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“In Focus: Successful Examples of Interaction Between Ethnic Associations, Law- Enforcement Bodies, Authorities and the Mass-Media”

From March 23rd until March 26th, the seminar “In Focus: Successful Examples of Interaction Between Ethnic Associations, Law-Enforcement Bodies, Authorities and the Mass Media” took place in the “Tatinets” pension near Nizhni Novgorod. The seminar was organized by the “Center for Interethnic Cooperation” and the Jewish organization “Svi Girsh” from Nizhni Novgorod. Experts from the American partner organization “CAMBA” took part in the seminar as well. The seminar was carried out in the context of the project “Introducing positive experiences from the USA in the field of interaction of ethnic minorities with governmental and non-governmental organizations,” financed by the American organization IREX. It is necessary to note that the participation of only three Americans was stipulated in the outline of the project. But it turned out that six representatives of CAMBA traveled to Russia, led by the executive director of the organization, Joanne Oplustil. The additional charges associated with the arrival of three more employees were assumed by CAMBA itself. This shows that our American partners had great interest in our project, in particular, in the idea of transfering American methods interaction between NGOs and the government to Russia. What we already have and what we need to adopt from the USA was already visible at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Our guests had to wait a whole hour before their luggage arrived. And when we left Moscow on Sunday afternoon to go to Nizhni Novgorod, we found out that, although our train was on the first track, it was necessary to go down into the underground part of the Kurskij train station and to make a big detour to get there; it was very inconvenient to carry our suitcases downstairs and upstairs again. This scene repeated itself at our arrival at the pension “Tatinets.” Opposed to all logic, the bus’ access to the entrance of the pension was closed, and we had to drag all the suitcases by ourselves for over 50 meters. Furthermore, we found out that the elevators in the pension did not work. The participants had to carry their suitcases up the stairs to the fourth floor. But, even then, our adventures were not over. It turned out that, while the key of one of our American colleagues Debbie Almontaser opened the door of her room easily from the outside, it refused to lock the door from the inside, so it was necessary to change rooms. On the next day, in her new room, Debbie was not able to open the door she had closed. The lock showed furious resistance. The tragedy was that Debbie in this moment was inside the room, and, of course, this room did not have a phone, and it took Debbie, who was very shy, some time to finally call for help. Help came, but only after 30 minutes. As a result, the director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Ashot Airepetyan, had to apologize for all inconveniences the Americans endured during their first hours in Russia at the opening of the seminar on March 23rd at 10 o’clock. Joanne Oplustil, executive director of CAMBA, replied that they had come to Russia to work and not to have a vacation. She also said that the inconveniences, which Ashot had talked about, were not important to them. Maybe the greatest conclusion drawn by the Russian participants of this seminar was that Americans, unlike us, like to pay more attention to successes and not to problems.
To ensure tangible success for the project, a press conference was organized, which took place on the eve of the seminar in the press center of the “Nizhegorodskiye Novosti” newspaper. Tatyana Igonina, the Chief Deputy for political publicity of the legislative assembly of the Nizhni Novgorod area, played an important role in the organization of the conference. The participants - the employees of CAMBA, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation and “Svi Girsh”- answered multiple questions of the journalists. Ashot Airepetyan emphasized in particular that Russian ethnic associations are very interested in experiences in the cooperation of public organizations from the USA with governmental authorities for the protection of ethnic minorities. However, this does not mean that these experiences should be exactly copied in Russia. It is necessary for the Russian public and the governmental officials to study the international experience and create their own mechanisms for cooperation, taking into account the local anomalies and traditions.
Information about the press conference and the project was delivered through the television station TV-Center and the local radio station and was published in the newspaper “Nizhegorodskiye Novosti” and was posted on the official web site of the government of the Nizhni Novgorod region, “RIA KREMLIN” and others. Joanne repeated parts of her statement from the press conference at the opening of the seminar. She talked in detail about the history of the organization and about the successes achieved by CAMBA over the last 25 years.
The achievements of CAMBA are myriad. It speaks for itself that this NGO employs 800 people. And the average budget of CAMBA amazes everybody - some ten million dollas. But, in the beginning, Joanne did not have the possibilities CAMBA has today and the situation 25 years ago, when she, Beverly (also a participant at the seminar in Nizhni Novgorod) and a few other enthusiasts started their work in New York. She presented this in “CAMBA. History. Growth and Development.” It is necessary to notice the high level of professionalism of the employees from CAMBA. They not only work in a successful organization but are brilliant presenters as well. And Mikhail Kriviniouk, our interpreter, managed to transfer not only the sense but also the intonation of the stories of the specialists from the USA. That’s why the heads of ethnic associations listened to the Americans with great anticipation, which, for them, is completely atypical. Our informational material repeatedly mentioned that the majority of the leaders of the ethnic associations manage their organizations in their free time, not as a part of their normal work, so their public work is actually a hobby. And, if the presence of these leaders of ethnic associations is suddenly demanded at their normal work, they are by no means able to stay at the seminar. It is a common occurrence for leaders of ethnic associations to confirm their participation at the seminar but later, without any warning, to be unable to attend. It is also a typical for participants of the seminar to disappear from the simar without warning, not to return. Unfortunately, some participants from Nizhni Novgorod exhibited this behavior as well. For example, the representative of the Armenian community, Arsen, declared to the organizers that he had lectures at the university and left the seminar. But another representative from Nizhni Novgorod, Firdaus Vagapova, rescheduled all her lectures and took an active role at the seminar. Once again, it is necessary to repeat, that the German, Tatarian and Jewish associations played a significant role at our seminars and trainings with pleasure and behaved considerably more disciplined than their colleagues from Armenian, Azerbaijanian, Georgian, Chechen or Tajik organizations, though the latter are exposed to discrimination much more. None of these anomolies apply to the participants coming from Samara. All participants from Samara and, in particular, Nadeshda Osipova, from the administration of the Samara region, took very active roles at the seminar. Not less active and disciplined were the participants from Perm. Unfortunately, the representative of the administration of the Perm region was not able to attend our seminar. The reason was simply because another seminar was held at the same time in Perm by the European Council concerning questions about the protection of ethnic minorities. An employee of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Irina Kropotkina, took part in the work of the seminar in Perm.
Joanne’s story about how inhabitants of New York boycotted a Korean shop showed that, in the USA, the employees of CAMBA meet the same difficulties as we do in Russia. Because of that, it was necessary for Joanne, Beverly and others to work 10-12 hours a day 25 years ago to achieve success. They not only had to overcome missunderstanding but, at times, resistance of government officials or mistrust and disorder of the leaders of ethnic organizations. The work of Katelin Masters, assistant executive director of CAMBA, was dedicated to the activities of the immigrational services in New York. Following her, it was Aileen Rigley’s turn, director for the refugee services at CAMBA. She talked about the current activities of her organization, namely of the formation of partners and coalitions for the promotion of dialogue, tolerance and acceptance of decisions
The events of September 11th significantly changed the interethnic situation in the USA. The American specialists did not hide that the terrorist actions started a wave of anit-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The presentation of Debbie Almontaser - an American of Arab origin who is a practicing Muslim - was particularly interesting. According to Muslim tradition, she wears a Muslim headdress. It was interesting that she established a connection Firdaus very quickly: they prayed together early in the morning every day. Debbie teaches at a school in New York. After the terror attacks of September 11th some parents actually started asking how they could possibly trust their children with a Muslim. Debbie is a great teacher. She loves the kids. She was very insulted that she was treated so badly, simply because she was a Muslim. But she decided to not give into the insults. At her own house, she declared an open house and invited all her neighbours to get to know her better: how she lives, where she works and what is important about her Muslim faith. Over 200 people came. The head of the local Christian community gave her his card and offered his help. Debbie was not ashamed to call and, with the help of the Christian church, the Muslim woman received patronage for her first project which was devoted to opposing the increase of antimuslim moods. Debbie’s activites drew the attention of employees of CAMBA, and she was invited to work with CAMBA as a trainer. Debbie and Jill Strauss, another trainer from CAMBA, compiled a number of useful examples of personal and professional experiences of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who were discriminated against after the events of September 11th. The American specialists avoided long theoretical arguments but rather preferred lively conversation and interesting examples from their activities. To copy all American deeds exactly is not an easy task and is not the goal of the project because copying the activities of CAMBA in Russia would not be meaningful. Nevertheless, the performances of the Americans experts became the source of many interesting ideas. After the Americans’ part at the seminar ended, Ashot Airepetyan and the trainer of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Victoriya Shukhat, asked the participants of the seminar a question: “What, according to your perspective, was interesting about the American experiences?” These are the results to the question

