Ensuring diversity of civil society actors and their free interaction, moving towards civil society beyond the borders was a cross-cutting theme of the 5th General Assembly’ says Anna Sevortian, Executive Director of the EU-Russia CSF. 'We also talked a lot about the democratic principles - starting from the opening address by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, who emphasised civil society's role in democratic development. On the last day of the Assembly, Forum exercised one of the core democratic processes and elected several new members of the Steering Committee. We are proud to have had Grigori Melkoniants of the GOLOS Association observing the election.’
Forum members held consultations within their working groups (WG)– “Human Rights and the Rule of Law”, “Environment”, “Social Issues and Civic Participation”, “Democratic Structures and Processes”, “Citizenship Education”, “Historical Memory and Education”, discussed the Forum strategy and its internal development as well as presented common cross-topical projects on visa facilitation and liberalisation, policy and advocacy, and trans-border corruption.
One of the panel discussions moderated by Anna Skvortsova, Director at the NGO Development Centre and a re-elected member of the Steering Committee (SC), resulted in a new initiative on specific solidarity actions for civil society actors.
‘Solidarity is a highly important issue now: Not only Russia but also a number of the EU countries, and Hungary in particular, show moves in the authoritarian direction,’ considers Rostislav Valvoda, Eastern Europe Programme Coordinator at “People in Need” and a resigning SC member. ‘Only with concerted efforts of the EU and Russian NGOs and activists, we can break that trend. A symbolic circle with hands we all built at the end of the discussion proves that we are standing by democratic values together and ready to take up responsibility for their defence.’
Another solidarity action was an ad-hoc decision to picket the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Tallinn requesting freedom for Evgeni Vitishko, an imprisoned activist of the recently liquidated NGO “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”, as well as related appeal on behalf of the EU-Russia CSF prepared by the WG “Environment”.
‘There have been much done by the Forum already, but there is still much more to be done – both in the field of external and internal development,’ sums up Simon Papuashvili, Project and Advocacy Coordinator at the International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium) and a newly elected SC member. ‘I appreciate trust in me and activities of our organisations expressed by the Forum members and can assure that the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will continue to engage in development of democratic societies and structures, promotion of human rights, and implementation of best social practices.’
The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was established in 2011 by non-governmental organisations as a permanent common platform. At the moment 139 NGOs from Russia and the European Union are member of the Forum. It aims at development of cooperation of civil society organisations from Russia and EU and greater participation of NGOs in the EU-Russia dialogue. The Forum has been actively involved, inter alia, in the questions of facilitation of visa regime, development of civic participation, protection of the environment and human rights, dealing with history, and civic education.
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