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A Visit to the Yaroslavl Assembly

On June 24th, the Yaroslavl Assembly organized a �round table� in collaboration with the Center for Interethnic Cooperation and the French city Poitiers, which had the title �Russian and International experience of Interactions between Authorities and National Youth Organizations�. Participants in the �round table� included representatives of the Yaroslavl assembly; the administration of the city; leaders of national organizations and youth organizations in Yaroslavl. Furthermore, employees of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, representatives of a Moscow-German youth organization, and volunteers from Germany, Canada and Great Britain participated.

While in many cities of Russia the attitude to national minorities constantly worsens, in Yaroslavl this attitude remains normal. It is one of the few regions of Russia where the head of the association of national organizations can be a Chechen. Nur-El Khasiev - head of the Yaroslavl branch of Russian National Assembly, is also the leader of the local Chechen organization. The Assembly has a modern office premise, technical equipment, and receives grants from regional and city administrations. Nur-El Khasiev already participated in many events organized by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation.

Ashot Ayrapetyan, director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, asked participants of the �round table� during the opening session to state their position on the question: �Why do interethnic attitudes in Yaroslavl, contrary to the all-Russian tendencies, do not worsen, but continue to remain calm?�. Summarizing the statements of the participants it is possible to draw the following conclusion for the principal causes of this phenomenon:

  1. The Yaroslavl area is an economically advanced region. If the majority of the Russian areas are subsidized, the Yaroslavl area could raise their budget themselves. This would result in the possibility of future workplaces and an absence of rigid competition for them.
  2. Yaroslavl historically always was a mix of various cultures and traditions; furthermore, during Soviet times it was not a closed city like Moscow or Nizhni Novgorod. The attitude toward other cultures and peoples is a local tradition.
  3. The administration of the city, in contrast to many others, was never drawn into xenophobic moods or propagation of strict measures against migrants. On the contrary: they constantly promoted the internationalism of their city.
  4. The Yaroslavl branch of the Assembly actively cooperates with authorities to solve problems instantaneously.

Afterwards, Ashot asked the participants to tell about projects in which the representatives of youth organizations took part. However, such special projects do not exist. Young people merely take part in events organized by their senior colleagues - leaders of the national organizations. Since everything turned out fine in Yaroslavl, Ashot asked the participants to tell about the problems existing in the region. This conversation turned out to be more emotionally. Apparently, problems do exist. In the Yaroslavl area the police do check documents of people of Caucasian or Central Asian appearance more often. But these problems have local character and do not grow up to noticeable conflicts. Moreover, if conflicts do appear the Assembly uses its contacts and resulting opportunities to solve these problems. How the Assembly is working together with authorities was told by Irina Grigoriev.

In turn Ashot Ayrapetyan told about his experience with national organizations in Great Britain, Germany and Canada, and their interaction with different regions of the Russian Federation. A volunteer of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation - Robert from Great Britain - also told about his experience with youth education and that a need for tolerance exists in all European countries. Furthermore, he mentioned that a dialogue between all involved parties is necessary to find a suitable solution for interethnic problems. As a last part of his speech he stated that he very much likes Yaroslavl and Russia in general.

Overall, as Ashot Ayrapetyan pointed out at the �round table�, Yaroslavl should be taken as an example of co-operation of the local national organizations and authorities for an all-Russian conference to share its positive experience. Present representatives of the authorities and the national organizations have agreed vigorously.

Apart from just work, Yaroslavl also offered its visitors the possibility of an intensive sight seeing tour, including the surrounding area and the favorite vacation spot of the inhabitants of Yaroslavl - a small island where the Kotorosl-River joins the Volga. The possibility to learn more about Yaroslavl�s traditions, its history and its inhabitants was met with great enthusiasm. Moreover, there was also an opportunity to visit an ancient monastery, a walk on the Volga quay, an invitation to the Azerbaijan wedding, the visit of the unique �Music-and-Time� museum, as well as a competition of young graffiti artists from Yaroslavl.

The evening was finished with a delicious dinner at the summer residence of Nur-El Khasiev, the head of the Assembly. The Moscow visitors spent the night in different houses of the various national leaders. Although such a practice is common in the United States and Europe, it is not very often done in Russia. However, it just proves Yaroslavl�s openness towards interethnic and international processes and developments, which is also highly influenced by the Yaroslavl Assembly and its leader, Nur-El Khasiev.

We returned to Moscow late at night, tired, but very pleased. We are very glad that there exist such remarkable cities in Russia as Yaroslavl, occupied by such surprising people.

Ashot Ayrapetyan

� 1993-2003

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