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Training Seminar in Novosibirsk
Siberia - A tolerance zone in Russia


The training seminar in Novosibirsk was devoted to the problem of interaction between ethnic associations and authorities. An analogous seminar was held in Rostov on Don two weeks before (see http://79.174.72.86/~intereth/EngNews/161104_19.html), only this time we invited representatives of the Northeastern regions of Russia. The Center for Interethnic Cooperation was assisted with the training by Marina Dobrovolskaya, Chief expert from the Novosibirsk City Administration, and Iosif Saatashvili, leader of the local Georgian community. Soso, as friends call him, is a pleasant young man. He found an appropriate hostel for us, helped with meeting the guests from Irkutsk, whose plane arrived behind schedule, and after the training, he put his office to our disposal so that we could prepare our next seminar in Nizhniy Novgorod. In other words, we have a good friend in far-away Novosibirsk. Its very nice to be welcomed like an old friend in a city you have never been to before. We have worked under diverse conditions, but of course, its much easier if you know from the very beginning that people are waiting for you and that your work is needed. There is no need to keep it a secret: Neither in Pyatigorsk, nor in Kaliningrad were we welcomed like that. In all actually, we have finally received the needed results in Pyatigorsk and Kaliningrad, but it was a difficult work; such results required strong nerves and a large amount of effort. The situation in Novosibirsk was different. Marina Dobrovolskaya, from the Novosibirsk City Administration, is a pleasant and very helpful young woman; the leaders of ethnic associations have much respect for her. The fact that she agreed with them about that the seminar was necessary played a significant role in the esteem they hold for her. In addition, about one-third of the participants, as Marina and Soso, took part in former trainings of the CIC. But as we found out during the training, the main reason for our success is that Siberia is a tolerance zone. Because of this, it was a pleasure to work there.

In the beginning of the seminar we divided the participants into pairs; after five minutes each pair introduced each other to the audience. As always, this procedure immediately established informal relations among the participants and helped to unwind some of the tension that usually exists during the first hours of a seminar. Next, Ashot Airapetian, director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, asked the participants to respond to the question Do the ethnic politics in Russia respond to the problems that currently exist in this area?

A number of the participants answered that there are no governmental policies in the field of interethnic relations on the federal level. Another part of the group answered that if such governmental policies do exist, that they are weak and not fixed. Next, Ashot asked the participants to give their opinion to the question What does this absence of federal policies in the field of interethnic relations lead to?

After Victoria Shukhat, the CICs trainer, wrote down all statements, she asked the participants to choose from the list those four points, which are most important in their opinion. The results are as follows:

The main consequences of the absence of federal policies on the ethnic issue in Russia:

  1. Infringement of individual rights and freedom
  2. Decrease of Russias international authority in the world
  3. Ineffective development of the countrys economy; unification of a row of the countrys regions (considered to be negative)
  4. Washing out of ethnicities due to the forming Russian nation, such as the former Soviet nation used to be
  5. Increase of chauvinism and discrimination of minority groups
  6. Armed conflicts
  7. Loss of the language, ethnicity/ethnic identity and culture of single ethnicities

If these results are compared to the results we received in Rostov on Don, it becomes obvious that they almost completely overlap. Considering that, altogether, leaders of ethnic communities and representatives of the authorities from 14 Russian cities took part in the inquiry, it turns out that these results well enough describe the overall situation in the entire country. We forwarded these results to the Government of the country; whether they get any attention or if they will just land in the paper tray, only time will tell.

It is necessary to emphasize that, as before, one of our tasks was to become acquainted with people from different cities working the same sphere and to give them the possibility to exchange information. In the report of the training seminar in Rostov on Don we very briefly described the achievements and problems in the Russian regions from which our participants have arrived. It is only in these cities and regions that we have already worked; about this northeastern part of Russia we know very little and what we heard was a complete surprise for us. Thats why we decided to write more about the level of interaction between bodies of authorities and ethnic associations in these regions. It is necessary to mention, that we suggested to the participants that a certain scheme be used for the information report so that afterwards it would be easier to compare the results.

The following scheme was organized.

Points for the analysis of regional experiences of interaction between authorities and ethnic associations:

  1. Legislative acts
  2. Structure of authorities working with ethnic associations
  3. Financing of programs of ethnic associations
  4. Basic successes
  5. Problems
  6. Perspectives

Furthermore, Ashot asked the lecturers to leave out accounts of concerts, creative evenings and ethnic holydays, such as Sabantuya. These events are extremely important, but unfortunately at present time, they can not define the level of protection of ethnic minorities in the given regions.

