevertheless, you are right in that this agreement creates the need to sign a further agreement, which will be drafted. I just want to say that as far as the principles are concerned, the situation is somewhat different: what we are dealing with is an international legal document that has supranational force. I have no objections to make against the argument that no one serving their compulsory military service should be sent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I also want to say that we will work on establishing a special base for stationing our armed forces there, and we will certainly address the issue of our servicemen’s status. This is a complicated issue, and I won’t pretend the contrary. I will work on this personally, because I understand that I bear direct responsibility for this, as well as for other matters in the country.
Regarding the status of veterans of armed conflicts, I think this is probably the simplest of the issues you raised, and we can address this in just one go. I will look into it.
Now, in regard to another very important topic: non-violent gatherings and the right to hold rallies or demonstrations. Of course, for our country, this topic is one of the more resonant ones. I think you know this better than I. Naturally, the authorities never want to allow these kinds of events, and their decisions are partially understandable, but in any case, they are not based on the rule of law.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva: We have the Constitution. It is not what the authorities want or don’t want that decides!
Dmitry Medvedev: This is precisely what I am saying – that it is not what they want or don't want that decides.
Where do I see a problem here? The problem is that a great deal depends on the cultural background of the authorities who make decisions to either allow or not allow a demonstration or another type of gathering, or to even use law enforcement authorities. Some authorities are wise enough to act accurately and make reasoned decisions on transferring the event to more or less safe areas, but others do not have that sense, and simply ban an event.
What is most important in this situation as I see it? I have no objection to carrying out a check of all the bylaws, though I think they have all been quite thoroughly cleaned up by now and we are unlikely to catch anyone out. Most likely, we are talking about inner motives and fears of the decision makers. But there should be no fear. There should be caution instead, so as not to endanger lives and the safety of people who want to gather to make themselves heard by the authorities. So the core problem is about the motivations behind decisions made and the signals sent by central authorities. This is the point of importance.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva: I therefore ask you to act, Mr President.
Dmitry Medvedev: At the same time, although our courts often deserve criticism, I feel that every denial should be subjected to judicial proceedings, and a court should be addressed with a request to review the reasons for a denial. The situation in Moscow, for example, differs from other places, as here we have special regulations and face specific challenges. But as far as all other cities are concerned, I am certain that not everyone, meaning the local authorities, would want to stand a court hearing for unlawful denial of a permit to have a rally, a picket, etc.
hen I was last in London, I saw Hyde Park, which is quite lovely. Moscow authorities should be requested to create some kind of a Hyde Park here, to plant some trees and arrange everything in order to use the area for public gatherings.
We have also discussed crimes against individuals, against journalists, and against human rights activists. Investigations of such crimes must never be abandoned, there is no other way to do it. I spoke to the head of the Investigative Committee [of the Prosecutor General's Office] about the latest serious crime which concerned the public opinion, I mean the murder of a lawyer [lawyer and human rights activist Stanislav Markelov] and a journalist [Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anastasia Baburova]. As far as I understand, they are quite close to completing the investigation, but unfortunately, you are right, we have often heard from law enforcement bodies that they had achieved some results and were just on the verge of arresting the criminals, but ultimately, nothing happened and no one was arrested. This had a most negative effect on the public opinion. I will request all the relevant information from the Prosecutor General and the director of the Investigative Committee. You are right, dissent is no crime, and all of Russia's history proves this.
I agree with Ms Yasina that the entire twentieth century was one of denial of the value of human life. These are sad lessons, but at the same time, it was very important for me to hear that you are optimistic. I think this is probably the most important thing of all.
Regarding the issue of disabled people’s integration, I think that everything is in our hands. This is a big problem, but I think it is perhaps easier to resolve than some of the other problems we face. Just a week ago, in this same hall, I held a meeting of the Council for the Disabled. We need to ensure that no one among the authorities can wriggle out of their responsibilities in this area. I see that there are places where the authorities are working on implementing the decisions taken. Unfortunately, however, not everyone is showing the same level of responsibility. In some cases, people have begun building ramps without any regulation forcing them to do so, because they simply feel the personal responsibility and human need to do this. Of course, we can incorporate into the law liability for those who do not build these ramps, but this approach is not the most effective. Perhaps we could make amendments not to the law itself but amend the technical regulations in such a way that it will be impossible to ignore them.
