NGOs Try To Advise G8 States
By Stephen Boykewich and Galina Stolyarova
International NGOs struggled to agree on their message for Group of Eight leaders, with participants at a major conference on March 9-10 split on policy recommendations and the health of Russian civil society.
About 350 activists ended a meeting of the so-called Civil G8 on March 10 after two days of discussions and an unprecedented meeting with all eight sherpas, or government point men, from the club of rich democracies. Many activists insisted the event had been a success despite delays drafting its final documents.
“Everyone came with different opinions, and the fact that we came together on as many points as we did is a fantastic success,” Tanya Monaghan, head of the International Chamber of Commerce’s Moscow office, said at a news conference after the discussions.
The main task of the Civil G8, a coalition of dozens of Russian and foreign nongovernmental organizations, is to try to put civil society’s concerns to G8 leaders.
But on the critical topic of energy security — Russia’s stated priority during its G8 presidency this year — organizers said the group’s recommendations to G8 governments were at least a week away.
“It’s a very big document, and it’s still very raw,” Leonid Grigoryev, president of the Institute of Energy and Finance, said at the news conference. “It wouldn’t be a good idea to distribute it in its current form.”
Grigoryev said the document recommended the use of alternative energy sources and an end to government subsidies for nuclear power.
“We’re not so naive as to think that, as of tomorrow, atomic and other ‘dirty’ energy sources shouldn’t be used anymore,” Greenpeace Russia director Sergei Tsyplenkov said at the Civil G8 conference. “That’s why we consider it very important that the G8 leaders support the development of alternative, ecologically pure energy sources.”
But environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, who runs the St. Petersburg branch of the Norwegian ecological organization Bellona, spoke about the document in a much more positive tone.
“This is a very strong document,” he said at a news conference in Rosbalt news agency on Wednesday. “It’s a call for an immediate end to the construction of new nuclear reactors and updating of old ones in all of the G8 countries. We are also demanding a complete shutdown of all nuclear industry projects in these countries, except for safety measures.”
Until 1985, Alexander Nikitin served as a naval captain in the Soviet Northern Fleet, where he worked as a chief engineer on nuclear powered submarines. In 2000, Nikitin won a legal battle against the country’s FSB security services body after being accused of high treason and espionage. Nikitin had written an analytical report for Bellona on the potential environmental hazards of radioactive waste and decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines, specifically, in Northern Russia.
The list of recommendations for G8 also contains a request to stop the international transportation of nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel.
“Nuclear industry in its current form has compromised itself,” Nikitin said. “We have to end the unethical practice of certain countries producing nuclear energy but then getting rid of the waste by sending it to other countries.”
Alexander Sungurov, president of the St. Petersburg Center for Political and Humanitarian Studies “Strategia”, said he was encouraged to see that the forum’s section on education devoted much attention to civil education programs.
“Things like teaching human rights to the police are crucially important in Russia today,” Sungurov said. “An international council is needed within the Civil G8 to exchange such programs between the eight participating countries and evaluate each country’s efforts.”
In Sungurov’s opinion, police violence and ethnic hatred are the two major problems facing Russia’s civil society at present.
“Civil education programs must target these issues as a priority,” he said. “We have much to learn from the other members of G8 about efficient ways of explaining to citizens why they need to take part in elections or confront racism or religious intolerance.”