Brief report of the Symposium at Rutgers University (New Jersey) and the Conference in the Institute of Peace (Washington D.C.).
25 and 26 of February 2014
On February 25-26, 2014, the UCSJ sponsored an American-Russian symposium and conference to discuss mutual work on teaching tolerance and supporting human rights along with rule of law as a way of combating xenophobia in both countries. The events were attended by Russian and American specialists and activists in the field. These meetings were made possible by a grant received by the UCSJ from the US Embassy in Moscow.
Several sessions were organized into detailed discussions of programs aimed at preventing xenophobia and teaching tolerance in the 21st century;
The main goals included:
- Promoting religious freedom
- Advocating for tolerance and plurality in the future
- National mechanisms for fostering and promoting tolerance
- Forms of dialogues for fostering tolerance.
- How to move forward toward a culture of tolerance
As a result of the meetings, special working groups are being established for further discussion of these issues.
UCSJ President Larry Lerner opened the Symposium with a discussion of the issue of teaching tolerance to the younger generation, stressing the importance of US-Russian cooperation in this field.
Nela Navarro (Director of the Rutgers Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, Newark, NJ), Leonid Stonov (UCSJ International Director), Sergey Burianov (Director of the Institute of Freedom of Conscience, Moscow), Anastasia Asseeva (MHG), Dmitry Makarov (Chair of the International Youth Human Rights Movement, Voronrzh, Russia), Igor Kotler (President and Executive Director of the Museum of Human Rights, Freedom and Tolerance in Rutgers University, NJ) and additional participants compared Russian and American systems of teaching tolerance, the struggle against xenophobic crimes and discussed tolerance legislation.
Human Rights humanitarian education was also discussed in the frame of globalization and its positive influences at the tolerance level.
The situation in Russia has worsened recently due to yet another rewriting of 20th century Russian history and very strong anti-Western rhetoric.
In the US, more than 5,000 schools take part in the anti-xenophobic program “Mix it up at Lunch Day”, while in Russia, legal nihilism has delayed the development of normal religious institutions and moral principles of civil society. A study of historical and cultural customs of the main religions was included in the school humanitarian program, but it hasn’t done much so far. For instance, in 2009, the Russian government established a new subject, “Basis of Religion Culture and Secular Ethic”, but by 2012, three years later, only 19% of Russian schools were teaching the class and there were very few qualified teachers of the subject. Meanwhile, our current meetings showed that despite the absence of proper legislation in the field in Russia, it is possible to organize effective education based on international documents concerning Principles of Tolerance (such as the November 16, 1985 UN General Assembly and UNESCO about Principles of Tolerance.)
In post war Germany obligatory programs for studying the Holocaust have been established not only for high school and university students but for adults as well. This is also done in the US, with more than 20 such educational centers in the state of NJ alone. Such programs can and must be implemented in Russia as well.
Igor Kotler (Rutgers University, NJ) proposed organizing a Museum of Tolerance and Human Rights at the University. The suggestion of organizing such museums in Russia was supported by the symposium participants.
Recently, the educational manual “Stalin Genocide and Mass People Killings” was published in New York, Illinois and several other US states as a teaching tool to be used in high schools. This helpful undertaking should also be implemented in Russia especially.
Natalya Yudina (Analytical Agency “Sova”, Moscow) identified migration problems as the main source of hate crimes in Russia. About 10 million people, mostly from the former Soviet Central Asian republics have immigrated to Russia illegally. There is no official statistic yet concerning the number of hate crime incidents, but according to SOVA’s data, in 2013 alone, 21 people were killed, 120 plus injured, 110 imprisoned and 59 people were detained by Russian police.
Unfortunately, the definitions of Extremism, Fascism and Radicalism in Russian Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Codes are so unclear that often they do not reflect negative events properly. There is an acute necessity of developing these definitions in Russia.
Dale Irwin (the NY Theological Seminary), in his presentation, declared that “religion, as well as human life in general, is situated in a framework that was defined by both tribal and cosmopolitan interests. All world religions have both tendencies in them and some tension. Extreme tribal tendencies become dangerous when they preach that one particular people has a God given right to rule or do things. They justified apartheid, genocide, etc. The other side says that this is completely inexcusable. It is important that we confront the dangerous parts of religions and bring them to the center.”
Stephen Bronner (Rutgers University) informed the audience about his new book “The Bigot”. In it, he writes that it is a mistake to divvy up prejudices. Bigotry is a way of explaining reality. We have to teach tolerance and anti-bigotry. The fatalism that accompanies so much of religious thought and carries over into secular thought can lead to Marxism and Fascism.
Sergey Buryanov said in discussion that it was impossible to develop a legal definition of religion to be shared by everyone. One of the main principles of the rule of law is legal determination. Legally, the government should ensure and guarantee mechanisms to protect people from discrimination.
Valery Borschev (NGO “Social Partnership”, Moscow) shared his work on organizing the Observant Public Commission which visits classified organizations such as jails, labor camps, police stations, army units, etc. Valery worries that now, after the occupation of Abkhazia and Ossetia and the recent invasion of Crimea by Russian troops, the activity will be forbidden.