The first report was given by Marina Dobrovolskaya. Her speech described the special city program that exists in Novosibirsk for municipal support of ethnic-cultural autonomies and organizations. In 2005 the budget for this program will be increased five times that of the current year. In Novosibirsk there are state cultural centers used by the Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Tatar and German communities. This year the association of local ethnic communities will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The city operates the 21st television channel, on which ethnic communities broadcast in their native language. These examples are simply miracles of democracy and freedom of speech; what else can you say! For 2005 there are plans to organize an interethnic radio broadcast by means of the municipality. The city also plans to organize a childrens festival on ethnic creative work. The Novosibirsk Institute of Philosophy and Right conducted a research at schools regarding where problems in the field of tolerance are to be found. According to the results of the research, special trainings for teachers working with non-Russian children will be conducted.

Andrei Makarov, consultant at the Department of Information Politics and Work with the Public of the Tomsk Region Administration, reported that the Administration has a Department for the Work with Public Organizations. In the Tomsk Region there are the programs Working with Small Nations and School of Interethnic Harmony. In 2004 the region expended 1,100,000 rubles on interethnic programs; and 2 million rubles are planned for 2005. The region finances the interethnic radio programs Hello, Neighbors and Handshake. There is a coordination council of leaders of ethnic associations which automatically meets with the governor twice a year. The 1st of May was proclaimed the Day of Interethnic Harmony. In other words, Switzerland is nothing compared with the Tomsk Region. There is still more to add! In the Tomsk region we found that the local administration had organized what we achieved in other regions only after great efforts: direct contacts of the leaders of ethnic communities with the Internal Affairs Administrations staff. An Encyclopedia of the peoples of the Tomsk region was created and maintained; the administration even paid for the Internet space for ethnic communities. The people must know their hero: Victor Kress, the Governor of the Tomsk Region.

Unfortunately, the Omsk Region was represented only by leaders of ethnic communities. In the region there are many Germans; in the districts there are 18 German culture centers functioning. There are also Armenian, Tatar, Ukrainian, Jewish and other centers, altogether 12 ethnic centers, founded on the initiative of Aleksey Kazannik, who is well known in Russia as the countrys former public prosecutor. The local administration has provided staff positions for members of these centers. A considerable portion of the regions governmental staff is from ethnic minorities, and the local police has taken the initiative to organize meetings with leaders of ethnic communities.

The Krasnoyarsk Territory is unique because of the fact that its chief expert on the work with ethnic communities is a Chechen! Ramzan Tsokaev is a real discovery for us. You dont often meet a person who becomes a friend from the moment you meet him the first time. After the first day we regarded Ramzan as a member of our team. Sometimes we werent even able to ask him a certain request, as he had already started to put it into action. According to Ramzan, the notion of regional ethnic politics has existed in the Krasnoyarsk Territory since 1999. Its hard to imagine, but in the territory the Small Nations are increasing in number. In the administration there is the Committee on the Issues of Ethnic Groups, Religions and Public Organizations, which has the status of a legal entity. The territory, with a population of 3 million people, expends 8 million rubles on interethnic programs. In Krasnoyarsk there is an Interethnic Culture Center, where are no offices, but a sitting room, a conference hall and Internet access. In the territory there are 17 schools of general education with an ethno-cultural component. Once every three months a Citizens Assembly takes place, during which the Mayor meets with leaders of ethnic communities. A council of ethnic youth organizations will soon be formed. In the Department of Journalism at Krasnoyarsk University special courses on the work with ethnic communities are conducted on the initiative of the local administration. A Regional Muslim Council was formed in Governor Alexande Lebeds time. There are regular meetings of leaders of ethnic associations with representatives of the Internal Affairs Department and the Migration Service. Does it astonish anyone that there is no skinhead activity in the Krasnoyarsk Territory?

The Irkutsk Region was represented by two marvelous women, Svetlana Plokhotnikova from the Irkutsk Region Government and Svetlana Lazareva from the City Administration. According to a Governors decree in the Irkutsk Region, there is a program for The regulation of the economically superfluous part of the population. This is no joke and no typing error, the program is called exactly that. Now the concept of regional migrant politics has been created. Since 1993 the regions budget has included a special clause, entitled National Politics. According to this clause, 2 million Russian Rubles will be allocated to 2.5 million inhabitants. In the city and surrounding region, traditional conferences on interethnic relations are held. The authorities carry out a competition for grants among projects of benefit to society; one special section of this competition is Interethnic Relations. Both public organizations and private persons can win grants from this competition. Inside the city administration of Irkutsk there is a Coordination Council of leaders of ethnic communities. On the web page of the city administration one can find information as to the undertakings of ethnic associations. The city administration also distributes material on interethnic relations to the local Mass Media.

