Russia’s most important resources for the future are the people, not oil and gas”

15.11.2012 - Interview

The Federal Government’s Coordinator of German-Russian Intersocietal Cooperation, Andreas Schockenhoff, in an interview with the Deutschlandfunk radio station on the Petersburg Dialogue. Broadcast on 15 November 2012.


The Petersburg Dialogue began yesterday in Moscow. It can be considered something of a brainstorming session for German and Russian organizations. This year, the event is the focus of particular attention, not least due to CDU politician Andreas Schockenhoff. He is the Federal Government’s official coordinator for relations with Russia and he caused something of a furore in the world of Russian politics a few weeks ago. It all started with a paper in which he drew attention to shortcomings at the domestic level in the country, including the tough stance taken against the punk group Pussy Riot. Yesterday, Andreas Schockenhoff arrived in Moscow for the Petersburg Dialogue and we are now able to speak to him by telephone. Good morning, Mr Schockenhoff.

Good morning, Mr Armbrüster.

Mr Schockenhoff, why should our listeners be interested this morning in German-Russian relations?

Because German-Russian relations have vast potential to offer both countries, not just in economic terms, but also socially and politically. Russia is the European Union’s biggest and most important neighbour and thus crucial for all questions, also for the major global issues such as climate protection and anti-terrorism.

Mr Schockenhoff, you have caused major annoyance on the Russian side. They consider you almost a persona non grata. How is that coming across at the Petersburg Dialogue?

That came from an unidentified source in the Russian Foreign Ministry. I got very different signals yesterday. Before the official opening of the Petersburg Dialogue, we – the Russian and the German working group – met with representatives of Russian civil society. There were more than 60 people in the room and they were delighted that their dialogue in Russia is finding the resonance it is in Germany because they need each other as part of a European civil society and this networking is so important for them.

Mr Schockenhoff, can you also meet with government representatives in Moscow?

Of course. You shouldn’t attach too much importance to certain remarks.

So you would say that what we heard about the criticism of your statements, also of the paper you were involved in, was in fact exaggerated?

It was only one isolated statement but it has meant that people today in Russia are having a good think. Mr Fedetov, the chairman of the Russian council on human rights, met with President Putin the day before yesterday and Mr Putin indicated that the laws involved, which as political laws hinder the work of civil society organizations, would be re-examined to see where this work is being hampered. He signalled he was ready to talk which means it was clear even before the actual Petersburg Dialogue started that it had been worth speaking out.

Is that a success you want to take the credit for?

No, it is a success of civil society. And there are basic principles that make plain that economic and political contacts cannot bear fruit without a vibrant civil society. After all, it is active citizens who, through their commitment, guarantee the division of powers, the rule of law and transparency in state action. And that at the end of the day is also good for economic developments. Because without this active and critical civil society, there can be no innovation, no increase in prosperity and international cooperation.

Then let’s look a bit more closely at what has happened since the start of the Petersburg Dialogue yesterday. What is more important at this meeting? Human rights or business interests?

You can’t separate the two.

But why not? These are two very different aspects.

Russia’s most important resources, the economic foundation of a bright future for Russia, are not oil and gas. They are the people. Without lively, active people who get involved off their own bat, there cannot be positive economic development. That is why there is absolutely nothing behind this supposed contradiction between civil society and economic interests. There are 6000 German SMEs in Russia who say what we need most are Russian partners, employees, creative partners who further innovation. Modernization can never be just technical; the modernization of a country needs to be systemic, it has to take in the rule of law, the fight against corruption and support for an active civil society. Otherwise it misses the mark.

And have the politicians in Moscow taken that on board?

Well, there is certainly an open discussion now which needs to be transparent and be heard. There will of course be people who see things differently but this is the essence of a dialogue, the essence of politics, business and even civil society itself. They thrive on the competition of ideas and on opinions fighting to create the best solutions rather than a rigid, uniform communication of opinions and positions from above. That is what paves the way for new ideas, innovation and also technical advances.

But, Mr Schockenhoff, is that not precisely what is missing, this exchange of ideas, this thinking from the bottom up. Is that not the exact opposite of what we are seeing in Moscow and in Russia, a rigid policy clinging to very old, outdated principles?

Yes, in recent months there have been a series of bills that do not encourage but actually hinder civil society engagement, that see the active citizen not as an opportunity but as a threat to the state, and that is exactly what we need to address. And there are these people who put up a fight. We have seen the pictures of the demonstrations. There are many NGOs who also address the shortcomings very openly. And now with this broad-based Petersburg Dialogue which also attracts considerable interest in the media, this debate in Russia is now getting the public attention it needs. So it is an opportunity and we don’t need to part company at the end having agreed on absolutely everything. But the fact that Russia is a part of Europe, that there is a European civil society, that the cooperation between our countries is taking place in the public eye, that is an opportunity and shows the whole spectrum of opinions in Russia which is here often overlooked.

Mr Schockenhoff, now we are hearing that the Russian side is more and more often inviting hand-picked organizations to the Petersburg Dialogue, organizations that are pretty much pro-government and anything but independent. Is there much point to such a dialogue?

I have the impression that it is the other way round. In the past, that was standard procedure. But today, and I can certainly say this for the civil society working group I am in, the list of participants is much more open. On the Russian side, it is not just pro-government representatives around the table. There are representatives from all spheres of civil society engagement, from the social side, to environmental activities and then also human rights organizations. We are hearing voices from a broad spectrum of society. I think things are opening up here. The Petersburg Dialogue is not being held behind closed doors but is in the public eye. And yesterday we had even more people around the table because of course only a limited number can take part in the Petersburg Dialogue itself. I believe that the attention provoked in a way by the reaction of the Russian Government has meant even today that this is far from being an internal dialogue.

... And that was Andreas Schockenhoff (CDU), the Federal Government’s Commissioner for German-Russian Intersocietal Cooperation. Thank you very much, Mr Schockenhoff, for talking to us this morning.

My pleasure, Mr Armbrüster. Have a nice day!

Questions posed by Tobias Armbrüster. Reproduced here by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.

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