Emotions of Bolotnaya Square Are Different From Other Protests in Russia

The liberal, Western-oriented camp that calls itself the “non-systemic” opposition is concentrated in Moscow and is very small on a national scale. However, this is the only opposition that is noticed by the West and as a result they will probably grow even more hysterical in their hatred of the Russian government. The same concerns NGOs with foreign aid.

Do you think the inspections of non-profit organizations by prosecutors discredit these organizations in the eyes of society, which is the goal, or do they discredit the government?

It depends. The Western media are sure that these inspections discredit the authorities – that is how they portray these audits. These non-profit organizations, especially the most high-profile ones, are icons and will be portrayed as heroes. As for Russian society, certain people, mainly in Moscow, share this view, but people in the rest of Russia do not see these inspections as discrediting the authorities in any way. It is important to understand that our society is not united on this issue. The emotions of Bolotnaya Square are different from other protests in Russia. That’s my answer.

Will these inspections further strain relations between activists and the authorities?

Again, it depends. I think there are two unequal camps in the activist community. The liberal, Western-oriented camp that calls itself the “non-systemic” opposition is concentrated in Moscow and is very small on a national scale. However, this is the only opposition that is noticed by the West and as a result they will probably grow even more hysterical in their hatred of the Russian government.

As for the dominant group of activists in the rest of Russia, they lean more toward left-wing views. They aren’t sad that the 1990s are over, but they feel like the car broke down on the road leading away from the ‘90s. These people are more worried about pensions, re-industrialization, jobs, fighting corruption and the decline of Russians as the dominant ethnic group in the country. But they like Russia’s strong foreign policy and tough response to Western pressure. I don’t think these audits had any effect on their attitudes. They might even welcome them.

Do you think there’s a connection between the audits of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), during which the auditors removed their computers and papers with Angela Merkel’s position on Cyprus?

Maybe, but I don’t think so. By the way, in the West many experts believe this, and in private conversation they will say that EU leaders probably gave Cyprus an ultimatum – make no agreements with Russia, or you won’t receive any cash and the EU will simply engineer its collapse in one week. I’ve heard this from British and French experts. In a brief statement on Cyprus’s collapse, Viktor Gerashchenko said off the cuff that probably this decision was directed against Russia and that Cyprus was being punished for its pro-Russian position and refusal to let the West anywhere near the deposits discovered on the country's continental shelf. There was a risk that Russia might get a hold in this key strategic area in the Mediterranean. But I still believe that the EU had bigger motives in Cyprus. The removal of computers can hardly be considered a “retaliatory measure”. These non-profit organizations just got caught in the same net as all the others.

Do you think that these inspections are a pretext to put off the issue of establishing visa-free travel between Russia and Europe?

For Europe and the EU this is the pretext they’ve been looking for in order to hold up a process that they are simply not ready for. No doubt, they will use it and cling to it. But in reality – and experts have long known this – they are not ready for visa-free travel with Russia. They are doing everything to impede the process, saying that they will have to deal with a wave of illegal workers from Asia and the Caucasus.

What problems are Russian non-profit organizations facing abroad?

The media speaks badly about Russia or not at all. The French press is in the lead and the European media in general is acting in much the same manner. They welcome only those Russian NGOs that rabidly insist that no country in the world is worse and has fewer rights than post-Yeltsin Russia. Such people are invited to speak on television more often. By the way, they are from NGOs that are officially funded by the US budget. The US Congress is partially financing institutions of the Republican and Democratic parties, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and many Russian NGOs. I shudder to think what would have been written about my Institute of Democracy and Cooperation if we had received a penny from the Russian budget.

By the way, I’ve just come back from America where I had a conversation with a prominent banking analyst. I asked him directly what he thinks about the campaign in the press against the new law requiring that NGOs funded from abroad declare this if they conduct political activities in Russia. He laughed and said that in the United States foreign funding of political activities carries criminal penalties. He said a man from China contributed to a local election campaign in one city and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

No matter what we do and what important events with distinguished people we hold, there will be little or no coverage. Sometimes we are invited on television. If a Russian NGO in a foreign country does not spew hatred for the government, even if it readily discusses our sins, it will always be described as a Kremlin agency funded by the budget, even though this is a total lie. This is the constant insinuation you hear based on some blogs. The academic community in Europe is much fairer and more objective, and it is easier to work with them. We are trying to involve them in serious roundtables where we always criticize corruption and other vices in Russian politics or the economy. Three years ago our office in Paris opened with a seminar offering a comparative analysis of anti-corruption laws in France and Russia, which put Russia in an unfavorable light. We had interesting speakers on our side, and we acknowledged that corruption is a systemic problem that cannot be resolved quickly. But nobody cares about this.

Here is another example of what often happens. When my name came up in connection with the establishment of my institute’s office in Paris, many newspapers asked me for an interview – Express, Le Figaro, Frankfurter Allgemeine and The Chicago Tribune . I talked with all of them at least for an hour about everything, including culture, insight into life in each other’s countries, and the desire to break the glass wall of misunderstanding that separates us. A French woman from Express and I even got to talking about Baudelaire’s poetry and hugged each other goodbye.

You should have seen what her newspaper wrote! I regretted that I was so naпve and did not switch on the recorder. I could have published it online so that everyone could see that she clearly had been instructed to write a negative story. But I didn’t say anything negative and she published in her newspaper three routine anti-Putin paragraphs that had nothing to do with our conversation and one sentence about our meeting: “This is the aim of the agency that will be headed by Natalia Narochnitskaya, whom I had a chance to meet.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine was the only newspaper to report what I said without sneering and in good faith. Its coverage reflected their understanding of what I said. An article in Le Figaro read: “Oh what a fierce debater they have sent from Russia!” I take pride in this!

Speaking about freedom of press in the West, the press is so subordinated to editorial policy that it has long ceased to reflect the diversity of public thinking and public opinion in its own countries. Public opinion in these countries is much more complex, and many more people are quite fair in their views of Russia. I won’t say they are fond of Russia, but they are willing to calmly listen to positive information about the country. My European friends and partners tell me they are sick and tired of hysterical Russophobia in the press. Incidentally, Russophobia has already been marginalized. The articles by Andre Glucksman have become so grotesque that they remind me of our incomparable Valeria Novodvorskaya. The press has taken it so far that soon its coverage will have the opposite effect. This is what happened with the anti-capitalist propaganda in the Khrushchev era.

The problem – the origins of Russophobia – will be discussed at a conference with La Sapienza University in Italy in May, which I’m attending. The idea was suggested by the Italian side, not by us. This is already a good sign.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.