- Press Release No. 118/1261
TODAY, on December 16th, the Foundation's volunteers attended the meeting of the Commission for Charity Development and Improvement of Legislation for Non-Profit Organizations of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
The idea to attend the today's Commission meeting seemed to be quite natural and simple. If the Public Chamber had at least provided partial funds for our project this year, the parents of the deceased soldiers would not be calling us and crying in desperation, because our lawyers are not able to travel to their cities to represent them in courts. We are not the youth movement "NASHI" (the Public Chamber awarded them another grant to organize "Seliger-2010"), and this year (just like all the previous years) the Public Chamber did not provide ANY funds for our work. All we can do in this kind of circumstances is to keep asking for money and help. Therefore, we prepared the leaflets to bring with us to the Commission meeting, stating that the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation needs help - envelopes, stamps, air tickets - and our two volunteers Anna Kashirtseva and Michael Selivanov (veteran of the Chechen War) went to attend the Commission meeting with one very simple goal - to distribute the leaflets among the participants.
Unfortunately, a task that seemed to be simple in its idea appeared to be most difficult to implement. As we were preparing for this event, it all looked much more complicated then the organization of the concert in the underground passage, when we were distributing the same leaflets and were dealing with the police. The main issue was that nobody wanted us at to be at that Commission meeting...
Every year the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation submits the annual report for the participation in the "Reference Point" - the all-Russia contest of the annual reports of non-profit organizations. This contest is held under the patronage of the Public Chamber, and its objective is to increase transparency of the public organizations in Russia through training and through getting them used to publishing reports on their work. The MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation has been reporting our work since 1993 (that is when we compiled our first report covering three years from 1990 to 1993) - we always believed that this kind of reporting must be a standard policy for any non-profit organization. We have been participating in the "Reference Point" contest from its very beginning, just as we always participated in the bidding for the grants awarded by the Public Chamber. We never won in any of the contests, but we always attended the final event of the contest - "Contest Results Announcement". Originally, in 2006-2007 this event was not very popular, while being pretty democratic: all the contest participants were invited to attend - both the winners and those who were not as lucky. The winners would receive the winner's certificates, while the rest would receive the participation certificates. The NPOs' reports and other information materials were displayed on the special tables and boards. The participants would talk and participate in the discussions of the important and relevant issues.
To put it short, it was a rather informal, but an interesting and useful event. In 2008 we again were invited to participate in the final event as the participants of the "Reference Point" contest. This time the event was held at the premises of the Public Chamber. The event itself seemed to be unnecessarily excessive and its programme included the following: before the beginning of the event - registration of the participants against the list (we were listed as the representatives of the NPO that participated in the contest), then coffee break with pies and cookies, then statements of the Public Chamber Members from the Charity Commission, than the announcement of the contest results, then - a number of break-out discussions, and in the end - the cocktail party that served alcohol. It was quite bewildering for us - the people who are ready to put their signatures under the action that have been implemented in Moscow for several years now - "Charity instead of souvenirs" (or you can put it that way - Charity instead of cocktail parties).
Just a year ago any representative of any non-profit organization could attend the final event of the "Reference Point" contest. The organizers were proactively sending out the invitations to the NPO directors or were contacting the organizations on the phone trying to secure their attendance. That is what we were counting on TODAY, 16 December 2009, when we were preparing to distribute our leaflets-requests for help. Today, along with the meeting of the Commission for Charity of the Public Chamber, the announcement of the "Reference Point" contest results was planned. The MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation, being a rightful participant of the contest, has been sending our representatives to attend this event for so many years. And now, when the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation is in need of help it should be an easy and logical thing to do - to request help from the people who work in and with the NPOs. Maybe some of them will be able to donate some printer paper, stamps and envelopes, or would be able to share some valuable advice. And the event itself is quite suitable for such exchanges, being open for all the NPOs that participated in the contest. However, as the reality demonstrated - we were wrong, and though in the end we managed to do what we planned, we could not help but notice that the traditional format of the event had changed significantly.
First of all, this year we did not receive the standard invitation to the final event. That was both upsetting and alarming. Our volunteer press-secretary Anna Kashirtseva spent over three weeks trying to find out, if we can attend the event. Several times she had to call Saint Petersburg Center for NPO Development that receives the information coming from Moscow. When we asked if this year the Foundation's representative can attend the announcement of the contest results, just like we did in previous years, the manager of the Center hesitated and said: "Well, I am not sure. This year the event will be held in the Round Hall of the President Hotel..."
President Hotel? That is quite surprising. Isn't this venue just far too expensive, especially taking into account the financial crisis and the dire circumstances of the majority of Russian NPOs?! The Hotel's web-site features the price list - the Round Hall rental is 60 thousand rubles per hour. The event itself is several hours (12.00 till 14.30). The Round Hall's capacity does not exceed 159 people. The invitation (Saint Petersburg Center read it out load for us over the phone) features also the coffee break, the cheapest option of which in the President Hotel costs 250 rubles per person. But the most important thing, and something that we found out just a few days before the event, was "If you did not receive the invitation by now, then you will not receive it at all. This year it is a closed event. All the identified participants have already received their invitations."
