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Results of the Training in Astrakhan The People and the Administration United

      From the 27th to 28th of May, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation conducted the training Interaction of Ethnic Organizations with Organs of Authority in Astrakhan, in the hotel Druzhba (Friendship). Taking part in the training were leaders of ethnic associations from the Astrakhan region, representatives of the regional and city administration, employees of the City Ministry of Internal Affairs and Department of Justice. The training was carried out with the financial support of the Fund for Regional Projects on Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain. The training turned out to be over and above the plan thanks to past results. In 2003 we had conducted a series of educational seminars together with the Council of Europe, and since someof the expenses for this seminar were covered by the Council of Europe, we were able to generate a few financial resources that we then decided to put towards the conduction of an additional training in Astrakhan. The Fund for Regional Projects on Human Rights supported our initiative. Next, as they say, came the logistical questions. We called the Astrakhan regional Administration for Working with Citizen Social-Political Associations and Ethnic-Cultural Societies. Alexander Stadnik, the head of the Department for Interaction with Ethnic Organizations, promised, as we expected, to give any necessary support in the organizaion of the training. We received help in the organization of the training from Oksana Iung, the director of the Russion-German House of Astrakhan. However, we are deeply saddened to report that only a few days after the training, Oksana unfortunately perished in a car crash. We have lost a wonderful colleague and friend.

      Next we would like to point out that the German organization of Astrakhan can serve as a model for many other ethnic organizations in Russia. In the Russian-German house there is everything, or almost everything, for effective work: a two-floored office, a computer network, a direct connection to the internet, rooms for meetngs and training, etc. And whats most important all the staff at the Russian-German house are nice, kind, polite people. We were lucky in Astrakhan there was fantastic warm weather. The hotel Druzhba was small and cozy, but the conference hall was wholly suitable for our meetings.

      The training started on the morning of May 27. We (on this occasion Ashot Airapetian, the director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, and Victoria Shukhat, a trainer) decided to begin the training with presentations. Victoria divided the pfrticipants into pairs in such a way that the partners would not know each another. She asked the participants to talk about themselves to their partner. After a few minutes, the participants presented their partners to the group. This procedure immediately got rid of the intitial tension that always exists in a group of people who earlier did no know each other. Then we decided to organize a brainstorming session, which has already become a tradition at trainings. However, at this brainstorming session, there were no such problems as exist in the sphere of iternational relations.

      Our previous training in Astrakhan and the subsequent cooperation with the administrations of the Astrakhan region show that in this region racism they are tough on unconcealed displays of racism and xenophobia, so that such unconcealed displays as those of skinheads or other radical nationalistic groups would not find favorable footing. A year and a half ago we found time to walk around the city, and noticed a great variety of faces. Astrakhan is probably the most diversely composed city in Russia with regard to ethnic composition. And there we did not see intoxicated young people moving around the city in flocks, or policemen checking the documents of passers-by at every corner, for which Moscow is famous. The leaders of the Astrakhan region, as opposed to those of the Krasnodarsk region, do not make themselves famous around the country for their cruel actions towards migrants although there are a sufficient amount of migrants in the Astrakhan region as well. This, of course, does not mean that human rights laws, and particularly those protecting representatives of national minorities, are never violated. Alas, they are broken everywhere, including in the US and Great Britain. But task of the authorities and societies in a civilized state is figure out how to effectively fight these evils. And it looks like the administration of theAstrakhan region is taking the Center for Interethnic Cooperation as its ally in this important pursuit, and for us that has a very significant meaning.

      Considering all this, we asked the training participants to describe, in their view, how interethnic relations in the Astrakhan region will have changed after five years, in the year 2009. This technique has achieved good results at business trainings. As a subsequent exercise, we divided the training participants into four groups. In order that the survey have more different results, we gatheres representatives of human rights agencies and of the administration into separate groups.

