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The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum

yurischmidt061008.jpegYesterday Russia’s opposition congregated in Helsinki for an all-day conference to do something that has become quite difficult within Russia – discuss her internal political problems and propose solutions for the future. The second annual Finnish-Russian Civic Forum was attended by both Robert Amsterdam and Yuri Schmidt (photo), described here by Helsingin Sanomat:

Russian dissidents call for tough stance from West “Medvedev’s talk of rule of law should be taken seriously” The West needs to take a tough line on human rights violations in Russia, said Russian defenders of human rights at a seminar held on the island of Suomenlinna in Helsinki on Monday. They feel that the West is currently paying foremost attention to trade and energy supplies, and problems of Russia are often overlooked.

The two-day Finnish-Russian citizens’ forum was held for a second time. The forum, focussing on democracy and human rights in Russia, is chaired by MP Heidi Hautala (Green).In the West, Russian activists are often asked what they would like other countries to do with respect to Russia.“There is no particular Russia policy on the part of the West. Short-sightedly, only the first step is known, but not the second or third”, says Russian lawyer Yuri Schmidt, who represented former businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is now in prison.According to Schmidt, Russia is a lucrative place for Western investors to make a quick profit. Consequently, many in the West take care to use politically correct language when speaking of Russia.“Things should be called by their right names. Human rights violations should be called human rights violations, and Russia’s multi party system should be called an illusion”, Schmidt told Helsingin Sanomat.Schmidt urges the West to seek out the sore spots that Russia should be criticised for. These include freedom of expression, the fairness of elections, freedom of the press, and the right of civic organisations to operate. After that there should be open demands for improvements in human rights in Russia.Human rights are not a major concern for the average Russian. The standard of living has shot up in the past ten years, and people are satisfied with that.“They interest a small elite, and it is clear that although the standard of living has improved, and the crime that flourished during Yeltsin’s time has been cleared away, human rights have deteriorated.”Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has emphasised the importance of the rule of law and has set as his goal the implementation of the law. Most recently Medvedev spoke about the matter in Germany, where he met Chancellor Angela Merkel. Medvedev warned other countries not to interfere with the trial of Khodorkovsky, which he sees as Russia’s internal affair.“The implementation of a sentenced is, indeed, a matter for a sovereign state. However, the way that Khodorkovsky’s human rights were violated is a matter for the international community. Other countries should, indeed, monitor human rights violations.”Schmidt takes a cautiously optimistic view about what President Medvedev has said about improving the rule of law.“He cannot be any worse than [former President Vladimir] Putin. So far, he has been saying the right words. I propose that we support him in going in the right direction. Perhaps he will be forced to implement what he has said.”Schmidt’s words were echoed by Robert Amsterdam, who has also defended Khodorkovsky in court.