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The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Elena Maslovskaya (Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia)

Russian Human Rights NGOs as Actors of 'Civil Repair'

The state policy in the sphere of human rights in post-Soviet Russia can be characterized as inconsistent and contradictory. The recognition of human rights in the official discourse has been succeeded by opposing the ‘traditional’ Russian values to European values. The paper considers the peculiarities of activities of Russian human rights NGOs in the conditions of legal restrictions and attempts to stigmatize their activities. The practices of human rights NGOs in western countries have been discussed in the context of social movements which form strategies of ‘civil repair’ (Jeffrey Alexander), that is resolution of problems connected with unequal position of different social groups. Since there are no widespread social movements in today’s Russian society appropriate forms and mechanisms of interaction between civil society and other social spheres are not rooted. While it is hardly feasible to manage a large-scale ‘civil repair’ it is still possible to initiate it at the micro level. As a result, in contemporary Russia there is a change in the priority of aims and tasks that human rights NGOs have to realize. In the situation of domination of the discourse of suppression they have to facilitate changing the public opinion, to prove the necessity of ‘civil repair’. In particular, human rights activists who counteract the normalization of illegal violations by prison and police personnel have to fill in the gaps created by the lack of official investigation and even to fulfill some of its functions. Their activities focus on legal assistance and accompanying victims during court proceedings as well as representing the interests of victims before international courts.