As a next step we asked the participants about problems they find in their own regions. Their answers were: passivity of ethnic leaders, and problems receiving registration and work permits. Both the representatives of authorities and the leaders of ethnic associations said that there are no interethnic conflicts in their regions. They asked the Center for Interethnic Cooperation to carry out more trainings, which they would partly finance. An interesting picture developed: In the Siberian regions where a significantly smaller amount of immigrants live, local authorities spend significantly more money on the support of interethnic harmony, and, on their own responsibility, carry out interesting projects without the support of the federal government. In the Southern and Central regions of Russia the situation is totally different. Indeed, Russia is a country of paradox.

To complete the picture, Ashot Airapetian and other participants talked about the experiences of other regions. The trainings of ethnic associations and police staff members in Yekaterinburg and Anapa, as well as the Migration Center in Yekaterinburg and other topics, evoked a great interest from the participants.

Victoria from time to time conducted interactive games so that the training participants did not fall asleep during the presentations (this concerns, most of all, the leaders of ethnic associations). One of these games was the following: the participants were divided into two groups, the representatives of authorities and the leaders of ethnic communities. Victoria then appointed characteristics, by which the players were to rearrange themselves. For example, they were to categorize themselves by the first letter of their first name, or by the distance of their home from where the training took place. The winner was to be the group which fulfilled the task the in the shortest amount of time. The game was played in 9 rounds. Ashot, as an experienced conjurer, declared that he knew the result beforehand. And in fact, as in Rostov, the administration staff members scored a victory. Actually, in Novosibirsk the victory was not so overwhelming. However, the experiment was not really precise. The representatives of authorities were less in number, and Victoria added to them two members from the group of ethnic leaders who had worked in the administration before. At that, most of the leaders of ethnic associations, as in Rostov, came from the city where the training took place and therefore knew each for a longer time. Most of the representatives of authorities met each other the first time during the seminar thanks to the CIC project. This means that, as they knew each other the least, they were less successful at the game. The representatives of authorities were good professionals and team workers. These skills turned out to be more important than years of acquaintanceship and participation in different cultural activities.

The Center for Interethnic Cooperation has, for 7 years now, carried out training with leaders of ethnic associations to train them in team working. Our efforts have shown that it is very difficult for them to protect the rights of their compatriots without these skills. Its not accidental that in Yekaterinburg and Samara, where we have carried out trainings for more than a year, a team of leaders of ethnic communities has formed and is playing a more and more important role in the interethnic situation in the regions. We have the slight hope that our Russian speaking representatives of international foundations who are reading this material will understand: To receive a qualified result in the field of interethnic relations, many years of steady work are still necessary, and this work must be done in as many regions of the country as possible. And, of course, in new regions we have to start from nothing and repeat what we have done several years ago in Yekaterinburg, Perm and Samara. Its true, there is little that is exotic in these projects, and novelty will be relative. But ladies and gentlemen, so far, no one has done this work! Even now few groups approach this work. Has anyone counted how many human rights groups there are in Russia? Not at all! Thats why it is interesting, that concerning credit banks, Russia has more than any other country in the world. But its paradox: Our banks earn their money on anything but services that could be of use to our citizens. Has anyone counted the amount of money that has been used to support human rights organizations? Has anyone investigated how many of our citizens know about their rights and how they can actually be protected? Ashot asked the seminar participants to raise their hand if they were aware of the Framework Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. Just a few people raised their hands. He went on to ask who had read the Conventions text. Only Elena Turetskaya, leader of the Novosibirsk Jewish Community, raised her hand. We distributed the text of the Framework Convention among the training participants and asked them to study it carefully. We were still interested in the significance of protecting human rights among Siberians. Does Russia really travel in a different path of development, where the individual and his rights have little importance?

