Interview with Rustem Maksudov English translation

Rustem Maksudov: «The new mediation Concept developed to benefit only one organisation»

According to  recently adopted by the Russian government  «Concept for developing the mediation networks with the purpose of  implementing the restorative justice among children and juvenile offenders who committed dangerous public acts while being under age of criminal discretion established by the law of the Russian Federation»,  it is planned to create a structure of school mediation services centered around the Federal Restorative Justice and Mediation Institute (a special unit under the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation). The whole  network would be directly accountable to the Institute at local, regional and federal levels.

The Federal Restorative Justice and Mediation Institute is supposed to train about 1800 trainers who in turn, are supposed to train mediators.  Also, the Institute is supposed to provide certification of mediation services, because «only the services which can meet high corporate standards can be included in the network of mediation services».

As a matter of fact, RJ  ideas  in Russia have been developing over more than a dozen years, with well-formed and enhanced education and training system, multiple workshops and  extensive and well-coordinated network of school mediation services working throughout the country.  Why the existing mediation network doesn’t suit the government? If there is no efficient restorative mediation in Russia, who is supposed to train the planned number of 1800 specialists? As far as certification process is concerned, what kind of criteria be applied to mediation services?

These and other issues have been discussed between Yuri Golov, representing the Russian Human Rights non-government organisation «Soprotivlenie», and Rustem Maksudov, a practicing mediator and Chair of the Russian Restorative Mediation Association,  President of the Public Center for Judicial and Legal Reform.

Yuri Golov: Rustem, there is an opinion that restorative mediation at schools needs some kind of “rebooting”, that restorative justice in Russian provinces has been developed fragmentarily and spontaneously, that no statistics can be found on restorative activities. Is it true?

Rustem Maksudov: Statistics can be easily found with those who collect it. Since the authors of the Concept don’t collect statistics, they have nothing to analyse. On the other hand, the specialists of the Centre for Judicial and Legal Reform conduct a permanent monitoring of the functioning mediation services and analyse their practices. The results of the research are regularly published by my colleagues and me.

I’d like to note that mediation practices in Russia have been vibrantly developing since 1997, both in crime-prevention area and in works with juvenile delinquents.  These practices are inseparably connected with ideas of restorative justice, which took shape of school mediation services. The initiative was led by Public Centre for Judicial and Legal Reform, jointly with Russian Association of Restorative Medication which was founded in 2009.  These activities were endorsed by the Russian government and backed by territorial communities of educators and psychologists.

According to results of  monitoring conducted by the Russian Association of Restorative Mediation,  in 2012  there were 77 functioning territorial reconciliation services reviewing 1690 conflict and criminal cases.  These services also conducted 1026 restorative programmes with more than 4000 persons involved.  Administratively, the services are sub-units of the educational and social welfare system or youth commissions.  In 2009, there were 554 functioning school reconcilition services, in 2010 – 590 services, in 2011 – 615 services. In year 2012, there were 748 school mediation services functioning in 15 Russian regions, with 1139 adult mediators and 3094 fellow-teenagers involved.  Throughout that year, these services addressed 4212 conflict cases, successfully resolving 3841 of them, which number equals to 91,1% of the total number of the accepted conflict cases. In total,  more than 10.000 persons were involved in restorative mediation programmes.

Yuri Golov:  Is year 2012 happen to be the last accounting period?

Rustem Maksudov: Based on results of the monitoring conducted in year 2013, a total number of mediation services was 319 with 1820 working mediators.  The general number of completed territorial programmes equals to 467 (68%),  while school mediation services completed  1968 (96%) programmes. The total number of participants involved in completed territorial programmes was 3041, and of those at schools was 6638.  Currently, our Association cooperates with 25 Russian territories, where we provide assistance in creating two types of services: one being based on socio-psychological centres, mostly addressing grave cases, such as crimes, felonies, aggravated family conflicts or conflicts between social subjects, and another type of services are based at schools where children guided by adults learn the basics of non-repressive methods of conflict resolution.  Formation of these two types of services has become a subject for a series of workshops  conducted by the Public Centre for Judicial and Legal Reform.

Yuri Golov: Government’s attempts to establish a bureaucratic hierarchy in restortive mediation can be explained by propensity to expand the existing network and bring it to some standard, can it not?

