16 April 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Centre for Independent Social Research
An Open Letter
12 April 2015
On March 12, 2015 the autonomous non-commercial organization “The Centre for Independent Social Research” received a Notice from the Chief Office of the Ministry of Justice of Russia in St. Petersburg warning about the breach of Russian Federation (RF) legislation and a notice of intent to file an indictment no later than April 20th to include CISR on the roster of non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.
We, the associates of the Centre for Independent Social Research, believe that this charge is unjustified.
According to Paragraph 6 of article 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations,” a non-commercial organization performing the functions of a foreign agent is understood to be a Russian NCO, which receives financing from foreign sources and participates in political activity conducted on the territory of the Russian Federation. “Political Activity” as mentioned in this law is understood as “participation (including through financing) in organizing and conducting political actions with the aim of influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy, and also in the formation of public opinion for the above purposes.” Science (along with many other fields) is excluded by law from the concept of political activity (paragraph 6 of article 2 of the law). The Constitutional Court of Russian Federation highlighted that activity in all these fields cannot be viewed as political activity, even if it is “aimed at influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy” (para. 3.3 of the Ordinance of April 8, 2014 No. 10-P)
The activities of CISR enumerated in the Ministry of Justice’s Notice do not contradict CISR’s Charter, do meet the definition of “scientific activity”, as determined by the Federal Law “On Science and State Scientific-Technological Politics” No. 127-F3, and also meet the academic standards set forth by the professional community (Federal Educational Standard on Sociology). None of the examples listed in the Warning support the idea that CISR conducts political activity, within the context of Paragraph 6 article 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations.”
We believe that the development and publishing of a methodological instruction manual, publishing of a presentation of a scientific paper and its discussion on the organization website, or publishing an annotation for a collective research-based monograph online is part of professional activity of sociologists and cannot be regarded as violation of the law.
In particular, one unfounded accusation contained in the Warning is that a methodological instruction manual for leading impartiality workshops for justices of the court, published with the assistance of a Centre colleague is intended “to create negative public response,” and that “by editing, printing and distributing this work, the Organization [CISR] executed purposeful action to form a negative public opinion” in relation to the judicial system of the Russian Federation. The manual was developed together with the psychologists of the judicial department. The definition of “impartiality”  as cited in the methodological instruction manual is consistent with principles of legality of the judicial process and is based on requirements for fair trials, as are established in the Criminal-Procedure Codex of the RF and other procedural laws. In our opinion, this manual is associated with advancing this important value and cannot be considered a political activity aimed at changing existing legislature or forming public opinion for this purpose.
Another accusation, just as unsubstantiated, essentially consists of the fact that during a discussion about a presentation of the paper on political strategies of Russian professional unions at CISR’s Annual Research Session in 2014, “participants […] made statements giving a negative assessment of existing legislature”. We believe that public critical assessment of the existing legislature cannot be regarded as violation, and the statements made by the seminar participants cannot be viewed as “political activity of an organization,” according to Paragraph 6, page 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations.” Moreover, a critical approach is a necessary professional requirement for sociological research activity (accorging to Paragraph 4.4 of the Standards). It cannot be excluded from the scientific analysis and discussion, and scientists should not be blamed for it.
The third allegation we believe is no less absurd is about the intentions that the CISR purportedly pursued by providing information about the collective study “The Politics of Apoliticals: Civil Movements in Russia from 2011-2013” on the CISR website. The book provides a sociological analysis of current political processes in Russia, passed through all cycles of preparation required of a scientific text, including a review, and was published by a highly-regarded publishing house. The suggestion that social researchers conduct studies, write articles, and publish books only “with the aim of influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy, and also in the formation of public opinion for the above purposes” is based on the erroneous idea of the professional activity of sociologists and its purposes.
We declare our legal right to freely choose a topic of scientific research and to publicly analyze the results of our work. We assert that any direct or indirect influence on public opinion is a lawful effect of the professional activity of sociologists and does not change the scientific essence of that activity. Sociology is inherently critical in function. Its goal is not to create positive or negative “public reactions”, but to research and prompt dialogue with the community, offering a professional view of problems. Sociology (like other sciences) is international. Without active cooperation with scholars in different countries, without access to the international scientific grant market, Russian sociology is devoid of growth stimuli and is doomed to stagnation and decline.
We believe that non-governmental (autonomous) research centers, like the Centre for Independent Social Research, have played and continue playing an important role in the formation and development of modern Russian sociology. Subjecting such scientific organizations to the “Law on Foreign Agents” is institutional discrimination against social scholars in the workplace, as it essentially signifies a ban on the profession for researchers who work in the non-governmental and non-commercial sector. Introducing a non-governmental scientific center to the roster of foreign agents is not only an administrative and financial burden on the organization, but also essentially limits the professional activity of its members, denying them access in legitimate research fields  and limiting our constitutional right to freedom of scientific work.
The Centre for Independent Social Research objects to the proposed filing of an indictment to include the Centre in the roster of non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent, as we believe imposing this requirement by the Office of the Ministry of Justice is unsubstantiated and unjustified.
 “Impartiality – the principal of justice, presuming that under examination of a case, the sides of the process are established in an equal position and that when making a decision the judges are governed by the norms of the Constitution of the RF and its laws, and that the judges are not under the influence of subjective prejudices, making them biased in relation to the participants of the process” (page 22 of the Methodological textbook)
 As is known, there are already regulations in development forbidding (or essentially limiting) the opportunity for government workers to collaborate with non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent (Article 17 Federal Law “On State Civil Service of the Russian Federation”).
Letter in PDF file: Open_Letter_Eng
Sign the letter of support HERE
Translation by: Centre for Independent Social Research
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