The Kremlin's Yellow Stars: Are They Preparing a Pogrom of Civil Society Organisations?

Source: (info), 03/07/12

· Freedom of association  · Human rights defenders  · Persecution of activists

"It is easier for the authorities to declare all non-profit organisations that are politically opposed to them foreign agents, enemies of the people and saboteurs, than to set up or at least not to obstruct the work of these instruments of civil checks and balances that are a vital element of any democratic state."

                                                                                    * * *

The scandalous draft law proposed by United Russia under which Russian non-profit organisations with foreign funding that engage in political activities will be given the status of "a foreign agent", is a pure propaganda and public relations exercise. It is an attempt to justify one of the authorities' key assertions that anyone who criticises them is an agent influencing and sabotaging the development of the country.

One of the authors of this draft law, United Russia deputy Aleksandr Sidyakin, who submitted the recently adopted draconian law on protest rallies, declared point blank that there was a whole network of non-governmental organisations operating in Russia whose "funding activities elicit deep suspicion with regards the objectives of their patrons". Therefore it's better to "legalise these foreign agents and unambiguously see them as conduits for the interests of other states". In this instance, Sidyakin believes that "many non-profit organisations will like this title and they will finally stop having to hide once the true nature of their activities is laid bare".

A source in the Kremlin commenting on the law made it abundantly clear that it was not the deputy Sidyakin who had written it. According to this same source, the operations of a number of organisations that are well known for their critical stance towards the authorities such as the Golos Association, which is the most professional elections watchdog in Russia, and likewise Transparency International and Greenpeace will fall under the remit of this law.

Under this law any public organisation, which finances and carries out operations for the purpose of influencing the adoption of political decisions by government bodies and the formation of corresponding public opinion will be deemed a political one. "Foreign agents" will be placed on a special register of non-profit organisations, forced to carry out an obligatory annual audit of accounts and required to publicise an account of their activities every six months.

In addition, when disseminating materials particularly in the mass media and via the Internet, they will have to indicate that these materials have been disseminated by a non-profit organisation acting as a foreign agent.

The law does not affect political parties because they are already forbidden to receive any financing from abroad (which is a completely logical legal regulation).

Nevertheless, all the organisations in Russia that will now be legally deemed political agents of foreign states have also never concealed the fact they were in receipt of overseas grants. And the Russian authorities are already constantly monitoring their financial activities - even more closely than the largest state companies whose corruption and larceny is causing the country immeasurably greater losses than all the non-profit organisations put together.

Thus, the content of the new draft law is completely unsound. It simply shouldn't exist.

Its demands that the moniker "foreign agent" be compulsorily applied to non-profit organisations is reminiscent of the badges that Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis or the Hindus in Afghanistan under the Taliban. And naturally, this badge will have obvious propaganda ramifications.

The term "foreign agent" instigated by the former members of the KGB who are currently in power will have an unambiguously negative connotation for so-called "rank and file members of the public". It is a law designed for the sort of people who are permanently glued to the main state television stations.

Moreover, the Russian authorities will now have legal grounds to assert that a non-profit organisation that is monitoring and criticising them is a "foreign agent" (read - enemy).

This is also a disproportionate response to the American "Magnitsky Blacklist" law. Because no American official or businessman is going to be bothered by the prospect of facing entry restrictions into Russia, the Russian authorities have developed another piece of creative propaganda by deciding to "intimidate" the State Department by taking their revenge on non-profit organisations.

Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, criticised the law noting that in its current form even the Russian Orthodox Church would be affected by it. However, it is quite clear that law enforcement practices in Russia are such that this law will only be used as a cudgel to beat those non-profit organisations that the authorities dislike. Nobody is going to be investigating or demanding financial accounts from the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the meantime, these so-called foreign agents are actually carrying out the work that the government itself should be doing. It is the Central Electoral Commission that should be investigating the honesty of the elections and not Golos. But the Central Electoral Commission is not doing this. If the state was really serious about fighting corruption, Transparency International's announcements and ratings would not have elicited such a furious reaction from the authorities.

Independent environmental organisations such as Greenpeace are also not to the liking of a state which basically lacks any institution capable of providing independent environmental assessments.

But it is easier for the authorities to declare all non-profits organisations that are politically opposed to them foreign agents, enemies of the people and saboteurs than to create or at least not to hinder the work of these instruments of civil checks and balances that are an obligatory element of any democratic state.

This law is yet more evidence of the authorities' open antagonism towards civil society and their total rejection of standard democratic procedures.