Training in Volgograd:
“There is a problem, but there is also a desire to solve it”
Our training in Volgograd was financed by the Mott Fund, a private American organization. Originally this training was to be devoted to the interaction of ethnic associations and local authorities for the defense of ethnic minorities. However, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation received an official request from the administration in Volgograd to devote the training to the interaction of local ethnic associations, organs of authority, and law-enforcement agencies. The Mott Fund agreed to such a change. Furthermore, employees from the Committee for Matters of Ethnicity and the Treasurer of the regional Volgograd administration dealt with the problems of finding a suitable location for the training and ensuring the security of all the participants. The reason for changing the theme of the training was the region’s complex interethnic environment. Of course, there aren’t as many migrants in Volgograd as there are in the Krasnodar region or in Moscow, but the Volgograd region is significantly poorer than those other regions. The region’s factories and plants, build during the Soviet Union, are now either closed or operating at half their former capacity. And prices - prices for cell phones, for Mercedes cars, for Elektropluks washing machines are the same as in the rest of the world, but prices for gas and electricity are the same as in the rest of Russia. As a result, a large number of young people either wander around without jobs or work for pennies. They, of course, do not much like this kind of life. Some drink, some “mess around” with drugs, and others look for enemies upon whom they can vent all their dissatisfaction and anger. Ieal targets for this are immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Or rather, less immigrants than emigrants from other regions in which they beat you not on your passport, but about the face. Public opinion in the region, as it is easy to guess, is extremely negative towards immigrants and also toward ethnic minorities representing the aforementioned regions. Racist doctrine is periodically published in the local press. The Committee for Matters of Ethnic Minorities fights against such publications as much as it is able. But, nevertheless, after such intensive “indoctrination” from the direction of public opinion, the police do not feel any special tenderness toward ethnic minorities. And besides that, concealing their sin, there are many dishonest servants of justice who like to collect bribes from this category of citizens. And so the relationship of law-enforcement agencies and ethnic minorities was and remains an issue of highest importance in the region.
A story told by Nadezhda Osipova, a representative of the Samarra region, at the conference “Strategies for the Development of Ethnic Associations in Russia,” conducted by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation in the beginning of this year, played a large role in choosing the theme of the training. Right after she told it, Alexei Suslov, deputy head of the Committee for Matters of Ethnicity and a participant at that conference, decided to organize the very same training in his own region.
The complexity of the training in the Volgograd region lies in the fact that in Moscow, Samarra, Krasnodar, and Yekaterinburg, the police officers did not ask for the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In Volgograd the local administration had to solve this problem. And let us say right away - it managed this task superbly. As a result, besides representatives of the administration, employees of the Main Administration of Internal affairs, the Justice Department, passport and visa services, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, and the Federal Security Service took part in the training. Therefore the level of participation of representatives from law-enforcement services was wholly satisfactory for the discussion of existing problems. Besides our old friends from the Committee for Matters of Ethnicity, Alexei Suslov and Oleg Borodina, Tatiana Krasil’nikova, the head of the Department of Public Relations Apparatus of the Main Administration of the Volgograd region took part in the training. Tatiana turned out to be a wonderful woman with a great sense of humor. It was very easy to work with her: she took part in the training more actively than anyone, and conducted herself so calmly and naturally that we occasionally forgot that we were dealing with a high-ranking official representing the local government.
The training began at 10 AM on the 15th of June, in the hotel Akhtuba, located an hour’s ride away from Volgograd. As opposed to in Moscow, real warm weather prevailed there. The hotel was comfortable and beautiful, and the meeting hall was excellent. For the first half of the day the participants were divided into two groups. In the meeting hall were gathered the leaders of ethnic associations from the Volgograd region, and in the billiards hall were gathered the representatives of law enforcement agencies and the authorities. In the first group (which was working in the meeting hall under the leadership of Victoria Shukhat from the Center for Interethnic Cooperation) the leaders of ethnic associations determined the problems that members of their communities face in relations with the police. In the second group, the representatives of law-enforcement agencies and the authorities identified problems that arise in connection with ethnic minorities. Ashot Airapetian, the director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, was the trainer for the second group. The training participants expressed in turn their point of view on the problem being discussed, and the trainers recorded them. After all the possible variants were written down, the participants were asked to choose three points that they considered most important. In the final list were the points that received the most votes.
