21.05.2000 | S.Miloslavskiy, chairman of Dnepropetrovsk public human rights protection union ‘Antimafia’

An open letter to the funds ‘Counterpart’, ‘Vidrodzhennya’ and similar organizations


Since 1994 a human rights protection union ‘Antimafia’ has been operating in Dnepropetrovsk region. All this time we have been trying to get some financial support in the forms of so-called grants in various funds, such as ‘Counterpart’, ‘Vidrodzhennya’, etc.

All such organizations make a lot of noise about the aid which they render to independent public organizations. We thought: how good! Is there in Ukraine a more independent organization than ours? Our organization was created by the initiative ‘from below’, by people who knew what is a violation of human rights on their bitter experience. ‘Antimafia’ aids the poorest and aids absolutely free of charge, ‘Antimafia’ openly and bluntly criticizes the authorities. Only in 1998 our union organized eight hunger-strikes in the center of Dneprodzerzhinsk, with the aim to protest against pay arrears. We have won, and now our helpless and corrupted authorities hate us, but we even have no office — the authorities will not give it, and we have no money for the rent.

We want to have our own independent human rights protection newspaper, a tribune from which we can inform people about crimes of the authorities, about concrete lots. Yet we cannot get any help. Businessmen are afraid, they say that if the authorities know that we gave money for your newspaper, they will ruin us. We tried to collect donations of the simple folks and collected 64 grivnas. And then we learned about the Soros fund, ‘Counterpart’ and dozens of others. We started to beg, paying the last penny for paper, xerox, mail. And we received answers: sorry, the grant is conferred to another organization.

What are these organizations? Name them. Tell about their activities in detail. We shall learn.

‘Antimafia’ does not want to offend anybody, but we have the impression that all grants were distributed beforehand. And not among independent organizations, but among government-supporting organizations, created ‘from above’. We have such an impression that ‘Antimafia’ and similar organizations are needed only for creating the background for the illusion of the competition. It seems that the authorities allow the corresponding funds to exist not without some strings attached.

PL commentary.
We have combined the three previous articles on purpose, because they are devoted to one topic and complement each other.

We, as well as E.Grinberg, I.Shevchenko, V.Kyrmyzy, and, we hope, all our readers, regard Denda’s activities as such that discredit human rights protection organizations. If our organizations take money from the people, who turned to us for assistance, we shall become commercial organizations. I can tell many amusing stories about how our group refused from presents brought to us by grateful plaintiffs after the successful end of their cases. Maybe we were tactless, but right, because, as a rule, very poor people turn to us. And, in order to stand independent, we do not permit ourselves to take anything from the authorities. We do not take it in any forms, direct or indirect, say, as privileges in renting a place or in paying communal services.

Then you may ask on which money a human rights protection organization can exist. If all work without pay, then they will have to contribute their own money. That was the way in which our organization worked from 1988 to 1992: we all had jobs somewhere and paid a proportion of our salaries for the needs of our organization. By and by we understood that we had come to the limit: in order to work better we had to become professionals, i.e. we had to find money for the work, office, equipment, stationery, library, money for salaries of technical staff, etc. We began to turn to charity funds.

Recently I have found our first request of 1992. How naïve and non-professional it was! It goes without saying that we got a refuse. But we continued to try until we succeeded. Since the first success our organization has noticeably grown: we have 20 full-time workers and more part-time ones. The search for money has grown into a permanent work, which must be done well. A professionally compiled request is a necessary condition for obtaining financial aid. We are not the only ones who learned the trick. Organizations appeared which can write a well-grounded project, such that even experienced workers of the funds cannot see that they are fishy. So grants are sometimes obtained by the organizations which have the only goal — to pack their pockets. Yet I would not risk to assert, like Sergey Miloslavskiy, that all organizations obtaining grants are such, and that all grants have been distributed beforehand among those who are loyal to the authorities. The situation is much more complicated. Certainly, the authorities do not set any conditions on the funds working in Ukraine. Moreover, many organizations get money from the funds situated in other countries and having no representatives in Ukraine. But there is another side: organizations, which call themselves human rights protection ones, are often noisy, incompetent and have a rather fuzzy impression on human rights and related topics. A convincing example is the organization headed by V.Denda. That is why the funds a priori are very vigilant, and that can be understood.

As to our experience, from one third to one half of our requests are supported in various funds, the rest is rejected. For example, we have not got a single grant from ‘Eurasia’ fund (although we handed out projects six times). The same failure we have had with ‘Counterpart’ (handed projects three times). But I never blamed anyone except myself. One must understand how the funds work, why they rejected your project, which projects were accepted. This information might help next time. Our expert Vsevolod Rechitskiy is a brilliant scholar of the world caliber, but he won a grant for a mission abroad only after eight attempts! Such examples may be multiplied.

Perhaps, there appeared a necessity to teach activists from human rights protection organizations the technology of preparing requests for grants. Maybe this will diminish the probability for good organizations to be refused. But where to take money for this training?!

Eugen Zakharov

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