Narodny Izvestia (Volgograd, Russia), January 18, 2002 

A Club Where They Do Not Throw Glasses of Water at Each Other

Well-Known Persons of the Region and the Country Prefer to Lead a Civilized Dialogue at the "Volgograd Forum"

Seven years ago a group of 10-12 Volgograders initiated monthly discussions and seminars with the purpose of exchanging opinions on most topical problems of public life. As the number of participants in such meetings grew, well-known public and political leaders began to attend them too. This is how the "Volgograd Forum" Club was born.
On the eve of the next anniversary of the well-known club "Narodny Izvestia" correspondent asked the Forum’s continuing leader, journalist, Alexander Yevreinov, to answer a few questions.

– At the beginning of the nineties in Russia and in our city there was no lack of public activities. All sorts of "clubs", "forums", organizations, movements and even (political) parties came into being by dozens. How did your club differ from others and what helped it to survive?

– All those organizations were set up on the basis of community or even unity of viewpoints on some problem or ideology. From the very beginning we had a different aim: to bring together those with opposing points of view,– say, communists and democrats – and to make them sit down at the same "round table". Now it does not seem as something unusual. But at that time an atmosphere of intolerance towards another's opinion reigned. If you remember, there were often fist fights between opponents, they could splash water at each other.
It was not easy for us at first either. For example, communists did not want to come to us regarding our club as another democratic charade. On this occasion I even had to conduct talks with (the First Secretary of the Volgograd Communist Party Committee) Alevtina Victorovna Aparina.

– Did it help?

– At first she sent her aid. And then she herself spoke to us two times. It seems to me that the clue to our longevity lies in the fact that people who come to the club get convinced of our integrity. We do not strive to adjust ourselves to "the present situation". For example, (former Russian Vice-President) Alexander Rutskoy spoke at the Forum's podium literally a few months after he left Lefortovo (prison). (Vice-Speaker of the State Duma) Georgy Boos was our guest at the peak of (pro-Putin TV anchor Sergei) Dorenko’s campaign against (Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's) "Fatherland-All Russia".
All those years we managed to maintain a balanced approach towards the selection of problems that are discussed at our sessions and that of experts who take part in them. I think only thanks to our objectivity such differing politicians as (Volgograd’s gubernatorial contestant) Oleg Savchenko, (Volgograd Governor) Nikolai Maksyta and (Chairperson of the Volgograd Oblast Duma) Roman Grebennikov agreed to address the Forum recently.

  Who else, but the politicians, attends your meetings?

  You know I get always upset if they write in newspapers "Press-Club "Volgograd Forum". Yes, journalists take an active part in our work and we are grateful to them that they publish afterwards reports on our sessions. But for us it is not the main goal. The club was set up first of all with the purpose that people who are interested in politics or other aspects of public life could get together and express their opinion in the atmosphere of free discussion or learn about the standpoint of experts on these problems.
Therefore active participants of the "Forums" are political scientists, activists in parties and (popular) movements, non-government organizations, students – mainly of the Academy for Government Service and (Volgograd) State University. Many of the students, by the way, have already graduated, work now in different places, but continue to attend our meetings as often as they can. Rather often we organize for our activists open discussions: we announce just the topic but without the main speaker. Everyone who takes part may speak out within the time limit. The debate gets sometimes chaotic, but hot, sharp and cheerful.
One of the memorable debates of this kind was last August when so-called "democrats of the first wave" got together: deputies of the (Volgograd) Regional Soviet of the last convocation, active participants in mass meetings, protesting (in the winter of 1990-91), on the Central Waterfront (of the Volga River) against the dominance of the Communist Party and other events of that time. We discussed, naturally, the results of the development of Russia over the ten years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

– How do you estimate the social activeness of Volgograders today?

– It  has clearly receded. This is characteristic not only for Volgograd but for the whole country. Some time earlier when a visiting firemen, even one not  from the top echelon, spoke, there were so many people in the auditorium that some of them had to stand up. Now even celebrities attract less people.
Partly because voter interest towards elections has been sinking. Their results are often predictable because of the notorious "administrative resource" (incumbency) or the thick wallet of the candidate. Instead of open meetings with people, government officials and politicians more and more often resort to pre-organized briefings with the loyal mass media or to promotional plugs. This is why I am thankful to those who attend our meetings without fear of direct informal contacts with ordinary Volgograders.
For the last seven odd years a core of club activists has formed who remain faithful to us in these complicated times. And now there are quite a few people among Volgograders who are not indifferent to problems of this city and this country.
Over the last years the "Volgograd (Free-Speech) Forum" has turned into a sort of "round table" where people of various political views and convictions can conduct with each other a normal, civilized dialogue. As long as there is need for this kind of association we will continue our work. I think that with it we also contribute to the democratic development of this country.

Valentin Svetin


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