The training seminar on the theme of “The Network of ethnic organizations in Russia. Problems and Perspectives for Development” took place in Pyatigorsk from 24th to 26th June 2007. This training was part of a series of trainings held in the framework of the project “Developing a Network of Ethnic Organizations in Opposition to Xenophobia in Russia.” The project was carried out by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation in partnership with the organization UNITED, the European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees. This training was part of a series of trainings held in the framework of the project “Developing a Network of Ethnic Organizations in Opposition to Xenophobia in Russia.” The project was carried out by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation in partnership with the organization UNITED, the European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees.
The seminar’s organizers were the Center for Interethnic Cooperation (Moscow) and the Pyatigorsk Armenian youth organization. The Center for Interethnic Cooperation was represented by Ashot Ayrapetyan, Victoria Shukhat and Ksenya Shiryaeva. They were accompanied by two volunteers from Canada – Myriam and Deanna. The two girls have an excellent command of the Russian language, they are very sociable, cheerful and inquisitive. It was also pleasant to get to know Geert Ates, from Amsterdam, who was representing UNITED. He traveled a great distance in order to tell the young activists participating in the training seminar about the work experience of his European colleagues. His devotion and capacity for work have not stopped surprising us. We would also like to mention our meeting with Miroslav Prokes from Prague. His shining knowledge of the Russian language, his humor and analytical mind made him the real soul of our group of participants.
Ashot and Victoria came to the seminar in Pyatigorsk from Astrakhan, where they had just led a similar training seminar, where representatives of various ethnic organizations from that city were invited. Their arrival in Pyatigorsk fell on the weekend and so it was a perfect opportunity to enjoy the Caucasian health-resorts.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Christina Balasanyan from the Pyatigorsk Armenian youth organization. This girl combines beauty, intelligence, communicability; simply put she is a very cheerful, sociable person as well as a wonderful organizer. She had the enormous responsibility of organizing the participants’ free time. She organized for us wonderful excursions in Pyatigorsk, a visit to the Lermontov house-museum, the site of his duels, the Diane cave, the Proval Lake, mineral water sources, parks… And during the evening, we had the chance to visit a real Armenian cafe, as well as to take an evening walk on the local “Broadway”.
No less wonderful was the excursion in Kislovodsk, where there is a great number of parks full of squirrels. They are almost domesticated, come down tree trunks in order to eat the nuts people hold in their hands. The participants also visited the “Castle of Treachery and Love”, “Rose Dale”, tried some water from mineral water sources and, of course, took many pictures. The mood was simply wonderful, even with the hot weather and the scorching sun.
At 10 on Monday morning, we started working…
The main goal of the seminar was to discuss the reasons for the rise of intolerance in our society and the path towards overcoming those problems, as well as discussing topics such as xenophobia, fascism, Nazism, racism, interethnic relations in different regions of our country and common problems faced by ethnic minorities. We also discussed plans for further coordinating actions between ethnic organizations from various regions of Russia.
Participants of the training seminar came from 15 cities: Krasnodar, Moscow, Pyatigorsk, Voronezh, Toronto (Canada), Astrakhan, Georgievsk, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Vancouver (Canada), Samara, Rostov on the Don, Vladimir, Prague and Amsterdam. There were many representatives of various ethnic organizations from Pyatigorsk. Present at our seminar were members of the following ethnic groups: Armenian, Assyrian, Adyge, Azerbaijani, Greek, Jewish, Ingush, Cossack, Kazakh, German, Pole, Ossetian, Russian, Tatar, Chechen, Ukrainian and Czech.
