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Application of the American experience in interaction between ethnic associations and authorities.
Conference in Nizhny Novgorod, November 9-10, 2004

On November 9th and 10th in Nizhny Novgorod, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation (CIC) with its partners CAMBA (New York) and the local Society of Jewish Culture �Tsvi Girsh� held a conference about the results �Application of the American experience in interaction between ethnic associations and authorities�.

The conference was the last activity within the framework of a project of the same title, which was financed by the American Foundation IREX (http://www.irex.org). The aim of the conference was to discuss the results gained at the trainings in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Perm. The training participants also got to know about the course of implementation of the micro-projects, which are being implemented in the mentioned cities by the means of micro-grants.

First the participants were introduced to each other through an interactive game in order to create an informal atmosphere. This is an usual procedure in our trainings, but this time an informal atmosphere was especially important, because there were so many different participants: Joanne Oplustil, Executive director, and Eileen Reilly, program director of CAMBA, Tatiana Igonina from the regional legislative assembly, Lyubov Mayorova from the local city government, Gennady Podolny, local program director of the IREX program �Partner� and, of course, the representatives of ethnic associations from Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Perm.

Let�s keep in mind: The main object of the project was to utilize the American experience in interaction between authorities and ethnic associations. Why not be honest? Ethnic associations as well as authorities in Russia are very peculiar. Ashot Airapetian, director of the CIC, carried out a survey among the leaders of ethnic associations. These are the results: Only one (Tsvi Girsh) had permanent staff members (two persons), and only Tsvi Girsh 2004 had a budget (some ten thousand US Dollars due to a grant of IREX). The other organizations got either no grant at all, or only one or two of a small amount. The situation at the CIC in Moscow is much better: eight staff members, a budget of 150,000 $, about 10 grants, five of them from American foundations. Does this impress? Not at all! CAMBA has about 800 staff members and a budget of 24 million $. But it�s not only the financial means, which distinguish CAMBA from Russian NGOs. In Russia usually an NGO cannot and should not have large financial means. But is such an NGO able to solve urgent social problems? Ashot asked Joanne how CAMBA finances its work, and Joanne answered that at CAMBA 80% of the budget (i.e. about 20 million $) consists of state grants. Joanne had to repeat this number several times until every conference participant had realized it.

Further Ashot explained the different kinds of approaches of the state to the Third Sector in the USA and Russia. 15 years ago there were no NGOs in Russia at all. Now there are some ten thousands, but the state as before does not trust the Third Sector. So we are dependent on either international grants or commercial organizations, which often think they can dictate their will, once they have given money. In the USA and the European Union the situation is different. A significant part of the state budget (from 5% up to 15%) is allocated to financing NGOs. That�s not remarkable if we keep in mind that authorities� staff members are in general engaged in the same work: to solve current problems of society. They get salary for it, and a certain budget for their work. The budget, which is allocated to the Third Sector, is planned in the same way. Only there is no competition between officials for budget means, but between NGOs in order to receive grants for their projects.

Ashot asked the leaders of ethnic associations, which way of interaction between authorities and NGOs they like more. The overwhelming majority of them voted for the American one. Is this non-patriotic? Perhaps! But from our point of view it is non-patriotic as well to hide its head in the sand like an ostrich and not pay attention to achievements in science, technology and state organization in the surrounding countries. Otherwise within ten years Russia will have life standard lower than that of China or Turkey. On one Internet site the �true� Russian patriots edited a list �The Fifth Column�, which among other enemies of Russia enlists the Center for Interethnic Cooperation. As an evidence for out hostile activity they added a list of foreign foundations, which financed our projects. �Why do Russian foundations not finance your projects?� That�s a question we are usually asked by foreigners. The state has to finance the activities of the Third Sector, that�s much cheaper and more rationalist than to solve all the problems of society alone. But for us this is only a future perspective. Only small financial means are allocated, and this not through grant competitions but through all possible kinds of programs. There is no competition between projects but between organizations, and decisions are taken by officers only. One of them recently declared: �The leaders of ethnic associations are not able to write the easiest project applications; to work with them normally is impossible�. The Center for Interethnic Cooperation successfully conducted trainings in 11 Russian regions this year. In these regions not only leaders of ethnic associations, but also representatives of administration and law-enforcement agencies took part. In some regions the local administration very actively supported the organization of our activities. So, we spent the grants of foreign foundations on the work we should do by financial means of our state. At that we tried to get grants of the Russian state from the very beginning, and we are willing to protect Human Rights in the USA and Europe as well. But the question is, if our officials are willing to share their budget with us, even if they understand that we would spend the money for the needs of our country.

