Olga, thank you that you agreed to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. When did your research and social activities start?
I was very lucky to be born in Russia, in Ufa, and by chance encounter Professor Marat Utiashev. In the 1990s, he was one of the first in Russia to create the Department of Human Rights at the Law Faculty of the Bashkortostan State University. I was fortunate to be his student and defend my candidate’s thesis under his supervision. He was the one who later recommended me for the work at the Moscow Helsinki Group. These were my very first steps in research and social activities and to my further work at the Institute on Migration Policy in Berlin.
You are Founder and Director at the Institute on Migration Policy. What exactly does your organisation do?
The Institute was established in 2013, and its main idea is to promote legal consulting and expertise on the post-Soviet space in the field of migration law and practice of its application. We have already worked in such countries as Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Our Institute is engaged in legal and legislative analytics, as well as making recommendations to those who approach us for improvement in this area.
What can you tell about the current activities of the Institute?
We are very proud of one of our latest projects, which we conducted together with the Institute for Analysis and Policy Dialogue in Berlin and our partner organisation in Kiev. This project, which was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, was intended to show the invited journalists from the post-Soviet countries how the problems, difficulties and achievements in the field of migration policy are different or similar in these countries and in the European Union. In addition, our goal was to demonstrate how exactly individual states are coping with the migration crisis today. As part of the project, the journalists visited Kramatorsk and Berlin, where they were given the opportunity to learn how the migration policy is being developed, what measures the local authorities are taking and what impact they have on the daily lives of citizens.
In December, you became an even more active member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and joined the Forum Advocacy Group, which is now engaged, in particular, in relations between Russia and the Council of Europe. What are your priorities for the work in this group?
First of all, I would like to thank all those colleagues who voted and selected me as a member of the Forum Advocacy Group. I would also like to note that for the past two years the Institute on Migration Policy has been a plenipotentiary Forum member. I believe that the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum deserves particular attention, as this organisation is indeed engaged in promoting the interests of Russia and seeking a dialogue between Russia and the EU member states. This work of the Forum has gained tremendous importance especially now, when one of the most burning issues on the agenda is to maintain cooperation between Russia and the European Union within the Council of Europe. Finding and discussing possible solutions to this problem is exactly what the Forum Advocacy Group is doing right now.
However, in the future, as a new member of this group, I see my work and contribution primarily in visa facilitation and liberalisation between Russia and the EU member states. I am deeply convinced that in times of crisis, when the EU and Russia fail to reach agreement on most issues, the liberalisation of the visa regime, opening of borders, the abolition of visas and people-to-people contacts might become the bridge that would unite the nations, cities and peoples for our common interests. In such times of crisis, building bridges, not dams, is vitally important.
What would you like to wish the members and supporters of the EU-Russia Civic Forum, which already has 156 organisations?
I wish the Forum many years of prosperity, as it is engaged in work for the future. This is what future generations will thank us for, as building the dialogue between Russia and the EU is needed on both sides.
Thank you for this interview.
Interview was shot on 18 January 2019 by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in Berlin, Germany.