Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been accused of waging war on Russia’s civil society, which emerged from the glasnost era
The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum — established in Prague in March with the support of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs — is attempting to hold meetings in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to coincide with the Russia-EU Summit taking place in the city on Friday. Russian news agencies, however, have refused to allow the Forum to hold a press conference on their premises, as local law enforcement authorities reportedly harass delegates.
The Forum planned to hold a press conference in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday, but all Russian news agencies refused to allow the organization to use their premises. The St. Petersburg-based agency Rosbalt.ru initially agreed to provide its premises in the city to the Forum but withdrew its agreement two hours before the conference was due to begin. The Forum said in a press release it had information from informal sources that local police and the Federal Security Service (FSB) had pressured the news agencies not to cooperate with the Forum.
“There was no pressure from the authorities whatsoever. … it was purely an administrative issue,” Rosbalt deputy editor, Yana Morozova, told Czech Position by phone, adding that the agency’s Nizhny Novgorod branch had failed to coordinate the press conference with the head office. “In fact, we were very surprised by their actions,” she said, stressing that the agency is not a state media outlet. “Normally, our offices coordinate such events well in advance. ... It was a mistake on their part.”
The Forum said that Olga Sadovskaya, who heads the initiative’s Committee Against Torture, had her credit cards blocked for no reason and the number plates from her car “went missing.” The local police — whom she had turned to for assistance — then confiscated her driving license, the Forum said.
“In our opinion, such steps hardly can be justified by the security measures during the [official Russia-EU Summit]. We can’t understand why the local authorities want to prevent us from undertaking Civil Society Forum activities,” said Stefan Melle, head of the German-Russian Exchange and EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Steering Committee member, said in a press release.
Founded at a two-day conference at the Czech Foreign Ministry in March 2011, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is an umbrella organization for civil initiatives and NGOs in Russia and the EU that promote democratic values, civil and human rights. It aims to raise the profile of participating organizations, act as a united medium for civil society initiatives and NGOs to communicate with governments and diplomats and help “overcome the dividing lines in Europe.”
Russia’s ban of imports of fruit and vegetables from the EU in reaction to the E-Coli outbreak is expected to dominate the discussions between Russian and EU leaders behind closed doors in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday.