Site map
0The virtual community for English-speaking expats and Russians
  Main page   Make it home   Expat card   Our partners   About the site   FAQ
Please log in:
To register  Forgotten your password?   
  Survival Guide   Calendars
  Phone Directory   Dining Out
  Employment   Going Out
  Real Estate   Children
   September 30
News Links
Business Calendar
Phone Directory
 Latest Articles
 Archived Articles
Analysis & Opinion
13.10.10 Same Hammer, Same Anvil
By Tom Balmforth

The new Chairman of the President’s Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov yesterday pledged to concentrate on de-Stalinization in his new job, after President Dmitry Medvedev appointed him the surprise successor to Ella Pamfilova, who resigned in July. As a veteran civil society worker with experience in politics, Fedotov’s appointment has met a ripple of approval in the sector. Still, it remains to be seen whether he can weather the hounding that Ella Pamfilova’s colleagues say she was subjected to by pro-Kremlin youth groups and several United Russia deputies. Moreover, can the council become more than “limitedly effective?”

President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday caught Russia’s rights sector off guard, as he appointed former journalist and lawyer Mikhail Fedotov as chairman of the Kremlin Council for Human Rights, instead of Alexander Auzan, whose candidature had been endorsed by the council’s outgoing head.

Ex-Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova resigned on July 30 after what her colleagues described as pressure from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi to stand down. The pressure, they said, intensified when the council condemned the “persecution” of journalist Alexander Podrabinek by Nashi, drawing criticism from State Duma deputies, such as Robert Shlegel, who have links with Nashi.

Hours after Fedotov’s appointment yesterday, Nashi released a statement. “We hope that the new head of the council will pay more direct attention to the activities of the council and the development of the human rights movement in Russia, and not toward supporting extremist organizations and advocates of fascism, as did his predecessor Ella Pamfilova,” said Maria Kisletsyna, a Nashi “commissar,” in a statement posted on the group’s Web site.

Nashi had condemned Pamfilova for inviting veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 83, and Dmitry Oreshkin, a liberal political analyst, onto the council, which meets with president Medvedev and the Kremlin’s First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, a founder of Nashi. Writing in the Novaya Gazeta weekly after her resignation, Pamfilova said that mediating between rights activists and the authorities had often been like being “between a hammer and anvil.”

Fedotov’s appointment has drawn approval from council members, although many expected Alexander Auzan to take the reins after two months as acting head. Pamfilova backed Auzan’s candidature on her way out in July, but told Echo of Moscow yesterday that the appointment of Fedotov, a long-time council member, pleased her, since he was appointed “not from the outside.”

“The choice is really not bad for the council,” agreed Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Council who also sits on the Council for Human Rights. Fedotov, a 61-year-old lawyer who is best remembered for co-drafting Russia’s 1991 media law, worked as a press minister under Yegor Gaidar in the early 1990s, and latterly headed the Union of Journalists. “As a former politician he knows how to deal with the authorities, but also commands the respect of civil society and understands very well the work of rights activists – this is a good choice,” said Kabanov.

“Above all I regret that Ella Pamfilova left,” said Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial human rights group. “In my opinion the loss of Pamfilova to the council is a loss that cannot be mitigated either by Fedotov’s appointment or by anyone else’s. Of course, I’m pleased that it wasn’t a person from outside the council.”

Fedotov told the Echo of Moscow radio station that the council under his helm would focus on de-Stalinization, and that it would formally meet the president and his entourage for the first time next week. “I’ve seen that this council is very important to the president, that it is not merely decorative. It is not a valve for letting off steam, but a tool for working out and realizing state politics,” Fedotov was quoted as saying by BBC Russia after his meeting with Medvedev yesterday evening.

“The president has put people on the council who have been isolated by today’s bureaucrats,” said Kabanov, adding that the council provides a unique forum and platform for civil society to engage with the president. The council’s 36 civil society experts met Russia’s head of state twice last year, but the council’s effectiveness has still been stymied by its numerous opponents in the upper echelons of power. “At every level of bureaucracy there are people that do not support the council and many try to prevent it functioning. This isn’t just in the Kremlin administration, but also deputies from the State Duma,” said Kabanov.

The council last met North Caucasus Federal District Head Alexander Khloponin, president Medvedev and Vladislav Surkov in May to discuss the situation in the troubled North Caucasus. The meeting was seen as a breakthrough for the tough talking terms that it was couched in and the pledges that were won from Medvedev, who formally urged the region’s leaders to cooperate closely with civil society. But the president’s promises were soon revealed to be empty rhetoric, say rights workers.

“Medvedev went as far as saying that regional leaders who were not ready for such cooperation had to submit their letters of resignation because it was their duty,” said Tanya Lokshina, deputy head of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow bureau. “What could be a stronger way of legitimizing NGOs as a necessary partner of local government? But about two weeks later, against the background of all these beautiful remarks, [Chechen Head Ramzan] Kadyrov comes forth on Chechen television and says that human rights defenders, especially Memorial, are all enemies of the state, and of the people and of the nation, thereby pronouncing human rights organizations as outlawed. It’s a license to kill,” said Lokshina.

“The council is limitedly effective,” said Orlov, who mentioned a few recent council successes.
“When the council last met with the president, one of the council members Svetlana Gannushkina asked a question about migration policy and stressed the need to make changes to existing legislation. Out of that a whole committee was created to deal with changes to migration legislation. That commission has worked well, and continues to do so.” Despite its limited use as a forum with the president, there are “systemic” challenges that dog the council, he said.

Yesterday the Kremlin’s Council for Human Rights kept its integrity with the appointment of a person “not from the outside,” but it will take more than good leadership within the council to make it more effective. “Under [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin really tough measures partly managed to rein in the council,” said Orlov. “But within a certain framework – a rather limited framework, at that – the council is nonetheless effective.”
The source
Copyright © The Moscow Expat Site, 1999-2023Editor  Sales  Webmaster +7 (903) 722-38-02