On May 9th, US President George W Bush met with representatives of Russian civil society in Moscow. One of those representatives was Elena Malitskaya, Preisdent of the Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center. Here she presents her first hand report of that meeting, which differs in some respects to accounts given in the US press.
Representatives from 18 organizations were invited, 13 of these organizations were from Moscow, 3 from St. Petersburg, 1 from Vladivostock and 1 from Novosibirsk (the Siberian Center). These organizations are dedicated to addressing a wide variety of issues including AIDS, the rights of the physically challenged, youth, business management, civil society development, human rights, media etc. Everyone had a chance to greet President Bush individually and to tell him a little about their work.
After this, Bush made a short speech about the necessity to support democratic change in society.
The President asked a few questions that were primarily concerned with charity in Russia and the participation of the church in this process. He also talked about his interest in dealing with problems related to AIDS. Ludmilla Alexeeva (Moscow Helsinki Group) mentioned in her short speech that human rights and ecological organizations differ from those oriented on social issues because they cannot be financed by government or business. Manana Aslamazyan (Internews Russia) talked about media in Russia and how it faces the same problems as media in the rest of the world and thanked President Bush for supporting media in Russia.
In general, the President of America was in a very good mood, he made jokes and one felt that he was pleased with his trip to Moscow to celebrate Victory Day. He related good impressions from his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After President Bush left, participants had an opportunity to chat with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, representatives of the American press and the American Embassy in Russia. During this time Russian organizations were able to talk not only about problems, but to tell about successes in the development of civil society in Russia, about relations between non-profit organizations and local, regional and federal government, as well as with business. A number of people expressed the opinion that by only criticizing the processes that are taking place in the country often does not being about positive results.
The commentary in the American press about the meeting was surprising. First of all, it was reported that human rights and press organizations attended. For some reason the participation of representatives from other types of organizations was not mentioned. Secondly, the commentary made it sound as if the demands from organizations for the American government to support democracy in Russia were very rigid and that organizations presented a negative opinion about the development of civil society in our country and the governments actions. Perhaps, this attitude was expressed in an individual interview, however, the discussion of these questions during the general meeting did not assume such a rigid character. In my view, applying a one-sided approach to describing this meeting and criticizing everything that happens in Russia leads to an inaccurate evaluation of the situation and can even negatively impact on the political decision making process both on the part of the American and Russian governments.
Copyright 2005, Elena Malitskaya
For more information about the work of the Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center, please visit their website (English; Russian) or email Sarah Lindemann-Komarova.
Andy, this is quite interesting. I had heard about this meeting also from an eyewitness – a journalist friend of mine who was present – although I never saw any media coverage of it, in fact. Is this report a SiberianLight exclusive?