Joining Forces with Russian NGOs in Fighting Corruption

The Civil Society against Corruption network, supported by the Romanian Academic Society (SAR) and the European Research Center for Anti-corruption and State-building (ERCAS) at the Hertie School of Governance, has joined forces with Russian NGOs in the fight against corruption. The main partner in the region is the NGO Golos, which advocates for fair, transparent and free elections and conducts short-term and long-term election monitoring in almost all regions in Russia. Golos has 12 years of expertise in watchdog activities regarding elections as well as in developing training and education programs for voters about exercising their democratic rights as citizens. Their experience extends to five Federal elections and hundreds of regional and local campaigns with the support of their regional departments established in more than 40 regions of Russia including Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.

The collaboration with Golos consists of exchanging experience and examples of good practice in anti-corruption initiatives. Among their main contributions to the Civil Society against Corruption network are their constant inputs regarding relevant news in Russia, updates on their new initiatives, and most importantly, their assistance in developing a Russian version of againstcorruption.eu.

Ties with the Russian anti-corruption civil society extend to other organizations as well. The first contact with Russian NGOs was established in the fall of 2011, and an active cooperation started in January 2012, when SAR, represented by project manager Daniela Marinache, organized meetings with representatives of Russian civil society organizations in Moscow, which led to very fruitful exchanges of experiences and discussions of potential collaboration from these organizations to the further development of the Civil Society against Corruption network. Elena Panfilova, director of Transparency International’s Russian Chapter, and Anton Pominov, Research Director at the same organization, saw their involvement and contributions to the network as a window of opportunity to strengthen the project and bring the most current anti-corruption initiatives to light, especially in the present context of increased mobilization of Russian civil society for monitoring of the public administration and more transparency in the election process. TI-Russia showed great interest in including their most successful projects and initiatives on the againstcorruption.eu platform and in offering support to other NGOs willing to develop anti-corruption projects in the country.

The Institute for Information Freedom Development from Saint Petersburg was also enthusiastic to be part of our network and sent us information regarding their organization and activity. Since 2004, the institute performs monitoring of government bodies’ official websites. Of most interest is that they have developed a special methodology for analyzing official websites’ contents and calculating the so-called information openness rate. Showing and sharing how they managed to implement such a monitoring mechanism would be an important added value to our network and the NGOs that also wish to implement such a project.

The Russian experience made clear the importance and the achievement of expanding the Civil Society against Corruption network and the Anti-Corruption Toolbox project to the Russian region. We wouldn’t have been able to make this important step without the common interest and enthusiasm that we shared with the Russian NGOs. With Golos and other organizations being part of our Eastern Europe anti-corruption network and sharing their expertise on our website, complemented by our effort to implement a version of againstcorruption.eu in Russian language, we expect to increasingly reach other segments of Russian civil society and integrate them into the regional debate on anti-corruption issues and in knowledge-sharing circles of innovative and successful initiatives to fight corruption.

Panfilova Talks about Russia’s ‘Awakening’ in the Fight against Corruption

In an interview posted on the website of the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference, the director of Transparency International’s Russian chapter Elena Panfilova discussed the changes that anti-corruption work in the country has faced in the last decade and the perspectives for further change in the future.

Ms. Panfilova highlighted that the context for anti-corruption work in Russia nowadays is very different than 10 years ago, mostly because of the increase in public awareness about the need to fight corruption and in public support to the work of activists. Moreover, she mentioned that the last years have seen a boost in the participation of citizens in grassroot political initiatives at the local level, something that is not typical for Russia, a country without a strong civil society tradition.

Asked about current concerns regarding the fight against corruption in Russia, Ms. Panfilova raised attention to the lack of substantive reforms by public authorities, despite increasing pressure from the public in favor of measures to reduce corruption.

She also mentioned some of the initiatives conducted by her organization, such as the implementation of Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers, educational measures to youth and small businesses, and activities to monitor procurement, access to public information and political finance, among other things.

Regarding perspectives for future anti-corruption work, she emphasized the importance of continued citizen support and engagement for changes in the political arena, despite recent electoral results. Ms. Panfilova called on people to focus on the issues of their everyday life and try to make contributions at the local level.

