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By Anatoly Kostukov

Civil Society Is Drawn Up for Demonstration to the President

Obshchaya Gazeta, November 22, 2001

On Wednesday, an hour before sending this issue of Obshchaya Gazeta to the printers, the Civil Forum began its work in Moscow. The largest hall in Moscow, the State Kremlin Palace, was full to capacity, as had been initially planned. About five thousand people representing about three thousand public organisations of different profiles came to participate in the work of the Forum. They received a warm welcome from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrived at the State Kremlin Palace with a large group of state leaders. The dialogue of the authorities with civil society, as announced by the organisers of this Forum, had began. According to plans it will last two days. Naturally, time will tell what the parties to this event will agree on and how they will carry on in future. On the threashold of the Forum Obshchaya Gazeta asked Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, what he thought about the Kremlin gathering of the citizens.

Question: Grigory Alexeevich, sometimes we hear that the Civil Forum is Yabloko's initiative, i.e. the adapted version of your Democratic Assembly, stolen by the authorities.

Grigory Yavlinsky: I don't think so. In any case, the Civil Forum did not influence the work of the Democratic Assembly at all. We shall soon hold another meeting and we work in accordance with the agenda we adopted at the very beginning. The Democratic Assembly represents a permanent dialogue of democratically-oriented political parties and civic organisations, whereas the Kremlin Forum is, in my opinion, merely a one-time Forum conducted solely for the sake of image. If the initiators of this PR action had come to the President with their idea after September 11, I am sure he would advise them not to bother with trifles. But preparations for the Forum began in summer, when there was the scandal with NTV, the developments in Chechnya were such that we were criticised by the world, when Kim Jong Il was visiting… Something had to be devised during that time to fix the international image of the President. It was decided to protray him as the builder of civil society. After September 11 the international image of our President is OK, and the need for this tremendous performance fell away. But since the Forum had been announced, organisational work done, and large funds allotted, it would naturally have been awkward to call the Forum off.

Question: Why don't you want to believe that this is a real attempt of the authorities to arrange a dialogue with the civil society structures?

Grigory Yavlinsky: Because I don't understand what kind of dialogue there can be when five thousand people representing a huge variety of interests are gathered in one place. For example, there are societies of bee-keepers, rabbit-breeders, divers, defenders of wildlife; all of them are doing useful and necessary things, and they probably require state support. Some need help with premises, other with money. But there are civil associations targeted at control over the actions of the authorities, for example, organisations defending human rights. They have special relationships, as we say, with the state. Do you as someone in authority like to hear the voice of human rights activists? Fine, give an hour of broadcasting time at a state channel to Memorial, and listen to what they have to say. But they don't give broadcasting time to human rights activists, they don't read their reports or visit their congresses, but they invite them to the Kremlin for a talk. That's the kind of dialogue we have here…

Question: Recently the organisers of the Forum have been talking a lot that the President is not using the resource of his popularity. He enjoys huge public support, but there are no mechanisms for transforming this potential into practical deeds. Consequently, the mobilisation of independent civic organisations represents an attempt to build such a mechanism. However, no one has mentioned here the goals of such mobilisation.

Grigory Yavlinsky: One can state with certainty that we cannot implement a single task in building a modern competitive country without the support of civil society. And I don't know what the organisers of the Forum had in mind here. Belarussian president Lukashenko, for example, also likes to be supported by the public. This is a kind of special, "progressive public" selected for a pleasant chat with the president. Later he cites this "vox populi" in disputes with his opponents. I don't know, maybe the organisers of this Forum have set the same task - to replace civil society with the "progressive public". I don't think they will succeed here. There are many people with rich life experience among the participants of this Forum; it is unlikely that they will allow themselves to be manipulated. I hope that people of common sense will not concentrate on the Civil Forum only. This is a private one-time arrangement, it will pass, but the tasks of the interaction of civic organisations and the problems they have to face will remain.

Obshchaya Gazeta, November 22, 2001

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