|Formation||January 2001; |
relaunched September 2014
Open Russia is a name shared by two initiatives advocating democracy and human rights in Russia founded by former businessman and democracy activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The first initiative took the form of a foundation whose stated purpose was to build and strengthen civil society in Russia. It was established in 2001 by Khodorkovsky in concert with the shareholders of his firm, Yukos, and was closed in 2006. Khodorkovsky relaunched Open Russia in September 2014 as a nationwide community platform as part of a group of activities called "Open Media".
In 2017 the organisation was listed as undesirable by Roskomnadzor, and its website banned in Russia.
This first incarnation of Open Russia has been described by The Guardian as a charitable organization. Its board included Henry Kissinger and Lord Jacob Rothschild. According to the Moscow Times, the earlier incarnation of Open Russia funded “many philanthropic projects, including educational projects for young people, the Federation of Internet Education, the Club of Regional Journalism and projects of human rights NGOs.”
By 2005, Open Russia had 23 regional affiliates. On February 24, 2005, Russia’s Federal Tax Service initiated an inspection of Open Russia, its third such probe in 12 months, which in the opinion of Open Russia was meant "to sully the only structure left in the hands of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.” The first incarnation of Open Russia closed in 2006 when Russian authorities froze its bank accounts.
Open Russia was re-launched on September 20, 2014, as “a nationwide community platform designed to bring together all Russians interested in creating a better life for themselves and their children” during videoconference supporting marches against Putin's policies, with nearly all of the regional locations experiencing Internet connection problems just moments before the conference, sabotage and storming the halls"
The Guardian reported that Khodorkovky’s relaunch of Open Russia “appears to break his promise to steer clear of politics, which he made after being pardoned by president Vladimir Putin in December.” The New York Times stated, however, that Khodorkovsky had in fact “agreed to stay out of politics until August, when he would have been released anyway. Now freed from that commitment, he is making clear that prison has, if anything, emboldened him in his desire to change his country.”
The new Open Russia declared that it would focus on several key areas including independent media, political education, the rule of law, and support for political prisoners. Also featured is an extensive Reforms Program aimed at reforming law enforcement and the Constitution to ensure justice and democracy. In addition, Open Russia endorses free and fair elections, and, while staying out of direct political involvement, will lend support to candidates who also promote fair elections.
Interviewed in an October 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, Khodorkovsky said he planned to use Open Russia to push for a constitutional conference that would shift power away from the presidency and toward the legislature and judiciary. This stems, from Khodorkovsky's opinion, from the root cause of Russia's problems - namely the absence of the rule of law.
On September 13–14, 2014, Open Russia presented talks by Lyudmila Ulytskaya, Arina Borodina, and Dmitry Olshansky. The foundation's Open Lecture projected a series of live talks that toured across Russia. To date there have been seven online forums hosted by Open Russia on topics ranging from healthcare reform to combating corruption.
Open Russia reported that it will support twenty-five candidates in the upcoming September parliamentary elections. Although it has yet to choose the candidates it will support, the organization has stated it already has two candidates from the Parnas party it is considering.
Russian State ban
The forums have attracted the attention of law enforcement who, at times, have cut off internet service for particular speakers.
The Guardian noted that in September 2014 “Russian state media appeared to enforce a blackout on news coverage of Khodorkovky’s project.” According to Khodorkovky's spokeswoman Olga Pispanen, the project’s website was targeted by distributed denial of service attacks. Also, some activists were reportedly prevented from joining the ceremony in Nizhny Novgorod and Yaroslavl.
The first forum featured by Open Russia, on September 20, 2014, had over 70,000 viewers.
The New York Times noted that when Khodorkovky made his first U.S. appearance since his release from prison, he was praised for his resolve. The Times continued their praise, noting "notion of prison as cleansing the soul and ennobling the spirit is a powerful motif in Russian literature", citing Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn.
In April 2015, masked Russian police raided Open Russia’s Moscow office suspecting the organization of “preparing banners, leaflets and posters” with plans to distribute the material at an opposition protest. Open Russia responded by stating that the group “was not planning to take part” in the protest. In May 2015 the Russian Justice Ministry requested the Prosecutor General to launch a probe into Open Russia's activities. The Justice Ministry has demanded Open Russia label itself a "foreign agent".
In August 2015, however, a Moscow court ordered investigators to return confiscated documents and ordered a retrial.
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- Khodorkovsky website, accessed 9 February 2018
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