For more details read the full interview on 15iacc.org. The picture of Ms. Panfilova shown above is also featured in the article.

Anti-Corruption Candidate Wins Mayoral Election in Russia

Yevgeny Urlashov (pictured here), considered as an anti-corruption crusader, has been elected mayor of Yaroslavl, a large city located about 250 kilometers from Moscow, with 70% of the votes last Sunday. The victory by a large margin against the incumbent mayor, from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, was seen as an important boost for the country’s opposition.

Mr. Urlashov is a lawyer and was a member of Yaroslavl’s municipal council. In his campaign, he pledged to fight corruption through increased public control over municipal spending and reduced red tape in the local administration. He managed to win the election despite strongly biased media coverage in favor of his opponent and by intimidation strategies used by authorities against him.

The election of Mr. Urlashov has been highlighted by opposition leaders as a signal of their strength and the effectiveness of their mobilization strategy. Their focus on getting supporters to monitor local elections is likely to be continued after this positive outcome.

For more details read the article “Anti-corruption crusader wins Russian mayoral election in victory for opposition” on washingtonpost.com. The picture featured above is from guardian.co.uk and is credited to Denis Sinyakov/Reuters.

Golos Association Calls Attention to Election Process in Russia

(by Ksenia Sokolova)

Association GOLOS conducted independent long-term and short-term monitoring of federal and regional elections set for 4 December 2011. The monitoring was performed in 48 regions of Russia. GOLOS obtained information from correspondents of newspaper “Grazhdanskiy Golos” who acted as electoral observers, expert interviews with representatives of political parties, NPO leaders, members of election commissions, as well as from citizens who reported violations in the course of campaigns – both to GOLOS representatives in person and through the ‘Map of violations at elections’.

GOLOS Association calls attention to the large-scale participation of federal, regional and local officials, including the RF president, the head of his administration, eight members of the Government, and the majority of governors, in direct campaigning for one of the parties. This creates the conditions under which the inequality of the participants inevitably predetermines the election outcome.

Some of the problems identified:

–    The legislation does not even require that they would be on vacation for this period, thus creating extreme information inequality as practically all administrations are campaigning under the guise of fulfilling their professional duties.

–    As a result of concentration of the top state bureaucracy in the list of one of the parties, and because of the hypertrophied powers of the executive branch and actual subordination of the election commissions to it, the whole state power system actually works for the results of one specific party, constantly exceeding its powers and applying pressure to the electorate, mass media, and opponents. All levels of the executive vertical are ordered to ensure the greatest possible results for United Russia party, and the administrations, in their turn, put this pressure to enterprises and institutions, in the form of direct instructions and orders to the workforce to vote for United Russia.

–    Using the budget funds, the officials make their campaign trips through the regions. Practically all regional, city and rayon administrations have been made United Russia’s campaign staffs, the heads of administrations have been declared personally responsible for its success, and are openly campaigning for United Russia, sometimes even at official events.

–    The campaigning itself is quite often conducted in educational institutions, hospitals and other health care institutions, where campaign ads of the party are also displayed. Municipal officials, employees of budget-financed organizations and of housing and utilities services are forced, through administrative pressure, to participate in the campaigning. Large-scale indirect campaigning for United Russia, in the form of social and other advertising, by its style and contents clearly associated with the ‘government party’, remains the key technique.

–    This campaigning is generally conducted using slogans and visual images, to the extent of confusion resembling those of United Russia itself. Not infrequently, the party’s logos or their imitations are present in campaign ads which formally have no relation to United Russia. All this volume of indirect campaigning is not paid for from the party’s budget or its election account.

–    Production by election commissions of campaign ads, very closely resembling United Russia’s ads, and, vice versa, publication by United Russia of campaign ads imitating the election commissions’ ads, is an especially notorious practice.

GOLOS Association notes that United Russia systemically claims for itself the results of activities of the federal, regional or local authorities, performed at the account of the respective budgets. This can be classified as false political advertising.

Along with growing importance of the Internet in the election campaigns, there have been more and more cases of using improper methods for struggling with the opponents on the Internet, including DDos attacks in order to paralyze operation of the sites of opponents and undesirable mass media, cracking of e-mail boxes, trolling etc.

