Volgograd Forum, December 1, 2001

Conference on Terrorism in Volgograd and Civic Forum in Moscow

November 30 a number of activists of the Volgograd Free Speech Forum and myself took part in an interesting event, which we helped to organize - a conference titled "Challenge of International Terrorism: Who Fights Whom?". One of the participants was Secretary of the Political Department of the US Embassy in Moscow Paul Carter. Also spoke: Director of the NATO Information Bureau in Moscow Rolf Weltbertz, head of the international section of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis (a Moscow think-tank) Serguei Markedonov, Russian experts on US politics, on Islam and Moslem countries, a senior officer of the anti-terrorist squad of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Bureau, which replaced the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union) who spoke on the anti-terrorist campaign in Chechnya and other, no less competent speakers. The opening address was made by the Volgograd Oblast Vice-Governor Vladimir Kabanov.

The conference took place at the Volgograd Academy for State Service, an educational institution, which trains students for jobs in government agencies.

The conference started with a report on the origins of international terrorism by Professor of the Volgograd Academy for State Service Yevgeny Melnichenko (once spoke at our FSF too). He gripped the attention of the audience at once when excused himself for some passages in his report, which, he said, may seem anti-American.

Indeed, he said that the origins of any terrorist activities was always someone's expansion, be it messianism, communism, one-thousand-year Reich or "Pax Americana". He also asserted that as long as problems of the third-world countries are not solved there would always be a terrorist threat from them. According to Prof. Melnichenko, by allying with the West President Putin put Russia on the wrong side because Russia is a third-world country.

Frankly speaking, we did not expect such a brash start of the discussion and waited with impatience, how the American diplomat would react. In spite of our apprehensions, Mr. Carter's address was very, very friendly. Without exaggeration he spoke like representative of an allied country. I could compare his address with what I heard before from the American diplomats who came here, and I can say I have never heard such a friendly speech. Something is really happening in the relations between our two countries. He smoothed all the edges and did not pronounce a word of criticism about Russian politics, though some other (Russian) speakers criticized the government for its actions in Chechnya.

Mr. Carter mentioned a book by a Samuel Huntington on the conflict of civilizations after the end of the Cold War. He said that the author deserves commending for the first attempt to assess to new situation in the world after the confrontation between the super-powers ended but expressed regret that some postulates from this book are exploited by demagogues. He said that cross-cultural values are more important than differences between them.

The NATO man was equally friendly. He even agreed that if Russia had more say in NATO decisions, there would have been no bombing of Yugoslavia. It was quite unexpected from him. Most other reports were well prepared and balanced, dealing with what Russia and the West can do together. Only the expert on Islam was sort of pessimistic, doubting the success of the anti-terrorist campaign as it goes now. In a word, we had a very good discussion and parted with a feeling that the Cold War was really over.

Another notable event last month took place in Moscow. Five thousand activists of non-governmental groups from across Russia came together in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses for the Civic Forum, whose goal was to start a dialogue between the authorities and citizens. I send as an attachment an article on this happening from the Moscow Times.

One week before the Moscow Forum started we organized a table discussion with leaders and activists of other NGO on November 13.

The majority of the participants represented groups concerned about freedom of speech, so we discussed two topics: general situation with the volunteer movement and non-government organizations in Russia and freedom of mass media. The jist of our discussion we formulated in a memorandum, which we entrusted to Mrs. Inna Prikhozhan who was Volgograd's coordinator of the Civic Forum and asked her to read it out at one of discussion tables in Moscow.

One of our demands concerned the financial activities of NGO in Russia. Now little difference is made between commercial and non-for-profit organizations by tax authorities. For example, internal welfare donations to most NGO are not tax-exempt (except those that do social work and help invalids, orphans and the like.) Partly for this reason, 75 percent (sic!) of Russian volunteer groups have to rely on grants from foreign welfare funds that are not taxed.

To ensure the freedom of mass media we demanded from the government to stop the current practice of either direct ownership or subsidizing with taxpayers' money mass media outlets because it creates unequal conditions for independent (private) mass media.

In December we will probably have one more panel with those activists of NGO who took part in the Civic Forum in Moscow to discuss its effects. Besides, thanks to our participation in the events preceding the Civic Forum I learned a lot about volunteer groups in Volgograd, which deserve to be invited as participants and speakers at our next Forums.

Alexander Yevreinov

Volgograd Free Speech Forum

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