Regarding what Ms Sorokina said about the law on guardianship, I want to get to the bottom of this myself. I not only read this law but also amended it personally when I was working in the Government. Like any law, it is not perfect of course.
What do I want to say? I can give you my absolute assurance that this law contains provisions on foster care. Furthermore, it is the first law to stipulate special regulations for and give a legal construction to the institution of foster care. Of course, some of these provisions could be further developed, but I can tell you that they are certainly there in the law.
Let’s come back to this issue. I have no objections, but we first need to work out how this institution is developing.
We should perhaps look at how we could better adapt the construction provided for in the law to modern life, because we certainly do have a need for this institution.
On the issue of social advertising, as far as I know, there are no proposals to apply to social advertising the same rates as those for commercial advertising. On the contrary, the proposed rates [for social advertising] are one half of the lowest commercial advertising rate. These are different things, and there are no such foolish plans to put social and commercial advertising on the same footing. There are many good things in the State Duma. Now we have spoken, you have all heard what has been said, and everything has been recorded and taken down in the minutes. As soon as this meeting concludes everything will be posted on the site, and so the public, including the Duma members, will know what is going on.
We will definitely work on the issue of refugees. I will give the instruction to restore the commission on immigration policy.
As for the environment, it is true we have just come to realise the importance of the subject for the country. I shall admit the crisis has a very negative impact on addressing the environment. When I travelled around the country last year and spoke with entrepreneurs, some of whom are commonly referred to as oligarchs, I saw, as surprising as this sounds, their desire to address environmental issues. They said, yes, we bought this, but it is rubbish, and we would like to invest money into bringing everything in order, so that the rates of emission and other indicators are acceptable. Now, of course, it is true that everything has slowed down in this respect.
Regarding reviving the practice of state environmental impact assessments, I will give the instruction to come back to this question.
the subject of waste incineration plants, I have already given an instruction regarding the Moscow authorities’ proposals. I am aware of the situation.
And finally: climate change. This topic is very complicated, and I discuss it with my colleagues. I must say, in Russia, we are quite advanced in this regard, as we have people who are concerned with the problem and try to monitor it, as we have you who care, whereas in some other countries, they just shut their eyes to it.
Some of our partners are quite indifferent to this topic. But we do understand that issues of climate change can only be resolved through joint efforts, that is why we signed the Kyoto Protocol, counting on others to join it, but different countries act in very different ways. Nevertheless, we will certainly continue our efforts.
I am ready to discuss it again at the G8 summit that will take place in Italy this summer, where all the key players will be present, along with the Group of Five members such as China and India. But this issue is extremely complicated. Nonetheless, the government must address it, so do not despair, we will be striving to implement the Security Council’s resolution.
The last issue brought up by our colleagues is that of extremism. I feel that we have made advances on the subject, because just 10 years ago, the law enforcement authorities were, to say the least, reluctant to deal with it or even discuss it. Now, they have begun addressing it, and criminal cases are brought forward — perhaps not as often and not as consistently as they should be, but nevertheless, progress has been made.
I will of course look through what you have presented on the question of appointing a specific individual. Regarding the idea of having a coordinator, we would have to look at what exactly he or she would do. I think that in this respect the idea is debatable. At any rate, I wonder if this person would be able to have sufficient real powers.
After all, submitting a report, establishing a committee of some sort, or making an appointment is not what is most important. You and I understand that in our country, that is the last thing that works. What is important is the impact we create, you at one level, and the President at another. And the important things are the practical decisions which will be brought to life.
Colleagues, this meeting was very interesting for me. We have not had an opportunity to talk in a long time, although I personally know many of you, and we have our own history of contacts going back to the days when I headed the Presidential Executive Office.
Summing up, I would like to reiterate that the practice of such meetings will be continued, perhaps even more often than once or twice a year, because there are too many problems to solve.