Looking back on 2017 with Open Russia

January 4, 2018

 

Looking Back On An Eventful Year With Open Russia — 2017 In Review

To say that 2017 was an eventful year would be an understatement. Amid constant attempts by the Russian authorities to shut down our operations completely, Open Russia has been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and justice at a time when Russian civil society has faced pressure unprecendented in recent years.  You can learn more about Open Russia over at our new English-language website en.openrussia.org, but meanwhile, here’s a look at what we’ve been doing this year in support of civil society and human rights.

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Education: A Pillar Of Democracy

Open Russia believes that education is one of the most vital foundations of a functioning civil society.  Our schools and roundtable discussion groups serve to educate politically-active citizens of all ages and walks of life, teaching them the basics of civic responsibility, law and even the practical side of running a political campaign.

Open Russia’s Open Elections school has helped over 60 independent candidates get elected in local municipal elections this year, despite numerous attempts at subversion and fraud by city administration.  This stands to prove that with the correct guidance, an independent civil society can learn to thrive and take local issues into its own hands.

 

Open University: Making Education Accessible To All

Open University is an innovative new project set up by Open Russia in order to make education accessible to everyone.  Courses range from history and sociology to contemporary politics and law.  The courses are run by renowned academics, journalists and experts from a diverse range of different fields who have put their knowledge together to produce a comfortable, interactive and highly popular online educational resource.  This year alone Open University has attracted half a million users and is continuing to promote free and accessible educational resources for all Russian citizens.

 

Upholding Freedom Of Speech

Our online media platforms have gone a long way this year in supporting freedom of speech in Russia at a time when such values are under threat.  Not only have we given a voice to the most vulnerable and persecuted in society; we are also combating a constant stream of disinformation from Kremlin-controlled media outlets.

In December 2017 Roskomnadzor (the Russian communications watchdog) acted on behalf of the Attorney General’s office to shut down all online content connected with Open Russia.  This included the online resources of the news website openrussia.org, the Open Russia Civic Movement and Open Russia’s Human Rights team.

Roskomnadzor then acted to intimidate both Twitter and Youtube, ordering them to delete Open Russia’s accounts from their platforms or face a nationwide service ban.  We campaigned publicly and appealed to the leadership of both organisations, calling for them to uphold their own standards of freedom of speech and not to give in to authoritarian censorship.

Due to Open Russia’s key online resource being blocked on Russian territory, the team has shifted its operations over to https://mbk.media where you can still access all the latest content and updates.

 

Justice For Political Prisoners

This year our pledge to help those who face prosecution on political charges is bigger than ever.  Russia now has the largest number of political prisoners since the late soviet period.  Our lawyers and activists provide emergency help on the ground for those unlawfully detained as the result of public demonstrations, as well as running information campaigns for those behind bars.  In addition, our team are providing material and moral assistance to prisoners’ families who, as a result of political persecution, are often left without the family’s main breadwinner.

In 2017 alone Open Russia has managed to mobilise 40 lawyers to provide legal, informational and moral help to over 880 people across 16 different Russia cities.  All of his has been possible as a result of your kindness and charity.  You can check out the team’s day-to-day activity here.

 

While Russians Stand Up Against Corruption, Open Russia Stands Up For Russians’ Rights

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH 26: People take part in an unauthorized anti-corruption rally in Pushkin Square on Tverskaya Street on March 26, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon/Getty Images)

In the run up to the 2018 presidential elections, as Vladimir Putin prepares to rule for yet another 6-year period of political and economic stagnation, issues of corruption and misgovernment have been centre-stage in Russian public life.  This year tens of thousands of primarily young Russians came out to protest against the endemic corruption of the country’s ruling elite.

Regardless of citizens’ constitutional right to demonstrate, the reaction of the authorities was to detain demonstrators forcefully and indiscriminately.  As a result, many had their rights violated by the law enforcement agencies.  After providing immediate support to those affected in the courts and police stations, the Open Russia team successfully appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, who are now investigating a number of cases for violations of human rights.

In addition, the team is now running human rights-related seminars across the country.  The seminars, run by team members and activists, are designed to educate citizens about their individual rights, and how to avoid being targeted by the authorities for their political and civic activity.

 

 

Russia In Europe: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

In March 2017, Mikhail Khodorkovsky addressed the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin on a topic very close to the heart of many in Germany: Russia’s place in the European family of nations.

