Elena Yurkinen, a lawyer from Ukraine, listens to Bengt Göransson at the Moscow School of Political Studies
Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand/Sida
Moscow School encourages young people to shape a more modern Russia
At the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm in November 2008, Leya Gamzatova from Dagestan leans over the table and says that democracy does not exist in Georgia and Ukraine. She asks Sweden’s former Minister of Culture Bengt Göransson for his opinion. A murmur of discontent echoes around the room in protest at Gamzatova’s comment.
Göransson begins to speak and the murmuring quietens down. He calmly replies: “I don’t want to get involved in an in-depth analysis. But I can say that I don’t see democracy as some sort of incantation. There are those who talk about democracy, but who have authoritarian hands.”
Lively discussion on the meaning of democracy
About 50 young men and women from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and other Eastern European countries are gathered in the lecture hall at Skansen. They are all attending the Moscow Political School of Studies and are visiting Stockholm to wrestle with the term “democracy”. Göransson is one of the speakers who draws a reaction from the audience. “Can you say that Sweden is a model for democracy in your opinion?” asks one man from Georgia. “What do you think of those who believe that democracy is synonymous with chaos?” another young man asks.
“The school is the place for lively discussion, and that’s the way it should be,” Gamzatova says during a break.
She works as a local journalist in Dagestan and is supported by Elena Yurkinen, a lawyer from Ukraine. The Moscow School of Political Studies invites deep intellectual discussion about democracy and different forms of society. Here, young people can share their views and perspectives on the current political situation in the world.
“In particular, the school encourages us to think,” Yurkinen says.
A colourful driving force
It has been 17 years since Nemirovskaya planted the seed for the Moscow School of Political Studies. Intellectuals, politicians, students and artists gathered in her kitchen to discuss modern society. An informal contact network was created and a representative from the Council of Europe became interested in Nemirovskaya’s initiative. The Council of Europe provided funds so that she could develop the network.
The school now has five full-time employees in Moscow and the network contains about 11,000 members. Young people in Eastern European countries can apply to join the school and receive training, which includes seminars, roundtable conferences and trips.
“The aim is to get the participants to think, reflect and become active in today’s society,” Nemirovskaya says during her visit to Stockholm.
Sida has provided the school with a total of SEK 15 million since 1997. In late 2008, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, announced that the Swedish government wanted to continue to support its operations. Most of the support to Russia has ended, but funds remain for efforts working towards greater democracy because these have been prioritized in Sweden’s development co-operation with Russia.
Nemirovskaya is pleased with the Swedish foreign minister’s comments because she feels that Russia needs such exchanges with countries in the west.
“We have some way to go to achieve democracy in our country,” she says. “This is perhaps the biggest challenge for Russia’s young generations. The Moscow School of Political Studies inspires youths to think about what is needed to make the country even more modern.”
Nemirovskaya does not talk about Russia having stagnated or returning to the days of the Soviet Union. She says Russia will not regress that far.
“We’re living in a modern society,” she says. “The world has changed, and so has Russia, but we have experienced some regression.”
Nemirovskaya views the Moscow School of Political Studies as an institution that can promote good dialogue between Russia and other countries. She says that Europe should not view Russia as an enemy, but rather work closely with the country. Supporting and co-operating with democratic forces is one way of doing so and building partnerships between institutions is yet another.