06MOSCOW13172, HARD TIMES FOR RUSSIA’S HUMAN RIGHTS COMMUNITY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW13172 2006-12-29 15:49 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6733
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #3172/01 3631549
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 291549Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6182
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 013172 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2027 
TAGS: PHUM PREL KDEM PINR SOCI RS
SUBJECT: HARD TIMES FOR RUSSIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS COMMUNITY 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 11834 
     B. MOSCOW 07956 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns: 1.4 (d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) Civil society and liberal political party leaders are 
sharply divided over the role of NGOs in partisan politics. 
While Moscow's most prominent human rights activist strongly 
defends the policy of overt political opposition, many NGO 
representatives are uncomfortable with, or opposed to, 
anti-Putin campaigns.  Other NGO leaders argue that the 
politicization of the human rights community reveals the 
extent to which Russia's "flagship" NGOs are far removed from 
the mainstream issues that concern most Russians, poorly 
equipped to build bridges to middle class Russia, dominated 
by leaders more comfortable with dissidence than dissent, and 
on the sidelines of social movements that may be the best 
hope for demanding GOR accountability.  These nongovernmental 
organizations need to extend their outreach and appeal, and 
strengthen their own internal procedures and 
self-sustainability.  To do that at a time when the NGO 
community is increasingly embattled, continued international 
support is crucial. End summary. 
 
------------------------------ 
To Be, or Not To Be, Political 
------------------------------ 
 
2.  (C) Debates in Russia over the role of NGOs in partisan 
politics have intensified, with back-to-back December 
sessions of the Second Human Rights Conference, the Civil 
Forum, and Other Russia precipitating open feuding among 
civil society and "democratic" party leaders, as well as the 
creation of yet another front -- the "Political Other 
Russia."  Yabloko and SPS party chairmen publicly criticized 
Indem's Georgiy Satarov and Other Russia leader Garry 
Kasparov for using NGOs as vehicles for advancing their 
political agendas.  Overt politicking, they argued, weakened 
the NGO movement and reinforced stereotypes that NGOs were 
mouthpieces for foreign (and hostile) interests.  Privately, 
Demos Center's Tanya Lokshina, who has avoided any linkage 
between Demos and opposition politicians, told us that the 
division was deep, with many human rights activists insistent 
that the movement remain apolitical.  Human Rights Watch 
Director Allison Gill termed the merger of human rights 
activists and opposition parties under the "Other Russia" 
banner a step backwards, as it led human rights groups to 
"hunker down" rather than expand their reach. 
 
3.  (SBU)  The doyenne of Russia's human rights movement, 
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Ludmila Alekseeva defended 
taking on the Putin government, while acknowledging the 
broader critique of human rights activists.  She told us the 
fusion of human rights groups with opposition parties of all 
stripes was legitimate, despite the public controversy and 
her own apprehensions about neo-Bolshevik Eduard Limonov and 
neo-Stalinist Anpilov.  While Yeltsin's government violated 
democratic principles during the 1996 presidential elections, 
she explained, it did not threaten to destroy the rights of 
its citizenry.  The Putin government, she maintained, was 
intent on doing so.  It was time for Russian activists to 
bury political differences, and unite around a common 
opposition to the government. 
 
4.  (SBU)  Alekseeva minimized the costs to the NGO movement 
of direct opposition to the government.  The fact that 
Yabloko and SPS had refused to join Other Russia, she 
attributed to craven political interests in securing Kremlin 
support (or at least tolerance) during the 2007 elections. 
She noted the irony of having lost the democratic parties, 
while gaining the extreme nationalists as allies; at the same 
time, individual Yabloko and SPS members remained supportive. 
 While noting the accomplishments of the human rights 
community-- primarily, the establishment of a nationwide 
network, where none existed in 1976 -- Alekseeva was quick to 
concede its weakness.  Of the 2,000-plus organizations, she 
noted, maybe 20 were influential.  Even the most influential, 
she added, folding her own Moscow Helsinki Group into the 
mix, were weak structurally.  By definition, she argued, 
human rights activists were "altruists" and not motivated by 
"interests"-- even important social interests that are 
fueling burgeoning grassroots movements against corruption, 
housing scams, pollution, and abuse of drivers by traffic 
police. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
Human Rights: Unpopular; HR NGOs Disengaged 
------------------------------------------- 
 
MOSCOW 00013172  002 OF 004 
 
 
 
