IN THE SPOTLIGHT
EU-Russia NGO Forum starts in Prague
Prague, 28 March 2011
More than 60 representatives of Russian and EU civil society organizations gathered in the Czech Foreign Ministry to found an EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. This unique initiative brought together NGOs and activists from across Europe and Russia and sets up a permanent platform for cooperation. The conference was held in Prague on 28 and 29 March 2011.
“I attach a great importance to the Forum. It’s important not to leave EU-Russia relations only to the politicians. I hope that civil society will play an important role in the EU-Russia Modernisation Partnership. You might be disappointed that success does not come quick, but as I know from personal experience, human rights are an on-going struggle,”
Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs said when he opened the Forum.
The Forum was attended by many respected human rights organizations, such as Memorial and the Sova Center (from Russia) as well as FIDH from France and Frontline from Ireland. Environmental organizations such as Russia’s branch of Greenpeace and Baikal Wave, a group advocating for the conservation of the Baikal Lake, also participated in the meeting with Friends of the Earth and the German Global Nature Fund. Apart from well established organizations, the Forum was also attended by new civic groups such as those defending the Khimki forest north of Moscow community, social and development organisations from Russian regions and from all parts of the EU.
“Civil society was often ignored by leaders and this had to change. It was important that the views of civil society led into the EU-Russia relationship. The Forum should also hold the Russian authorities to account in terms of protecting constitutional rights.” said Heidi Hautala, Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights. “I’m confident, that the European Parliament will be facilitating and supporting this initiative.”
“I know that we all speak the same language and linguistic differences can’t impede the deep understanding.” added Mikhail Fedotov, Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, Russian Federation. Fedotov also outlined current situation in Russia: “There is so much to do to improve perceptions of Russia in the EU. Outcomes of surveys showed that 70% of Russians had a positive view of the EU, only 2% of Europeans had a positive image of Russia. This means that there is a tremendous need to improve contacts between the EU and Russia. It is important to operate on the basis of truths and not myths. It’s also important to improve the human rights situation in Russia, especially ensuring an independent judiciary and a free media.”
The Forum was due to agree its organisational structure and establish four working groups: human rights and the rule of law group, the enviroment group, social issues and civic participation group and democratic structures and processes group.
“The main objectives of the Forum are to strengthen the civil society’s influence on the EU-Russia political dialogue and to increase interaction between civil society institutions and broader societies across borders. It was important to reach out to all 27 EU member states and the regions of Russia. The Forum is very much driven by its members and free from any government interference.” said one of the organisers Rostislav Valvoda.
The CSF‘s next steps will be another meeting in Warsaw later this year with smaller thematic meetings in between.
If you wish to speak to one of the participants, please contact:
Silvie Dumalasová (English and Czech)
Maryna Puzdrova (English and Russian)
See also here: http://www.eu-russia-csf.org/index.php?id=4
The initiative leading to the establishment of the Forum came from a number of NGOs and civil society institutions from the EU who proposed to re-launch EU-Russian inter-social cooperation. During the past years several factors have contributed to an opening of a "window of opportunity" for a renewed effort to strengthen cooperation with Russia in the fields of civil society, rule of law, human rights and democracy building. A position paper was drafted on March 23, 2010 "For a New Start in Civil Society Cooperation with Russia". One of the proposals in the paper was to establish a EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. As a reaction from May to October 2010 a series of round table discussions of the idea to establish a EU-Russia Civil Society Forum took place in Berlin, Moscow, Brussels, and Helsinki. In October 2010 a Position paper "Russian NGOs' position on the establishment of an EU-Russia Civil Society Forum" was drafted. This paper proposed concrete principles, mechanisms and steps for setting up a Civil Society Forum.