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.
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