In Nizhny Novgorod all participants considered how the attitude of the state towards NGOs has to be optimized. While during the first trainings we said that NGOs can achieve good results if their staff works professionally, now we can show representatives of such organizations: �Look, this is no illusion, such organizations really exist, and they are sitting next to you in person.� That�s why Joanne and Eileen were the center of interest all the time and willingly answered the numerous questions of the conference participants.

One major issue of the conference was the micro projects, which were implemented in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Perm within the framework of the project as a whole. We remind that the micro projects had to be devoted to the interaction of ethnic associations and local authorities in the mentioned cities. At that the administrations of Samara and Perm allocated 60,000 resp. 30,000 rubles to the fund. The condition of the micro-grants was: the projects had to be conducted by a coalition of not less than three ethnic NGOs of the given region and approved by the local government. The latter does not mean that we decided to lobby the interest of Russian local authorities by the means of American foundations. But the project was devoted to effective mechanisms of cooperation between ethnic associations and authorities taking into account the American experience. That means if the authorities thought that the given micro project did not contribute to the solution of this problem, its implementation would have made no sense. We have to confess that there were unexpected complications in the beginning. Most leaders of ethnic associations are brilliant speakers, but they were not used to written work. In addition they were not used to work in a coalition with other associations. Finally, the projects should deal with other subjects than songs and dances. In our activities representatives of ethnic associations often started to tell about national holidays, concert etc. It�s no doubt that the preservation of national language and culture is a current issue. But as the Russian as well as the international experience show, the main problem is the discrimination by the majority, particularly by single members of the authorities and law-enforcement organs. In the end many project applications needed changes and more detailed information, within the text as well as in the budget. This took the Center for Interethnic Cooperation and �Tsvi Girsh� a lot of time and efforts. At the final conference the project leaders talked about the results:

Firdaus Vagapova, chairman of the Tatar Cultural Educational Center �Yaktashlar� about the micro project in Nizhny Novgorod:

The title of the micro project was �A developed community as a factor of stabilization of interethnic relations in the Nizhny Novgorod region�. The project was worked out and implemented by a coalition of four ethnic cultural associations: the Tatar Cultural Educational Center �Yaktashlar�, The Azerbaijani Culture Center �Dostug - Druzhba� (Friendship), the Nizhny Novgorod Armenian Community and the regional Korean Culture Center. The project�s idea was supported by the department for relations to the public at the regional legislative assembly, the city department of culture administration and fellows of the faculty for international relations at the Nizhny Novgorod State University. Besides, the State University disposed the location for the project�s activities for free.

The project aim was to create conditions for the forming of so-called �developed communities�, Developed communities are capable to adapt immigrants to the conditions of the absorbing society, while preserving at the same time cultural characteristics of a nation, and also to effectively protect the rights of its members. They are standing in a steady contact with federal and regional authorities.


Two training seminars, in which all interested parties took part:

  1. �Ethnic Associations and authorities: possibilities of optimizing dialogue�. 40 participants (out of ethnic associations, city and regional administration, university, students and the Mass Media)
  2. �International education inside the regional education system�.30 participants (out of educational administration, ethnic associations, local administration, pedagogues and students)

As a result of these two seminars, a constant seminar (once every half a year) on the topic �Current problems of interethnic communication and perspectives of forming an atmosphere of tolerance in Nizhny Novgorod region� will be established, and in addition, a special section (once a year) on the problem of interethnic cooperation within the framework of the regular seminar �Theory and Practice of Regional Science� at the faculty of regional science of the Nizhny Novgorod State University.

Gulnara Mukhamedova, organization �Kurultai Bashkir�, Timur Tagiev (Azerbaijani Ligue) and Anna Pustarnikova (radio journalist, �Volga peoples�) about the micro-project in Samara:

The title of the micro-project was �Youth tolerance school�. The micro-project was worked out and implemented by a coalition of three ethnic associations: the Samara Journalist Union �Azan�, the regional Chuvash Culture Society �Khastar� and the regional �Azerbaijani Ligue�. The project got financial support by the regional Ministry of Youth. The faculty of history and theory of world culture at the Samara State Pedagogical University supported the organization of the project. The faculty of cultural sciences disposed the location for the activities for free. Students of this faculty were involved in this micro project.

