Briefing :: Russia: Human Rights and Political Prospects

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UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE 
(HELSINKI COMMISSION) HOLDS BRIEFING:
RUSSIA: HUMAN RIGHTS AND POLITICAL PROSPECTS

JUNE 23, 2005

               COMMISSIONERS:

               U.S. SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS)
                         CHAIRMAN
               U.S. SENATOR GORDON H. SMITH (R-OR)
               U.S. SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX)
               U.S. SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA)
VACANT
               U.S. SENATOR CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D-CT)
               U.S. SENATOR RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD (D-WI)
               U.S. SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY)
VACANT

               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (R-NJ)
                         CO-CHAIRMAN
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FRANK R. WOLF (R-VA)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH R. PITTS (R-PA)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ADERHOLT (R-AL)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE PENCE (R-IN)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE LOUISE MCINTOSH SLAUGHTER (D-NY)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ALCEE L. HASTINGS (D-FL)
               U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE MCINTYRE (D-NC)


WITNESSES/PANELISTS:

VALENTIN GEFTER
GENERAL DIRECTOR
HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTE IN MOSCOW &
GALINA STAROVOITOVA FELLOW 
ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
KENNAN INSTITUTE

               The briefing was held at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2360 Rayburn House 
Office Building, Washington, D.C., Representative Mike McIntyre moderating.

     [*]
MCINTYRE:  OK, we'll bring this meeting of the Helsinki Commission to order, 
and the hearing today.

I'm Congressman Mike McIntyre, a commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, 
and we welcome all of you today who have joined us.

We know that several members are in and out because there will be votes this 
afternoon, and there's some other committee hearings going on currently -- but, 
nevertheless, we wanted to start this meeting on time.  We hope that we'll be 
joined by other commission members during the course of the time today.

We'd especially like to welcome during the summer months the college students 
who are here, and the Helsinki Commission is blessed with having Kyle Clark 
(ph) -- Kyle, stand up -- from the University of North Carolina.

And beside him:  My son, Joshua, and my new daughter-in-law, Caroline, who also 
graduated from UNC, who are here on Capitol Hill, and Caroline is with the U.S. 
Commission on International Religious Freedom.

So we welcome them with us today as well.

And we especially want to welcome all of you who have taken the time to come 
here on this important subject involving Russia and human rights and political 
prospects.

Today's special speaker, Valentin Gefter, is general director of the Human 
Rights Institute in Moscow, and he is also a fellow at the Kennan Institute in 
Washington, D.C., where he's working on a project on post-Soviet political 
persecution in countries of the CIS.

His field study (ph) is human rights in transitional society.  Born in 1944, 
Mr. Gefter is a 1967 graduate of the mechanics and mathematics department of 
Moscow State University.  

After many years of work in research institutions at the Academy of Sciences, 
he became involved in 1995 in the work of the Memorial Human Rights Center, 
where he continues to head the program on political persecution in the CIS.

Between 1996 and 2003 he also participated in the activity of state and Moscow 
city Duma committees, in working groups concerned with human rights, and served 
as an assistant to several members of these legislative institutions.  He's 
co-editor of the Russian Human Rights Bulletin and editor of the "Russian 
Messenger" of Amnesty International.  

He's married and has one daughter, 25 years old.  So I know we all are proud of 
our children today, that we care so much about.

I want to also recognize Congressman Alcee Hastings, of whom we are very proud, 
not only because he served so well in Congress and is a colleague of mine, that 
I enjoy knowing personally, but he also, of course, is our esteemed president, 
on the international level, of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in 
Europe.

So before we have our guest speaker come, I want to call on Mr. Hastings.

HASTINGS:  Thank you, Congressman McIntyre.

I'll add that this is one of many significant hearings that the Helsinki 
Commission is holding, and thank you for hosting it.

I want to thank our presenter, Mr. Gefter, and welcome him here.  

I'm sure that he will edify us better as we progress, and if time permits, 
perhaps I might have a question or two, if permitted, Mr. Chairman.

MCINTYRE:  Thank you.  

Mr. Gefter, welcome, and we'll let you proceed.

GEFTER:  Excuse me, please, for my primitive English -- and maybe, I hope, 
nonprimitive thinking about my topic.  

