Patricia Cockrell reflects on the “landscape” in Russia in the 1990s, when charities and human rights organisations were set up, and on how things have changed in the years that followed…
One of the advices in the Britain Yearly Meeting little book of advices and queries is to ‘live adventurously’, and so we did – the Friends who developed the vision to reopen the Quaker office in Moscow more than 60 years after it was closed on Stalin’s orders; the Friends who decided, while gathered at Pendle Hill, to go ahead and realise the vision; the Friends who, together with the Quaker representatives in Moscow, joined the international interim governing board of what became Friends House Moscow.
The age of openness and restructuring continued through the 1990s even though Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policies these were, had gone from power: there was an air of positive energy, a determination to promote human rights including conscientious objection, to demonstrate as we did against (the Chechen) war, to set up an Alternatives to Violence Project council to promote peaceful relationships, and to analyse the needs of vulnerable people and plan a strategy to meet these needs. It was possible at that time for non-government organisations to register with the Russian Ministry of Justice and set up bank accounts, and thousands did, in fact we managed to register the Yaroslavl Hospice charity more quickly in Russia than in England.
It is no longer possible to demonstrate against war, and some of these human rights organisations and charities have been closed by law; many have chosen to close rather than accept the label ‘foreign agent’, but some of the partners we worked with for many years have managed to survive and to continue their work promoting alternatives to violence and support for vulnerable people.
The Russian hospice charities have been closed by the local authorities, who decreed that medical establishments are not suitable places for volunteers and amateurs, and it is not possible to support hospice development from abroad. Gone are the volunteer gardeners and fundraisers; befrienders are no longer welcome to visit; but the Russian hospices, set up largely by donations and EU funding, are now financed by the state.