The project aim was to form an atmosphere of ethnic and religious tolerance among the youth and to involve the youth into the fight against xenophobia and ethnic intolerance, since xenophobia is spread especially among the youth. The object was to familiarize the youth with the culture and traditions of different ethnic groups.

The following �lessons� were conducted during the Youth Tolerance School:

  1. Introduction of the participants. The forming of the multi-ethnic population of the Samara region (16-20th century). Traditional cultures of the Samara region�s nations
  2. Tolerance as a necessity for social life.
  3. Interethnic relations in the Samara region. Ethnic associations and authorities.
  4. Traditions of multi-cultural and multi-ethnical life in the Middle Volga region. Volga Bulgaria - a medieval multi-ethnical and multi-confessional state.

In Perm two micro-projects won the micro-grant

Valentina Nikolaevna Boyko, chairman of the regional Komi Permyak Culture Center about the first micro project

The micro project is called �The salon �Cooperation� invites its guests�. The micro-project was worked out and implemented by a coalition of three ethnic associations: the Perm Slavic Culture Center, the regional Jewish Culture Autonomy and the regional Komi Permyak Culture Center with participation of the Russian national culture society and fellows of the Perm Polytechnic University. The project was supported by the regional Internal Affairs Department and got financial support from the region�s budget. Participants were all (without exception) local and regional NGOs and also the Department of relations to the public and development of self-administration in culture and arts.

The project�s aim was to activate the regional and local NGOs� work, to attract new member, to enforce the popularization of NGO work among ethnic minorities and to form a tolerant attitude among the youth. The object was to open a place to go for NGOs with legal and other problems, to conduct thematic activities, directed to the development of ethnic cultures and traditions, to optimize the work with the youth concerning ethnic cultures and tolerance.


Discussion club �Let�s talk honestly�

The topic of one sitting was �Is there a national question in the Perm territory?�. Participants were students of different ethnic groups, fellows and politicians. The aim was to discuss current problems of ethnic politics in the Perm Territory and to work out recommendations for the solution of interethnic problems, especially among the youth.

Songwriter�s Festival �The Youth sings a song of friendship�

The Festival took place on October 11 and 12 in Perm. 59 songwriters and singers took part in the Festival and concurred for awards. 550 persons, in particular pupils and students, visited the Festival.

A �place to go� for ethnic associations in the Perm Territory

The �place-to-go� for ethnic associations took place from November 16th up to 20th in Perm. Consultants out of the ethnic associations rendered assistance with different problems: there were especially questions about registration at the place of residence, residence permit, departure from the Russian Federation, visa and passport etc. Members of the administration took actively part in the action.

Irina Vasilevna Lezhneva, director of the regional organization for the development of culture �House of Friendship� about the second micro project

The title of the micro project is �Interethnic youth forum �Perm Territory�. The micro project was worked out and implemented by a coalition of four ethnic associations: the regional Tatar and Bashkir Cultural Autonomy, the Culture Center �Soboryane� and the Tatar-Bashkir youth organization �Duslyk�, both at the �House of Friendship�, and the �Center of Byelorussian Culture�. The project got financial support by the city and region�s administration. Representatives of both administrations took part in the organization.

The project�s aim was to form a tolerant attitude through joint activities of the ethnic youth organizations, to further social activity and ethnic self-confidence among the youth, to establish social activities in the leisure time among the youth of different ethnic groups.


Trainings and a two-day training seminar at the Perm State Pedagogical University: �Contacts as a basis for successful communication within interethnic relations�. Participants were 100 students of different ethnic groups.

Meeting of leaders of seven ethnic youth organizations in order to found an Interethnic Club. The local Administration took part in the meeting.

During the activities further actions were considered in order to gather experience and learn from mistakes.


The micro project leaders answered numerous questions of the conference participants. The main result of this discussion was: All micro-projects are interesting; they achieved better results than it could be anticipated by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, Tsvi Girsh and CAMBA. It became obvious, that our American partners were satisfied with the results. In fact we have set a precedent. We proved to ourselves and to ethnic associations and authorities that one can achieve good results by purposeful cooperation, with small financial means though. The fact that the local Mass Media willingly covered the micro projects in all three regions, confirms this. That means: By increasing the amount of the grant competitions and by continuing the trainings for leaders of ethnic associations, more comprehensive projects and thereby real influence on the interethnic situation in the regions can be achieved. This is the most important result of our project!

� 1993-2003

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