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The Amber Krai of Russia: Dialogue of Culture, Dialogue of Generations

Arriving in Kaliningrad after a three-year break from visiting the city, we, colleagues from the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, noted that a striking, positive change had occurred in the westernmost oblast of Russia. The city is gradually becoming more and more similar to its flourishing contemporaries in Central Russia, Povolzh and Ural. All the new buildings, the busy flow of cars, well-organized parks and, of course, the restoration of historical objects make Kaliningrad a wholly unique city.

The interethnic situation in the region is unusual. As many newcomers and children of newcomers as there are here, the oblast is fully bordered by foreign states; many aspects of interethnic interaction are accepted as a matter of course. In the framework of the September seminar Youth and Tolerance, we intended to discuss the regional character, to meet Kaliningraders with experience in other regions in the Russian federation, and, most importantly, to understand what role youth of the region play in interethnic interaction, more specifically, the youth department of ethnic public associations.

This is the second seminar in the course of the realization of the project Youth and Tolerance, supported by the German Embassy. It was beneficial for us that three youth activists were able to come to Kaliningrad from the Republic of Karelia, a region with which the Center for Interethnic Cooperation has had a long and friendly relationship. It was especially important that two of them were representing NGOs, and Alexandra Ershova represented the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs of the Republic of Karelia. Kaliningraders were very glad to see guests, and the seminar quickly took on a positive and constructive tone. A separate thanks needs to go to Oleg Mikhailovich Panasenko, director of the division on ethnicity affairs in liaison with community and religious organizations of the Ministry of Culture of the Kaliningrad oblast. It was namely he who helped to round up participants for both the youth seminar and the round table for ethnic leaders of the region, which took place on the day following the seminar.

Seminar participants represented three different categories of citizens who were concerned with youth issues in different ways. There were youth from ethnic NGOs, colleagues from municipal general education institutions and representatives of city and oblast authorities. Such diverse views and approaches to the problem provided us with a high level of objectivity.

On the basis of already established traditions, we, trainers from the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Victoria Shukhat and Ashot Airapetyan, began with a clarification of the most typical characteristics of youth from the North-West of Russia. After a process of recording the votes for the most universally accepted characteristics from the list we were left with the following points:

Main characteristics of youth from 18-25

  1. tolerant
  2. europeanized
  3. want money by the most lucrative and fast means possible
  4. plays sports
  5. loves freedom

Completely unexpected characteristics, strongly differing from the portraits created in other regions. Often, portraits are not so positive. We were already happy having decided to go to the region that had reached ethnic accord, but saddened by how the wonderful picture was significantly spoiled by the answer to our next question, which was: what problems exist for the youth community in the north-west. The list of dispelled our illusion about the model situation:

Problems of Youth

  1. aggression
  2. free higher education
  3. future pension guarantee
  4. highly paid work
  5. authenticity of information (lack of)
  6. housing issue
  7. dependence (computer, family, friends) dependence on: tobacco alcohol, narcotics, computers, automatic gambling machines
  8. disinformation about the activity of associations
  9. accessibility of alcohol, tobacco
  10. drug addiction. No anonymity, special institutions or organizations which work on problems of sexual relations
  11. dissatisfaction with cultural-leisure options
  12. lack of faith in the future
  13. lack of relevance of youth
  14. lack of information
  15. lack of contact (spiritual)
  16. inaccessible housing
  17. lack of cultural-leisure centers (free) (sports)
  18. deceit of authorities, mass media
  19. lack of money
  20. lack of qualitative information
  21. lack of motivation for a healthy life style
  22. lack of perspective for small towns and settlements
  23. lack of own opinions, suggestibility
  24. generation clash
  25. problems in the family
  26. educational problems
  27. problems of young families
  28. problems of ones own future
  29. problems of work placement in ones area of expertise
  30. more developed patriotic spirit
  31. self-determination at work, at school, etc.
  32. social inequality
  33. difficulty of free contact with other regions, including abroad
  34. taking into account the opinions of youth when making decisions
  35. youth maximalism

This is a very sad list which demonstrates that the reality of youth is very severe and joint consolidated strengths of different levels of authority and public inclusion are needed for correcting this disastrous situation.

From here, the conversation turned in a very limited manner to the theme of the activity of the non-governmental sector and its individual responsibilities which accompany its work- the responsibility for the construction of Civil Society in Russia. In our view, it is impossible to talk about tolerance in society without professing the basic principles of democracy and not isolating the values of Civil Society. This understanding, however, is still significantly new for Russia, and as such, we asked participants to describe what, for them, defined this understanding in different groups. The following principles were formed by the strength of joint group-work:

Civil Society is:

