Category Archives: Human Rights

Supporting the Pro-Democracy Movement in Russia

Supporting the Pro-Democracy Movement in Russia
Natalia Arno, President and Founder of the Free Russia Foundation

Last week we had an opportunity to hear from Natalia Arno, the highly capable and passionate president and founder of the Free Russia Foundation (FRF). We’ve worked with FRF on two major programs in Washington, DC: the first connected political actors and activists with technology experts to see how technology could help the democracy movement in Russia; the second celebrated the results of that help by bringing in ten young, newly-elected politicians from local city councils around Moscow and elsewhere in Russia who had won elections in 2017 and 2018 despite the heavy-handed opposition of the State apparatus. We had Board members, staff, Jackson Fellows and community members in attendance, but I wish even more people could have heard Natalia describe the work that FRF is doing to promote Russian democracy. She stressed the importance of bringing people together to strategize in 2014, at a time of great political disenchantment because of the crackdown on civil society and the unlawful seizure by Russia of Crimea. Our conference allowed people to gather in a safe place and to, in her words, get re-energized and re-focused on the struggle ahead. Natalia sees a straight line from that gathering – both the public conference and the substantial private workshops to go over strategy and tactics – that led to successes in local elections in 2017 and 2018. Our second conference this past May featured the victorious democratic players and made a strong case for the power of local politics even in a politically repressive environment.

Supporting the Pro Democracy Movement in Russia 4
Newly elected Russian politicians discuss strategy at May 2018 conference.

Natalia spoke movingly of what she sees as the connection between Senator Jackson and the famous Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which tied free emigration for Soviet Jews to trading rights for the USSR with the U.S., to today’s Sergei Magnitsky Act, which penalizes corruption and human rights abuses by Russian actors through targeted sanctions. (A Global Magnitsky Act now extends to countries beyond Russia.) Free Russia Foundation’s work seeks to convey a deeper understanding of Russia’s political goals and activities at home and abroad, something unfortunately we have all become too familiar with in this brave new world.

We were one of the first foundations to support the Free Russia Foundation in 2016 and helped put it on the map. Our staff has continued to be impressed with how well they leverage our money and that of other supporters to share their stories with key players in the administration, Congress, the State Department, and with other agencies and NGOs throughout Washington.

I hope that we will continue to partner with the Free Russia Foundation, as they are a group that understands the legacy of Senator Jackson and appreciates the value that a strategic investment by the Foundation can make in promoting democratic values in Russia.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

A Jackson Fellow Inspires More Young People

Anna Marie Jackson Laurence and I were fortunate to participate in the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Student Leadership Board meeting last week.  Anna Marie, Senator Jackson’s daughter and an officer of the Foundation, and I spoke to the group of 7th – 11th graders about Senator Jackson’s human rights legacy and achievements and why Senator Jackson was so committed to international human rights, an interest that stemmed in part from Jackson’s post-war visit to the just-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

IMG_0411Our discussion with the young people touched on Jackson’s role in the Soviet Jewry movement and the passage of the historic Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which allowed over a million Russian Jews a to leave the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries.  We also engaged them in a conversation about leadership, distributing copies of “The Nature of Leadership,” a publication that showcases Jackson’s leadership qualities and brings them into focus for today’s younger generations.

IMG_0422
Lara Iglitzin, Anna Marie Jackson Laurence, and Ilana Cone Kennedy

The Student Leadership Board is a new creation of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.  It is the Fellowship project of Ilana Cone Kennedy, one of this year’s Jackson Leadership Fellows. Ilana is being co-mentored by Anna Marie and me.  Ilana wanted to replicate some of the experiences she is having as a Jackson Leadership Fellow and create a youth board where high school students could work as a team, and as individuals, on leadership as well as issues related to the Holocaust Center, and spread the word to their very diverse schools throughout the region.  Here’s how Ilana described the origins of her project:

“In January 2015, the Holocaust Center expanded to a much larger space.  For the first time we could host meetings and events on site, we could display artifacts, and invite student groups.  We realized that while we had great input from teachers, we lacked the direct input from students. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that this was a huge piece that we were missing  – we were not hearing in any structured way from the very people we wanted most to reach.  The Jackson Leadership Fellowship program served as an excellent model for a meaningful program that could be replicated with students.”

Ilana initially thought she’d create a small group experience – but couldn’t resist the thirty young people who applied to be part of the Student Leadership Board, so she accepted them all!  They range from 13-17 years old, but come together in their caring about the issues that the Holocaust Center focuses on – including learning more about the Holocaust, human rights, and genocide.  The board is meeting monthly, and students will have the opportunity to meet with community leaders, provide feedback to the Center on its programs, and serve as junior ambassadors to their schools and communities.