      But something unexpected happened. Alexander Stadnik asked us at first to take a different survey. He walked up to the blackboard and drew a large circle with a felt-tip pen. Then along the perimeter of the circle he wrote the words Citizen, Person, and Ethnicity.

       I apologize, he said I need to return to the city, I have some urgent business to take care of. It would put me at ease to leave knowing that out of all these ideas there is one most important to all those present. Victoria invited all the participants to say which of these ideas is the first in meaning, which is second, and which is third. Each of the characteristics received a number from one to three.

       I think that the most important idea for us all is that we are citizens, and only after that do the human factor and ethnic affiliation play a role, Alexander Sergeevich said and left, not waiting to hear the results of the survey.

       However, when the results of the survey were summed up, it turned out that the concept of Person came out on top of the others. Ashot Airapetian was very satisfied with this result.

       Russia is not considered a lawful state anywhere in the world, and human rights do not yet play a large role in our lives, he said. And that for you Personhood has a priority in meaning is very important. One of the reasons for the break-up of the Soviet Union was that the government saw in every face merely a citizen who was responsible only to the state. We were convinced that we had to endure every hardship in order that our state would be the strongest, most powerful in the world. The equipping of our plants and factories was not revived for decades, but we provided huge financial and military support to other countries that promised to build socialism. We were first in the number of tanks, nuclear warheads, and closed cities, but this did not help to save our state. Every person lives only once, and every one of us wants to have a steady job, a home, a family, and so on. Thats the way the human rights regime has determined, on a legal level, the minimum of rights and freedoms that a person must have in order to feel that they are more or less comfortable. And if the state wants to and is able to secure for its citizens the fulfillment of these rights, so that is it visible in its entire citizenry, first of all the person, and then as a rule, the society develops, successfully abolishing social upheaval.

      After the analysis of the survey results, the participants returned to their predictions of interethnic relations for the year 2009. In all four groups, the predictions were extremely optimistic. But we did not expect anything else. A year ago in Anapa, at a very complicated training, in which participated leaders of ethnic associations and representatives of the administrations of the Southern regions of Russia, there was the exact same result. At Victorias request, after the representatives of each group had reported on their results, the training participants picked three points that they thought were most important from the list of Results in 2009. Here is what they chose:

Basic priorities for the development of interethnic relations in the Astrakhan region:

    1.The formation of a system of lawful relations between the authorities and NGOs;
    2.A regional program for the purpose of creating a Center of Ethnic Culture;
   3.New forms of interaction between the authorities and NGOs (such as social partnership, grants, competitions);
   4.An incresing of the ethno-cultural component of secondary and higher education and job placement.

      It is curious to notice that the views of the administration representatives and the leaders of ethnic associations coincided when making predictions about 2009. Consequently, the further improvement of the interethnic environment in the Astrakhan region is connected not with the overcoming of disagreement between the administration and ethnic minorities, but with the search for a more effective plan of cooperation. We already knew what ethnic associations and administration representatives want to achieve in firve years, and we made sure that it was an optomistic prediction. Of course, in predictions for 2009, the training participants point-blankpoint out the necessity of the defense of human rights (especially of migrants and ethnic minorities) or the opposition the growth of racism and xenophobia in the region. But the first point of their basic priorities implies such work. Astrakhan is the south, and so personal contacts and mechanisms of interaction here often have a greater meaning than the letter of the law. Therefore, we had to thing about mechanisms for the improvement of interaction between ethnic associations and the authorities and hope that in the presence of effective mechanisms it will be possible to successfully solve concrete problems of ethnic minorities.

