This week Simon Cosgrove and Sergei Nikitin talk with Maria Kanevskaya (pictured), a civil society activist based in St. Petersburg who is one of Russia’s leading lawyers working in the field of right of association. Maria currently heads the First NGO Laboratory. In this podcast, Maria talks about the development over the last 20 years of the current inhospitable environment for NGOs in Russia. She describes the quite devastating impact of the foreign agent law on the right of association, especially for human rights and environmental NGOs. However, she also describes a veritable ‘explosion’ in the creation of unregistered, informal groups in civil society that in many ways are taking the place of registered NGOs in what is apparently a reaction against the negative regulatory environment. Maria also discusses funding for civil society groups. In sum, Maria provides a detailed and considered picture of civil society organisations in Russia, based on her practice as a lawyer and leader of organisations that both study and support the ‘third sector.’ This podcast is in the Russian language. You can listen to this podcast on Podcasts.com, SoundCloud, Spotify or iTunes. The music is from Stravinsky’s Elegy for Solo Viola, played here by Karolina Errera.
Sergei Nikitin writes on Facebook:
In the summer of 2015, my colleague from a European section of Amnesty International and I went down the few steps leading to a basement office in a huge building on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Prospect. We had come to meet Маria Kanevskaya, director of the Human Rights Resource Centre. That year was to be marked by the authorities’ campaign against Russian civil society organisations: the ‘foreign agent’ label was being stuck on groups far and wide.
Maria Kanevskaya told us in detail about the campaign against her and the Human Rights Resource Centre – indeed sometimes about physical attacks. She told us how one morning almost a dozen government officials came knocking at the door of the Centre. Nothing was more important for comrades from the Education Committee, the Department of Culture and the Committee for State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments than to rush to the Centre. And among this group of officials were bureaucrats from the St. Petersburg Fire Inspectorate, the Federal Agency for Environmental, Technological and Atomic Oversight, the Federal Agency for Communications, the Tax Inspectorate, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Department for Economic Security and Combating Corruption. They came to demand that each one of them receive copies for all documents relevant to their departmental concerns from the past three years.
Maria Kanevskaya has lived through it all, and she continues to work in the area to which she has devoted her professional life – as a lawyer, a PhD in law and as director of the First NGO Laboratory. Maria has many ideas, and together with her colleagues she has big plans. It’s true, perhaps she is not very optimistic about the future of human rights activity in Russia, but that is the strength of people like Maria who are stubborn, talented and intelligent. Each one of the meetings that Simon Cosgrove and I have with human rights defenders gives a colossal charge of positivity and optimism. Just listen.
Simon Cosgrove adds: If you want to listen to this podcast on the podcasts.com website and it doesn’t seem to play, please download by clicking on the three dots to the right. A summary of some of the week’s events in Russia relevant to human rights can be found on our website here.