Scherbakowa: „One should never give up hope“
Dr. Irina Scherbakowa works with the NGO Memorial International based in Moscow
Mrs. Scherbakowa, how would you assess your organisation’s cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom looking back over the last, almost 20 years of partnership?
The cooperation of Memorial International with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom was marked from the outset by a constant, friendly exchange of ideas. The reason for this was the priority that the Foundation put on developing decentralized reinforcement of civil society in Russia. Important examples of this are the projects that promoted the free exchange of ideas, especially among young people in the Russian regions. Joint German-Russian seminars were carried out together with FNF on the issues of the history of politics and of ‘memory culture’, which proved to be of great relevance and importance. For ten years, the Foundation has supported the Russian historical school competition, and this gives us the opportunity to invite the winners of several regions to Moscow to discuss with them current historical-political and social issues.
How do you assess the current political developments in Russia in view of the tightening of political freedom of action for civil society organizations? How is the situation for Memorial?
One cannot describe these developments as positive in any way. The great obstacles are: the entrenchment of authoritarian power, the erosion of democratic institutions, the dividing of society; these conditions set the stage for a future which includes a systemic crisis. Memorial, with its work for the ‘culture of memory’, i.e. for the understanding of political repression in Russia and thus the fight for human rights, always used any method available to seek dialogue with the structures of power. With the recent laws about so-called ‘foreign agents’, this dialogue will hardly be possible. But we will still try to continue our work as long as we can.
Do you have realistic expectations that this entire situation could change in the near future?
One should never give up hope; even in 1988, hardly anyone could have imagined that three years later the Soviet empire would crumble. Hope gives me the belief that some events, laws and campaigns (such as the spy hunt, the staged trials against innocent people, the Pussy Riot story, etc.) are so just absurd that in such a large country like Russia, they can have no future. The surveys show that a growing number of people see it this way.
Can organizations such as the Foundation for Freedom do something to improve the situation? Or would they compromise our commitment to our liberal partners in Russia?
Such organizations can contribute to improvement by demonstrating and strengthening the solidarity of civil society with us in other European countries. One should also do everything possible to oppose the policy of isolation by today’s power structures through the cynical exploitation of the West, represented as decadent, hedonistic and (economically) colonialist, by being a clear and distinct voice in support of democracy in Russia.
When you think about a hundred year anniversary of the Foundation for Freedom’s foreign work, what priorities do you see in it? What goals do you think we should follow?
I think a very important goal would be to show that the social market economy should not be established without democratic institutions, without justice, without transparency, and without an engaged civil society. And that ‘liberal values’ are not dirty words but an achievement of democracy.