There are other manipulations, including attempts to sabotage meetings with voters, organization of ‘instructive’ public opinion polls, and so on.

The picture featured above is credited to AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.

Weekend of Massive Protests in Russia

(by Magda Barascu)

Tens of thousands of Muscovites protested on Saturday alleged electoral fraud and urged an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s rule. Demands repeated at other rallies across the country in the largest public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia.

Participants in the demonstration included activists of the A Just Russia party, the unregistered People’s Freedom Party (Parnas), the Communist Party and the Blue Ribbon and Internet Community public movements.

The demonstrators also included representatives of the interregional Ussuriysk Cossack military society, the Khabarovsk scout organization, residents of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and the Khabarovsk Territory, members of garage cooperatives and a group of nationalists.

The demonstrators carried posters calling for fair elections and against a third presidential term for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The demonstration took place just a week before presidential elections in Russia, in which Putin is widely expected to win his third term in the Kremlin.

Protests took place in more than 50 other cities from the Pacific Coast to the southwest, including a large demonstration estimated by police at 7,000 people in Saint Petersburg.

Opposition figures indicated Friday that the next step would be to call another protest in Moscow for next weekend and make it even bigger. But staged events at regular intervals may be less effective than daily spontaneous protests.

Russia’s opposition also is vulnerable to attacks on the websites and social media that have nourished the protests. This week, an official of Vkontakte, a Russian version of Facebook, reported pressure from the FSB, the KGB’s main successor, to block access to opposition groups, but said his company refused.

On election day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country’s only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

 

The picture featured above is credited to AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky.

Russian Activist Recruits Monitors for Next Elections

Russian blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny (pictured here) has launched a new initiative aiming at curbing fraud in the next presidential election, to take place on March 4th. The project, entitled RosVybory, seeks to recruit voluntary monitors for the precints where violations were already uncovered in the last parliamentary elections on December 4th.

According to Russian electoral law, monitors must be linked to one of candidates or parties running. Therefore, Navalny is seeking support from the Communist party, the Just Russia party and independent candidates, to which the monitors recruited through the project could be associated. According to Rosvybory coordinator Georgy Alburov, these parties should be interested in supporting the project, as they don’t have enough monitors and are concerned about guaranteeing fair elections.

The website rosvybory.org (in Russian) already has over 13,000 poeple registered as monitors. All participants will undergo training on how to prevent and identify violations. They will also be taught on how to use cameras and document violations they might uncover.

Read the full story “Monitor that!” on themoscownews.com. The picture of Mr. Navalny above is featured in the article and is credited to RIA Novosti.

Human Rights Watch Publishes Feature on Russian Civil Society

Human Rights Watch released recently a feature on the development of Russian civil society in the last years and its current situation. An article by Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director of the organization, emphasizes how civil society has grown since the collapse of the Soviet Union and how active it has become, as shown by the numerous demonstrations following fradulent elections last December.

Bogert also highlights the challenges that civil society organizations continue to face in the country. One example is the law introduced in 2006 by Vladimir Putin to regulate the non-profit sector. NGOs claim that this new legislation increased red tape to intentionally reduce their independence and eventually make it impossible for them to survive, but fortunately the vast majority of independent groups has managed to continue with their activities.

Another major problem threating Russian activists is the violence directed towards investigative journalists, human rights activists and whistleblowers. Many of them have risked their lives, and cases of murder are not uncommon. Civil society activists are also often attacked through legal means, by unfounded lawsuits that aim at suffocating them and their organizations financially.

Despite all these obstacles, one promising factor that has developed recently is the increase in internet access and the establishment of the internet as a place for the circulation of independent and critical information, in contrast to the traditional media, that has been kept under pressure by the government for years. As information flows on the internet are harder to circulate, this should give civil society more room to raise awareness and mobilize support in the next years.

Read the full article “Acting up. A portrait of Russian civil society, age twenty” on hrw.org. The feature also includes photos and videos with profiles of a number of civil society activists. The picture featured above is from rferl.org and is credited to RIA Novosti.