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Our roundtable on political exiles, in the context of civil society work in preparation of the Summit for Democracy / Наш круглый стол о политэмиграции как часть программы общественных организаций в рамках подготовки Саммита за демократию

#SummitForDemocracy

Our Association’s leadership has been actively involved in civil society working groups created in preparation of the first Summit for Democracy convened by President Joe Biden for Dec. 9-10, 2021. We view the success of this Summit and of the subsequent steps to defend and advance democracy domestically and internationally as essential for the U.S. and the democratic world writ large and specifically for political exiles and other immigrants from authoritarian regimes. As part of our efforts to make our communities’ voices heard and to contribute to the overall success of the summit, we convened an international roundtablePolitical Exiles From Autocracies As Citizens Of Democracies and As Transnational Actors“. The event was held on Nov. 30 in collaboration with Svoboda Alliance (Australia) and included among its speakers Russian environmental leader in exile Evgenia Chirikova; Belarusian entrepreneur and activist in exile, wife of political prisoner Alexander Vasilevich Nadia Zelenkova; former Member of Parliament of Ukraine and former deputy chief of the Humanitarian and Cultural Heritage Office of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine Lyubov Stasiv; co-chair of the Board of our Association and daughter-in-law of Andrei Sakharov Tatiana Yankelevich; and other distinguished speakers. You can enjoy the full videorecording of this event here, or a shortened video summarizing this discussion that is available here). /

Руководство нашей Ассоциации приняло активное участие в деятельности рабочих групп, созданных из числа крупных и малых общественных организаций в рамках подготовки Саммита за демократию, который инициировал президент Байден. Мы считаем, что успех саммита и ожидаемых по его итогам действий по защите и развитию демократии внутри США и за рубежом крайне важен как для Соединённых Штатов и всего демократического мира, так и в особенности для политэмигрантов и других выходцев из стран, управляемых авторитарными режимами. В рамках нашей программы мероприятий, призванных помочь демократической части нашей диаспоры быть услышанной на саммите и в целом способствовать его успеху, 30 ноября в сотрудничестве с нашими партнёрами в Австралии Svoboda Alliance мы провели круглый стол “Политэмигранты из стран с автократическими режимами как граждане демократического мира и участники международных процессов”. В числе выступивших на нём – координатор сайта Activatica.org Евгения Чирикова; беларусская политэмигрантка и жена политзаключённого Александра Василевича Надя Зеленкова; бывший депутат украинского парламента и бывший замруководитель отдела секретариата президента Украины по вопросам культурного наследия Любовь Стасив; сопредседатель совета директоров АРПА Татьяна Янкелевич; и другие. Полная видеозапись круглого стола – ниже, а также здесь, а её сокращённый 20-минутный вариант, включающий в себя основные выдержки из дискуссии – здесь).

Speakers: Dmitri Glinski (0:00:06), Elena Govor (0:11:29), Andrea Chalupa (0:23:06), Tatiana Yankelevich (0:34:45), Nadia Zelenkova (0:47:06), Evgenia Chirikova (0:58:11), Lyubov Stasiv (1:13:02), Jekaterina Borodecka (1:18:45)

