Statement by Director of the Levada Center Professor Lev Gudkov

20 May 2013

Source: (info
The Levada Centre has received a warning from the Savelovskaya Interdistrict Prosecutor of Moscow, the gist of which is that publishing the results of opinion polls influences public opinion and is therefore a political not a social science activity. This statement by Director of the Levada Center Professor Lev Gudkov is in response to this.

"The letter received from the interdistrict prosecutor about 'circumstances leading to violations of the federal legislation' (specifically the law on foreign agents) and the warning about the inadmissibility of violating the federal legislation that followed puts the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre in an extremely difficult position, practically forcing it to cease its activity as an independent sociological research organisation conducting systematic polls of public opinion in Russia.

In interpreting analytical articles and the publication of results of opinion polls and comments by the Centre's specialists as "political activity," the Public Prosecutor's Office is in actual fact threatening our organisation with potential sanctions, on the one hand, and undermining its credibility and business reputation, on the other. This is not just a question of the extreme vagueness of the notions of "political activity" and "foreign funding," which allow the most arbitrary and sweeping interpretations, and as a consequence the possibility of administrative actions against the Centre's leaders or even the closing down of our organisation, but also about the effects that the law on NGOs and foreign agents will have in various circles whose representatives are permanent partners, clients or subjects of research carried out by the Centre.

This is also about the freedom to conduct scientific activities and disseminate research results. The Levada Centre is a non-profit organisation. For us that means that any money we earn, from various custom-ordered studies (primarily in marketing, but not exclusively), we spend, in accordance with our statutory objectives, on independent and self-motivated scientific and humanitarian projects: opinion polls, the publication of the The Russian Public Opinion Herald, the Public Opinion yearbook, the holding of regular conferences, etc. We do not spend any of the profits for our own use.

In this way our research team has over the course of almost a quarter of a century been carrying out systematic analytical work to study the structure, functions and dynamic of collective representations, while maintaining its status as an independent research institute.

Unlike other organisations that conduct public opinion polls, we receive no direct government funding or government grants to carry out opinion polls, which in principle require significant financial and organisational expenditures, and in many cases the direct support or permission of local authorities.

Funds received from foreign sources (donations or grants won in in competitions) or payments made by order of foreign organisations (universities, the media, research institutes or consultancy firms) make up only a small part of the Levada Centre's budget: over various years about 1.5-3%.

In this regard, voluntarily or involuntarily turning down grants or donations from various foreign sources would be necessary to free us of the constant danger of being labelled a "foreign agent," but it would not solve the situation, since the mere fact that we receive funds from foreign companies, even if they operate permanently in Russia, as payment for carrying out analytical or research work on subjects that have nothing to do with "political activity" is in itself enough to form the basis for accusations of having foreign funding and linking it to our studies initiated in accordance with our own research plans and interests.

But there are two factors that form another, far more significant, obstacle preventing us from successfully carrying out our work: the recently resuscitated and still perfectly understandable fear of interacting with "potential foreign agents," characteristic of Russian officialdom and the intelligentsia, on the one hand, and the reluctance of our business partners to have anything to do with organisations that have problems with the authorities and their obvious desire to avoid unnecessary trouble, on the other. 

Taken all together, this puts into question the continuing existence and activity of the Levada Centre. Following the logic of the Prosecutor's Warning, we are supposed to cease publication of our journal and close down the Levada Centre website, stop publishing, openly commenting on and analysing the results of our polls among specialists and the public, in the press, in seminars and at conferences, which is not something we can agree to do.

Undoubtedly the most correct thing to do (from the point of view of civil society) would be to contest the Prosecutor's Warning in court, as well as subsequent proceedings in the Constitutional Court about the how the actual law on foreign agents violates the Constitution and other laws of the Russian Federation.

However, such a course of action would for an organisation like ours be too time-consuming, and have the potential to destroy the organisation of research and lead to irreversible research and humanitarian losses.

Therefore this option, even in the event of a positive outcome from the judicial proceedings, does not in principle change the new state of affairs, which makes it impossible for an independent research institute to continue with its previous work.

The leaders of the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre are currently holding consultations with lawyers and considering possible ways out of this difficult situation.

L. D. Gudkov
Director of the Levada Centre
Doctor of Philosophy, Professor"