    1. New information for their organizations: new ways of commerce
    2. “Card in the Hand”
    3. Benefits for refugees and immigrants, promulgated by the administration
    4. CAMBA’s creation of coalitions in the city for concrete public projects
    5. Greater role of NGOs in society
    6. The creation of a team - for “good understanding” - the way Jill and Debbie organized reaction to the project
    7. Youth work: coalitions to promote the legalization of immigrants. Coalitions to promote acceptance of laws under the criminal liability of the employer
    8. Lobbying for the simplification of the system of registration. Instruction at the airport, train stations, at the border
    9. Cassette for training policemen. “Mosaik” - training for youth leadership against Skinheads. Constant contact with the mass media, economical NGOs and law-enforcement bodies, constant training seminars
    10. Sample of a structured organization
    11. Social meaning and the structure of the state. High level of professionalism in the employees of NGOs
    12. Atonement for Muslims after the events of September 11th through public and state initiatives- concrete activities
    13. Official web side of the organization and work over the internet. Contact and business => self-financed
    14. Interethnic contact => creation of coalitions (knowledge of general problems). Responsibility of NGOs for reception of compatriots and for preventative maintainance against crimes
    15. Distribution of material
    16. Personal examples for the destruction of stereotypes
    17. “Ice Breakers” - stimulation of leadership
    18. Versatility of organizations
    19. Interest of Americans in Russia
    20. NGO - also “business-technology. As organizing large companies.”