“There has been vigorous debate on whether the Summit should prioritize domestic defense and expansion of democracy or countering authoritarianism internationally,” said Dmitri Glinski, the Association’s managing director. “But for many of us one is inseparable from the other. That’s why we chose the topic of political exiles – an often overlooked group of stakeholders in both domestic and international success of the summit. As immigrants with strong opinions – too strong for some tastes because of their heightened sensitivity to the erosion of democracy and to corrupt influences from their native countries upon the West – exiles are a domestic factor in their new countries; those closely connected to democratic and human rights struggles back home may still be an international influence there; and they are a transnational factor too, affecting at least somewhat, bilateral relations, even by their presence in the new country … In the words of John Kennedy, ‘Foreign policy is too important for all of us to leave it to the experts and the diplomats.’ The Summit for Democracy is that rare chance to open it up to transnational voices not just from corporate elites but also from the middle and lower layers of society. And one such political exile who grew from a humble start into an internationally recognized leader, arguably the most effective and unifying from our part of the world – Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya – will be speaking at the summit. … As for the longer-term solutions to give exiles a seat at the foreign policy table, they could include setting up country-specific advisory councils at the State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, USAID and other agencies – perhaps building upon the working groups created for this Summit. Such institutional platforms would harness unique transnational expertise and cross-cultural competency while also helping to break some invisible walls and glass ceilings. They would provide at least some alternative viewpoints to those corporate voices that affect foreign policy daily. Not to mention that such higher visibility can help deter transnational repression. Creating such consultative bodies in foreign policy agencies could be a commitment that would deepen our democracy internally and cheer up those fighting against dictatorships. … We also urge the participants of the Summit to take action toward the release of political prisoners worldwide.”

“We need to ask the Biden Administration to demand from Putin to release Alexey Navalny immediately and to stop pressure on the Memorial Society immediately as well,” said Evgenia Chirikova. “Our task is to support activists in Russia, to provide them with the necessary services – media support, legal support, psychological support, assistance with anti-corruption investigations. It’s extremely important to continue to support independent NGOs from Russia. A lot of them were forced to move to Europe and to America and they continue to organize services for grassroots groups inside the country. We need to organize support for activists from Navalny’s structures, because at this moment dozens of them are imprisoned and are in a great danger. Our new priority is to preserve the life and health of activists and help them both inside and outside of Russia. It would be a really good idea to organize a special foundation for activists in danger to help them evacuate from Russia and help them with integration in their new places. We need to keep their passion alive because it is the grassroots activists who will be able to organize in the future a normal, democratic Russia. … Our main problem is that Europe continues to collaborate with the Putin regime and to buy gas, oil and other natural resources from it. At this moment it is extremely important to stop the Nord Stream 2 project. There is a very strong connection between oil and gas flowing from Putin’s Russia and the state of human rights in Russia. I kindly ask the U.S. Government to enact strong sanctions against Nord Stream 2. It’s really disgusting and a shame for Germany to be supporting it.”

“What is happening now in Belarus is a humanitarian catastrophy,” said Nadia Zelenkova. “The number of political prisoners – 887 – is just the tip of the iceberg: nearly 5,000 criminal cases have been opened in connection with the last year’s election and nearly 37,000 people have gone through detention since August 2020. Almost no one can feel safe. We feel a lot of solidarity and support from Europe and the United States, but our sense of time is different from theirs: for us, every day is a day that our loved ones spend in prison. No one will ever give us these days back. It was our choice to raise our voices – but right now too many people are in prison. We feel that Western countries are doing a lot, but this pressure is not enough right now. They must support democratic forces, keep pressuring the regime and stop trading with it. … There are many people who have chosen emigration. I am grateful to them for this choice, because they can continue to influence the situation, and they do so through unimaginable personal challenges. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya talks about Belarus with Western leaders, knowing that her husband is going through a closed court, which will issue a ridiculous sentence. Svetlana and other Belarusians in emigration have been creating working structures that keep fighting for the rights of Belarusians and are preparing the reforms, creating a system that will be ready to be transferred to Belarus. Those of us who live in free countries will bring back upon their return what many residents of totalitarian countries do not have: the confidence that there should be zero tolerance for violence against human rights. This also works in the opposite direction: exiles from totalitarian countries have the ability to recognize non-democratic actions in their new home counties. They can be the first to light the warning signals.”

“I see to my great dismay that human rights are not as much on the agenda in the United States as they were in the 1980s,” said Tatiana Yankelevich. “The understanding of these issues becomes more and more vague and diluted. These times are much harder, because we deal with the regimes that are very determined to crush any independent activities, whether by group or by individuals. And we have to be finding the ways to bring the attention of our legislators to it by being really aggressive, thoughtful, and determined.”

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