Since most of the training seminar’s participants did not know each other, Ashot and Victoria used special games quickly allowing the creation of a work team. All the participants were separated in two groups – locals and visitors. Each visitor chose one person from the other team and then had five minutes to get to know as much as possible about the other person and vice versa. Afterwards, he or she had to tell us about his or her partner, explaining how great that person is, all the interesting things they learned about them and their organization… All in all, we had an interesting game of “Praise your neighbor…”
Ashot Ayrapetyan and Victoria Shukhat continued the seminar with the establishment of work rules. Victoria asked the participants themselves to think up rules for our group’s work. She wrote on a paper everything that the participants felt would guarantee the normal process of the seminar. Once the participants’ wishes were all written down, we proceeded to cross out any points with which at least one participant disagreed. This is how we agreed to the code of conduct for the duration of the seminar. Points on the list included “actively participating”, “good will”, “raising hands before speaking”, “tolerance”, “turn off mobile phones”. I would like to note that the representatives of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation did not take part in the process.
Afterwards, the participants drew the portrait of a typical xenophobe. The list included 29 points. By using a voting system, the participants chose the five most important traits: cruelty, fanaticism, aggressiveness, susceptibility to outside influence and not having found his/her place in life.
The seminar’s organizers tried to get the participants as close as possible and therefore constantly separated the participants into small groups and gave them the same or different assignments.
For example, one of the assignments was to explain the reasons of the appearance of Nazis within youth. The participants all suggested from 8 to 10 points, which were merged into one list. From that list, the most important were chosen by vote:
Lack of respect for the history of other ethnic groups
Influence of the media
Lack of fundamental knowledge of religions
Lack of specific cultural youth programs
Decline of the population’s level of culture
Absence of a uniting beginning
Absence of affordable entertainment
Absence of social blame/censure
Absence of education programs
On top of that, other questions emerged during the seminar:
Which of these reasons can we correct, and which ones do not depend on us;
Concrete recommendations for international and Russian NGO’s;
Steps for authorities;
More acute conflict situations in the regions where the participants of the seminar are from.
The participants undertook the task with lots of enthusiasm, always managing all the assignments, and the results of the various groups were very similar.
During the training, the participants created the typical portrait of a young person.
Those are the results:
Likes to be entertained and to lead a fast life
Likes alcohol and smoking
Does not own an apartment
Has an indifferent attitude towards other ethnic groups
Conceals an everyday form of nationalism
All the activists from youth and ethnic NGO’s present at the seminar expressed a lot of worry concerning the growing nationalist sentiments within the youth. At the end of the discussion, Ashot stressed that the survey clearly demonstrated that the problems of ethnic minorities are not only the problems of minorities, they have a direct relationship with the government as a whole.
We would like to note that the Center for Interethnic Cooperation’s employees carried out many interactive games during this seminar. Those games helped the participants to quickly find a common language, and they rarely got tired before the end of the work day. The participants were also given some homework, which involved preparing a presentation about actions carried out for the propagation of tolerance in their region.
Many participants liked the idea of the creation of an “Alley of the friendship of peoples”, as well as the organization of a youth camp “City of friendship – city of childhood”, the organization of lectures, the action “Youth against racism”, “Tolerance day”, “Lessons of tolerance”, the distribution of pamphlets and calendars.
I would like to say that all those present stressed the importance of the training seminars held by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation. They distinguish themselves by their liveliness, cohesion, happy mood, good will, and the most wonderful, their sparkling energy.
I would like to express my gratefulness to organizers of the seminar for the wonderful evening following the first work day. At the restaurant of the “Intourist” hotel, where the participants stayed, our trainers organized a disco with live musical accompaniment. One of our seminar’s participants, the charming Irina from the Astrakhan Azerbaijani organization, even performed for us. She sang a multitude of contemporary hits, which the participants gladly danced to. And no less fascinating was Maglia, from the Astrakhan Tatar organization, who performed an Eastern-styled dance which produced a storm of applauds not only from the seminar’s participants, but also from the restaurant’s staff.
On Tuesday evening, almost all the participants from youth and ethnic NGO’s left, returning to their respective cities. These people, from different cities and different ethnic groups, did not know each other before coming to the seminar. They became good friends and many exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.
They also promised that they would again get together, since good people have to stick together.
Tatyana Malyukova, Russian-German Center, Astrakhan