Here you go, we thought. The Commission for Charity Development and Improvement of Legislation for Non-Profit Organizations is organizing - quotation from the invitation: "grand meeting" that is closed to NPOs! Here are more details from the invitation that we never received - event programme: 1. Progress report of the Commission's work in 2006-2009; 2. Presentation of the conclusions of the public examination of the draft federal law "228283-5 "On amendments to the certain legal acts of the Russian Federation related to the provision of support to the social non-profit organizations", that was submitted to the State Duma's consideration by the President of the Russian Federation on 23 November 2009; 3. Discussion of the role of the c Public Chamber in the facilitation of further development of philanthropy in Russia and in promotion of the charity culture in the society; 4. Presentation of the awards to the winners in the All-Russia contest of the NPOs' annual reports "Reference Point". We got an idea that probably starting this year the Public Chamber, under the patronage of which the contest is held with the main objective of the NPOs transparency promotion, decided to give up on this transparency all together.
As we were quite persistent in our intentions to attend the grand meeting of the Commission, the organizers in Saint Petersburg referred us to the organizers in Moscow, having provided the phone number of another manager. Our volunteer press-secretary contacted her and said that we want to have our representative attend the event, because: 1) this is a very important event for any NPO; 2) the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation wants to spread a word about the event by issuing our standard press release, and to do that we need to be there; 3) the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation has journalist friends that would like to cover the event, so they are also interested in the information. At first, we heard the traditional "Well you know, this year the event will be held in the Round Hall of the President Hotel. The meeting is not open to public and the NPOs will be represented only by the winners in the contest. And it seems that there will be no journalists present." In response to that we assured the manager, that the Foundation's representative a) will not take much space; b) might as well not drink the expensive coffee and not eat the expensive snacks. "Just please let us be there and listen!" - we kept nagging. At the same time we were not so sure about no media presence at the event, so we asked to confirm this for us. Finally, we received an email saying: "... Hereby I am sending you the meeting announcement with the telephone numbers for media accreditation. However, this is only for the media. As for the attendance of the meeting, we unfortunately cannot include any more participants in the list, as we already have more that we originally planned. And if the representative of your organization is planning to cover the contest, he or she needs to get the accreditation (no more than one person from one organization) and to specify the media that will publish the information. Best regards". Luckily, the chairperson of the Foundation's Executive Committee Veronika Marchenko is journalist both by profession and education, and our press secretary Anna Kashirtseva is a writer and has been working with various media for a long time... This is how the volunteers of the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation managed to attend the grand meeting in the role of journalists, the event where we were not welcome as NPO representatives.
Having arrived at the President Hotel, the first thing that the Foundation's volunteers did was to have a chat with Nina Anatolyevna Dementsova, the Head of the Center of Public Relations "Interros" and the person who issued the accreditations for us. Our main question was - who paid for the today's expensive get-together at the President Hotel? Nina Anatolyevna said that she does not know who's paying for what, but she introduced us to the person who was more knowledgeable in this respect and who told us that this kind of events are covered from the budget of the Public Chamber and the funds for them are usually allocated in advance. Additionally, we were asked to be careful writing about the financial issues, as there is possibility "of not getting good enough understanding of the issue and publishing false information". To this we replied, that we ask the question with the objective to get a good understanding of the matter. For example, we mused, it is possible to write that the event is financed from Vladimir Olegovich Potatnin's personal money (as he is the current Chairperson of the Commission). But we were told that we are wrong and Mr. Potanin is not in any way involved in financing the event.
Having found out that the rental of the luxurious hall, croissants, wine and coffee was funded from the Public Chamber's budget, i.e. from the tax payers' money, we felt frustration. Even if to calculate the minimum possible expenditures, cost of the today's event is approx. 200 thousand rubles (including the 3-hour rental of the Hall and the cheapest coffee break option for the number of the participants included in the list of the invitees). Just for comparison: the smallest grant awarded by the Public Chamber in 2009 was 77 thousand rubles. This money will be enough for some small non-profit organization to do their good work for the whole year. And for the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation, that does not have any funds to continue our work, this kind of grand meeting seems to be overly excessive. In our minds we are converting the cost of the event into the envelopes, stamps and printer paper, which are so crucial for our work, and set forward a question: when will come the time of true charity instead of souvenirs and celebrations?
After the grand meeting of the Commission, the volunteers of the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation did fulfill the objective of their visit - they distributed the MOTHER'S RIGHT Foundation's leaflets asking for help (Please help us buy the envelopes and stamps). The Commission members accepted the leaflets with the words "we'll have a look at them later"...