Russian and Ukrainian Anti-Racism Advocates Build Coalition to Combat Regional Xenophobia

March 2012

From February 16 to 17, about 50 anti-xenophobia activists, lawyers, professors, ombudspersons, law enforcement professionals, researchers and journalists from four Russian and five Ukrainian regions met to discuss educational, advocacy and law enforcement programs to combat racism in both countries.

Temenushka Todorova, director of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) regional program to promote Roma rights and combat discrimination and xenophobia against Roma individuals in four Eastern European countries, opened the ABA ROLI-sponsored event with a presentation on the status of Roma communities and the challenges they face. She said that ABA ROLI provides legal aid to the Roma in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, and works to build the capacity of Roma activists to advocate on behalf of their communities. Throughout the workshop, Russian and Ukrainian advocates gave presentations—followed by lively discussions—on each country’s hate crime and immigration legislation, law enforcement responses to hate crimes, national and international avenues for legal anti-xenophobia action, and attempts to abate xenophobic trends through tolerance-promotion programs targeting university and high school students as well as youth and children.

During her presentation, Tatiana Margolina, the ombudsperson of Russia’s Perm Region, said that a coalition between non-governmental organizations and law enforcement agencies has strengthened the fight against xenophobia. Tatiana Maksimova, an advocate and a professor at Moscow State Law Academy, discussed strategies for litigating hate crimes in the European Court of Human Rights. Anna Lenchovs’ka of the Congress of National Minorities of Ukraine focused her presentation on the impact education can have on combating xenophobia, describing how educators can use open discussions, debates and training to combat discrimination, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Ukrainian university student Olena Hartsula shared reflections on his participation in a street law tolerance program.

Tetyana Butko, a law student at the Academy of Advokatura in Ukraine, said that the conference will help focus the Ukrainian government’s attention as there is a “need for laying the foundation for tolerance in the lowest levels of Ukraine’s educational system.” Butko said that she hoped that policy-makers will seriously consider adding tolerance components to Ukrainian curricula. 

Tatiana Pasman, a law professor who teaches a course on tolerance in Pskov, Russia, said, “The conference themes and the quality of the reports gave me hope for further fruitful dialogue.” At the conclusion, Ukrainian participants called for stronger enforcement of anti-discrimination laws whereas their Russian counterparts identified tolerance-promotion programs for students and resources for victims as some of the more immediate needs to support the counter xenophobia efforts.

Participants said that the conference helped them realize that they face similar challenges and allowed them to discuss different approaches and methods to overcome them. They also agreed to create a social networking page that will enable them to further coordinate their efforts. 

To learn more about our regional Roma program or about our programs in Russia and Ukraine, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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