|Author: Jiří Maňák|
BORIS NEMTSOV FORUM – REVIEW
The Boris Nemtsov Forum with the title “Russia, Strategies for the Society” took place in Prague on 9th and 10th of October 2018. The event took place in the Černínský palace, the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign affairs of the Czech Republic. The selected location shows the importance of such an event. In the two days, 14 different topics were presented in the discussions held by a number of foreign experts, politicians, activists and other people connected to the issues of today's Russia.
Among the invited guests were Guy Verhofstadt, president of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Sergey Aleksashenko, Former Deputy Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation and Deputy Chairman in the Central Bank of Russia, Vladimir Milov, Former Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia and many others. From the hosting institution, the event was opened by Tomas Kafka, the Acting Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
In the first speech, Guy Verhofstadt supported the vision of free and democratic Russia with functional civil society but warned that with the current regime in power, Russia is steering away from this goal. He raised the issues of international law violations, disrupting the democratic processes in western societies and called for the action of EU. In the upcoming part, he introduced his rather vague plan to bring the change into Russia-EU relations. Strengthening of the EU, more intensive engagement with Russia and bigger support for Russian civil society. Some of the measures proposed would be hard to impose (such as broadening the sanctions that are quite unpopular among some EU member states) and some would be very controversial, such as proposed regulations of social media. However, calls for stronger EU cooperation and support of Russian civil society were highlighted throughout the conference.
As the conference was primarily focused on the strategies for the society, the issues connected with the future of Russian civil society were among the most discussed. The variety of opinions among the panellists have shown one of the core problems of civil society in RF, its fragmentation. Greg Yudin brought and interesting idea about the public perception of the civil organisations. The key issue is, that despite representing the opinions of majority, these organisations are perceived as rather minority matter and that harms their overall impact. Apart from other proposed changes, the change in medial presentation is highly needed for any change to happen. The absence of plans for the future, for example the lack of clearly defined foreign policy are harming the civil society as well.
In one of the discussions not focused on Russian civil society, the energy issues were presented by Vladimir Milov. For those who were mostly interested in more sociological issues and were not entirely informed about the economic prospects, this panel was probably one of the most interesting ones. The discussion panel dismantled the widespread idea of Russia as the great energetic powerhouse. The focus was put mainly on the Rosatom company and its use as the political influencer by the Russian government. Interestingly it was shown that most of the contracts are highly controversial and from a long-term economically inconvenient for the Russian side which has to cover up economic losses from the taxpayer money. The whole discussion showed how Russian regime uses state-owned energetic companies to spread political influence regardless of the financial return of the project.
In other panels, topics related to the religion, populism or European integration were discussed. In general terms, the conference was keeping up with the current developments as for example in the topics of right-wing populism and Kremlin language. It is fair to say, that for the informed visitors, nothing really new or breaking was presented in the event, but the selection of speakers was brilliant and topics and related discussions interesting. However, the main importance of the event can be seen in the guests and hosting. The presence of Guy Verhofstadt or John Bogaerts (Deputy Head of Division for Russia, European External Action Service) shows the growing importance of this event in the eyes of EU. And the overall patronage over this event provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic shows that even more.
To conclude, the overall impression from this event was excellent. The range of topics was substantial and the moderators and panellists did a good job in delivering the message to the audience.