By Diana Mikitin
Oxford, OH: Wednesday April 22, 2015
By now, it is clear to everyone that Russia’s government is corrupt. Russia’s Corruption Perception Index rank is 136 out of 175 countries, among the lowest for a well-developed and wealthy nation. Data from the Global Corruption Barometer shows that 52% of people in Russia believe that their government does an ineffective job in fighting corruption. Furthermore, 53% of the population believes corruption has increased in recent years. There are the obvious areas that we can see are being affected like the police institutions and civil servants, but less emphasis on the other areas of government and society that become affected by an ineffective government. There is a large problem stewing in Russia, one that only gets worse as the government drifts further into “militarization and radicalization”.
On Wednesday, April 22, Anna Dobrovolskaya, director of the Human Rights House Voronezh and a member of the International Youth Human Rights Movement, visited Miami University. Clearly passionate about her work, she immediately engaged students into thinking about human rights. As a part of a special routine she does at conferences with young students, she asked “What associations came to mind” when she said Russia. Immediately a student said “Vladimir Putin”, another said “LGBT issues”, and while these can definitely be considered the what of human rights problems, students spoke little about the why. She says there are two main issues that ultimately set the scene for human rights difficulties in Russia–the institutions are either “poorly working or not working at all”, and that the values of the people often include the idea that “human rights are not important” or that “proper human rights protection are not possible”. Tradition in Russia makes it difficult for human rights to gain a voice in society; Dobrovolskaya spoke about a “lack of support at the grass root level” combined with “no political will” and a “weak civil society” that makes for a toxic poison, one that human rights activist fight hard to combat. While individual human rights groups are strong and willful, it is hard to make changes in the prison-like social environment that encompasses Russia. Dobrovolskaya told students about how free media slowly seeps into obliteration as the government spreads its vast control. Aid efforts are quickly shut down as anti-corruption agencies are systematically labeled as “foreign agents”, a title that typically translates to “spy” in Russia.
Dobrovolskaya insisted that the prognosis is also meager for education. The Putin government has become manipulative as it sets standards to what the “correct history” of Russia is, which virtually squeezes the power of education to a pulp. Dobrovolskaya told students how it is common for a single book to be produced and labeled as appropriate for schooling, and all others with ultimately “truer facts” are not allowed. Ultimately, there is a “shrinking space” for academic freedoms, arts and culture.
Torture and police abuse are also so common that many citizens are afraid. The first photograph of Dobrovolskaya’s PowerPoint was of a man whose back was badly bruised in a protest in Crimea, an area recently annexed to Russia after ongoing battle with Ukraine. The conflicts fuel her role in the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission. The photograph reminded students of the effects of a lack of regard for human rights. Major human rights organizations have brought attention to these atrocities but the systemic issues continue. Homophobia in Russia has sparked controversy here, in the United States, where acceptance is rising rapidly. Xenophobia is also common in Russia; which she says is quite an unsubstantiated fear since Russia has a “large dependence on foreign labor”, mostly on Central Asian countries.
According to the Global Perceptions Barometer, nearly 56% of people in 2013 felt that ordinary people could not make a difference in the fight against corruption. Many of those become likely to feel unmotivated to act for human rights improvements. Combined with the already deteriorating situation in Russia, Dobrovolskaya fears Russia will soon cater to an “idyllic” view of Stalin and quite possibly rebuild monuments of the Soviet-leader. Nothing seems outside of the realm of possibility in a country continually struggling with the concepts of “justice, freedom, and solidarity”, which she believes are the foundations of human rights.
Amid all of the information, Anna Dobrovolskaya reminds us that Russia is not the only one facing these issues, and that Human Rights is a worldwide issue that affects many. Strong and motivated, she continues to fight for human rights in her country, carrying with her an educational spirit and the hope to bring awareness to the students who surround her.
Diana Mikitin is a sophomore at Miami majoring in political science.
“Corruption by Country / Territory.” Transparency International. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.