Russia is not a democracy. Nor though, is it a dictatorship. Life in Russia is now incomparably freer than it used to be. Though on an uneasy footing with the West, Russia is no longer its enemy. For many centuries an empire, Russia must now, rather grudgingly, turn itself into a nation state. The path it must take is a thorny and twisting one. At this point it is hard to say whether Russia will be able to (or even wants to) find its way. The hardware, in the form of a liberal constitution, is in place, but for many the software is lacking: a democratic political culture, the belief and trust that democracy would be good for Russia and could function.
Since the early 1990s the Heinrich Böll Foundation has been collaborating in Russia with the people and organisations that hold that belief and are acting accordingly. Primarily these are NGOs, based all over the country. As a result, over time, a sturdy and continually expanding network of partner organizations has taken form.
Society Memorial has been our most important partner since 1990. The work that Memorial performs is often difficult and painful: dealing with the dark side of the totalitarian era, with the GULAG and repressions under Stalin, human rights abuses of the past and of the present day. That work though is necessary and indispensable for a stable democratic development.