G8 Sherpas Hear From NGOs
Hundreds of representatives from Russian and foreign NGOs met with G8 sherpas Thursday, seeking to assure that voices from civil society would not go unheard during Russia's G8 presidency.
The meeting took place during parallel gatherings of the so-called Civil G8, an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations, and the eight sherpas, or government point men, from the club of rich democracies.
"Our main task is not to accommodate anyone, not to channel the process of public discussion into a comfortable or suitable form for the official authorities," Ella Pamfilova, who heads the Presidential Council for Fostering the Development of Civil Society, said at the opening of the two-day Civil G8 conference Thursday.
"If we come together on certain topics, that's good. If directly contradictory points of view appear, it's very important to formulate and air them in a professional and competent manner," Pamfilova said, RIA-Novosti reported.
G8 sherpa Igor Shuvalov told the conference, in comments broadcast on Channel One television, that the priorities of Russia's G8 presidency -- including energy security, education, combating infectious diseases and the war on terrorism -- "have a direct relationship to the lives of ordinary people."
More than 350 NGO representatives from 35 countries formed working groups to discuss the G8 priorities before meeting with the sherpas Thursday afternoon. After the conference ends Friday, Civil G8 leaders plan to submit concrete proposals to the G8 governments for the St. Petersburg summit in July.
Asked about the state of Russian civil society, Pamfilova said, "We have very many problems, but rumors about the demise of civil society are greatly exaggerated."
She said the controversial new law restricting NGOs' activities would likely be a topic of discussion during the Civil G8 conference.
"It's good that it will be discussed -- to one degree or another, it worries many people," Pamfilova said.