On May 6th, the American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA) held its first national convention in New York. One of the founders, Xenia Grubstein, shed some light on ARA's mission and future.

 

ARA leaders and activists Dmitri Glinski, Xenia Grubstein, Alex Kodner and Dmitri Valuev © Anatoly Kashlevskiy

 

The convention, called "Russian-Speaking America on the Rise: Awakening and Empowerment Through The 'Fair Vote For Russia' Movement", united Americans of Russian descent who are distressed by the current political situation in their native country. Many of the attendees had been taking part in a series of protests called “Fair Vote for Russia” and related rallies since December, 2011. During those demonstrations, the idea of a non-profit organization was conceived with view of helping to effect change in Russia and supporting Russians living in the United States.

ARA members from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. gathered in New York City. Leaders of ARA groups in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Kansas addressed the convention via Skype, video, and written remarks. Overall, ARA currently has a presence among the Russian-speaking population in 20 states across America.

ARA board members include National Executive Director Dmitri Glinski, the author of a handful of studies on Russian-American relations and the former member of Democratic Russia; Board Chair Alexander Militarev, a world-renowned linguist and cultural anthropologist; Vice Chair Alexander Bolonkin, President of the International Association of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of the Communist Regime and a scientist who has worked for NASA and US Air Force. ARA is financed by private donations and grants. The first National Convention was made possible with support of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, whose president, Alexey Semyonov, participated in the event.

The first part of ARA’s mission is to support Russia’s steps toward democracy by appealing to American politicians and government agencies. The other important task is helping Russian immigrants adapt to life in the U.S., providing legal support, information about education, and assistance with employment.

The priority of the ARA will be bills and proposals submitted to the U.S. government that may impact the situation in Russia positively and/or improve the lives of Russian-speaking immigrants in the U.S.. Andrey Piontkovsky, a prominent Russian political analyst known for his criticism of Putin's regime, believes that the most efficient way of tackling the corrupt clan is by drawing the attention of Western administrations and parliaments to its crimes. “I don't mean calling upon the U.S. to intervene in Russia's internal affairs,” Piontkovsky emphasized. “But by raising questions about corruption and human rights violations in Russia on the American political stage, we are asking the U.S. to comply with its own laws on its own soil, and merely limit the rights of those involved in criminal acts according to the American law.”

In addition experts such as Pionstkovsky, the ARA is working with a number of other organizations that support democracy in Russia.

Another important aspect of ARA's mission are cultural, educational, and research projects aimed at bringing together the American Russian-speaking diaspora by uniting the literary, artistic, and academic communities.

 

Vice Chair Alexander Bolonkin, the President of the International Association of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of the Communist Regime © Anatoly Kashlevskiy

 

ARA's initiative has met with a very positive response from a wide range of U.S. Russian-speaking institutions, including the Institute of Modern Russia led by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan and the Bronx with Victor Levin, the International Association of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of the Communist Regime led by Alexander Bolonkin, the Democratic Russia Committee (Chair – Natalia Pelevine), and the General Petro Grigorenko Foundation (President – Andrew Grigorenko). The convention opened with a video greeting from Ludmila Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights.

As timely as it is needful, the convention raised some serious questions. For example, how should Russian-speaking immigrants to unite so they could overcome difficulties as a community? What needs to be done in order to receive the kind of recognition granted other immigration communities, especially when it comes to representation in U.S. unions and governmental institutions? What can the organization do to improve the human rights situation in Russia? These are difficult issues to tackle, but the formation of a small association of people prepared to invest time and energy into making the situation better is already a step forward. As ARA's National Executive Director Dmitri Glinski put it, “Today, many Russian-speaking immigrants have just realized that they do care about what’s going on in Russia. In the future, the Russian diaspora may become the force that will bring change to Russia and transform the typical attitude towards Russians in the West.”

We invite everyone interested to take part in the discussion on the topics above by sending us an email to headquarters@amrusrights.org

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