Student Leadership Board Feb 2016 w Steve Adler cropAnna Marie and I were impressed with the scope of interests of the students – working on projects such as video promotions of the Center; data collection on the Armenian genocide; speaking to their classmates about the Center; and making posters and other graphic materials to illustrate the work of the Center for their peers.

It is exciting to see that the Foundation’s work with the Jackson Leadership Fellows has begun to translate further afield, as Fellows like Ilana take what they’re learning and apply those lessons in the community.  Learn more about the Holocaust Center for Humanities Student Leadership board and about all the wonderful Jackson Fellows.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

 

Spotlight on Russia

This month the Jackson Foundation partnered with the World Affairs Council of Seattle on a program to focus on recent, troubling events in Russia — with a particular emphasis on the murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov steps away from the Kremlin.  The event, which was sold out, featured a panel including Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council and a specialist in Russian foreign policy and U.S.-Russia relations; and Dr. Vladimir Raskin, a Seattle attorney who in the early 1990s co-founded Moscow Center for Human Rights; I joined the panel as well. Carol Vipperman, Senior Advisor to the Foundation and formerly president of the Foundation for Russian and American Economic Cooperation, moderated.

Vladimir

The mood was somber, given the recent assassination and its implications for the future of Russian society and political life.  My remarks focused on the diminishing space for civil society and NGOs and described the crackdown on the media in Russia today.  Vladimir reflected on the span of more than twenty years since the hopeful time when the USSR collapsed and civil society emerged.  That spark of energy and excitement about the possibility of a more democratic Russia has largely dissipated in the wake of this murder and all the murders, draconian laws and political aggression that has been evident in President Putin’s Russia of late.  Jackie Miller highlighted the complexity of relations between the U.S. and Russia and spoke about the impact of sanctions on the Russian domestic economy.  She underlined the uncertainty in Russia’s foreign policy in 2015.  “At least during the Cold War, we understood the rules of the game.  Now it’s anyone’s guess.”

Lara

The crowd had many questions, ranging from the prospects for Russia’s opposition politicians after Nemtsov to the rise of nationalism and what role the West should be playing.  The war in Ukraine loomed large, both in panelists’ remarks and in the questions posed.  Panelists differed as to their predictions about what Putin intended next:  where would he stop?  Were the Baltics next? Moldova?  Would he be satisfied with Crimea, or Eastern Ukraine?  The discussion reflected  Putin’s success at surprising his critics and Western observers today.

Audience

In response to a question regarding which Russia specialists to follow to best assess the situation today, Jackie pointed to an op-ed that I authored in Crosscut, the online magazine, on the murder of Nemtsov and implications for Russia’s future.

We plan to monitor events in Russia closely.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

UW Center for Human Rights Brings World to Students

Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights and Director, the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights at the Jackson School, has continued to forge links between the Jackson legacy and current human rights concerns.  With Foundation support, the Center has sought to build partnerships with organizations that will extend its reach.

Angelina greatly values what practitioners can add to a student’s education about human rights, so the Center has made it a priority to bring that real-world element into its work.  One delegation sponsored by the U.S. State Department consisted of visiting human rights advocates working in the area of human rights and the environment.  This exposed the students to discussion about environmental sustainability and rights in several different countries, as delegation members interacted with students about using a human rights lens to view environmental injustice and challenges.

Helen Jackson Chair Angelina Godoy (top left) and students at Center
Helen Jackson Chair Angelina Godoy (top left) and students at Center

The Center’s partnership with Landesa, an organization promoting international land rights for the world’s poorest families, is another showcase for on-the-ground human rights activity.  The Center has built an ongoing relationship with Landesa, taking advantage of visiting international land rights practitioners to bring them to the University and talk to students in formal and informal settings.  These events, begun a few years ago, have been so successful that they have been repeated annually, so that Landesa Fellows now routinely visit the Center in the fall.  Other faculty members have taken advantage of the visiting Fellows to bring them to talk to classes that relate to land rights, such as poverty, population, women rights, human rights, and Asian studies.

Visiting Land Rights Advocates from Landesa
Visiting Land Rights Advocates from Landesa

We are proud of our connection with the Human Rights Center and pleased that it has found ways to reflect on Senator Jackson’s legacy by engaging contemporary human rights in innovative and meaningful ways.  I’m certain that the students are benefiting from the links with policymakers and other advocates at the frontlines of human rights work worldwide.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Russia’s Freedoms in Retreat

Putin the Chessmaster
Putin the Chessmaster

As part of the Foundation’s work with civil society activists in Russia, I recently interviewed leading journalists, human rights advocates and civic leaders in Moscow about current trends and concerns in Russia’s civil society.  Uniformly, people are not hopeful about the direction Russia is heading.  Read my thoughts in today’s op ed piece:

Seattle Times Op Ed on Russia’s Deteriorating Civil Society

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director