Aleksandr Cherkasov, Memorial: ‘We play our own tunes...'

2 April 2013 

Source: (info)
Aleksandr Cherkasov, director of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and member of the board of the International Memorial Society, answers a question put to him by the journalist Natalya Granina: ‘Is it ethical for Russian non-profit organizations to receive money from abroad?’ 

‘Let’s be clear about what is ethical and what is not ethical. Imagine a restaurant. It suddenly turns out that the food there is not very good. And someone calls in the inspectors. The inspector arrives, goes into the kitchen, and comes out with a plastic bag which contains something wrapped up, and says: ‘Everything is fine here. I’ve checked. There are no violations.’ It’s obvious that you can't help but have various kinds of unpleasant doubts. 

Conflicts of interest arise when  those who are engaged in civic oversight of government receive funding from the very government which is the object of their scrutiny.

Spending public money on the scrutiny of government bodies, or money from government-affiliated commercial companies, puts in doubt the effectiveness of such scrutiny.

The most unpatriotic thing you can imagine is financing with government money public campaigns to praise officials and create the illusion that life is wonderful until the very moment when all the decorations collapse.

There is another approach: to take money from private, independent donors. But since Mikhail Khodorkovsky ended up in prison for his wholly patriotic projects, no one else has wanted to follow this path. This really is bad, because a country with a vastly wealthy oil sector is in a situation where its third sector is not getting any money from domestic business.

They tell us: ask ordinary people for money. It is possible to collect money to help a particular child or for some very specific project when the person giving knows exactly how the money will be spent. But to raise money for an organization, or for projects of various kinds is much harder.

In the back of the minds of those who ask questions about the political activities of NGOs is a phrase much used by Vladimir Putin: ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune.’

You could call this a professional deformation on the part of people who have worked in the security services with agents, or who have been agents themselves. Those who are used to buy people and to sell them.

But this is not the norm. This is a perversion.

And forcing such an approach to life onto others is more or less the same as letting people who work in a brothel decide what love is.

In fact we make up our own tunes: these are melodies that we ourselves have created. And if anyone throws us a coin, so that the music should sound better still, that’s good, and there is no reason for us to be particularly ashamed of that.’

Source: Profil