I will try to read my preliminary text, but after, you can give me questions, 
of course.

Dear commissioners, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to speak here today on 
the human rights situation in Russia.  

Russia is becoming a normal country -- slowly, of course, and controversially; 
but as regards human rights, it has very little in common now with the 
so-called "outcast" countries.  

However, recently (inaudible) by now there (inaudible) black spot, so to say, 
on this surface (ph) -- which is not exactly shining, by the way. 

But first a couple of general words, especially starting with what is connected 
with Chechnya and how the authorities react to this awful (ph) terrorism all 
over Russia.

As you know, authoritarian trends are increasing in Russia now, and one 
distinction (ph) of this trend should be criminal prosecution of the people who 
are socially and (inaudible).  This should be clear identified as political 
immunity (ph) to persecution.

What are the driving forces behind it?  The most immediate one is the 
increasing role of the so-called power institutions (ph), or, as we call them, 
power structures, sularikee (ph), and the security institutions too.

This development is the result of many factors.  Chechnya, who has (inaudible), 
often goes far beyond any (ph) understandable limits.

Another factor is, next, people being unhappy and expressing their protest 
against the social and economic policies and against violation of their rights 
by individual officials.  

I believe (ph) the third is to what may be called preventive action -- from the 
side of state (ph), of course.

So all the more often people are persecuted who are not happy with some 
individual official's actions or with some individual government body's actions 
(ph), while (ph) the authorities claim that this individual's action should be 
considered as representing the state and should be protected by the state.

I don't mean -- and we don't mean that any such protests are illegal, and 
should be approved (ph).  What I am saying is the methods and the scope of 
state persecution, be it by legal or administrative or criminal persecution 
(ph), are not fair, obversely (ph) selective, and is directed against those who 
are not liked (ph) by the authorities or just by individual officials.

My key conclusion may be preliminary (ph).  The first (ph):  There have been no 
mass criminal prosecutions now (ph), recently in (inaudible) and used to be 
during, after (ph) and/or (inaudible) years of the Soviet Union.  That is in 
(ph) the Soviet Union:  A, based on ideology (ph); B, declaring a large social 
group dangerous for state; or C, persecuting people for public criticism -- as 
happened in the late Soviet times.

The second position, point (ph):  There have been principal changes of the 
social, political and legal situation in the post-Soviet states (ph), and in my 
native Russia, of course, too, but law enforcement (ph) borders (ph) have not 
(ph) changed (ph) that much (ph).  Their methods (ph), their (inaudible), are 
pretty much the same.  Very often, political, corporate, and even personal 
reasons prevail over the rule of law.

Besides that (ph),  the authorities should feel responsible for the whole 
political atmosphere in our country, which cannot be influenced with (ph) legal 
system.

In conclusion -- the last, but not the least, by my opinion -- I would like to 
return to the most dangerous manifestations of the whole (ph) atmosphere, which 
I mentioned at the beginning.  

Besides numerous victims of the military conflict in Chechnya, and besides the 
convicted victims of campaign against ersatz terrorism, we have political 
prisons, prisoners, in Russia now.  These are people who -- they are given huge 
prison sentences, as if murderers or criminals, and this was done in a manner 
which has nothing to do with the principles of the rule of law and habeas 
corpus.

The authorities call them enemies of the state, and we call them victims of the 
regime (ph).  

It's fike (ph), the first, it's fike spies (ph), in fact scholars (ph), really 
-- Valentin Danilov and Eva Sutaget (ph), who got 14 and 15 years in prison, 
correspondingly.  

The second one, Egor Sentagium's (ph) fate is especially hairy (ph) because he 
has already spent six years in prison for his open work (ph) and a military 
politics analyst, presumably in the interest of U.S., according to the core 
centers (ph).

The other two, the other persons, businessmen Vlasov Negediv (ph) and Mikhail 
Khodorkovsky, were selectively sentenced for nine years and had been singled 
out as scapegoats -- one, to take responsibility for everybody who took part in 
development capitalism in Russia; and for their desire to get free from the 
bureaucratic dominance and to influence Russian politics, within constitutional 
limits, of course. 

