“Russia. Strategies for society”. Key-ideas from Boris Nemtsov’s forum in Prague


Boris Nemtsov’s annual Forum was held on October 9-10, 2018 in Prague. Forum participants were invited to formulate and share their ideas on strategies for society. Discussions took a place on the second day of the forum. 9 thematic sessions were held. 

We offer the key messages of the discussions.

European integration of Russian society, moderated by Konstantin Eggert.

The discussion was devoted not to Russia’s integration into Europe, but to the integration of Russians with their culture and traditions into European society, and how this process can affect everything going on in Russia. The participants agreed that today’s conversation between Russia and Europe is taking place in the context of the “cold war 2” with the corresponding tension, which was not at the beginning of the century. In this regard, it is particularly important to work with immigrants from the Post-Soviet area to explain the basic European values, on the one hand, and the promotion of diasporas in the European community, on the other. It is necessary that European politicians and citizens do not merge the image of a “bad Russian with a bottle of Novichok” with the impression of any person with a Russian passport.

New language of the Kremlin, moderated by Maria Snegovaya.

Journalists who took part in the discussion believe that the Kremlin uses an opportunistic language that is recruited spontaneously from different areas and incorporates what is in demand at the moment.

Historians and philosophers said that this language is based on the Soviet practices of Brezhnev or Stalin, and sometimes on the Imperial times of Alexander III.

The participants of the discussion agreed that ”beautiful Russia of the future” also needs its own language, remembered George Orwell – “what is not in your language, that is not in your consciousness”.

Political vision of the future, moderated by Fedor Krasheninnikov.

During this discussion Denis Volkov from the Levada center presented the first results of a survey of young people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on how the image of the future looks in her eyes. This survey was conducted on behalf of the Fund of Boris Nemtsov in September 2018. It is common for all young people in these countries to abandon long-term planning and have vague prospects for the future. Other data will be published on the Fund’s website in the near future.

During the discussion, two points were made by active participants of political and public life in Russia:

1. The opposition should stop being shy about claiming power and changing the system.

2. Small deeds are important and necessary.

International law, myth or reality, moderated by Irina Biryukova.

The participants of the session were practicing lawyers who have experience in both Russian and international practice. The European court of human rights is an effective mechanism, but only in those countries that have chosen a democratic path of development, but the Putin regime does not see itself in the European family, so this mechanism works increasingly less and less. In the current situation, there is only hope for public response attracting the attention of the media and the international community, publicity – an important component of legal protection.П

Borders of Russia’s energy expansionmoderated by Vladimir Milov

Energetics – Putin’s weapon. But not everything’s so simple. 

Session participants identified two key aspects: 1) competition on international markets is increasing, and no matter how many pipelines are built, Putin now can hardly count on such excess profits that he used to receive earlier, 2) all energy projects promoted by Russia, including the construction of nuclear power stations in Europe, in fact are receiving huge subsidies from Russian taxpayers (tax remissions, cheap loans of state banks). That’s why, Putin’s energy expansion – Colossus on feet of clay, he has obvious weaknesses.

Putin’s main ally is corruption in other countries, the main agents which are helping him to promote projects.

The role of civil society in the future of Russia, moderated by Stefan Millet

For effective work and development of civil society, its connection with the political environment is necessary. But this is not the case in Russian reality. This is the first problem of civil society in Russia. 

The second is that society seldom supports civic activists, and the society itself does not develop the skill of reaching an agreement among themselves. The session participants identified a key task – reconnect society – to re-establish connections within society itself.

New educational opportunities for Russian students, moderated by Marek Prigoda

“Do not close off from Russia, cooperate, do not allow the second iron curtain to fall,”with these words the education session ended.

It is necessary to create more curricula in English or to include Russian students inside the language environment. There is no need to create adapted programs in Russian – it may turn out into a dangerous segregate. At the same time, students should keep in touch with the language environment. All participants agreed that young Russians should be invited to intern in European countries, in the space of academic freedom.

War, as a new reality,moderated by John Bogarts

Does a state of war exist?

Yes, sharp force is a combination of hard and soft power, on the example of Ukraine. The participants could not come to a common opinion if the Kremlin team is a group of evil, with which everything is thought out, or they act situationally on the conjuncture, trying to regain lost status. Russia’s neighbors (by the example of Armenia) want to have the right to make their own decisions, in Russia, it’s not always understood and accepted.

New answers to nationalism and populism, moderated by Anton Shekhovtsov

In modern European society, there is a fairly high support for right-wing national populists. The reasons for their appearance and popularity were named. From the 1980s – 1990s, left-center and center-right forces became one political ruling class that cannot be distinguished. People seek those who are different and find from outside the ruling class; globalization and global crises; migration flows. In order to change this situation, for the centrist parties, it is necessary first of all, to return to some of their roots, to promote the theme that was ideologically forming for them. Secondly, to reduce the communication distance with voters. Thirdly, to create an image of a pan-European identity, which could replace the national identity.

The moderator of the final session and debriefing, Tatiana Felgengauer, concluded the discussion on the formation of strategies with the words:“We still remain in the format of a mental experiment, but at least now there is a fixing of the moment, an understanding of reality, not only questions, but also answers and even specific proposals were formulated.”