Russian president promises to strengthen civil society and protect the environment

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is showing increasing interest in Russian civil society, as well as in the devastated Russian environment. His points of view sound promising, but leaders of Russian NGOs and Norwegian partners are still uncertain how much of it is going to be fulfilled.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern for the Russian NGOs work and the condition of country’s environment in general. So far, Russian nonprofit organizations have been financed from abroad, however Medvedev says this will be unnecessary from now on since Russian government will improve financial support to non-governmental organizations. “Support for NGOs remains our absolute priority. You know that significant portion of these organizations was mainly financed from abroad, until 2006. I do not think that any advanced western country could afford such a total investment of foreign capital into its ‘third sector’. Therefore, we decided to allocate its own funds to support Russian civil society. This decision was legitimate. Life has proved its demand. This structure, in essence provides a basis for development of civil society as a whole.”

However, Russian non-governmental organizations are not getting optimistic too soon. Olga Nikolaevna Senova, from the Russian environmental organization ‘Friends of the Baltic’ has a different point of view on the situation:

“Yes, Dmitry Medvedev says better words than Putin said about NGOs. We may hope for changing official view towards NGOs, changing legislation, but only in the future. Concerning the state support for NGOs and for our projects - we can most likely forget about it, for now. People from our Ministries want to ‘eat money’ themselves.” Olga Senova explains. “We have had experience of that kind in cooperation projects, for example in cooperation on educational project SPARE with Ministry of Education, so we don’t trust their will to give money to NGO run projects.”

“Even if fantastic thing happen,” Senova continues, “and they will decide to develop, for example energy-climate education - then they will pay for their own people and their own ‘pocket’ organizations.”

She also tells that only one grant mechanism from the Public Chamber works for NGOs for now. These are on competition basis and with difficult procedures along with very uncomfortable and limited financial conditions. Last year there were 260 environmental project applications and only 7 won, and with a reduced budget.

Tore Brænd has been involved in different co-operative projects with Russian NGOs, and has experience in working with Russian civil society. He didn’t take Medvedev’s words for granted either:

“I would withhold my judgment until I am sure that president Medvedev will not put new restrictions on Russian NGOs. He could use this as an excuse of restricting the possibility of Russian NGOs to receive funding from abroad, with the argument that it is unnecessary and unpatriotic when they can get funding from the Russian government. “

Russia heading towards GHG cut?

Russian president Medvedev has recently expressed his concern for the environment in general, and he believes immediate action is necessary in order to preserve Russian environment. He said that due to the Russians concern for bare survival during the 1990s, the environmental issues were disregarded, and this neglect has already started to take its toll. “As a result, there are now many places in Russia on the brink of an adverse ecological situation. If we fail to deal with the ecological situation now, then in 10, 20, 30 years large parts of Russia will be unfit for living” Medvedev stated.

One month after assuming the presidency, Medvedev called government officials for urgent meeting for a discussion of renewable and clean energy solutions. June 5th was celebrated in Russia as the first ever ’Day of ecologists’. Russia has now started to plan budget funds for reduction of GHG emissions and for introducing clean energy.

Olga Nikolaevna Senova, from ‘Friend of the Baltic’ has doubts of her own: “This statement is very promising and so are many others, which Medvedev gave since he started his mandate. What we are waiting for now is practical steps , since only practical acts are the criteria of truth...What we are waiting for is a start of many legal procedures regarding environmental protection, although some of them have been irregular or not even considered yet.

But even so, Medvedev seems to be much more modern thinking person than former president Putin, and Medvedev did say many right things which Putin never did.” Olga Senova finishes.

Looks like we will see before too long, whether the times have indeed changed for Russia and its citizens.

Olga Senova

Tore Jostein Br?nd