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    Message for the 20th anniversary of AICESIS

    Author: Sergey Ordzhonikidze, no comments

    The International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (AICESIS) was set up in Paris in July 1999. As the then Director of the Department of International Organizations and later supervising Deputy Foreign Minister, I was aware that the new supranational non-government entity had been established on the initiative of the French Economic and Social Council.

    The association grew over time by admitting new members mainly from Eastern Europe that joined the European Union not long before that and became members of the chartered authority of EU civil society – the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) that joined the association as a collective. At the same time AICESIS admitted a group of Asian “tigers”: China, Vietnam, South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. It is worth noting that countries with the Anglo-Saxon legal system (UK, USA, Canada and Australia), which see themselves as bastions of liberalism, do not have any such institutes and their non-profit NGOs’ contacts with the outside world is mediated by central agencies responsible for the country’s foreign affairs.

    The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation was established in 2005 but until 2007 it was not authorized to engage in international activities. Many of my colleagues, diplomats and international officials, who regularly visit Geneva to attend various public functions, quickly turned to me, as UN Under-Secretary-General and Director-General of the United Nations Office, for information about the new Russian organization. As soon as Russian legislators amended the relevant laws, the Russian Civic Chamber was admitted to AICESIS without any additional confirmation of compliance with the association’s membership standards.

    And in this respect we should give credit to the distinguished former secretary of the Civic Chamber, Russian Academy of Sciences member Yevgeny Velikhov, whose remarkable efficiency and international renown helped him to promote the Civic Chamber and get it recognized not only as a club of Russian luminaries, but also as a full-fledged and influential institution of civil society. As a reminder, the first meeting of the association’s presidium was held in Moscow in 2009, in 2011 we joined the presidium and in 2013 the Russian Civic Chamber was elected AICESIS president for two years. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed then that “the very fact of being elected is a big success that testifies to the high regard for the Civic Chamber’s activity as a member of the association. We consider it to be an important step, which enables us to expand the possibilities of our civil society not only as part of the international civil society movement but as a contributor to shaping its agenda.”

    During the Civic Chamber’s presidency Russia received numerous foreign delegations of civil society representatives almost every month, including AICESIS Summer School in Nalchik in 2014 and AICESIS General Assembly in Moscow in 2015. Over that period our cooperation with international organizations grew considerably, especially within the United Nations and International Labor Organization, as well as such associations of states as the CIS, BRICS and G20. This was natural given the similarity of the problems addressed by these institutes with the help of AICESIS. Indeed, while five years ago during the Civic Chamber’s presidency the core issue was the development of human capital, AICESIS is now dealing with issues such as digitalization of the economy.

    With the current crisis in confidence, when many are losing heart and hope for the better, constructive and businesslike cooperation between public figures is especially valuable. Uninterrupted informal dialogue and information sharing make it possible to narrow the gaps between countries’ positions, identify common priorities and develop principles of interaction. Progress in such a dialogue may unlock old practical achievements and open the path to new ones.

    This is why the Civic Chamber continues to place such importance on our cooperation with civil society institutes in foreign countries, in part as a means of charting the optimal course in our country’s foreign policy, which involves a greater role for public diplomacy, among other things. We believe that one of our most important challenges is promoting inter-civilizational and inter-religious harmony, advancing public projects and initiatives which would bring together different countries, peoples, traditions, cultures and civilizations, and prevent artificial barriers in international and people-to-people relations.

    We believe that at the present stage an overwhelming majority of countries and peoples would benefit from the ordering of inter-state relations on the basis of a return to the fundamental principles and standards of international law as uniform rules of the game, as well as the inviolable role of the UN as the universal, inclusive regulator of global politics.

    Twenty years ago, AICESIS was born in Europe, but now that it comprises 75 countries from four continents this movement is unimaginable without Africa, Asia and Latin America. There is no monopoly on promoting the ideas of civil society. It is important to keep on looking for common denominators and values reflecting the full diversity and wealth of our cultures, traditions and history.

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