Rustem Maksudov: It’s important to note that in Russian province, restorative ideas have always   been promoted through individual initiatives. That is why, when we find interested people in province, we seek funding for their education. But once they’ve become full-fledged mediators, we start treating them as partners and peers. We are not their bosses, we just help them to arrange their own meetings by offering our office premises, where they can come and discuss their issues and share their experience. Frankly, I am very cautious about the idea of state regulation. Traditionally, government tends to think: — Well, if mediation already exists in one place, let’s expand it to the rest of the country. Generally, government officials loathe the idea of diversity. Technically, government has no relevant administrative techniques to manage complex network structures. Does it mean that we should erect a new “power vertical” instead of preserving the current diversity of techniques? For example, Dagestan may need one type of reconciliation services, but Yakutia may have its own traditions to keep, while Far East may have its own regional requirements.

Yuri Golov: Where in Russia, do you think, mediation sevices develop most efficiently?

Rustem Maksudov: I would say, Perm Region can share rather interesting experience. The Association of Perm Mediators efficiently develop and support mediation services throughout their territory.  As a rule, mediators in provinces enjoy most warming support in local communities, and I think it’s great. In Volgograd region, there is an excellent network of school reconciliation services, founded and assisted by Irina Malovichko and her non-government organisation. In the city of Volgograd, more than a hundred school mediation services are functioning now, and they appeared as a result of mutual effort of both children and teachers.  In Arkhangelsk and Kirov regions mediation activities are growing rapidly, as well as in Tatarstan.  In Moscow, mediators’ activities are most intelligently assisted by Yuri Kotov, the Juvenile Commission executive secretary.

At the same time, there is an evidence of  growing state intervention into the area of mediation activities, which fact reminds me of the Soviet-style thinking: once we have 150 services, let’s make 300 more, then 600 more, etc. In my opinion, any coercion in this area shall be avoided, otherwise new mediation services will appear only “on paper”, and real work will be substituted with sheer imitation. It will be a profanation of restorative justice, followed by loss of confidence from both government officials and general public. As far as I can see, this is what “Mediation and Law” Center of Tsisana Shamlikashvili is doing now, promoting the old-style Soviet planning strategy     with the only agenda of obtaining state funding. Surprisingly, this organisation has no practical experience in promoting the ideas of restorative justice in Russia.

Yuri Golov: So, what was the reason for re-inventing the Concept?   We know that on 15 October 2013 Vice Prime Minister Olga Golodetz commissioned the Ministry of Justice to consolidate the existing mediation experience into a Concept, and  on 23 May 2014 the Ministry of Justice presented the draft  to the government.  On 30 July 2013 the Concept was adopted.

Rustem Maksudov: At the time when there started the first debates around the Russian National Children’s Strategy, Nodar Khananishvili, Vice-President of the Russian Association of charity organisations, was attracted by favourable recommendations given to the idea of restorative justice.  He proposed to include the ideas of restorative justice and mediation networks  into a strategic document. I still regret that I didn’t oppose that idea from the very beginning. I had an illusion that the Strategy would be well tested, fairly assessed and would start working for the benefit of the general public.   Later on, Tsisana Shamlikashvili, being the Head of “Mediation and Law” organisation under Federal Institute of Mediation, availed herself of that Concept with  purposes to build a bureaucratic structure and obtain funding from the federal budget.  Many times we tried to get in contact with “Mediation and Law”, wishing to start a dialogue and develop a good partnership, but we failed to get any response from them.  The reason was, I think, in our genuine desire to have fellow partners, not bosses. Obviously,  “Mediation and Law” claim their loyalty to RJ values only in words, but not in deeds:  as we know now, they don’t apply the principles of negotiation and equal partnership even in their administrative practices. It’s a pity that developers of the medation Concept are still unaware of main values of restorative justice – if they start training mediators, what will come out of it?   It is remarkable, that the public discussion of the Concept was ignored, so RJ professionals came to know about it by mere chance, when the Concept was privately discussed in the city of Ryazan. Unfortunately, we failed to join the discussion. The draft Concept was presented to the Government without preliminary public reviewing.

Yuri Golov: But government is supposed to think not only about administration, but also about developing the restorative mediation, is it not? Do you think  mediation community may need a government support?

Rustem Maksudov: Yes, mediation does need a support from government.  But what kind of support should it be?  On the one hand, there is an organisation that has no experience in promoting restorative justice, like “Mediation and Law”, headed by Tsisana Shamlikashvili, who is  trying to seize the area of mediation activities in Russia and get funding from the government. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be more reasonable if the government supports the already existing territorial networks? Traditionally,  the government approach  comes down to the following idea: “If there’s something good, let’s expand it throughout Russia and appoint a Chief Mediator”. I am strongly opposed to this kind of approach.  The government shouldn’t  appoint an “all-Russia mediator”, who definitely will be ignorant of main principles of restorative justice. One more example – recently, the “Mediation and Law” published a book where they confused such legal definitions as “reconciliation” and “dismissal of the case due to conciliation of the parties”.