Frank Pallone (Congressman from the 6th district of NJ), who deals with interethnic relationships, declared that unlike politicians and activists of many countries, he believes that in 1915 there was indeed a genocide of the Armenian people. His experiences have led to a strong belief that US foreign policy has to be based solely on human rights. He said that the Arab Spring was an opportunity to encourage democratic governments. Describing the Arab Spring and the current situation in Ukraine, he underlined the vital importance of promoting human rights, rule of law and democracy. “We have to make sure we are tolerant. It is very important at Rutgers that we continue to have these meetings on tolerance, especially because of the diversity”.
Larry Lerner thanked the Congressman for his position on the issue and for his protective involvement in Sergey Magnitsky’s case.
Many participants shared serious concerns regarding the Russian occupation of Crimea and the fear that a full-blown invasion of Ukraine could lead to WWIII.
On the second day, many new participants attended the Conference. The main topics of the previous day’s symposium at Rutgers University were reviewed. These included teaching tolerance, religion freedom, methods of xenophobia monitoring, the “unpredictable past” of Russian history and the use of museums in the US as a tool to improve the educational process in schools, colleges, etc.
Kari Johnstone (State Department DRL office) and Kyle Parker (Congressional Helsinki Commission) spoke about severe violations of religious freedom in Pakistan, Iran and the Former Soviet Union. They mentioned that 74% of the world’s population lives in areas where religious tolerance is not accepted. In the majority of these places, LGBT rights are violated and even criminalized. In some FSU republics, along with Uganda and Nigeria, strict laws have been issued against homosexuality. The laws assert that it is ok to treat people differently and victimize minorities.
Kari Johnstone stated that the US Government has joined other countries’ governments in encouraging tolerance. The US State Department publishes annual reports about human rights and religious freedom in most of the world’s countries. The reports are based mostly on the materials of local independent monitors.
Mr. K. Parker spoke on how the US Congress has connected international trade with violations of human rights. (“No free movement of goods without free movements of people”). He believes that corruption still won’t disappear completely but that it’s more important to focus on how to evade its corrosive effects. Without the Helsinki Final Act there will be no stability in Europe.
Natalia Yudina (SOVA) spoke on the following issues: anti-discriminatory recommendations, protection of ethnic minorities’ rights, creation of a legislative framework for hate crime punishments, publishing hate crime statistics and political threats coming from radical movements.
Dmitry Makarov (International Youth Human Rights Movement) and Sergey Burianov stressed that Russian civil society desperately needs serious support from abroad, especially in the context of the new Russian law concerning so-called foreign agents. Unfortunately, it should be noted that Western human rights activists have not yet developed a way of helping.
Liza Lieberman (HIAS) spoke about the historic role HIAS has played in Jewish immigration since the 19th century. Presently, the US government has requested HIAS to help 10-30 thousand Turk-Meskhetian refugees to be taken in by the USA. Fortunately, this can happen thanks to a ruling that the Lautenberg Amendment can be renewed every year and can be used for granting refugee status to religion persecuted people from Iran.
Leonid Stonov spoke about the ideology of the “Rodina” (“Motherland”) Party whose leader, Dmitry Rogozin, recently became the prime-minister deputy of Russia and is responsible for the rearming of Russian troops. Rogozin believes that the Russian economy will be improved for the sake of the military industry.
Mr. Stonov noted that Russia undermines the Helsinki Final Act and more and more becomes a threat for the peace in Europe.
He also answered questions about UCSJ’s project “Business and Human Rights” which provides international businessmen with information about the correlation between investment stability and the human rights situation of a country. UCSJ is preparing criteria for investment security depending on the human rights situation in a region.
Anna Dillon (Church of Scientology) talked about the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (IRFR), an informal group of 100 members who focus on the following tasks:
- engaging the US government to make international religious freedom a national security priority.
- engaging civil society members to have wider dialogue.
- Engaging in meaningful dialogues with governments to ensure religious freedom in Kazakhstan (in December 2013, the IRFR Delegation visited Astana and Almaty in Kazakhstan and issued a report about the religious situation in the country. The UCSJ took part in this part of the program).
Rachel Laser (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) spoke about the priority of tolerance over many other characteristics of societies.
Nela Navarro (Rutgers University) described the ways in which her organization has collaborated with civil society. Inspired by Dalai Lama, the Center helps minorities, women, LGBT and people of different faiths.
Vadim Karastylev (MHG) stressed the fact that Russia is far behind the US regarding tolerance due to an atmosphere of fear surrounding human rights and tolerance.
Dmitry Makarov and Leonid Stonov informed the audience of the International Coalition Against Hate (CAH) which consists now of 55 plus NGOs. They proposed to extend the CAH in order it to protect Russian Human Rights NGOs from governmental persecution. Information about the NGOs’ activities will be put on the CAH bilingual blog.
UCSJ President Larry Lerner concluded the two day discussion and proposed the following for the near future:
- The continuation of Russian-US discussions of methods of education for tolerance in schools. (The next consultation will take place in Russia in the middle of June 2014.)
- The preparation of proposals of new teaching tolerance methods for the Departments of Education in both countries.
- The preparation of recommendations for organizing the probationers’ groups on tolerance in the two countries.
- The development of proposals to unify tolerance legislation in both countries.
- The publication of materials from the February 25-26 Symposium/Conference in September 2014.
Leonid Stonov, March 15, 2014