To find the answer to this question, Ashot drew on the board the Stadnik triangle. Alexandr Stadnik, Chief of the Department for Work with Ethnic Organizations of the Astrakhan Region Administration, conceived this task and imparted his wisdom to us. On the tips of the triangle are written the words citizen, individual, ethnicity. The participants of the seminar were asked which of these three concepts they consider themselves most aware of. Everyone was asked to name only one variant. Again, the tip individual was chosen most of all. Admittedly, in Rostov, Astrakhan and Perm the majority for individual was much larger. Thus, in the opinion of the seminar participants we are first of all human beings, so that we above all have to protect our lives as individuals. We often do not realize the importance of this fact because we have little trust that it is possible to achieve any results. But human beings, as in the task of learning to swim, have little luck achieving their tasks alone. The citizens of a country have to be taught to protect their rights, as they are taught mathematics, geography and Russian. One has to agree, that only a few persons are able to do it all on their own. One cannot doubt that to criticize the government, which many of our human rights organizations love to do so much, is necessary to form a civil society. As long as the citizens have no knowledge as to how to make use of their rights and how to protect them effectively, there will hardly be any fundamental changes in Russia. The authorities, even if they really want to, are not able to teach the population how to make use of their rights. The activity of states departments is not an effective mechanism for such work. For example, they are not able to manage the structures of small business. In this field, public organizations working with the population would ensure much more positive results. Finally, worldwide experience shows that the less citizens are able to protect themselves, the more the government can enlarge its power, and this is no exception in Russia. On the other hand, as our trainings have shown, the representatives of authorities working in the field of interethnic relations have a deeper and more complete understanding of the problem and are willing to cooperate, not only by words but by works, with all organizations which are working to solve problems in this field. In modern Russia, only the sections of society that are able effectively lobby on behalf of their interests are able to receive results.

Representatives from authorities working with ethnic communities will not lobby for the interests of these communities. We act as the missing link between ethnic communities and authorities. We teach the leaders of ethnic communities the skills of team work and lobbying. Thats why both authorities and ethnic communities in all regions behave towards us with great sympathy. It is a pity that this sympathy does not show any effect on our financial index, and just as six years ago, we spend very much time and nervous energy on the search for financial means by which to continue our work. But as the proverb says: to each his own.

In the evening of the first day the participants of the training celebrated the birthday of Raimund Elfering, volunteer at the Center for Interethnic Cooperation. Raimund has worked for more than two months at our organization. He is from Germany and he speaks Russian very well. From the first day that a volunteer appeared at our organization we were very lucky. They work very well and surprisingly quickly find different ways to communicate with us. We found out that these qualities are standard for young people with high education from Germany, USA, Italy, Austria and Hungary. Raimund is no exception. The participants of the training seminar in Novosibirsk convinced themselves that he is simply marvelous.

At the end of the seminar the participants worked out recommendations for the federal government. In the end they decided upon the following:

Recommendations

  1. Establishing a working group for developing concepts of ethnic policies. Working out a package of documents with changes and additions, taking into account the multiethnic structure of Russia (Law for education, culture, Mass Media, migration politics and residence of foreign citizens). Strengthening the legal responsibility of law enforcement agencies and the Office of Public Prosecutor for responding to ethnic dissention and extremism.
  2. Establishing of a Ministry for Ethnic Politics and setting up corresponding structures in the regions. Establishing a Chamber for Ethnicities in the State Duma.
  3. Budget target financing. Financing of realizable programs, which run through experts assessment. In the grant competitions there must be special nominations provided for programs of ethnic organizations.
  4. Creating television and radio programs on the federal level.
  5. Training leaders of ethnic associations (seminars, conferences and round table discussions)
  6. Creating conditions for the continuity of youth ethnic cultural traditions. Creating school programs which introduce lessons on tolerance.

Its not difficult to see that these results almost entirely repeat the results of the seminar in Rostov. Thus, these recommendations are not of regional but of national importance. Now that we distinguish some clear answers, we only have to put them into practice. Its a shame that we, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, will not achieve this task without the help of many others.


Training in Novosibirsk - A German view


by Raimund Elfering

We left Moscow Yaroslavsky station late in the evening of Friday, October 20th. It was my birthday, and my colleague Lena promised me to extend my birthday party for some days. She soon made evident that she didnt like the train, the wagon, the meals and everything, and more than once complained to the conductor about the lack of comfort. She added that she was traveling with a capricious European and this seemed to work: we got some extras. I didnt strive to dismantle this prejudice, although it contradicts to the principles of interethnic tolerance. I really liked the travel; there was not much one could do, but this was very relaxing: read a book, sleep, eat and drink, and then again sleep. Lena felicitously imitated the toad from a famous Russian animated film: Well, Ive eaten, so now I can sleep well, Ive slept, so now I can eat Looking out of the window was actually more interesting than many of the Russian TV programs (and the German ones, too). We admired the steadily changing landscape: firs and birches, then birches and firs, and again firs and birches, sometimes even hills or a wide field. And in the middle of nowhere suddenly appears a small wooden hut or even a village, and we asked ourselves, what the people there could live from and what they are doing allover the year.

