Interview with Elena Panfilova

Interview with Elena A. Panfilova

This time we talk to Elena A. Panfilova, Transparency International Board member and Director of the Center for Anti-corruption Research and Initiative Transparency International about why she thinks that Russia is in a state of awakening and why people are ready to create change.

What are your key concerns about the fight against corruption in Russia right now and how do they differ from 10 years ago?

Elena A Panfilova: To fight corruption in Russia now is the biggest fun possible because what was missing 10 years ago and what is definitely here now is public support and public attention to the anti-corruption work. 10 years ago people saw corruption, people knew that corruption is there but didn’t see of how they can be part of confronting corruption and how they can do something when those who are so much in power are involved in it. It was scary and it wasn’t clear to people that it was possible to confront it – in the first place. The reason for that was that civil society was never strong in Russia. We are a young country – we are only 20 years old. So, the tradition of grassroot corruption concerned citizens is not there. But now after what happened in the parliamentarian elections in December 2011 and the presidential elections in March 2012 – that was some kind of ultimate wake up call for people who believe that they are part of society. We could observe this change since probably 2008/09 – people suddenly realised that they have a role and they don’t need to belong to a civil society organisation to stand up for their rights. People started to participate in grassroot kind of activities – coming together and trying to seek accountability from public officials on the local level, the municipal level, and sometimes even national level. So, the major concern now is that we have good laws against corruption: we have joined the OECD convention, United Nations Convention against Corruption, Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. We have public authorities officially declaring that fighting corruption is their priority – however real actions are not happening. So on the one hand we have the public interest in all possible anti-corruption instruments and involvement, in all possible involvement, all anti-corruption and transparency initiatives and on the other hand we see serious hesitation from the officials to go forward and implement everything how it should be implemented.

Can you give us a snapshot of the work that Transparency International Russia is doing and what kind of challenges you encounter.

We do different things. We engage society, we engage different types of civic groups, we try to serve as a resource hub for them when they want to do something. We do what a lot of other Transparency International Chapters out there are doing – like Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres where people can come and seek advice, support, and sometimes even legal protection if they need.  With people I mean and small and medium businesses. We educate youth and businesses what they should and can do to fight corruption – so we try and cover as many areas as possible. We provide instruments and results of the application of those instruments to society. We try to show people that it is possible to monitor procurement, it is possible to monitor access to information, it is possible to monitor political corruption or electoral corruption. We do this by doing that ourselves and engaging people as much as we can engage. The major challenge is that we can’t cover everything and that we can’t overstretch ourselves to keep ourselves focused and to not disappoint people because the demand is high – for transparency and accountability. We understand that not just one organisation can do it by itself. So we need to build coalitions, we need to engage engage engage… So this is our major achievement – that we are open and engaging and at the same time it’s challenging.

Out of all what you are doing: What is your favourite TI Russia project?

Many!!! Many! Well my favourite…I have three top favourite.

  1. Legal Monitoring of Transparency of Procurement of State Cooperations

Within this project we did for instance the monitoring of procurement for the Russian Nuclear Agency, for some other corporations.

  1. Researching the Cost of Corruption

Our research group did a brilliant job in researching the cost of corruption in the market of milk. So, they were very innovative, very persistent. They overcame a lot of trouble to research it. For example the production companies didn’t want to talk, logistic companies didn’t want to talk. They persuaded them and collected great information.

  1. Police Reform

    This project involved everyone in the team. We put together amendments for the new Russian police law, we were campaigning through the internet, as well as offline. We made it possible that some of our amendments were added to the final law. That was really, really impressive!

    Other initiatives I really love are for instant our Anti-Corruption Summer School. But those three are my favourite. Sometimes when I see the passion of our team members  – realising things that did not exist like two or three years ago.

    If you could ask the people of Russia to do one thing. What would that be?

    I would ask them not to give up – at this point. And that there is life beyond national elections. There are many municipal elections, there are regional elections, where each vote counts as much as at presidential elections. The real change starts were you live. And if you want your country to change – start with your own apartment, your own house, your own school were your kids go, the clinic were you go on a daily basis, your road, your courtyard, your municipality and if we start to notice that our involvement makes a difference there – Sooner or later our country will get better!

    Could you please describe in one word your take on the elections and justice in Russia. Describe the current situation in one word.


    Ok and why?

    I mean enough is enough. People just realised enough is enough. They have power, they have the power to convey this message to people who are in authority.