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Helsinki 2.0

The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM) promotes cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and free speech.



As the first step of an initiative to mobilise the European Union against Vladimir Putin’s regime and in support of democratic reforms in Russia, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament will sponsor an international conference on 9-10 November 2011 in Helsinki. The venue was chosen as a symbolic reminder of the “Helsinki process,” which in the 1970s, in the midst of the Cold War, led to East-West rapprochement by giving birth to the CSCE-OSCE and, in the final analysis, to the implosion of the East European Communist bloc. Participants of the conference on 9-10 November 2011 will include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and several signatories of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.

Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium and president of ALDE, is behind the conference, dubbed “Helsinki 2.0,” which will be co-organised with former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Verhofstadt and Kasyanov co-signed a guest opinion published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune on 24 October 2011, explaining their determination to launch a “new Helsinki process.” Opposition parties in Russia are banned from participating in the legislative elections on 4 December 2011, and the country’s president and prime minister have agreed between themselves to swap posts after the presidential elections in March 2012.

How should the EU react towards a neighbour that is one of its “strategic partners” but that silences its dissidents, fails to keep its OSCE commitments, and flouts its 1993 constitution establishing the rule of law and a federal and democratic system? Kasyanov and Verhofstadt suggest options for the Council of Europe and the EU: “refuse to accept the impending Russian elections as legitimate,” not grant Russia “deferential treatment in the Council of Europe or OSCE,” not give the “Russian parliamentary delegation a warm welcome in Strasbourg,” make cooperation with Russian leaders contingent on “their compliance with international conventions,” and “expose to real sanctions” Russian officials involved in corruption and the oppression of freedom.

The tone is also stamped with “realism” concerning the role of the European Union as such: “However awkward this may be for traditional EU realpolitik, it is reasonable in the current circumstances to consider postponing the planned EU summit meeting with Russia scheduled for December 2011 after the charade of the elections in the lower house of parliament. The EU-Russia partnership and cooperation agreement currently under negotiation should also better reflect these realities.” The conclusion sums up the initiative’s spirit: “It is time that Russia’s true friends speak out.”



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