Naturally, they are not the only names on the list of people who (inaudible), 
reestablishing itself in bloodthirsty bureaucracy, Polis Everet (ph), first of 
all.  Plus fighting for their liberation should be symbolic as demonstration of 
responsibility for democracy in Malta (ph), in my country (ph).  

In full correspondence with the law (ph), their cases can and should be 
reconsidered or the process of pardon should be applied.

Looking forward to the fast-coming G-8 meeting now, and considering the 
Kremlin's plan on welcoming (ph) the next G-8 summit meeting to Russia, the 
American Congress and the president of U.S.A. can say, "We are happy to be 
partners in life" (ph) -- to (ph) Russian leadership -- "and stand together 
against numerous challenges," but we should begin with correcting the 
unfineness (ph) in our own homes.  

Each country should do its duty, recognize (ph) -- mitigating the suffering of 
those four people, who have already spent years in jail.  By correcting these 
mistakes, reached (ph), by my opinion, wars and crime (ph) (inaudible), you 
manifest your respect towards Russian constitution, towards the law in civil 
rights.  

Most probably demonstrating such an attitude might result in more involved than 
discussions about the changes in electoral processes or choosing the legal 
governments (ph) and even jail (ph) called for this whole process in Chechnya.  

Making these people free, might become clear an easier way for the authority to 
answer that question, where Russian politics (ph) are aimed at (ph), toward our 
programs (ph) of human rights and freedoms for all persons, without exception, 
or towards state question (ph) and harassment without regard to what you have 
done.

Thank you very much.

MCINTYRE:  Thank you very much for your testimony.

Mr. Hastings, if you have any questions at this time?

HASTINGS:  I'd like to ask Dr. Gefter, first, I have visited Russia on four 
different occasions, and each time I felt that things were changing and that 
you could see positive aspects in the society.

I make it a practice, when I go to places, to take the bus or the train, and in 
St. Petersburg, I spent about three hours alone just riding the bus system and 
underground.  It was enjoyable for the reason that I could feel the sense of 
the people.  I just add that part to demonstrate a little insight as to an 
American view of Russia.

I also was a participant in the December elections, as a monitor for OSCE -- 
very cold, and I'm from Florida, so...

GEFTER:  (OFF-MIKE) 

HASTINGS:  Yes.  

But I've found the people, again, to be very forthcoming at the election sites, 
and I went to 11 in the south of Moscow.

But my question goes to the subjects that continue to come up about human 
rights and ethnic minorities, and one thing I do not know or clearly understand 
is the effect of the war in Chechnya on Russian society as a whole.

We see on the television here when buildings are blown up, and it's suspected 
that it's done by terrorists, so to speak.  But how has that affected Russian 
society?  

And, Dr. Gefter, one other component of that is:  Does anti-Semitism -- how do 
you assess the situation of the Jewish community in Russia or other ethnic 
minorities?  I would be interested in your comments.

And that would be all, Mr. Chairman, that I would have at this time.

MCINTYRE:  Thank you.

GEFTER:  Thank you for your question.

Some parts (ph) of my -- delighted (ph) parts of my answer.

At all (ph) -- reactions of Chechnyan events are very different in different 
parts of Russia.  Maybe in neighboring area republics and south Russia, that is 
more intensive, because as -- depending not only from war or even on the (ph) 
terrorist attacks, but the whole atmosphere is connected with the level of 
violations from the state actors and other social groups and social parties 
(inaudible), but in the main Russia, mostly persons are not connected with 
Chechnya (ph), their ordinary life is not related directly from these events.

But the level of state violence -- I mean state violence as the violence on the 
part of police and military officials (ph), from bottom to top of this system 
-- isn't growing (ph), but in the last year we have, in bits of Russia -- not 
provincial, no provincial areas, no areas -- some attacks from the side of this 
policy main center (ph), by contract, to serve by contract in Chechnya and 
return to their places, native places, attacks on these persons' businesses, 
without reason maybe, and there is (inaudible), not the widespread situation, 
of course, but it's very dangerous, because in usual life (ph) not only 
connected with police working with crime, not always, because they are working 
with their relations as usual, too, is the first thing.

But the second question from you, connected with ethnic discrimination:  By my 
opinion, personally, the discrimination of Jews is maybe on a very lower level 
from Soviet and maybe pre-Soviet times, but mostly there are no official 
collegiates (ph) in this field (ph). 

As -- two conditions here (ph), to defend them from -- defending the persons 
from not (inaudible) each kind of ethnic discrimination, and you understand me 
that in connection with Chechnya, the maximum of ethnic discrimination concerns 
to the persons who leave or arrive from Moscow (ph), especially Chechnyans, 
native Chechnyans -- beimach (ph). 

It's a serious problem.  She (ph) is -- not constantly grows (ph), maybe, 
dangerous, of this problem, but sometimes, especially after terroristic attacks 
or another even train line (ph) or surface (ph), we are (ph) (inaudible) watch 
the very significant influence of this discrimination.  

But these kind of discriminations is provided not only officials, usually of 
the middle level (ph), by the police officer (ph), by the usual man of the 
market, on the street, and maybe on the schools, where (inaudible).  It's an 
illness (ph) watch those (ph) (inaudible) on the association...

(UNKNOWN):  (OFF-MIKE) 

GEFTER:  ... association (ph) to hold (ph) social organism (ph) inside (ph) 
Russia.  Maybe -- sometimes you will want to see (ph) by your own eyes, as you 
-- when you arrived to bus station, train station (ph), but is a serious 
problem.

Thank you.

MCINTYRE:  Thank you.  Can you tell us, in your opinion, why you believe 
President Putin has decided to limit civil liberties and human rights in order 
to, quote, "manage democracy," and your analysis of why he's doing that and 
whether or not you think that will be effective.

GEFTER:  By my opinion, managed democracy is a stage (ph) term (ph), of course, 
but it's not a constant trend of Russia top politics, because at the beginning 
of Putin's term, maybe some official ideologies promote this idea as 
anti-anarchist (ph) in times (ph) -- for instance (ph), ruling (ph), et cetera, 
but maybe they saw that ruling is not the (inaudible) center from Kremlin only, 
maybe there's more not onboard (ph).

But in our side (ph), in this middle of the second term of Putin ruling, the 
more usual term "limited democracy."  By my opinion, the powers extending (ph) 
-- being against their ideas (ph), forced them (ph) to rule (ph) what they 
constructed (ph) (inaudible).

FINERTY:  "The authorities themselves have kind of run themselves up against 
the wall to save themselves (ph)," as he put it (ph).

GEFTER:  Yes.

MCINTYRE:  OK.

GEFTER:  Because ideas of more liberal members (ph) of Putin's administration, 
maybe, liberal economists (ph) and senators (ph), consist from simple ideas.  

Our country needs (ph) consolidation, consolidation attempts (ph), to provide 
socially unpopular reforms, unpopular social reforms, in different branches 
(ph) of life (ph), and for this the other members, maybe, of Putin's 
administration gave attempts to rule on the parliament's activity of 
(inaudible) organization (ph), et cetera, for -- combine and don't attempt to, 
until (ph) special discussions, long-time promotion of reform, et cetera, et 
cetera.

But at this moment, they have the opposite situation.  The minimum attempts of 
providing this report (ph) stops by (ph) the absence of feedback from society 
(ph).  

MCINTYRE:  So do you think Putin's plan to do that is going to work?  Would you 
say yes or no or maybe?

GEFTER:  I mean that this clearly is (ph) a question with concern to the hope 
that Putin -- President Putin have hopes on the results of his policies.  I 
mean that not because he has not time for it in this...

MCINTYRE:  ... term?

GEFTER:  ... term.  Because, as I was saying (ph), the previous attempts are 
stopped in the very positive time, the oil price (ph), the international 
situation, et cetera, et cetera.  

But now his government and his relatives (ph) have no time for long and 
unpopular reforming (ph) or in various branches of social life.

MCINTYRE:  Thank you, sir.

Mr. McNamara, who works with the staff, I'm going to let him continue chairing 
the meeting since I have to go to an Armed Services meeting with the secretary 
of defense.

I want to thank you very much. 

MCNAMARA:  Great.  Thank you very much, Congressman.  

My name is Ron McNamara.  I'm currently serving as the international policy 
director for the Helsinki Commission.

I should indicate that there will be a transcription of today's proceedings 
available on the commission's Web site within 24 hours.  Our Web site is 
www.csce.gov.

As part of our normal format for briefings we will open up to questions from 
the audience.  We'd ask that you use the microphone when we do open it up to 
your questions, and please indicate your name, any affiliation that you might 
have, and try to succinctly pose your question to our expert this afternoon.

There were a couple of points that I'd like to see if I could pick up on.

One is that despite his lip service, talking about the important role of civil 
society in the Russian Federation, his administration is not always 
particularly friendly to nongovernmental organizations, and certainly an 
important element of civil society is the media, and media outlets have and 
continue to come under pressure even as quasi-state enterprises snatch up their 
ownership -- most recently Izvestia.  "So goes the news," I guess I might say.

So I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit in terms of this whole approach 
of the Kremlin vis-a-vis the media outlets in the country -- because on a 
certain level there's sort of a vibrant press, some, certainly, of the 
electronic media, especially, and now we see, with the takeover of Izvestia, 
that there's quite a concerted effort to try to have some control over some of 
the media outlets.

GEFTER:  Maybe the freedom and the status of media is not in the range of my 
interest and my activity, but I personally wrote (ph) in Izvestia during my 
working in an institution (ph) for three months (ph).  I had (ph) two small 
notes (ph) in Izvestia concern to very sharp (ph) moment of our public life 
(ph).  If you're not, of course, as one example, not the general picture (ph).

But by my opinion, the problem is not connected with freedom.  Maybe, more 
exactly, to say:  about independence.  Because frequently the media are not 
depended (ph) from different ideas, different representations of different 
government (ph).  

The journalists, the persons who are working in media, frequently state the 
goal to give his own representative (ph) -- or their own views on life, not 
give the wide spectrum of opinions, is the first.

And the second, frequently in (ph) Russian media, and in Estonia (ph) 
(inaudible) paper too, not dividing the opinions and the news.  It's a very 
strange mixture.  Maybe for Americans it's not understandable...

MCNAMARA:  We understand it to some extent, too.

GEFTER:  ... but it's very strange for us -- what is the view, what is the 
fact, what is your opinion, but I don't have interest in your opinion as a 
private person.  This picture is misunderstanding of (inaudible), not only for 
reason of depending (ph) with ruling on the Kremlin or on Gastrom (ph), oftenly 
(ph) it's not (ph).  

Maybe own (ph) censorship is more -- as a censorship dependent (ph) not on (ph) 
limits of -- and borders -- of representations, it's own...

MCNAMARA:  Internal (ph)...

GEFTER:  ... mentality -- yes -- its own (ph) censorship is prevailed (ph) on 
the state censorship, who (ph), of course, take place in the state, in the 
state media (ph), the official (ph) (inaudible), as second channel (ph) of 
(inaudible).

But for me, as a usual citizen, Russian citizen, as inspector (ph) of most 
media is enough to know the use (ph) -- it's enough (ph).  But maybe for some 
members of opposite parties, members of very strong opposition movements, are 
not (inaudible) of the situation, because they don't have the possibility of 
speaking as a -- in this TV or radio station (ph).

Sorry for my primitive...

MCNAMARA:  No, not at all.  You're doing great.

If you have any questions -- from the audience -- again, please approach the 
microphone here at the podium, and please give your name and your affiliation.

JONAS (ph):  My name is Sam Jonas (ph).  I'm here on behalf of Benjamin 
Cardin's office.

MCNAMARA:  Mr. Cardin is our ranking member from the House side.

JONAS:  My question has to do with the OSC parliamentary assembly starting next 
week.  

In your estimation, what effect, if any, will this event have on the human 
rights situation in Russia and Russian-American relations?

GEFTER:  I don't represent the influence of this event, of course, but if you 
understand my primitive proposal to push on Russian officials, maybe some small 
point, small point, related with maybe some personal.

My idea that pushing, pressing, on Russian policy in human rights field maybe 
begin not from general attacks on the political system in Russia, maybe the 
Americans and some parliamentarians from this assembly could begin from -- 
decide more (ph) concrete problem with political persecutions, with other, very 
important, but limit it in volume (ph).

MCNAMARA:  So being specific, and if there are specific cases...

GEFTER:  Yes.

MCNAMARA:  ... as opposed to systemic questions.

GEFTER:  Yes.  Because the systemic is very long and very sophisticated in 
discussing the problem.  It's important, of course.  

But this problem, especially what is connected with the fate of people with 
sentences, with long imprisonment, et cetera (inaudible), it's very important 
and a very practical approach, by my opinion.

JONAS:  Thank you for your answer.

MULLEN:  My name is Mary Mullen, and I'm from the advisory (ph) and (ph) 
support committee.

I saw on BBC -- which I watch each evening -- a small showing of Chechnya and 
of Russian soldiers going into Chechnyan homes and taking out boys about 10 or 
11 years old, and the family was screaming and the boys were begging, "Don't 
take me," and I'm wondering:  What do they do with these boys and do you know 
about this and is this part of the human rights complaints or -- if you could 
discuss it, I would appreciate it.

GEFTER:  It's a very serious problem, of course, but I don't know about 
concrete conditions.  By my representation of modern -- of current situation at 
(ph) Chechnya, there are not often attacks on small children or women or ageds, 
et cetera. 

Now, there are very controversial situation in some areas inside Chechnya, 
because the actors, military actors, not only officials, actors are federal war 
institutions, are Chechnyan institutions, are separatist...

MCNAMARA:  Separatist.

GEFTER:  ... separatist forces, et cetera.  But there are some -- and 
especially military -- officials, authorities, by my representation, of course, 
transition (ph), of course, are not strong control and strong ruling of 
activities of each soldier, each officer, especially who arrived from other 
regions from Russia by contract.

It's my condemnation to my government, my criticism of my government, connected 
more with unrolling (ph) of this process (ph), on the excellence of attempts to 
judge, to punish, the persons who have -- their human rights violation of the 
people, et cetera, more than direct ruling of this kind.

But the last -- not the least -- problem connected with some criminal sources 
(ph) against military officers, who has crimes against -- this whole operation 
(ph) in Chechnya, some Jews in Rostov and in other cities, regions, of Russia 
are not given the...

FINERTY:  Conviction (ph).

GEFTER:  (OFF-MIKE) 

FINERTY (?):  The juries are not convicting...

(CROSSTALK) 

GEFTER:  ... convictions coming in (ph), no convictions (ph).  In real cases, 
when military kills some persons, it's not questions about it. (ph)  Maybe by 
-- with the order of above, but not -- not with order (ph), but the juries, 
usual Russian citizens, don't wish (ph) record (ph) life (ph).  This is a crime.

It's a very, very dangerous situation from the special (ph) bottom, not only 
from top of the power.

MULLEN:  Because of the terrorist attacks on the Chechnyans, they feel perhaps 
that...

GEFTER:  (OFF-MIKE) 

MULLEN:  I wanted to know if you knew what happened to the boys, though.  Why 
were they taking those boys?  Do they use them in their army?  What do they use 
the boys for?

GEFTER:  10 years, 10-years-guys (ph)...

FINERTY (?):  10-year-olds?

GEFTER:  10-year-olds, maybe...

MCNAMARA:  Young kids.  

GEFTER:  Yes.

MCINTYRE:  Young kids.

GEFTER:  ... can be (ph) -- is not (ph)...

MCNAMARA:  In these mop-up operations that they...

GEFTER:  Yes.  I don't understand this concrete fact.  I don't -- assure (ph) 
that that's not constructed by nature (ph), because sometimes "military person" 
means that teenagers, not 10-year-olds -- maybe 15-year-olds, maybe 
16-year-olds -- belong to separatistic military or...

FINERTY (?):  (OFF-MIKE) 

GEFTER:  ... to rebels.  Yes, I should say rebels.

But it's not constant and widespread situation -- by my opinion, of course, so 
-- I don't work in Chechnya in this war, only in the first war times (ph).

HOMER:  My name is Lauren Homer, and I'm with International Law Group, a 
private law firm.  My area of expertise is religious freedom in Russia.

But I have a more general question, it follows on the last one, which is:  

To what extent do you think that the human rights violations that we're seeing 
all over Russia and in the religious freedom area -- where churches are being 
knocked down or closed, and just all sorts of lawless activities going on -- is 
due to the overall breakdown of the Russian governmental system and to what 
extent do you think it's part of a deliberate state policy of picking on weaker 
groups because they're easy to pick on, no one's standing up for them, and then 
it gives some of the anger and darker forces in society an outlet?

GEFTER:  I mean, it's not a common uniform picture.  There are some cases, of 
course.  I don't mean that there (ph) exists official politics in this, as it 
exists (ph), it's not (ph), but in some regions, or in some situations in some 
regions, the influence of Russian Orthodox Church or other influential -- not 
necessarily official -- group is very great.

And the bureaucrats or the, maybe, middle level -- not Moscow, Kremlin, et 
cetera (ph) -- have the tradition.  Who is the main (ph) in my area?  At Soviet 
times it's Reichholm (ph) and the KJB, et cetera.  And now who is it?  Maybe a 
governor, maybe a great businessman, or a criminal, and sometimes this Russian 
Orthodox Church and other conventional persons (ph).

By my opinion, usually this case is connected with, by Russian terms, "syecht" 
(ph) -- it's more easily object for attack.  Oftenly (ph) they are working in 
the gray zone between traditional religious forms (ph) and trends and the...

FINERTY:  "Fraud, ripping people off."

GEFTER:  Yes.  ... and for powers, for national sort of (inaudible) so it's 
(ph) more easy to push public opinion, very often -- newspapers or other mass 
media -- against these small groups.  But sometimes the official politics 
against ego (ph) with, instance (ph), some special groups too, and they laugh 
(ph).  

By my opinion, what's (ph) very dangerous now is widespread opinion and the 
attempts to attack Muslim groups, especially Muslim groups who became -- 
belonged to radical Islam.  Not military radical, of course.  It's:  radical by 
opinion, by representation of world, et cetera.  Cheev Butach Reev (ph) groups, 
for example, et cetera.  

It is very dangerous, because this attack is organized by radical things (ph), 
from Supreme Court of Russian Federation, who gave the special decision in this 
Muslim organizations, and up to police, up to, say, local officials, by my 
opinion, is more dangerous than others.

VASILEVF (ph):  My name is Pasha Vasilevf (ph).  I am from the Center of 
Strategic and International Studies.

My question is related to an institution that I think is quite famous related 
to hazing in the military, where it's been the same in the Soviet times, and it 
seems to continue and to even become worse recently.

So I wanted to know your opinion about what is going on and if the Russian 
government is trying to or doing something about that situation.

GEFTER:  I'm afraid that not, but now, I know, our ombudsman (inaudible) 
suggested to discuss -- to organize role (ph) police, special-role (ph) police, 
what (ph) did not -- belongs to Defense Ministry (inaudible) and towards -- one 
of the roles (ph) of this special institution must be directed against 
citizenship (ph), maybe.  

By my opinion, there are not palliative decisions (ph).  By the opinion of 
march (ph) of NGO's activities (ph) is the main step to stop this, even is 
regulating from...

FINNERTY:  Compulsory military service.

GEFTER:  By my opinion and by opinion of much of us, of them, the alternative 
here (ph) is not the decision in our condition (ph), as we hope (ph), as we go 
(ph).  Maybe after some years (ph).  So in real conditions, Chechnyan war (ph), 
of counterterroristic (ph) and other -- even since the wars (ph) in Russia, 
it's not possible in the role (ph) as a (ph) society (ph).

VASILEVF (ph):  Thank you.

MCNAMARA:  I wanted to pick up on a point that you sort of alluded to a little 
bit, and that is in sort of the area of democracy in Russia.  

We have to ask ourselves:  What are the checks in place against the executive 
power in your country?  

GEFTER:  "Checks"...

MCNAMARA:  In other words, sort of checks and balances.  Here in the United 
States context you have the Congress and so forth, and understandably there's a 
parliamentary system in Russia, but even there, there doesn't have to be sort 
of unanimity of opinion between the legislative and executive branch.

So is the state Duma a check against the Putin administration?  The courts?  Or 
the people?  Because frankly I found it quite interesting -- the manifestation 
after the proposed reforms of the social net, that that seemed to get the 
attention of the authorities.

But in the normal course of the governance, what controls are there, really, on 
executive power in Russia today?