The government should provide assistance to already existing mediation services who show a sincere interest in realisation of RJ values. By “government assistance” we mean consolidation of existing mediation services, discussion of their vital problems, awareness of their needs at the federal level, lobbying their interests. This shall be the government approach to mediation.

Yuri Golov: So, what is the concrete proposal of the Concept?

Rustem Maksudov:  The proposal purports to create a pyramid with a Federal Mediation Intitute at the top, to be coordinated and managed centrally.  The middle level of the pyramid would consist of already existing and farly well-functioning regional mediation networks. According to the plan, they will simply be joined to the pyramid.  The lowest level would consist of ordinary mediation services (already existing and functioning).  To make a long story short, the Concept purports to seize the existing area of restorative mediation in Russia, which has successfully been functioning there for 17 years.

At the time when Russian Ministry of Education published their recommendations for building school mediation services, I also had many questions to ask them. But at least, Ministry of Education didn’t intend to make a bureaucratic structure of it. They were wise enough to support the variety of techniques. On the contrary, the Ministry of Justice tends to immediately appoint a “Chief Mediator”. So now, this Concept made me appreciate the values of our experience, the core principles of our struggle.

We are struggling against a senseless copying of Western techniques.  Our practices should be based on traditional values of the Russian nation and other Russia ethnicities. For example, in the Caucasus there is an ethnic peace-making tradition called “Masliat”, where local dignitaries help finding peaceful solutions, including making compensations to cover losses inflicted by a crime.

The foreign experience must and may be used, of course, but Russia needs its own peace-making models, to be recognised by all native Russians as their own.  Conflict of values – this is where lies our main contradiction with Tsisana Shamlikashvili who is promoting an American mediation model.  That model cannot be widely practiced in Russia, except for the area of commercial conflicts, which area being quite specific and narrow. In addition, the model promoted by Tsisana doesn’t work well if applied to criminal cases.

I have several questions to the developers of the Concept.

The first question.  Why does the Concept disregard the 17-old experience of the Public Center for Judicial and Legal Reform and its partners in Russian regions?

The second question. Why is the Concept being developed by an organisation having no practical experience in the area of restorative mediation?

The third question.  How could it happen that the team of Concept developers allowed such incompetent and irresponsible  writings? Quotations:

Section I.

  1. The development of mediation services networks is geared at the following objectives:

A). establishing a system aimed at prevention and correction of delinquencies among children and minors, along with assistance to families;

Section 4.

      The implementation of the said objective shall be achieved through the completion of the following tasks:

      a) to create, by means of mediation and restorative approach, the system of protecting, assisting and guaranteeing the rights and interests of children of all ages and groups, who happen to be in a difficult situation, socially dangerous environment or in socially handicapped families; children of deviant behaviour and children who committed socially dangerous acts; children released from correctional institutions and other so-called “difficult” children.

      b). to create, with the help of mediation and restorative approach, the work systems targeting crime prevention, rehabilitation and correction of children, with priority given to groups at-risk; introduction of new forms, methods and work techniques, including pre-trial support and litigation counsel for juvenile delinquents and minors released from correctional institutions…”

These provisions purport that there is no crime prevention system in Russia, but at the same time, they refer to capacity of mediation services to create the said system! In my opinion, such considerations are absolutely incompetent.  According to the document, the Concept is geared at “developing the mediation services networks aimed at prevention and cvorrection of delinquencies among children and minors, and assistance to families”.  Does it mean that Concept is supposed to build a crime-prevention system in Russia? Can a qualified man of reason pronounce such things?

The forth question. Why is the organisation having no experience in restorative justice, going to deal with training and certifying mediators in the area of restorative justice?

The fifth question.  Why doesn’t Constitution stipulate the difference between mediation resolving conflict situations and mediation used in criminal cases?

The Concept says that there are no qualified specialists nor education in the area of mediation in Russia. These words simply strike out our experience gained over those past 17 years,  annul  our research, our achievements, the already trained specialists and even saved lives. Obviously, when matter comes to money, moral values yield up.

Yuri Golov: Do you think it is still possible to tailor the Concept to make it match the social reality?