      To achieve these basic goals described in the list of priorities, we next had to find out the current situation of the ethnic associations. Out of principle it was decided not to accentuate the negative aspects, but rather the successes of these organizations. We asked the representatives from ethnic associations, the administration, and human rights agencies to talk about what they considered the most significant actions that had taken place in the last year in the sphere of interethnic relations. This is the list we received:

History of Successes (in the opinion of NGOs):
    1.Entrance into a coalition of social organizations (the Cossacks);
    2.The issuing of the newspaper Cossacks;
    3.The creation of a youth ensemble in the community (the Nogaitsi);
    4.The resumption of the broadcast of their TV channel (the Tatars);
  5.The collection of humanitarian aid for the Astrakhan Order of Special Assignment Soldiers/Emergency Troops that are serving in Dagestan (the Dagestan association);
    6.The building of an inter-state cultural center called Russia-Kazakhstan (the Kazakh association and the administration);
    7.The conference 200 Years of the Horde of the Kazakh Sultan Bukei;
    8.The Turkish langage Olympics in a pedagogical school;
    9.The reconstruction of a mosque (the Dagestanis);
    10.The joint activities of the youth sections of various ethnic NGOs (New years, etc.);
    11. The charitable action of giving New Years gifts to the kindergarten for needy families and to a hostel;
    12.The building and reconstruction of a mosque;
    13.The partial payment of a karate team from Azerbaijan;
    14.The creation of a professorial school (the Armenians);
    15.The building of a church, the center of Armenian culture and spirituality;
    16.The sponsoring of Armenians in a childrens home.

History of Successes (in the opinion of the administration):
    1.The joint meeting of war veterans and youth, Turkish societies (without the help of the administration);
    2.Participation of societies in the procession at the City Day celebrations (without the help of the administration);
    3.Kazakhstan Week in the Astrakhan region in Russia;
    4.A round table discussion (leaders of ethnic associations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service, the administration);
    5.A press conference with the Commissioner of Human Rights.

      Next we began to ascertain what new ideas ethnic associations could suggest to their ethnic co-nationas, in order to attract new activists to the numbers of their ethnic organizations. We again divided the training participants into four groups and asked them to work on these questions for 15 minutes and to tell everyone about the results. It is interesting that in this and in other tasks, the participants representing the administration and human rights agencies worked in different groups and took an extremely active part in the discussions. The results of the work of these groups are as follows:

With what can we attract people to our NGO?:
    1. We will be fun and interesting;
    2. People will see many like themselves and talk in their own language;
    3. We will defend peoples rights and aid them in difficult situations;
   4. We will help to keep children occupied and to teach them their native language and traditions;
    5. We will present ourselves to society, the region, and other associations directly through the media and joint endeavors;
    6. We will undertake sport and cultural prokects, such as opening an new Cultural Center, which will conduct preventative work and monitoring of ourselves and others;
    7. We will find talent and aid in its development;
    8. We will write good books about ourselves for everyone;
    9. We will develop connections with primary schools, kindergartens, and music schools;
    10. We will create a youth section or club for sport and creative interests, for the invigoration and maintenance of our native land;
    11. We will study genealogy and history.

How can we attract people to our NGO?:
    1. Using the media advertising campaigns, the creation of a series of films, shows, TV, radio;
    2. The holding of popular ethnic holidays;
    3. The creation of a fund for the purpose carrying out programs in

        a) The popularization of folk crafts
        b) The development of amateur and professional ethnic collectives
        c) The popularization of ethnic cooking (through a net of restaurants)
    4. The reconstruction and restoration of religious buildings.

With what can we attract people to our NGO?:
    1. A workplace (a place for the organization);
    2. Knowledge of history, culture, and language;
    3. A connection with the native land through the organization;
    4. A field of communication and information;
   5. Social interaction with members of the NGO and the administration and human rights defenders;
    6. The celebrating of ethnic holidays;
    7. Ethnic education;

With what can we attract people to our NGO?:
    1. The authority of the organization, of its leader;
    2. Real help in the solution of ethnic problems such as
        a) Job placement
        b) Training (in foreign grants)
        c) Humanitarian aid (with the Red Cross)
        d) Enrichment activities for children and elderly members of the organization
    3. A base of information, which secures interaction between the state and representatives of various ethnic organizations;
    4. A material-technical base;
    5. Legal support and defense;
    6. A culture of interpersonal relations;
    7. The resulting interaction with the organs of state;
    8. Language translation services;
    9. Sport activities.