Furthermore a vote was carried out. The participants of the seminar picked the three aspects which were most relevant to them.

The results looked like this:

1. NGO – “business technology”
2. The creation of interethnic coalitions
3. “Mosaik” – training the youth

Mosaik is the name of the program CAMBA carried out for youths. The experience of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation shows that it is hard to work with the youth. The youth is the part of the population which is most attracted to racist propaganda and and to appeals for racial purity. Jill and Debbie demonstrated a few examples of interactive activities with young people. They played these games with the participants of the seminar, including the employees of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation. The game “Name” was devoted to the names of the participants of the seminar. The participants were split up into pairs, and everyone had to tell their partner what their name means, in whose honor they are named, what story lies behind their name, and so on and so forth. Since the participants of the seminar came from very different nationalities, names were very different, and the activity turned out to be very interesting. The game named “Lotto” by the Americans was no less interesting. The participants received questionnaires, which they had to fill out as quickly as possible with information about the other participants instead of themselves. It was a very amusing and cheerful game, which allowed the participants to get to know each other very quickly. From the beginning of the seminar, the participants had the opportunity to interrupt at any moment and ask questions or make comments. This opportunity was constantly used by Marat Beligov from the Chechen organization in Tol’yatti, Shirvan Kerimov from the Azerbaijn organization in Samara and Firdaus Vagapova. Ashot Airepetyan, under the preliminary arrangements of the American partners, had taken over the role of conducting and periodically drawing parallels between the American, British and Russian experiences. As a result of the presentations of the American experts, time was spent every day on discussions, which were interesting not only for the Russian participants but also for the Americans. The schedule of the seminar can be found as an appendix. However, the performances of the American experts were so interesting that two days appeared insufficiant to tell everything that they considered necessary. The employees of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation and “Svi Girsh” were pleased with this because it meant that the Americans liked Russia and that it was interesting to them to communicate with the leaders of ethnic associations. Theses are the results of the group work:

Group 1 (lecturer Eduard Kiselgof)
Requirements Services
1. Education in language, ethnic culture, traditions 1. Creation of a network of courses for kids, students and adults
2. Interethnic cultural communication 2. National philharmonic society
3. Rendering of visa services for interested people to communicate with their relatives abroad 3. Creation of a visa center for advice (NGO)
4. Acquaintance with ethnic cooking (study and training courses) 4. Ethnic Caf? - the creation of a musical-dancing ensemble for youths and adults
5. Leisure and communication on interests (aquaintances etc.) 5. Business Club
6. Internet Page: www. rinti.ru - Resources for intellectual information

Group 2 (lecturer Vyatcheslav Bekker)

Requirements Services
1. Education 1. Professional tutors (preschool, secondary education)
2. Business 2. Coaches (on supreme and average level)TD>
3. Remote language trainings
4. Training to work on private computers
5. Information services (Internet)
6.Lobbying for receiving a building
7. Legal Consultations

Group 3 (lecturer N. Osipova)

Requirements Services
1. Remedial actions 1. Professional lawyers in NGOs. With paid services
2. Medical help 2.System for first medical aid
3. Ritual service
4. Information about work and employees 4. NGO create database for workplaces
5. Studying the Russian language 5. NGO organizes courses
6. Problems of ethnic associations 6. Interethnic nursery camp, discos, etc.
7. Educating the population 7. Group of professional workers at schools, high schools
8. Education 8. Monetary budget
9. Problems with Gypsies 9. Humanitarian actions
10. Organizing ethnic celebrations (weddings etc.) 10. Professional hosts
11. Pressure to form a family with a person of the same nationality. 11. Database
12. Informative needs 12. Newspaper “Vtoraya Rodina” (“Second Homeland”)
The results of the group work are very interesting, taking into account that, through of this project, ethnic associations from Nizhni Novgorod, Samara and Perm will receive financial support for carrying out microprojects. Hence they will be able to apply these ideas in practice. In a questionnaire which the participants had to fill out at the end of the seminar, they said that the organization of the seminar was good. As well as the novelty of the received information and the applicability of the received knowledge in practice. On the question: “What did you like most about the seminar?”, Firdaus wrote: “The professional lecturers, the exchange of experience between the regions, foreign experience and its possibility to be adapted in the region.” Vyatcheslav Bekker, head of the German organization in the city of Bereznyaki in the Perm region, appreciated the working atmosphere, the fine conditions and the useful material. Eduard Kiselgof, head of the Jewish ethnic-cultural autonomy of Perm noted the methods and the operational experience of “CAMBA.” The question: “Which other seminars/trainings would you like to visit?” Eduard answered: “Trainings on fundraising, work in grant seeking, work with potential sponsors and grant-givers.” Henceforth, our seminars will be held in Nizhni Novgorod, Perm and Samara on these topics. The seminar in Nizhni Novgorod will take place May 11th-12th 2004.


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