Rustem Maksudov: Olga Kostina, a Member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and a leader of the “Soprotivlenie” Human Rights movement, announced several constructive proposals.  If a right leverage be used on decision-makers, a  new workgroup can be formed under the Government of the Russian Federation, in order to elaborate another Concept.  For this, we have to change the approach.  One should realise that a government official is not obligatorily an expert, but first of all, an administrator. For example, it is a common misapprehension that a Minister of Health shall be the best ever expert in healthcare. Such misapprehensions are the origin of all ill-made concepts  resulting in establishing  one more bureaucratic entity with more accounting reports, inevitable presecutor’s investigations and expectable questions, why we “conducted just two mediations, not five, over the past accounting period.” At the same time, the issue of practical support from government is rarely raised for discussion.

Yuri Golov: What are your plans, and plans of your fellow mediators, for the nearest future?

Rustem Maksudov: It will depend on what position our regional counterparts will take.  If they stand firm in their values and principles, we will continue our cooperation.  But if the new Concept be put into effect, just two years will be enough to destroy the whole scope of our practices, with the direct intervention of “Mediation and Law”,  and support from government officials.  That’s why we start the process of consolidating our experience in books and articles, hoping this  information may become helpful for future generations of restorative mediators.

It is important to keep the working teams in the province, develop active engines of  communities, and allow mediators feel their part. People should come to understanding that they can directly impact their environment.  To achieve this goal, the concepts shall be developed “on the ground”, in other words, territories shall define their policies themselves. Mediation practices shall be a part of this process.  We conducted a whole lot of seminars in Russia’s provinces, where we saw   that  our local counterparts already had their own recommendations and programmes developed. In the future, we are going to follow this strategy, because we feel that links with territorial teams have become an inseparable part of our activities.

There is one more trend which, I think, is worth to be further developed.  Mediation’ teams in provinces should make bigger focus on  regular work with victims. This trend is in great demand  by society and goes in line with government interests.  Unfortunately, a victim-focused approach hasn’t yet become a priority for law-enforcement structures.  In restorative justice, on the opposite, a victim’s interests play a central role, but only in close conjunction with  offender.  By bringing together victims, offenders, their families and dear ones within one harm-compensating programme, we help to relieve sufferings inflicted by a crime. The positive therapeutic effect of such programmes is beyond any doubt. For offender’s part, we discuss the issue of guilt and shame.  For victim’s part, we discuss his trauma, his sufferings and compensation of harm. If offender remains unknown, victim will need a special healing.  For example, we have an RJ programme called “Communities’ Circles” which was specially tailored to work in offender’s absence.  Our mediators are trained to assist in developing this kind of programmes. I am sure that government must be involved in these activities, with the role to support the process of building  networks, where general public also takes an active part.

On 10 November 2014, the Ministry of Justice hosted an All-Russia working meeting to discuss the Concept for developing the mediation networks with the purpose of  implementing the restorative justice among children and juvenile offenders who committed dangerous public acts while being under age of criminal discretion established by the law of the Russian Federation.  Representatives of Russian regions gave the account of their activities in the area of combatting crime among young people. Ludmila Karnozova and I were given the floor, so we had a chance to present our opinion about the Concept in public.  Also, many speakers commended our 17-year old experience.  According to my understanding of the final speech by Alexander Konovalov, Minister of Justice, the Ministry is interested in the analysis and implementation of crime prevention experience gained in  regions, so they don’t seem to support the idea of creating a new power vertical.

The working meeting made an assessment of the process which started in early 90-s, when the first mediation teams were formed.  It was the time when mediators first tested new practices of crime prevention among children and juvenile offenders. Nowadays, various practices are used in regions to combat the crime among the young, including restorative justice methods, social activities, psychological aid. These practices are realised through various entities and organisations, such as courts, youth inspections and crime prevention committees, socio-psychological centres and communities. New pilot sites have emerged, and this process goes further not because of administrative pressure or alien concepts imposed on communities, but because mediation teams in provinces deliberately made restorative principles their main guideline.

In my opinion, recognising the variety of innovative techniques must be a priority for any strategic thinking, especially at the federal level. The idea of retaining and preserving the variety of traditions is in great demand in modern Russia. This process shall also include the analysis of current and new family- and children-oriented practices. Regional authorities and grassroot teams have become the basis for any innovations in Russia.  Lobbying for variety of innovative techniques throughout Russia’s territories,  combined with administrative resources (but not bureaucratic ones) can become, in my opinion, a strong alternative to current strategy  expressely aimed at destroying the conceptual and ethnic varieties of Russia through  forced implanting of  just one  “official” concept. I am firm in my belief that Russian province is the origin of all fruitful concepts, so we have to support them and protect their experience. I really appreciate that Minister of Justice backed my position.


Rustem Maksudov.

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