      In the second half of the day, Vitalii Yakovlevich Mizov, the head of the Administration for Working with Social-Political Associations, joined the training. It should be noted that the appearance of such a high-level leader did not affect the trainings relxed atmosphere, and interactive games, which Victoria was able to lead, helped to ensure this. As we expected, these games helped not only to take away fatigue, but also promoted the formation of a solid team of people out of so many differend people. Ashot Airapetian told the participants about his international and Russian experience with the defense of ethnic minorities. His comparison of the activities of the administration and ethnic associations of various regions evoked a great interest in the participants. This does not mean, however, that at the training everything went peacefully and smoothly. There were arguments and misunderstandings, but there was no desire among the participants to ignore differing opinions, or whats more, to offend one another, and as a result, the training only benefitted from these disputes. At the end of the day Ashot asked the training participants if they were very tired of it, and as it turned out, no one was. It seems the first day went successfully.

      In the evening, after dinner, there was a sport program organized for the training participants. The hotel had a large pool with clean and warm water, as in a bath. The administration of the hotel set aside a whole hour for us, and we divided into two teams and played water polo. Everyone was ecstatic.

      On the following day the numer of participants had not decreased, which again shows that the participants were pleased with how the training was going. Victoria talked about how it is necessary to work with the authorities in order to achieve the desired result. On the first evening we, having deliberated, decided that the Center of Ethnic Culture, the creation of which the participants had indicated in their Basic Priorities, could become a main mechanism for the cooperation of ethnic associations and local administrations. One of the Center for Interethnic Cooperations partners in England, The Greenwich Center for Racial Equality, has an office on the base of which its employees coordinate the interaction of the authorities with ethnic minorities. That is, the existence of such a center itself its premises, organizational equipment, and communication assets is its most important mechanism of interaction with the authorities and human rights agencies. Moreover, in a series of regions of Russia, a Center for Ethnic Culture already exists. Its true that they are occupied more with questions of culture, and not with the defense of ethnic minorities. But what would such a center in Astrakhan do, what should it be called, and finally, how should ethnic associations persuade the regional leadership to even create the center? To answer these questions, we again divided the participants into groups and asked them to write down arguments which, in their opinion, are necessary to bring to the regional or city administration in order to create such a center. This is what resulted:

Variant 1

      To the Governor of the Region / Mayor of the City

Dear ________,

      Remembering your deep commitment your constant attention to the development and protection of ethnic culture in the interests of the citys and regions stability and the strengthening of friendship between peoples, we earnestly ask you to assist us in the relization of our initiative on the creation of a Center for Interethnic Relations in Astrakhan.
      Such an attempt has already been made, but it turned out to be unsuccessful. We will not repeat these earlier mistakes or organization of work. The experience of other regions testifies to the fact that the presence of similar Centers will ensure effective social partnership, will aid in the regulation of interethnic relations, will made cooperation between communities more lively and close to the people. This will permit not the renting of a location, but the constant conducting of all work in the same location. The new Center will become a place that attracts the people of Astrakhan, will help us to better cooperate with people around the whole good earth as well as within the communities of Astrakhan, and will create a general program of interethnic development.
      We are prepared to take into use the memorial of history and culture and we pledge to restore it and maintain its order.
      We earnestly ask for you to aid us and to make the right decision.

Sincerely yours,


Variant 2

Dear Governor,

    1. Constantly monitoring of the territory and society;
    2. Education in tolerance, the lessening of conflict;
    3. Precautions against the breaking of laws;
    4. The increasing of cultural interethnic relations;
   5. The coordinations of the activities of NGOs (organizational activity, interaction with the authorities);
    6. Informational support the lawful securing of TV and mass media;
    7. The methodic securing of NGO activities;
    8. A library (audio-visual information for the aministration, a conversation area);
    9. Help in the organization of scientific research activities;
    10. Interaction with different regions business and administrative contacts.

