Staunton, October 3 – Few non-governmental organizations in the Russian Federation have done more to protect the interests of ordinary Russians against the irresponsible power of the Russian state than the Mother’s Right Foundation, which over the 20 years of its existence has helped 7,000 soldiers and their relatives from mistreatment each year.
Over the last two decades, Moscow journalist Zoya Svetova writes, the foundation has helped 80,000 mothers of Russian soldiers who have died. Its lawyers work pro bono, and the organization provides only for their expenses. But if it hadn’t existed, many of these mothers and many others as well would have received any assistance.
Without it, poor mothers would “not have been able to pay a lawyer in order to prevent the murderers of a son to escape punishment or to force the state to pay them compensation or a pension for the loss of a son. And many veterans of recent conflicts, including the second Chechen war, would not have received the pensions they have coming.
The foundation never gives up on any of the cases it takes and carries out appeals to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts of the Russian Federation and to the European Court of Human Rights. And it has been amazingly successful in winning its suits against the government: 85 percent of the time, it has succeeded and the government has lost.
“Of course,” Svetova says, “the Rights of Mothers Foundation by itself cannot destroy dedovshchina [hazing], but it can insistently demand from us attention to this topic, it can force us not to close our eyes, and not to think that it doesn’t concern me.” Moreover, it can appeal to us “not to be indifferent to the victims” of this and other evils.
Not surprisingly, its success has not won the foundation a large number of friends among officials because it is doing what they should be doing: showing concern for the country’s soldiers rather than allowing bad things to happen to them. That the government isn’t doing that is “the tragedy of our society.”
But because the foundation is anything but popular, it has always faced a difficult time in raising funds. Now, it is facing a real cash crunch, and there is even a risk that it could cease to exist. Big donors are unlikely to come forward because of their ties to the state, and donors from abroad are effectively banned.
Consequently, Svetova says, the group is appealing to ordinary Russians to help in any way they can an organization that is committed to protecting the interests and rights of other ordinary Russians at a time when the Russian state clearly is not.