5. (C) Contributing to the controversy over the role of human 
rights organizations is the fact that their work is still not 
viewed as vital by most Russians.  Chairwoman of the 
Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society 
Institutions and Democracy, Ella Pamfilova recently told 
Itar-Tass that human rights were not a priority for Russian 
citizens.  She exp
ressed frustration that Russians still do 
not understand that their living standards and social 
well-being are directly connected with the level of human 
rights and freedoms.  Likewise, Moscow Ford Foundation 
Director Steven Solnick commented that only two percent of 
Russian citizens express concern about violations of civil 
liberties.  A recent public opinion survey by the All-Russia 
Public Opinion Center, ranked human rights almost at the 
bottom of the list of pressing concerns.  The overwhelming 
majority of citizens are focused on questions of economic and 
social justice.  Head of Memorial Oleg Orlov concurred, 
saying that society is not active enough in protecting its 
rights because it has more immediate concerns. 
 
6. (C) Solnick argues that these attitudes reflect the 
failure of human rights organizations to create linkages and 
constituencies with the population.  Chairman of the 
Department of Political Science at the Institute of State and 
Law William Smirnov seconded Solnick, but traced the 
disconnect between human rights standard bearers and society 
to the failure of the former to speak out when Yeltsin 
attacked the White House or when the GOR in the '90s violated 
Russians' economic rights by failing to pay salaries or 
pensions on time. 
 
7. (C) Many here believe that the human rights community was 
tarred by its too close association with the West. Smirnov is 
among those who argued that international human rights 
organizations had discredited themselves in the eyes of 
"average Russians," by worrying more about the rights of 
ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskiy than of those "whom he 
deceived in order to accumulate his fortune."  The 
international community's preoccupation with human rights in 
Chechnya resonated similarly with Russians, Smirnov 
continued.  The perceived role of the United States in the 
economic difficulties experienced by many Russians in the 
'90s made it advisable, Smirnov said, that it "keep a low 
profile" on human rights issues. 
 
8.  (C) Deputy Chairman of Yabloko and Moscow City Duma 
Deputy Sergey Mitrokhin echoed this criticism, charging to us 
that human rights organizations issued "hysterical" 
pronouncements on events in Russia to please Western 
sponsors, without whom they would not have a leg to stand on. 
 Mitrokhin argued that human rights flagship organizations 
did not pay attention to the "vital" questions confronting 
average Russians.  For example, there was no NGO to whom he 
could send petitioners complaining about housing and 
construction scams, which was one of the most pressing 
problems in urban Moscow.  Until these NGOs broadened their 
focus, Mitrokhin concluded, they would remain on the fringes. 
 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
The Problem of Charismatic Leaders, and Sloppy Files 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
9. (C) Despite the intensive engagement of Western 
governments and NGOs, many of the flagship human rights 
organizations remain poorly equipped to function in the new 
Russia.  Solnick itemized the shortcomings as follows: 
virtually none has a press secretary, a membership 
coordinator, or a fundraising strategy.  They depend on a 
"charismatic leader" to pull in foreign grants.  Ford's own 
efforts to provide USD two million in seed money for a 
completely indigenous human rights organization had come to 
naught.  Ford had been unable to entice a Russian human 
rights organization to hire a director and become organized 
enough to tap into the Foundation's available monies.  Over 
the last fifteen years, Solnick said, the international 
community has become an "enabler" of NGOs that cannot survive 
on their own.  After five years of work in country, his 
personal conclusion was that many leading Russian human 
rights NGOs were undemocratic, non-transparent, and averse to 
courting public support.  "When is the last time," he asked 
us, "that you've seen an NGO advertise for position of deputy 
director?" 
 
10. (C) Human Rights Watch Director Allison Gill told us that 
even an NGO as respected as Memorial had not developed the 
professional management, nor had it diversified funding 
beyond its core Western donors.  Memorial's Chechnya offices 
were currently unfunded while waiting for new grants to be 
disbursed, in large part because grant writing still fell to 
Memorial's executive director.  The dissident past of many 
 
