Medvedev's Russia – moving towards democracy?

Medvedev's Russia – moving towards democracy?

(24/09-2010) With the ascension of Dmitry Medvedev to the Russian presidency, a new kind of political rhetoric entered the Kremlin. Medvedev says he wants to combat legal nihilism, and has pledged reform and modernization. Do the modernization plans offer possibilities for Russian human rights groups, asked Secretary General Bjørn Engesland in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in his introduction at a public seminar organised by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee on 22 September.

The discussion circled around Medvedev's rethoric and whether they express any real changes in Russian policy. - Medvedev has no intention of changing the political system. Politics will still be conducted by the state. Without political competition, it is not possible to build democracy in Russia, said Igor Klaymkin, Head of the analytical center fund Public Opinion in Russia. Klaymkin has together with several other human rights activists and researchers from Russia been attending the conference "Strengthening Human Rights in the Russian Federation", which the Norwegian Helsinki Committee has arranged this week together with Amnesty International Norway.

Ludmila Alexeeva, who is a founding member of the Helsinki Watch Group in Moscow, gave an introduction focusing on the Movement 31. Movement 31 has its name from article 31 of the Russian Constitution which protects the freedom of assembly. Demonstrations has been arranged in Moscow on the 31 of each and every month that has 31 days since 31 July 2009, and it has been held similar demonstrations to support the demands of Movement 31 in London, Berlin, New York, Paris and Tel Aviv. - Protecting article 31 is one of the most important actions we can take, because it protects one of our most fundamental rights: the freedom of assembly, said Ludmilla Alexeeva.

In the panel discussions following the introductions, the question was raised whether there is room for civil society in Russia. Gregory Shvedov, the Director of the MEMO.RU Information Agency and editor in chief of the Caucasian Knot, focused on the people of Russia and what kind of civil society they want. - Internet has given the people a opportunity to express themselves and getting information in a way they did not have before. Bloggers and forums on the internet show that the people of Russia want to have a dynamic civil society. These facts gives us faith when it comes to building a strong civil society in Russia, said Shvedov.

Pavel Chikov, an experienced lawyer and President of the NGO AGORA underlined that the next year and a half will be an important period to fill with actions leading in a positive direction. Medvedev has started several important reforms in the justice sector, and will argue he needs a second term to complete them. - We have a real possibility to influence this process. Lawyers play the role of human rights defenders and can influence via the courts. In this process we need to learn from the Norwegian experience, he said.

-We used to believe that refugees from North Caucasus who managed to get to Norway were safe, said the 2010 nominee to the Nobel peace prize, Svetlana Gannushkina of the Human Rights Center "Memorial". Unfortunately this is no longer the case, she said, referring to the fact that more than 90% of the applications for asylum are turned down. In addition, Norwegian immigration authorities misuse the work of our organisation by claiming that returned refugees can turn to our offices for help. We can only provide advice and inform them about their rights, we can not provide security, food, work, health or housing for them. Gannushkina drew a bleak picture of the security development in the region, highlighting the court trial against the her colleague Oleg Orlov as an illustrating example.