Especially interesting was the list of Basic Problems created by the law enforcement agency representatives. This is how it looked:
Basic problems in the eyes of employees of law-enforcement agencies 1. The lack of a concept of state ethno-cultural policy.
2. A low level of economic development.
3. The lack of development of the institution of a civil society.
As is easy to see, the problems included in this list in no way depend on ethnic minorities. Consequently, the reason for interethnic tension is not the “improper” behavior of members of ethnic minority groups, but problems with our state and our society. If only someone would report this result to the highest leadership of the country…
By the same system the training participants came up with a “Portrait of a Policeman” and a “Portrait of a Representative of an Ethnic Minority.”
The results looked like this:
Portrait of a Representative of an Ethnic Minority in the eyes of law-enforcement agencies 1. Corporative solidarity, hierarchy.
2. A clearly expressed desire for their own accomplishments, to the detriment of the local population.
Portrait of a representative of a law-enforcement agency in the eyes of representatives of law-enforcement agencies 1. Is able to make decisions and to take responsibility for his/herself.
2. Dissatisfaction with the social situation, with the law.
Portrait of a representative of an ethnic minority in the eyes of leaders of ethnic association 1. Experiences discrimination.
2. Always preoccupied with various problems.
3. Has a duty, a sense of responsibility to his or her co-ethnics.
4. Upholds peace and neighborly relations.
Portrait of a representative of a law-enforcement agency in the eyes of leaders of ethnic associations 1. Will solve all problems for money.
2. Has connections with criminals.
3. Has no interest in, is indifferent towards the problems of citizens.
4. No social skills or cultured behavior.
5. Can be nice and ready to cooperate if they need something from us.
By the request of the participants, the first day’s lunch break was extended to an hour on the condition that the evening’s session would be extended by just as much. A few participants went swimming after lunch, the river was a hundred meters away from our rest house, others played volleyball with graduates from a local school that was vacationing there. Our team turned out to be interethnic in many ways. Where could even on one team play an Afhgan (Bakhavi), an American (Helen - a volunteer at the Center) and employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Security Service? Nevertheless, we played better and won honorably.
After lunch the two groups were brought together. Victoria divided them into pairs, and gave them the assignment to take three minutes and find out more about their partners. Then the presentations of the pairs began. This procedure was noteworthy because Victoria specially chose the pairs so that they would have representatives from different groups, and, where possible, different genders. The fact that the portraits of representatives from both groups as a rule came directly from stereotypes that exist in society was intriguing. And here, during first-hand experience, and not somewhere on the street or in an office, in a place of recreation, it becomes clear that this here policeman or community leader is a nice and interesting person, who, in short, does not resemble the portrait at all. We then examined the results that were received earlier when the work was divided into two groups. At first the training participants saw the list of basic problems that was created separately by the leaders of ethnic associations and by the representatives of law-enforcement agencies and the authorities. Then the “realisticness” of the Portrait of a Policeman was rated on a 5-point system by the representatives of law-enforcement agencies and the authorities. As in other cities in which the Center for Interethnic Cooperation has conducted seminars with employees of law-enforcement agencies, the average score was a little higher than 3. We received about the same result when the leaders of ethnic associations rated the Portrait of a Representative of an Ethnic Minority. After we got the scores, Ashot Airapetian gave his already traditional speech. He talked about the fact that these and other results received in different regions of Russia show that, in reality, conflict between these two groups of the population does not exist. However, there do exist stereotypes and the pressure of public opinion. Consequently, personal contact between ethnic associations and law-enforcement agencies can solve many problems in the sphere of interethnic relations. It is a result that calls for serious reflection.
But, we wondered, is there anything that unites these two groups of the population? And so the next task for the training participants was formed. To answer this question, the participants were divided into three groups.
The results looked like this:
What unites us, Group 1 1. A desire for interethnic peace and stable interethnic harmony in various spheres of life.
2. A desire for joint action in the sphere of migrant relations.
3. An aspiration for the economic well-being of Russia.
4. Participation in the building of a lawful state.
What unites us, Group 2 1. A mutual desire for peace and harmony.