“We are – the Russian Europeans. This term was made popular by the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We are the people who are convinced that Russia is Europe, even if it might be another Europe. Russian culture is a part of European culture; Russian history is an integral part of European history. Russia has no other way to go than together with the rest of Europe.”

Speaking to a sold-out auditorium of keen Europeans, Khodorkovsky made the case that a future Russia dedicated to local self-administration, federalism and parliamentary democracy will find a natural ally in Europe.  It is precisely these goals that Open Russia is working towards achieving on the ground in the day-to-day life of thousands of civil society activists.

“Our mission, including those of us who find ourselves outside Russia against our wishes, is to continue to try and prove that our people want to live in a free and open society, developing institutions that bolster freedom, justice and human dignity. Just like all the rest of the peoples of Europe.”

Hands on Experience: Training The Next Generation Of Independent Political Leaders

Through its educational initiatives, Open Russia has organized international training courses for over 70 of its activists to observe and learn from national elections that took place this year in France, Germany and Estonia.  In addition, young activists took part in over 10 international conferences and roundtables across Europe representing the Open Russia movement internationally.  We’re bringing Russian civil society representatives into the global discussion on the world’s most pressing social and political issues.

 

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Russians Are Ready For Freedom

Open Russia Vice Chairman Vladimir Kara-Murza has dedicated his life to the fight for a free and democratic Russia. At the Oslo Freedom Forum NY, an annual international gathering of human rights and democracy fighters (“Davos of Human Rights”), Vladimir described Russia’s struggle with late Soviet Communism while drawing attention to the spring 2017 anti-corruption protests which swept across the country and involved tens of thousands of young people.

“Over these past few months, in the spring and again over the summer, tens of thousands of people went to the streets all across Russia to voice their protest at the endemic corruption, the lack of accountability and the sheer arrogance of the same small group of people that has now held power for nearly two decades.  These protests took place in over 200 cities and towns, large and small, over 11 time zones, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, and the vast majority that came were young people, university and high school students, many in their late teens and early twenties.  They are literally the future of Russia.”

 

“We must embrace a new and radically different form of governance if we want Russia to be a successful, respected country able to make a positive contribution to international relations.” –
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

 

This year Mikhail Khodorkovsky laid out the definitive path towards a democratic Russia in his op-ed for the New York Times.  The idea of thRussian republic is enshrined in its constitution, however the guarantee of regional autonomy and real parliamentary representation must be reclaimed in order to ensure that the trajectory of Russia’s future is orientated towards representative democracy, rather than centralised authoritarianism.  You can read Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s New York Times op-ed here.

 

We must be able to say to our children, if they ask, that we have spent our lives fighting against this corrupt system.”
Alexander Soloviev, Chairman of the Open Russia Movement

 

Open Russia Movement Chairman Alexander Soloviev took part in the Prague Forum 2000 this year where he spoke about the challenges faced by political activists in the current Russian political environment.  Soloviev and fellow panelists spoke to a packed-out concert hall who had gathered to hear from first-hand experience what daily life is like for those who are struggling for democracy and the rule of law.

“At the Moscow municipal elections this year, people believed that they could change something and they made it happen.  They got off their sofas, went to the polls and made it real.  There are now 18 districts in Moscow with no United Russia representative.  This is the best example to show that you can change something, and you must be prepared to speak the truth no matter how difficult it is.”

“We do not have access to the mass media but nevertheless we are spreading information however we can.  I have not been brought up to sit around while this band of corrupt gangsters is looting the country.  We must be able to say to our children, if they ask, that we have spent our lives fighting against this corrupt system.”

 

Open Russia Marks Second Annual Journalism As A Profession Award

This December Open Russia held its second annual Journalism As A Profession Award ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia.  The award was given to journalists in 6 different categories and sought to honour the very best of independent journalism in Russia, as well as Russia-related journalism.  In addition to the award ceremony, a series of master-classes took place on the role of journalism in the rising world of new-media which were designed to help journalists adapt to the opportunities and problems of the rapidly-evolving world of online technology.  To view the award recipients and their excellent contributions to the field of journalism, click here.

 

It’s The Season of Giving

Donating to Open Russia helps thousands of civil rights activists who face harassment and persecution by the authorities, as well as the strengthening of civil society, democracy and human rights in Russia.  Your donations keep us up and running.  Donators this year will have the chance to win a special Open Russia seasonal gift, so don’t miss the chance and make a donation.

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