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Irkutsk Tales


Its wonderful when dreams come true. It has been my dream for a long time to visit Lake Baikal. I wanted to find out for myself that the stories about its magical allure are true. Now I can confirm, that the greatness of Lake Baikal, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the awe inspiring power of the river Angara, the gentle charm of Irkutsk itself, the memorable taste of salted fish, and the caprices of continental weather, are things that should be experienced not only by every Russian but even by every inhabitant on earth. There is nowhere else like it on earth.

We went to Irkutsk on business. The city became the 18th region of Russia, where the Center for Interethnic Cooperation has held seminars and trainings. This was only possible due to the professionalism and the laudable organizational skills of Svetlana Vasilevna Plakhotnikova, the head of the Department of Ethnic and Interconfessional affairs of the Committee on Society and Ethnic Relations of the Irkutsk regional administration, and also thanks to Sergei Aleksandrovich Koshenkov, the head of the aforementioned committee.

Its wonderful when dreams come true. It has been my dream for a long time to visit Lake Baikal. I wanted to find out for myself that the stories about its magical allure are true. Now I can confirm, that the greatness of Lake Baikal, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the awe inspiring power of the river Angara, the gentle charm of Irkutsk itself, the memorable taste of salted fish, and the caprices of continental weather, are things that should be experienced not only by every Russian but even by every inhabitant on earth. There is nowhere else like it on earth.

We went to Irkutsk on business. The city became the 18th region of Russia, where the Center for Interethnic Cooperation has held seminars and trainings. This was only possible due to the professionalism and the laudable organizational skills of Svetlana Vasilevna Plakhotnikova, the head of the Department of Ethnic and Interconfessional affairs of the Committee on Society and Ethnic Relations of the Irkutsk regional administration, and also thanks to Sergei Aleksandrovich Koshenkov, the head of the aforementioned committee.

Irkutsk became the second city after Krasnoyarsk, where our first seminar was held with the organizational and financial support of the regional administration. To Svetlana it was enough to visit our seminars twice to realize the value of our work and necessity of its realization for the relatively quiet Siberian region. It is surprising, that there are cities where we have already been holding seminars for some time, but people from the administration in these cities present themselves as guests of honor at our seminars and workshops. Thus, ethnic relations are far from the ideal. There are also cities where the local administration is seriously concerned with the ethnic situation in Russia and is keen to organize preventative measures. Strategies vary greatly

I would like to mention especially the surprisingly interesting excursion around Irkutsk, around the ethnographic museum, and along the shore of Lake Baikal and its traditional life museum, which was organized by Svetlana Vasileevna and Sergey Aleksandrovich. I have heard a lot about legendary Siberian hospitality, but it was unexpected and pleasant to experience it.

The seminar was planned on the theme Interaction of leaders of ethnic NGOs, government employees and law enforcement bodies

An array of ethnic groups was represented. At the seminar gathered about 20 leaders of ethnic organizations. There were representatives of the Byelorussian, Polish, Ukrainian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Tadjik, Dagestani, Kirghiz, and Afghani diasporas. The leaders were extremely active and interested in the results of the seminar.

Municipal and regional government employees were also well represented and worked enthusiastically and contributed well to the work of the seminar.

Law enforcement organs had also expressed an interest in cooperation, but only representatives of the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs and transport police attended. They were the crowning glory of the seminar and were proof of the fact that they are many responsible people working for law enforcement bodies, who recognize the need to form business and personal contacts with people from other cultures. Policemen taking part in the seminar were sure that their colleges, who were unfortunately unable to attend, but having heard about the interesting results of this seminar, will certainly come to the next seminar that we hold. We will hope that they do.

Representatives of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Ashot Ayrapetyan and Victoria Shukhat used methodology during seminars and workshops, which have already been used successfully at previous seminars and workshops in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Volgograd and Krasnoyarsk.

Consequently, I will not describe in detail our methodology. I will only present the results of our workshop in Irkutsk. According to leaders of ethnic organizations the main problems in the Irkutsk region as follows:

  1. There is no contact with upper levels of the administration (the mayor and governor)
  2. There is no place to build a resource center or have an office
  3. There is poor interaction with the Culture Committee
  4. Problems with low level civil servants and the police

Participants composed typical portraits of each other.

