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Voice of America
May 15, 2009
Grassroots Effort Emerges to Fight Russian Corruption
By Peter Fedynsky

A group of private Russian citizens is seeking to establish a network of corruption victims as a means of advancing President Dmitri Medvedev's plans to battle the country's oppressive bureaucracy and courts. Participants at an organizational meeting in Moscow defined the extent of the problem, but raised questions whether citizens can fight corruption if government employees not only benefit from it, but actively undermine reform efforts.

Activists from several civic groups held a roundtable at Moscow's Independent Press Center to discuss the extent of Russian corruption and what could be done about it. A few victims of corruption gave personal accounts of bureaucrats who cheat the system to deprive people of property, money and rights.

Yuri Arkhipov of the independent Corruption Commission said some people in Russia's notoriously corrupt bureaucracy are interested in reforms, but they are hounded by a majority that abuses authority to make money.

Arkhipov says honest bureaucrats are outcasts who are surrounded by an atmosphere of intolerance, because they are not convenient to bureaucrats or embezzlers, whose main goal is to cast the minority aside. The main question, to Arkhipov, is whether the bureaucratic apparatus wants someone to document corruption.

At the same, time, Yuri Zinichev of the All-Russian Corruption Witness Network, says Russia can blossom if a connection is made between the country's government and people.

Zinichev says if Russians combine efforts then no special organizations will be needed. He notes there already are government institutions - the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and also non-commercial organizations that receive government funding to solve such problems. Zinichev says all that is needed is the establishment of effective relations among these institutions.

Valeriy Gabisov of the independent Civil Rights Committee noted that corruption exists everywhere and can at best be minimized, not eliminated. Gabisov chided participants for failure to discuss more specific measures, and noted the brutal lengths to which corrupt officials go if they are exposed in the press.

Gabisov says that as soon as an editor in the regions begins to say reasonable things, they smash his head, declare him mentally ill or put him in prison on whatever charges.

The only government official at the meeting was a young Interior Ministry representative who was asked to convey the group's documents to his superiors. Whether anything happens remains to be seen. President Medvedev said on Tuesday that no one is dizzy with success over Russia's struggle with corruption and that Russians are at the very, very beginning of the road in the fight against it.