  1. Citizens observing the law
  2. Encouragement and presence of patriotic spirit
  3. Tolerance
  4. Fulfilling civil duty
  5. United society
  6. Society which has moral and ethical values
  7. Presence of a Constitution and its strict observance. Democracy is the basis of the development of society and government
  8. Legislative base taking into account the observance of the rights and freedoms of all citizens
  9. Working (not declarative) law which is independent from the state and the government
  10. Presence of political parties (multi-party system), equal access to mass media, etc.
  11. Public trade-union organizations which can resolve problems related to the defense of human rights (control observance of laws)
  12. Resolving the most pressing problems regarding the development of society through referendums
  13. Free elections: electivity at levels of the federation and regions (not appointment)
  14. Planned concept of national-policy, its moral and ethical public and patriotic schooling
  15. Strict observance of the principles of free conscience. Planned policy regarding religions
  16. Strict observance of freedom of speech and moral censoring in mass media
  17. Broad introduction to joint educational techniques for personal development
  18. Informal interest of authorities in the development of public initiatives (and NGOs)
  19. State-public council
  20. Production of effective mechanisms of monitoring the flow of information
  21. National project culture of peace and agreement
  22. Corporate etiquette
  23. Lawful culture
  24. Intercultural dialogue
  25. Public diplomacy
  26. Culture of the family
  27. National idea of unity!

It is interesting that this theme produced a lot of response from training participants, the discussion proved to be dynamic and lively. Following this, after clearing up such a wide-ranging question, we proposed that participants discuss the present problems of non-governmental organizations of the North-West Federal region of the Russian Federation. Similarly, participants approached this task with a lot of energy. The combined list turned out as follows:

Problems of NGOs

  1. bureaucratic obstacles from government institutions
  2. no interaction between NGOs
  3. no competent preparation of a leader for carrying out organization
  4. lack of technical means
  5. lack of information about public associations abroad
  6. low level of motivation among youth for participation in NGOs
  7. low level of knowledge of youth
  8. low level of competency of colleagues in NGOs (finances, leaders, etc.)
  9. limited activity
  10. support (financial) and lack of independence (ability of foreign sources to finance)
  11. support (illuminating activity) of mass media
  12. location for meetings, lectures, seminars
  13. problems of attracting others
  14. connection with other public associations
  15. financing
  16. informational accompaniment
  17. cadres and their professional preparation
  18. material-technical base
  19. cooperation with other NGOs is modest
  20. weak interest of commercial and other organizations
  21. non-admission of utilization of NGOs in commercial goals
  22. difficulty of registration and accounting
  23. state support of NGOs is modest

As is evident from this list, one of the central problems of the inhibited development of the NGO sector is the inadequate inclusion of youth in an active public life. What could draw more youth? What interests youth? These questions were answered with the help of a brain storm:

What Appeals to Youth

  1. technology
  2. football
  3. night life
  4. receiving money
  5. leisure
  6. sex life
  7. cars
  8. style
  9. interethnic evenings at dance clubs
  10. foreign volunteers
  11. interethnic camps
  12. lessons on tolerance in schools led by students of ethnic minorities
  13. rock concerts
  14. sporting events

The list is amusing, but not hopeless. Indifference, or even the negative mood of youth needs to be absorbed by work in the Third sector, but mainly that they become more tolerant to different opinions, cultures and ethnos. Therefore, we asked participants to develop design ideas taking into account the results of the previous survey.

The project ideas turned out to be very diverse and bright:

Project Ideas
Federal Youth Portal Were Together

Goals:

  • Widening the information space for youth public organizations working on intercultural dialogue;
  • Exchange of experience

Results:

  • Strengthening links
  • Search for partners
  • Joint projects

Centers of Socio-Cultural Adaptation

Goals:

  • Social, psychological, informational and juridical support for immigrants

Results:

  • Adaptation of newcomers in their new place of residence

Train of Friendship

Goal: Drawing the attention of community to ideas of a united multi-ethnic state of the Russian Federation
Tasks:

  1. acquaintance
  2. educational instruction
  3. information
  4. horizontal links
  5. activation
  6. sociological surveys

Result:
Meeting the cultural-spiritual needs of the multi-cultural society of the Russian Federations

Information Exchange Goal:

Exchange of information between ethno-cultural organizations
Tasks:

  1. acquaintance with ethnicities of the north-western region
  2. forming tolerance in the youth sphere
  3. activation of local associations

Results:
  1. drawing 10 organizations (100 persons) to the experience
  2. scope of 30 000 persons
  3. creating new organizations in the region
  4. raising the level of tolerance

Task force:
  1. representatives
  2. youth 14-18 years old (300 000 persons)

The ideas themselves are very interesting. It would be a challenge for such complex projects to be carried out by youth. We decided to look for the means for the accomplishment of these projects.

The realization of these projects will allow for a large part of youth to be affected by the values of Civil Society and to become more tolerant and europeanized young people, the portrait of which was created by participants at the very start of the seminar.

At the end of the seminar, adult leaders of ethnic NGOs gathered at a Round table on the following day. In a responsive circle, we discussed the results of the seminar, the situation of interethnic relations in their oblasts, as well as their perspectives of the development related to the experience of other regions and projects which were carried out there. The most significant result of this event was the agreement that we came to for carrying out the following seminar on the interaction between leaders of ethnic NGOs, authorities and police. We are delighted about this.

Victoria Shukhat



1993-2007
Web-Master


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