A Victory for Russia and Civil Society
The Civil Society and Expanded Dialogue Unit conducts research and analysis on the G8's ongoing relationship with major external stakeholders, including emerging economies and civil society. The group also publishes thematic reports on the G8's past and present involvement in issues that will be discussed at the upcoming summit.
On July 3-4 an unprecedented event took place in Moscow. Representatives from over 700 NGOs attended the International Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations, more commonly known as the Civil G8, at the World Trade Center Hotel Moscow. The NGO representatives met to discuss the roles of international civil society and their expectations and recommendations for the upcoming G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. This vastly diverse group represented not only NGOs based in G8 countries, but included representatives from over 50 nations. In her initial address at the first plenary session of the forum, Putin-appointed Coordinator Ella Pamfilova revealed her enthusiasm over the diversity, stating, “I invited many, and turned down none.” She continued on to clarify that neither officials, nor political representatives were to be present at the forum, as the goal was to discuss the “global interests of the people,” something NGOs are by and large closer to.
The attendees broke into working groups specific to their expertise to formulate recommendations for the G8 to be presented directly to Russian President and G8 Host Vladimir Putin. The topic-areas included global energy security, professional education, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, sustainable development, global security, biodiversity conservation and GMO expansion, business and society, and human rights. The discussions were intense, diverse, and sincere. Each working group was faced with the realization that they were given an unprecedented, but very short, window of opportunity to make their voices heard.
The decision was made that each of the eight working groups would be given three minutes to express their findings and recommendations to the G8 in a forum between all accredited participants and President Putin. The NGOs recommendations were creative and realistic. They ranged from a tax on oil production, with the proceeds allocated to addressing climate change, to changing the structure of international economic institutions such as the World Bank and WTO that put extra pressure on developing countries. Putin responded directly to each recommendation and seemed especially pleased at the proposals regarding aid to CIS states, prevention of GMO expansion, and concluding the implementations of prior commitments in regards to education.
The most disapproving working group was that of human rights, who expressed its anger at being left off of the official G8 agenda. The group also indirectly, but quite obviously, criticized Putin’s new law on NGOs. It protested that the law’s stricter registration and accounting requirements are threats to the productivity of Russian NGOs. The President did not turn away from these criticisms. He stated that restriction was not the intent of the law and if it proved to be the effect, he would be held personally responsible to ensure the proposal of appropriate amendments. He clarified that the intent was to check the amount of foreign funding in Russian NGOs, which he is against.
Before leaving, President Putin expressed his pleasure at attending the event and said that he felt he was among people who held views similar to his. The final plenary session of the forum was full of praise and thanks for Ella Pamfilova and Russia at the opportunity given to so many to meet, discuss, and develop relationships for the future. All expressed a hope for such an event to become tradition in civil society and G8 future, namely at the G8 Summit in Germany in 2007. Civil Society spoke firmly as a united force and will now wait to see if their recommendations will make it past the walls of the World Trade Center Hotel in Moscow, and onto the drawing boards of those at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg.