A philosophical discussion in Elena Nemirovskaya’s kitchen 17 years ago was the catalyst for the Moscow School of Political Studies, an independent institution with more than 11,000 members that Nemirovskaya founded. It aims to contribute towards the development of a democratic society that will modernize Russia.
Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand/Sida
Our work in Russia
Sweden currently has *international cooperation with Russia in the sectors of environment, democracy and human rights. The overall goal of the latter is to contribute to the democratic development of the Russian society, strengthened freedom of speech, greater respect for women and men's equal rights and the citizens’ increasing influence in the democratic processes.
The implementation of the strategy to support democracy and human rights is however not working according to plan. A new Russian law in 2012 implicates that organisations that receive foreign assistance must register as "foreign agents". This has resulted in a variety of organisations, including Sida's partners, being subjected to inspections by Russian prosecutors, which makes it very hard to operate. All organisations with whom Sida cooperates have made it clear that they see the Swedish support as more important than before, since other donors have reduced or terminated their support to Russia. This has also made the question of finding new ways to cooperate more relevant.
In addition, the ability for LGBT organisations to work has severely worsened with the new law banning propaganda about LGBT issues to minors.
Swedish support has nonetheless contributed to some positive results in the field of freedom of speech and equality, and the specific priority to strengthen young actors’ democracy efforts has been promoted to some extent.
Common environmental problems in a common sea
More than half of the Swedish support to Russia goes to environmental cooperation, with a focus on reducing emissions to the Baltic Sea, and to contribute to environmental benefits by improving energy efficiency and management of municipal and agricultural waste. The support is guided by the Swedish government's annual letter of appropriation and its objectives are mainly derived from the Baltic Sea Action Plan, (BSAP).
Unfortunately the cooperation is characterized by an inefficient and slow management on the Russian side, which has also led to huge delays in the large investments in wastewater treatment in Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad. One example of progress in 2013 can be mentioned though: a new sewerage tunnel has been completed in Saint Petersburg, which diverts 254 000 m3 of untreated wastewater from reaching the Baltic Sea every day.
Although most of the point source emissions to the Baltic Sea have been fixed, it will be difficult to successfully implement other necessary measures by 2016 as planned. The ecological status of the Baltic Sea remains critical. The overall challenge is to get Russian authorities to understand and accept the importance of environmental investments, and to take an ownership of them.
Previous support for the reform process 2001-2008
Russia used to be part of those countries that after the fall of the Berlin wall were referred to as countries of transition, representing a new category of recipients of assistance through Swedish reform cooperation. The appropriations for the support, carried out 2001-2008, have not been the same as for traditional aid. The focus has been to assist with experts where we have experience: in the social sector, environment, governance and democracy. The assistance has been concentrated geographically to the counties in northwest Russia. It has often taken place in the form of local and regional collaboration between Swedish municipalities, counties or universities and a Russian counterpart.
The overall picture is that the Swedish support to environment and social sectors has often been successful. Some of the collaborations that have taken place within the frame of development cooperation have evolved into more regular neighbourly cooperation.
Some examples from the cooperation is listed below:
A safer and cleaner Baltic Sea
Many contributions have been aimed at the Baltic region. Nuclear power, migration and border control have been some of the security areas in our cooperation.
Major environmental investments have been made within water purification with the goal of making the Baltic Sea cleaner. Sweden is a member of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), a cooperation between countries around the Baltic Sea, whose goal is to protect the Baltic Sea environment. The Baltic Sea Action Plan describes the targets.
The current Neva programme is one example which, when it ends in 2013, will have made the wastewater from Saint Petersburg meet international requirements.
Efforts to promote human rights
The lack of respect for human rights and principles of law is a major problem in Russia. Through our support, we have contributed to efforts that mainly focus on the northern Caucasus region, because of the difficult situation there.
Some support has been given to Russian non-governmental organizations, while other support has been channelled through Swedish organisations such as the Swedish Helsinki Committee and the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS). For example, we have contributed to efforts providing support for victims of abductions, torture and arbitrary detentions, or support for legal aid and legal advice.
- Support for greater democracy
Our contributions have mainly been centred on culture and education, often through cooperation between twin towns in Sweden and Russia, cooperation with the police and customs personnel, language and integration support and the media sector.
Through our support, Russian journalists have been trained through the Institute for Further Education of Journalists (Fojo) in Kalmar, Sweden, which has been of great importance to a large number of Russian journalists working in a difficult media climate.
For many years, Sida has been providing a great deal of support to the Moscow School of Political Studies to train politicians, civil servants and academics within different aspects of democracy.
- Focus on gender equality brings varying results
A major goal and overall target of our co-operation with Russia has been to contribute to greater gender equality. A gender perspective should also be present in all the planned activities and particular efforts were to be made to improve women’s participation in politics and their situation in the labour market.
Different evaluations and analyses of this part of our development assistance to Russia portray a split image of the success in the area.
Individual efforts have often been successful, while the ambition of having gender equality run through all efforts (mainstreaming gender equality issues), has met great difficulties.
In light of the above results, Sweden's cooperation with Russia continues, but on a smaller scale and mainly concerning the Baltic Sea and in northwestern Russia.