owen, catherine

Human Rights Activists and Advisory Bodies in Russia: Working for State or Civil Society?

How do human rights activists interact with the Russian state? This paper considers governmental advisory bodies as constituting part of the fuzzy boundary between state and civil society in Russia, and explores how they are used by those who consider themselves in opposition to Putin’s government. Drawing on twenty-five qualitative interviews with activists in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Samara who either are or have been members of government advisory councils, this paper examines two interconnecting issues that shape activists’ interaction with the state: first, it explores the complex relationships that members of advisory bodies have with their role within state apparatus, at once co-ordinate their dual identities as members both of state and of civil society organisations; second, it investigates the ways in which activists manage their opposition to the state with their desire to reform it. While on the one hand, membership in such institutions represents a certain amount of ethical compromise on the part of the activists, without such formal channels of dialogue with state agencies, the influence of NGO leaders and human rights activists on political decision-making would be even more negligible. Interviews have shown that activists may improve protection of human rights within institutions such as the army or the police, but rights that could lead to a weakening of the power vertical, such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly remain off the discussion table.

Wednesday 24 October 14:30-16:30 Panels I, Panel 3 Competition and Democracy I (Hall 15)