2. A common social environment.
3. A striving for the optimal balance between rights and duties.
4. A mutual aspiration for dialogue.
5. An urge for personal safety and for the safety of our families.
What unites us, Group 3 1. A desire to bring our way of life closer to the way of life of the majority of the population.
2. A desire for a positive perception of citizens of various ethnicities and cultures.
3. A striving to secure our own welfare and the welfare of our families and fellow countrymen.
4. The principle “live yourself and don’t interfere with the lives of others.”
5. The necessity of forming one united civil society.
Analyzing the results, Ashot Airapetian pointed out the importance of the points “Participation in the building of a lawful state” and “The necessity of forming one united civil society.” “One of the constituent parts of a lawful state is civil society,” he said. “We have here three different groups of participants: leaders of ethnic associations, members of the administration, and representatives of law-enforcement agencies. Let’s find out how each group defines civil society.”
The results of working in small groups showed that the training participants conceive of civil society in the following forms.
Civil Society: The opinion of the participants 1. Exists in the context of one territorially defined state.
2. All citizens have equal rights and duties.
3. Human rights are realized and guaranteed to full capacity on the part of the state.
4. Characterized by the existence of constitutional order.
5. A balance of reciprocal rights and duties with authority structures and law-enforcement agencies on the one hand and persons and institutes of civil society on the other.
Civil Society: The opinion of the participants 1. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and equality.
2. Economic independence, prosperity.
3. Preservation of traditions and customs in multiethnic societies, harmony of the citizens.
4. Respect for and observance of the law.
5. Higher education, understanding, and responsibility.
7. “If you want to be free, be a slave to the law!”
Civil Society is: 1. A free society of free citizens (freedom as a deliberate choice of responsibility).
2. A system of non-state institutions (social organizations, political parties, trade unions, religious organizations, ethnic-cultural autonomies, etc.).
3. The presence of a firm, stable social strata of society, as a guarantor of economic development, ethno-cultural diversity, an enlightened civilized society.
4. The presence of a legal system (a stable system of inter-influence and interaction with the authorities).
When determining the definition of civil society, the representatives of the three groups used different words to describe it, but nevertheless their points of view were similar enough that to figure out which group wrote this or the other definition would not be an easy task. These circumstances again show the similarities of the positions of these groups of the population that, at first glance, are very different in terms of social status and mentality. Therefore, the existing problems between ethnic minorities and law-enforcement agencies does not have a principal character, that is, skillful interaction between them can be very useful.
It’s not hard to guess that with every hour the participants grew closer and closer to one another. This was enabled by interactive games, which, as always, were led splendidly by Victoria. And when it became obvious that the training participants had already found a common language, they were given the assignment to work out concrete ideas for the cooperation of ethnic associations and law-enforcement agencies.
The basic ideas for such cooperation looked like this:
Basic project ideas 1. The introduction into the structure of social organizations the position of coordinator of interaction with law-enforcement agencies.
2. The exchange of information with migration services on problems of calculation, registration, and emerging problems.
3. The creation of a system of consultation points on the basis of law-enforcement agencies, and in the same way, of regional and city telephone hotlines on matters of discrimination.
4. The development and signing of an agreement about cooperation between NGO’s and the Main Administration of Internal Affairs.
And with this the training ended. We returned to the city by bus. The training participants - residents of Volgograd - on the approach of the bus to the center of the city, got off wherever was most convenient for them, accompanied by applause. We - representatives of the local administration and law-enforcement agencies, leaders of ethnic associations, and employees of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, parted as friends.
We hope that the members of the administration and law-enforcement agencies will report on the training and its results to their leadership, and that something from the project ideas developed will be successfully realized in practice.
We had several friends in Volgograd earlier, and now they have become many. We showed the local ethnic associations and law-enforcement agencies that they can successfully interact in a way beneficial to both.
This was good work. But we cannot, sitting in Moscow, change the basic shape of the interethnic environment in the Volgograd region, and the Mott Fund cannot fund a program created by the Civil society in this region. In order to change negative public opinion toward ethnic minorities in the Volgograd region, very serious work by both the regional administration and ethnic associations is necessary. We can and will help them, but we hope that our efforts will not have been in vain.