The portrait of the typical policeman

  1. Arrogant
  2. Poorly educated
  3. Nationalist/chauvinist
  4. Uncultured
  5. Power complex
  6. Bribe taker
  7. Corruptibility
  8. There are good people
  9. negligence
  10. Poor knowledge of the law
  11. Misuse of their official position

The portrait of a typical civil servant

  1. Often Russian Chauvinist (thinks Russia is for the Russians)
  2. Bureaucrat, obsessed with red tape
  3. Bribe taker
  4. Supported by the government
  5. Soviet mindset not modern
  6. Arrogant
  7. Indifferent
  8. Impunity
  9. Selectivity
  10. Corrupt

The portrait of a typical ethnic minority leader

  1. Clan like mentality
  2. Lack of respect for the law
  3. Non-Slavic appearance

However, in spite of these existing stereotypes thought up by the workshop participants, there are things that unite all three groups:

Group 1

  1. Place of residence - Irkutsk
  2. Common problems - Every day, Cultural, Agricultural and Legal
  3. The destruction of laws - lack of knowledge of the law
  4. Low social level and status
  5. Care and worry about ones generation
  6. A single state language - Russian
  7. The current seminar
  8. The lack of clearly formulated national politics
  9. The lack of an ideology to deal with migration issues

Group 2

  1. Russia
  2. The land where they live
  3. State language - Russian
  4. Ignorance of laws
  5. Socially vulnerable group
  6. Unsureness of the future
  7. Few legal rights
  8. The low level of intercultural communication
  9. Care for their children

Group 3

  1. Country and city
  2. Russian language
  3. State (laws)
  4. Family values and marriages
  5. Education
  6. Currency
  7. Ecological problems
  8. Sport

Similarly, to our previous seminars and workshops, we spoke about mechanisms of cooperation between ethnic organizations, local government and law enforcement organs.

There were many interactive games in which with great pleasure have taken part both the national leaders and representatives of the administration as well as policemen.

At the end of the seminar participants were divided into three groups: Leaders of ethnic organizations, representatives of the administration and policemen. Moreover, into the last group were also placed representatives of ethnic organizations who had previously worked in the police. Siberia is after all, Siberia. In Irkutsk region in the police work and have worked a large number of non Russians.

These are the recommendations for effective cooperation between the administration, the police and ethnic organizations.

Group administration

  1. To meet more frequently (individually, in seminars)
    • methodical help, consultations and training of teaching written projects
    • seminar with the Ministry of Internal Affairs
  2. To form and improve at a regional level on a normative-legal basis
  3. To create a program of developing interethnic relations
  4. The creation of a public council with the participation of authorities and the National Cultural Center
  5. The creation of a public council at the Ministry of Internal Affairs with representatives of ethnic associations
  6. The creation of a resource center (internet, library)
  7. Quarterly meetings with the governor, his representatives and the mayor

Group NGO

  1. A round table (once every three months)
  2. Joint seminars and trainings (once every six months) and sport
  3. Studying the laws and legislations (instructions from migratory services)
  4. A mutual agreement with the concrete organizations
  5. Cooperation
  6. The creation of a base for accessible information (website)
  7. To initiate a creation of laws or normative acts regulating interaction
  8. The creation of an association/union from an NGO to cooperate with authorities and law enforcement bodies
  9. A general chamber to create a department for an NGO (from members of the NGO)
  10. A observer at the Board of Editors from the National Cultural Center
  11. The creation of broadcasts on the Irkutsk State Broadcasting Company

Group Police

  1. Regular joint meetings (once every month)
  2. Finance of joint trainings with the leaders of departments and managements
  3. Personal contacts (e-mail, telephone, in person) - positive communications, not only paperwork
  4. Mutual accountability (demand the friend from a friend, as in London)
  5. Coordinated work with the mass-media
  6. Training (joint trainings)
  7. Interchanging information (instructions, emergencies)
  8. Perfection on laws on registration etc. (simplification - one window)
  9. Opportunity of registration

An analysis of the results show that the majority of participants believe that from the example of the Perm region or the Samara region it follows to take the program for the successful development of international relations. National leaders confirmed their readiness to support the program by meeting with the Governor of the region if necessary. And so finished our first, but very successful training in Irkutsk. I was there all of the three day, but I will remember this incredible region for a long time - the wooden coziness of the boarding house fir tree, the friendly international supper, the romantic, wooded shore of Angar lake, the waves lapping the shore, the volleyball match, (we beat the children 4:0), the barbecue, the spontaneous organization of the seminar members, and the surprising atmosphere of solidarity and unity between people who previously had not known each other. Its true to say that this attitude towards works makes it possible for us to plan further meetings and training sessions and conferences, for I doubt that there has never been a meeting like this before anywhere.



1993-2003
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