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16 december, 2020

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Lydia Mikheeva: “Today the authorities not only listen to civil society, but also involve it in developing important decisions”

The head of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation presented the draft Report on the state of Civil Society in Russia for 2020

Lydia Mikheeva: “Today the authorities not only listen to civil society, but also involve it in developing important decisions”

At the final plenary meeting of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on December 16, the draft Report on the state of Civil Society in Russia for 2020 was presented. The President of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Lydia Mikheeva made the presentation of the document outlining the main trends in the development of civil society that was prepared with the active participation of the regional civic chambers and representatives of the non-profit sector.

“The state of civil society in 2020 can be explained in three simple words – unity, compassion and personal involvement. These are the three main words summarizing our report. This is what we saw and experienced this year, and these qualities have been ingrained in each of us. We will no longer be able to live differently – we can go forward only by being united, merciful and not indifferent to someone else's pain, problem or troubles,” she said.

“The annual report was the result of understanding the transformation of civil society and changing the modality of public-state dialog,” Lydia Mikheeva emphasized. “The underlying theme of the report is the paradigm shift in relations between society and the state – the transition to a model of partnership in solving the most socially acute problems,” she noted.

“Today the government does not just listen to civil society and take into account its position when making decisions, but enters into dialogue with it and actively engages the interaction of civil society in developing and coordinating government decisions. Civil society can offer new ideas, experience, resources, knowledge, as well as an outside perspective which is valuable for the state,” the report reads.

The draft report also emphasizes that a new format of interaction between the government and civil society has been set by the President of the Russian Federation. During meetings with the President an exchange of views takes place and proposals are formed which then become instructions of the President and are ultimately reflected in decisions made. An example of such dialogue was the meeting of the members of the new composition of the Civic Chamber with Vladimir Putin on June 25, 2020, when members of the Civic Chamber put forward proposals for monitoring national projects, creating a unified register of non-profit organizations, introducing additional measures of state support for NPOs in connection with the pandemic, as well as creating a mechanism for financing medical care for children suffering from orphan diseases, among others.

“Following the meeting, the President approved a list of 17 instructions. In turn, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation sent reports to the President with detailed proposals,” said Lydia Mikheeva.

According to the head of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, the most vivid paradigm of interaction between the government and society was highlighted within the frames of the constitutional process. She recalled the words of Vladimir Putin during his Annual Address to the Federal Assembly on January 15, 2020: “the opinion of people, our citizens as the bearers of sovereignty and the main source of power must be decisive.” The draft report notes that the Civic Chamber, which became a platform for collecting and discussing popular amendments from all over the country, analyzed and submitted them to a working group created by the President of the Russian Federation. 11 out of the 18 proposed amendments by the Civic Chamber are reflected in the updated text of the Constitution. Moreover, observers trained by the Civic Chamber were present at polling stations in all regions across the country.

Another important topic in the report is the concept of a responsible civil society and the responsibility of the government. The report emphasized that society showed solidarity with the government during the pandemic which was characterized by an unprecedented increase in volunteer activity. The initiatives of volunteer and socially oriented non-profit organizations that took part in the #WeAreTogether campaign, aimed at helping citizens during the pandemic, were highly praised by the President of the Russian Federation.

In addition, during this difficult period for the nation, civil society joined in monitoring and examining socially significant strategic documents such as the national action plan for economic recovery, the unified plan for achieving the National Development Goals until 2024 and for the planning period until 2030, and also proposals for adjusting national projects, which the President instructed the government to finalize. The activity of civil society, despite the difficult epidemiological situation, manifested in the implementation of numerous projects within the frames of the Year of Memory and Glory.

Furthermore, the report focused specifically on government measures to support small and medium business and non-profit organizations which became a response to the responsible and proactive position of civil society in 2020 – the Civic Chamber played an important role in substantiating the need for such support measures and developing them.

Lydia Mikheeva highlighted another crucial area – tasks for the authorities and the role of civil society looking forward to the future. It follows from the draft report that the events of 2020 demonstrated the potential of Russian civil society and the growing confidence of the state and citizens in public institutions. Maintaining a high level of public-state dialog and interaction between society and the state to solve emerging problems is seen by social activists as the main task for 2021.

Also among the priority tasks and areas of activity is ensuring information security as one of the important components of the national security system as a whole. The draft report states that there is a demand in society to counteract the spread of fake messages and destructive content on the Internet; opposition to the increased censorship of foreign IT platforms in relation to Russian citizens and Russian media; as well as a desire to increase the responsibility of media outlets designated as foreign agents and clarify the legal regulation of the activities of NPO-foreign agents.

“Proceeding from the fact that Russia should have an independent non-governmental non-profit sector, i.e. a strong civil society, the Civic Chamber will help to maintain and increase the required level of budget funds allocated to support and develop civil society structures. At the same time, we consider foreign influence on the country's domestic policy to be absolutely unacceptable,” said Lydia Mikheeva, stressing that the introduction of measures to counter foreign interference should not affect respectable, responsible representatives of civil society.

Furthermore, the draft report touches upon the introduction of the concept of "educational activity" into the legislation. The corresponding draft bill raises concerns of experts on several issues: it does not define the basic principles of educational activities, its components, a clear list of subjects of educational activities, etc. “Given the risks, it is proposed to consider the development of a separate draft federal bill where all issues related to the implementation of educational activities should be clearly worked out,” explained Lydia Mikheeva.

“Another important task is to ensure that all proposals received at the stage of preparing amendments to the Constitution that are not reflected in the text of the updated Constitution should be taken into account when developing legislative and other normative legal acts at the federal, regional and local levels. There should also be control over the legislative registration of social amendments,” she said.

Voicing the conclusions of the report, Lydia Mikheeva emphasized that in 2021 it will be important to continue monitoring the effects of the pandemic and its impact on citizens in vulnerable situations, and to consolidate the efforts of the non-profit sector and the volunteer movement in order to help such people; identify, support and disseminate civil initiatives to preserve and increase the population; accelerate the introduction of a high-quality information system for monitoring the implementation of national projects and increase information transparency.

She also suggested expanding the section “Information sovereignty” in the draft report by adding the results of public discussions held at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and rename this section “Civil society and protection of sovereignty.” “It should reflect the needs and concerns of the non-profit sector, and proposals for balancing national security issues with community activists,” she said.

“As a key institution of Russian civil society, the Civic Chamber will continue to monitor events, phenomena and changes in public life, as well as draft bills and decisions adopted by the authorities; analyze their possible consequences, the reaction of citizens and society as a whole; interact with representatives of social groups, leaders of public institutions and the government in order to ensure that civil initiatives reach the authorities and public interests are taken into account by the state when making decisions,” concluded Lydia Mikheeva.

The head of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation urged the participants of the plenary session to express their comments and additions to the draft report, the text of which will be finalized following the discussions. The final version of the 2020 Report on the state of Civil Society in Russia will be published before the end of the year.

Tags: Lidia Mikheeva

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