According to the website of the organization, decision to suspend work of offices and centers was made at yesterday's meeting of Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM). Reason for not continuing activities was the inclusion of "Information Office of Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg" in the register as a "foreign agent" in January of this year.
This decision has a number of negative consequences for the Russian regions. Firstly, two dozen Russian citizens working in the offices of the organization in the north-western regions of Russia will remain without a job.
Second, there is a dangerous legal precedent: "NCM Information office" became the first representative of an international organization, recognized as a "foreign agent". Moreover, the Nordic Council of Ministers is an international intergovernmental, not non-governmental organization. Following this logic, it is possible to recognize the "foreign agents", not only branches of international NGOs — "Greenpeace", "WWF", "Transparency International", many foreign funds supporting Russian NGOs — but also of the European Union, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the embassies of foreign countries.
Third, the termination of NCM will lead to a negative economic impact: the organization supported not only regional NGOs but also financed specific initiatives of regional and local authorities, educational institutions and even businesses in the areas which our country (at least on regional level) simply can’t reach. This is protection of the environment, separate collection of waste, renewable energy, development of creative industries, comprehensive research and projects in the field of culture.
After all, this is another blow to the image of Russia as an adequate partner. Nordic Council of Ministers has always been perceived by regional and federal authorities as a friendly Russian organization. And you can’t do such things to your friend.
According to the website norden.org, NCM still hopes to continue cooperation with Russia: "Russia remains an important partner of the Council of Ministers, we have yet to assess the opportunities for further cooperation. So a working group of representatives from the Nordic countries was created, with the task of drawing up a program of cooperation with the north-western regions of Russia".
The correspondent of "7x7" has contacted the heads of several organizations that have collaborated with NCM and asked to evaluate the experience of interaction.
According to the president of the "Youth House" from Murmansk Natalia Kolesnik, about a year ago Information Office of Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg, supported the project of Russian public figures on HIV and AIDS. According to Natalia Kolesnik, it was easy to operate with the Nordic Council of Ministers, the staff always made advances, supporting the initiatives without funding in Russia.
“Experience of cooperation with the Council of Ministers was positive. We have applied for funding for a study tour of the project, which worked to prevent HIV and AIDS. And this project was successfully implemented: we have found new partners in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Then we spent the final seminar in Murmansk with the involvement of our government and the public. The project benefited from expansion of the network of cooperation,” Natalia Kolesnik said.
However, Natalia Kolesnik said that assigning the status of "foreign agent" actually meant closing of a non-profit organization. Its activities will be complicated by a lot of paperwork.
“I believe that this situation won’t benefit anyone. If the NGO will be recognized a "foreign agent", it is the additional cost of the audit and additional reports. As a result, instead of dealing with its statutory activities, NGO have to deal with reporting and fundraising to pay for the audit,” Natalia Kolesnik said.
According to the head of the Contact Centre of Nordic Council of Ministers in Petrozavodsk Pavel Petrov, he still can’t make any official comment on the situation.
“Final decisions on job-specific contact centers have not yet accepted. All comments will be officially published next week,” he said to "7x7".
Executive Director of "Swedish-Karelian information business center" in Petrozavodsk Tatyana Klekachyova talked about initiatives implemented in the recent past and shared her concerns about the fate of the ongoing projects:
“Since 2011, our organization has been involved as a partner in the projects of administrative environmental focus. It is primarily the project "Waste: training, sorting, processing"; the main partners were the Administration of Petrozavodsk, projects "Green Economy" and "Renewable Energy in the North-West of Russia". Since January 23, we have been waiting for any specific solutions, but they are not available. Implementation of all the unfinished projects was suspended. January 26 all project participants received an official letter signed by the Director of the Information Office in St. Petersburg Mika Boedeker: organizations suspend their activity for an indefinite period, and further actions will be announced later. Then there may be different options: from a complete stop of all projects and return of the allocated funds to permission to complete ongoing projects.
I express my regret over the fact that a great affiliate network, which has been worked out in the framework of these environmental projects (the organization of Karelia, Murmansk region, Arkhangelsk region and St. Petersburg), now will not be involved. It’s a pity. We were going to prepare a new application for continuation of renewable energy project, all partners had plenty of suggestions for continued cooperation and new directions of developing the project.
It is hard to overestimate the damage that will be caused by termination of NCM in Russia. Let's hope that the opportunities that were given by projects funded by NCM will be used by Russian partners, and the work that was done in the framework of these projects will be continued by the Russian project participants themselves. But external financing offered more scope.