The YABLOKO party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Swedish People’s Party in Finland and the Swedish International Liberal Centre (SILC) held in Helsinki a seminar entitled «The Future of EU-Russia Relations: the Liberal View».
The seminar was attended by 250 people from Russia, Finland and other European countries — politicians, civil society activists, political scientists, experts, journalists and students. Representatives of Russian non-governmental organisations (GOLOS, the Moscow Helsinki Group), and independent press («Novaya Gazeta») that were subject to increasing pressure from the authoritarian government were also invited to the seminar.
The European Union was represented by Carl Haglund, Minister of Defence of Finland and leader of the Swidish People’s Party, Kristiina Ojuland, MEP, and Nils Torvalds, MEP, Astrid Thors, member of the Finnish Parliament and Vice-President of ALDE and Martin Angeby, Secretary-General of the Swedish International Liberal Centre.
Grigory Yavlinsky, founder and one of YABLOKO’s leaders, delivered a key report «Russia in Ten Years.» Valery Borschev, Chairman of YABLOKO’s Human Rights Faction and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Galina Mikhaleva, Secretary of YABLOKO’s Political Committee, participated in panel discussions on human rights in Russia, and trade and economic relations between Russia and the EU.
Grigory Yavlinsky stressed in his speech that only cooperation and integration of Russia and the EU will allow both the sides to take a decent place in the world of the 21st century, and give them the opportunity to compete with the North American and Asian world economic growth centers in the nearest perspective. According to YABLOKO’s leader, the main obstacles for Russia’s integration into Europe are Russia’s domestic problems, such as «primitive authoritarianism», corruption and «deformation of the principle of freedom of conscience». «The primitive authoritarianism does not allow the country to develop, does not leave to the nest generation any opportunity for self-realisation and limits the area of respect and human freedom,» Grigory Yavlinsky noted. He also expressed his confidence that the indicator for real changes in Russia would be overcoming of Bolshevism and Stalinism, without which any movement towards Europe would be impossible. Yavlinsky said that the key political issue in Russia was formation of a meaningful alternative to the present policies of the regime, and YABLOKO considers formation of such an alternative be its main task. Looking from this point of view at the position of the European Union and European democrats, Yavlinsky stressed the importance of deeper understanding for Europe «with whom it deals in Russia». YABLOKO’s leader noted that the hopes laid on leftist populists and former officials from Russian nomenklatura, and called Europeans to pay more attention to the developments in Russia’s civil society.
Yavlinsky also spoke in defense of Russian NGOs that were subject to persecution in Russia and pledged full support on behalf of YABLOKO for such organizations as GOLOS, the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Memorial.
Valery Borschev, one of the key participants in the discussion on «Human rights and the New Protective Legislation: What the Position of the EU Should Be» told about a civil investigation of the circumstances of death of Sergei Magnitsky, which helped to draw attention of Russian and the world public to this tragedy. Valery Borschev stressed that the investigation was only possible due to the action of the law «On public control on the observance of human rights in the places of detention,» he also noted that the YABLOKO party and its faction in the State Duma had been seeking to adopt this law from late 1990s. Valery Borschev also spoke about the need for the Russian and the European politicians to adhere to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. According to him, a withdrawal from the principles set in this document presented not only a Russian, but also a European problem.
Lilia Shibanova representing the NGO GOLOS (Voice) informed the participants of the discussion about the persecution of non-governmental civic organisations with the help of the «law on the foreign agents.» Olga Bobrova, member of the editorial board of «Novaya Gazeta», stressed that the discussion of the recent repressive was very important, but it should not reduce attention to the long-standing systemic problems complicating the development of civil society and a free press, such as the dependence of the Russian regional press from the local authorities.
Galina Mikhaleva, in her speech in the panel «Trade and Economic Relations: What Further Integration Is Desirable?” provided a detailed analysis of the development of Russian-European economic relations in the past decade and made a conclusion about the need to return from the policies of solving specific issues to policies of development of relations between Russia and the EU on the basis of common values.
The seminar also paid considerable attention to the abolishing of visa barriers between Russia and the EU. The participants of the seminar emphasised that application of visa restrictions as an instrument of pressure on officials violating human rights in Russia was not in contradiction with the strategic course towards facilitatation of entry to the EU for a broad range of Russian citizens with a view to a complete abolishing of visas.
Anna-Lena Lauren, Moscow correspondent of Hufvudstadsbladet
Kristiina Ojuland, Member of the European Parliament
Astrid Thors, ALDE Party Vice president, Member of Parliament
Carl Haglund, Minister of Defence and SFP Party Chair
From left to right: Amanda Lovkvist, Moderator and Deputy Secretary General of SILC,
Lilia Shibanova, Executive Director of GOLOS, Valery Borschyov, Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Co-Chair of YABLOKO’s Human Rights Faction, Olga Bobrova, Member of Editorial Board of Novaya Gazeta, and Sascha Tamm, Liberales Institut, Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung fur die Freiheit.