MOSCOW 00013172  003 OF 004 
 
 
human rights leaders and organizations, she argued, left them 
ill-equipped and non-inclined toward professionalizing their 
organizations, or making themselves relevant to the Russian 
public.  Moreover, some well-known NGOs are vulnerable to GOR 
tax and registration scrutiny by not adhering to transparent 
accounting.  Few question the politicized nature of GOR tax 
reviews; however, in an era of greater GOR harassment, NGOs 
do not advance their cause by being vulnerable to charges of 
keeping double books, or not keeping books at all. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
Is Dissidence the Right Course in Putin's Russia 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
11. (C) There is now a tendency, Gill told us, of human 
rights organizations reacting to the increasingly adversarial 
relationship with the GOR by reverting to the familiar 
methods of Soviet era dissidence.  According to Director of 
the Donors Forum Natalya Kaminarskaya, Moscow Helsinki 
Group's Alekseeva's generation of human rights activists 
remained Soviet dissidents, who would always be "against 
whatever government was in power."  If the human rights 
movement was to make progress in Russia, it would have to let 
go of that past. Kaminarskaya believed there were ways to 
work with the authorities to achieve mutually desirable 
outcomes.  She mentioned her work with the Ministry of 
Economics and the Public Chamber to get an endowments law 
developed.  Although some compromises had to be made, she 
believed each side was satisfied with the final result. 
Kaminarskaya believed human rights organizations would not be 
discredited if they worked with the government on issues of 
common concern, like xenophobia.  Kaminarskaya did not attend 
the Civil Congress or Other Russia conferences because "all 
they do is talk and make the same resolutions.  Nothing 
concrete gets done." 
 
12. (C) Solnick agreed that the various and sundry human 
rights congresses have become a "sideshow." The organizers do 
not have the moral legitimacy that certain dissidents of the 
Soviet period earned, and are not seen as moral compasses by 
the Russian populace.  There are no modern Sakharovs; in 
part, he quickly noted, because the incorruptible and 
uncompromising, e.g., Politkovskaya, are increasingly being 
silenced.  At the Second Human Rights Congress and Civil 
Forum, Embassy officers witnessed first-hand Solnick's 
description of a typical human rights gathering: charismatic &#
x000A;leaders delivered repetitive speeches, uncoordinated among 
themselves, and lacking a coherent message or action plan. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Next Generation Still Waiting in the Wings 
------------------------------------------ 
 
13. (C) Soviet-era human rights leaders continue to play a 
disproportionate leadership role in the human rights 
movement.  Darya Miloslavskaya, local representative of the 
International Center for Non-Profit Law, said there was no 
room for new leaders.  Ego and personalities played a large 
role in this, she thought, with the older generation of 
leaders not willing to make room for a new generation like 
Demos Foundation Chair Lokshina, who recently received the 
Andrey Sakharov Award; SOVA Deputy Head Galina Kozhevnikova; 
or herself.  Solnick pointed to Lokshina's decision to leave 
Moscow Helsinki Group as emblematic of the fact that 
prominent human rights organizers were unwilling to cultivate 
the next generation of activists.  Director of the Center for 
Extreme Journalism Oleg Panfilov agreed with Miloslavskaya, 
adding that a new generation of human rights leaders will 
probably emerge from the regions and from smaller NGOs, while 
the "dinosaurs" continue to monopolize the big cities and 
established NGOs. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
Social Movements: Democracy's Guarantor? 
---------------------------------------- 
 
14.  (C) Increasingly, hopes are pinned here on the success 
of social movements -- often spontaneous, rarely registered, 
but sometimes effective citizen efforts to reverse 
bureaucratic wrongs and leadership indifference.   Carnegie 
Foundation's Lilia Shevtsova told us that Russia's 
Western-oriented NGOs tended to underestimate these social 
movements, which do not speak the language of international 
human rights treaties, but are instead focused on concrete 
actions. 
 
15.  (C) Alekseeva does not necessarily disagree with this 
critique.  On the one hand, she expressed admiration for 
Vyacheslav Lysakov, who spearheaded the grass roots movement 
that overturned the conviction of a driver falsely accused of 
being responsible for the automobile crash-related death of 
the Altai Governor, and identified defrauded apartment buyers 
 
MOSCOW 00013172  004 OF 004 
 
 
and investors as two other potent movements.  However, 
Alekseeva maintains a hands off attitude toward most of the 
other "movements", which she described as headed by people 
"who want to do good things," rather than "people who want to 
fight for rights." 
 
16.  (C)  Alekseeva concluded that she was an optimist. 
Russia was changing, Russian society was evolving, and social 
movements, "in the hundreds," would emerge as a force that 
could not be ignored by the Russian government, but would 
spur the development and strengthening of democratic 
institutions. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
17.  (C)  The plight of Russia's flagship human rights 
organizations in many ways mirrors that of the country's 
liberal parties.  Both, unfortunately, have failed to adapt 
in order to attract popular support and become 
self-sustaining.  That said, at a time when non-governmental 
forces face more restrictions and a worsening environment, 
they need international support to stay afloat and continue 
their work.  To help become self-sustaining and able to 
withstand intensifying government pressure, these 
organizations need more help with both internal institutional 
development, and external outreach.  They themselves need to 
take a hard look at revamping their leadership, recruitment 
and public engagement strategies to become a more integral 
part of contemporary Russian society. 
BURNS

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