First we had a coupe for the two of us. In Balezino an Azerbaijani from Novosibirsk completed our interethnic team. Balezino? Never heard about this place before. The train stopped in a lot of small towns and sometimes even at places, where it wasnt supposed to. In bigger cities like Kirov, Tyumen and Omsk we had time to have a walk at the station and to replenish our hoards with beer and chips. We finally arrived at Novosibirsk Central station early on Monday morning and created a base camp at Hotel Novosibirsk right opposite to the station, where our director Ashot and trainer Victoria stayed already for two days. We had time for sightseeing until the evening and were joined by Ramzan and Yana, the two training participants from Krasnoyarsk who also arrived in the morning. A police officer confirmed to us that there is nothing special to see in Novosibirsk, but we had an exciting day though. The Central station with its gleaming marble floor is quite a good visiting card, compared to the gray and dirty streets and the Soviet patina, which lies all over the city. The central streets are named Krasny Prospekt and Lenin Square; on the latter Vladimir Ilyich and some Comrades are still present as oversized statues. To be fair, in summer the city might be really nice, and that day at least some snowflakes trickling down to the floor gave it a nice atmosphere. And one of the most important things that create the flair of a city are its inhabitants. Life goes on a bit slowly and people seem to be much more relaxed than in the always-hectic capital. When we were just walking along the streets, we still went twice as fast as people hurrying up for work. People take the time to explain us the way. No hustle on the streets and in the metro. The most amazing thing: In each metro wagon there are some TVs to entertain the passengers, or better to show commercials in order to solicit customs. Actually, we found two real sights to see: a church that is almost as old as the city itself (110 years!), and a chapel that marks the centre of the old Tsarist Empire (not of todays Russia, as our partners from Krasnoyarsk confirmed to us!). The most impressing was the broad majestic river Ob, which divides Novosibirsk into two parts not far from the city center. In the evening we met the other seminar participants and we altogether went to Sosnovki, a holiday home (in Russian sanatorij) in the outskirts of the city. I shared a room with Modaris, a representative of the Novosibirsk Tatar community. He is a Tatar and German teacher and actually speaks German much better than most of the Russian Germans here. We all had a chance to get familiar with each other when we gathered in a hotel room with about 15 people, chatting and having a drink. That immediately created an informal atmosphere, which made me looking forward to the next days. The seminar itself started on Tuesday at 9 a.m. My only job was to document the course of the seminar with a digital camera. So I could just watch and listen how the seminar was going on and get a real life impression of what I so far only knew from the reports I translate in my job. And even though I had some difficulties to follow all the reports and discussions over such a long time, I didnt get bored. Though in my imagination the training would have turned out a bit different: Ethnic leaders on the one side and some severe officials in uniform on the other side who have to be brought together in the course of the training. Actually I was very surprised to meet such people as Ramzan, a Chechen working as an expert for the Krasnoyarsk Region administration. And the other official representatives were pleasant and candid people as well. Probably Ashot was right when he named Siberia a tolerance zone. A climax was the dinner on the first day. Ashot had promised a week before that we would celebrate my birthday in Novosibirsk (the fifth day) and announced it several times. So, during dinner, every toast was spoken on my birthday, each in the native language of the speaker first (that was Armenian, Georgian, Chechen,

Russian, German, Tatar, Byelorussian, and Bashkirian), and then in Russian. This procedure followed a certain tradition. First the men spoke their toasts, then the women, and at last I, as the host of this evening. Further we sang some songs accompanied by guitar, danced to Byelorussian Folk music and Russian Pop. The night continued traditionally po-russki, in the Sauna (although it was a Finnish one).

Nevertheless, the next day almost everyone was in the conference room in time and the seminar program could be finished as planned. The farewell was warm. I got a lot of invitations to visit various cities of Siberia, and some interesting job offers (as German onsul in Tomsk), too. We returned to the city center and again created a base-camp at hotel Novosibirsk, since some of us had to wait for their train or flight back home for some hours. It is amazing how quickly in Russia a hotel room can turn into a cozy dining room including a bountiful table. Unfortunately, Lena and I had to leave this place earlier and hurry for our train back to Moscow. What can one say about a two-day trip back? Again we ate and slept and looked out of the window at firs and birches and birches and firs. Only this time everything was already covered with snow. And the train seemed to have more comfort than the first one. For example, we could take a video player and watch old Soviet comedies. Lena was asked if its not strenuous to travel with a capricious foreigner. Amazing, how quickly news can spread in Siberia! Back in Moscow, when cleaving a way through the crowded metro stations with all the luggage, I immediately missed the relaxed way of life in Siberia.

1993-2003
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