GEFTER:  Yes.  Maybe, by my sophist (ph) opinion, in order to give a view on 
this problem, as I say, the main point of -- there are not institutional 
opponents to Kremlin, to top power in the country, but I hope -- and maybe my 
colleagues hope -- that there are some limits of power inside the power, not 
between the branches -- in usual democracy of a country -- but between some 
groups inside refuge (ph) of power.

And the other hope -- my hope, my personal hope -- maybe connected with 
well-known institutions, warn (ph) about the power, as (ph) the power (ph) is a 
lone (ph) European actor (ph) in Russia.  

It's not real (ph) now, of course, after 200 years, after Pushkin times, but 
maybe the representative views on top leaders of our country is not simply 
Soviet once (ph), 20 and 30 years ago, because it's (inaudible) who not go away 
(ph).  He represents the -- modern Russia is -- strongly rules  (ph) the 
country (ph), but the Western side (ph) of the country (ph).  Maybe 
authoritarian country, not with the corpus (ph), the warrants (ph) of rights 
(ph), not the totalitarian regime.

But really, really (ph), in the long time...

MCNAMARA:  Long term.

GEFTER:  ... long term -- yes -- I hope only on activity of usual (ph), still 
(ph) activity of persons who, by my opinion, the volume of these persons, the 
quantity of these persons, slowly grow -- in business, in NGO, in other 
branches of life.  But it's very long time (ph), you understand (ph).

MCNAMARA:  Well, I was interested, because in President Putin's most recent 
state of the federation (ph) address, after bemoaning the demise of the Soviet 
Union he then went on to boldly declare that "The ideals of freedom, human 
rights, justice and democracy have for many centuries been our society's 
determining values" and then concluded that "Ours is a free nation."  That was 
his take.  

So I don't know if you have any reaction...

GEFTER:  He's a (ph) great person.

MCNAMARA:  The great Democrat (ph).

GEFTER:  Yes.

MCNAMARA:  I know my colleague, John Finerty, has something.

FINERTY:  I just wondered, Valentin, if I could follow up.

You said that you rely on the average citizen -- you think that the hope of 
Russia is the average Russian citizen.  

You and I are about the same age.  You might be a little older than I am.  But 
for a while it was common, in the United States, in the West, that the younger 
generation of Russians would sort of be the ones that would lead (ph) forward 
and the older generation were the ones with the older ideas.

Do you think that's the case, by and large, in Russia today?

GEFTER:  Maybe I am not belonging to (ph) -- understand (ph)...

FINERTY:  Innovation (ph)?

GEFTER:  ... innovation (ph).  

By my opinion, some part of them are not politically and socially involved, in 
modern terms (ph), at all.  In general, Russian society is very automatizated 
(ph), very integrated (ph), more than -- easily (ph) more than Soviet times, by 
my opinion, and maybe, in the same view (ph), more than (inaudible) too, 
because our tradition of social collective life is fascinated, fasciticated 
(ph), by Soviet way of life, and now much of young persons talk about his 
career, his money, his racing (ph), et cetera, et cetera, not about -- as last 
time (ph).  

We see some parts of politically-orientated young persons, with a lot of them 
directed in the official, ideological direction (inaudible) role of state (ph) 
as the main actor (ph) and similar ones are -- they'll (inaudible).  And the 
official source of support -- of course, support by money, by other things -- 
support (ph) these attempts to organize (ph).

But, by my opinion, it's not a crucial part of -- yes (ph) -- part of society.  
For me, more important is the social public activity.  Then their absence of 
interest (ph) (inaudible).

MCNAMARA:  Are there any further questions?

Well, thank you very much for coming.  

I'd just note that the upcoming G-8 summit meeting -- that you referred to -- 
in Scotland in early July provides another opportunity for President Bush to 
meet with his Russian counterpart and to discuss bilateral relations, and our 
commission is circulating amongst our members a letter to President Bush, 
urging him to raise some of the human rights issues, some of which were raised 
during our briefing here this afternoon.

So, again, I welcome the fact that you've come this afternoon to join us.  

A transcript will be available, as well as other materials, on our Web site:  
www.csce.gov.

Thank you very much.

                    Whereupon the briefing ended at 3:06 p.m.