   At the end of the training, we asked the participants in groups to determine the name of the Center, the budget with which it would work, etc.; basically, to prepare the project proposal. The results looked like this:

Project The Creation of the Interethnic Youth Center Kunak

Goal: The bringing together of youth organizations from various ethnic groups (with specifically youth interests)

      - the lack of a material base
      - the disconnection of youth according to ethnic affiliation
      - the danger of negative tendencies

      1. Conduct a search for a location;
      2. Increase the status of the new organization;
      3. Support the constructive interests of young people;
      4. Form an interethnic Council of representatives;
      5. Monitor and conduct research;
      6. Develop youth enterprise and problem solving.

      1. Continual friendship of youth organizations;
      2. Work in groups and clubs;
      3. Partial self-repayment
      4. Citizen activity and connection with the media;
    5. Help from administrative agencies and the NGOs themselves on youth questions. The consolidation of useful matters.
    6. Benefits to those who support the enterprise economically, through the facilities and advertising aspects.

      1. Already available active and experienced people;
      2. The support of officials;
      3. The desire for a basic NGO;
      4. The approach of the city anniversary;
     5. The application for budgetary support, with a priority in the grants to support youths and young businessmen.

Project A Center for Interethnic Cooperation
Our Goals:
    1. Interaction, cooperation, tolerance, knowledge;
    2. Becoming a civil society;
    3. Meetings, seminars, trainings, experience exchanges;
    4. Constructive interrelation and interaction ("Centre") of communities and officials;
    5. A human factor, a staff, mental potential. Help from sponsors, charities, grants;
    6. ) The Centre;
        b) A committee of officials;
        ) or one that already exists;
    7. Construction of the Centre (such as an office building where the centre occupies only a part of the building), self-financing;
    8. 1 year - formation of idea, inclusion of officials in work. Selection of the responsible person;
    9. 5 years occasion of anniversary;
    10. Continuation.
Project Center for Friendship Between Peoples

1. The purpose:
    - Expansion of interethnic dialogue;
    - Reduction of national and religious conflicts;
    - Presentation of area.
2. Urgent:
    - Increasing the coordination of actions, impossibility of realizing delivered goals;
3. Tasks:
    - Gathering NGO leader;
    - Preparing letters, documents (to executive agencies of authority, sponsors, for mass- media coverage);
    - Gathering necessary contacts.
4. Results:
    - Realization of regional actions towards the foundation of the Centre;
    - City visiting card;
5. Resources:
    - Non-material: leaders, their experience, connections, manpower resources;
    - Material: sponsors.
6. Necessities: construct buildings, the House of Pioneers;
7. A Budget;
8. Stages: 1 - 2004, 2 - 2005-2006 find a location and do necessary repairs; 2006-2007 settle into location and begin work;
9. Goal for Realization: 2007.

   After representatives told about the results of work of the group, we asked all the training participants to rate the feasability of these projects on a scale of one to five. As you remember, the urgency of the creation of such a centre was revealed in the first day of the training. It is necessary to note that, prior to the discussion of the results of the group work, Alexander Stadnik came to us and, with his unique temperment, joined in the work. Actually, he did not take part in the group work but acted in the role of an expert. After voting, almost everyone agree to cal the project idea The Centre for Friendship Between People. It is interesting that employees of regional administration have shown active participation in its development.

   The end went how it usually goes by the end of the training. We were praised, given warm words, and invited again to the southern, hospitable city of Astrakhan. We, in turn, thanked the participants of the training for their diligence and participation and for their goodwill to us and to each other. We, of course, promised to return again to Astrakhan and have asked representatives of national associations and administration to continue to enact the design ideas formulated during the training. They promised to continue the work. But we shall not wait for 2009. We shall try to return to this region again and to ensure that everything that depends on us is accomplished and that the design ideas developed in May 2004 were put into practice. And again we hope for warm reception.


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