Open letter by cultural figures in support of Russian NGOs

posted 19 May 2013, 10:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 May 2013, 10:29 ]
17 May 2013 

Source: (info)
It is not the business of writers, poets, actors, directors or musicians to teach legislators how to pass laws, courts how to interpret them, or prosecutors how to monitor their implementation. But the situation that has developed around the relations between government and NGOs is dangerous and fraught with too serious consequences for us to ignore it.

Mass inspections by prosecutors of NGOs are taking place in the country. The inspections are being done in violation of the law and at an unheard of speed. All this seems to look like a wide-ranging campaign with the goal of portraying, by any means, the public activities of NGOs that receive funding from abroad as political.

Anyone who is interested can find out what Russian NGOs are doing: they are fighting to protect the environment, to stop the destruction of our cultural heritage, to prevent our children dying from incurable diseases, to make sure the victims of the Stalin-era repressions are not forgotten, to make it possible for people with disabilities to live a normal life in Russia and feel they are full members of society, to ensure that Russian laws are abided by in full, and even simply to stop husbands beating their wives, and to stop parents rejecting their children.

The people engaged in this work, in their overwhelming majority, are selfless, committed individuals, and the application of the term ‘foreign agent’, which implies that their activity is controlled by foreign sponsors and is in the interests of foreign sponsors, to them is unjust and dishonest.

Everyone who is engaged in civil society activity in Russia knows why are many Russian NGOs are forced to search for funds to support their work from among international philanthropic foundations. Government bodies in reality don’t support civil society initiatives, and business, which is dependent on the authorities, is not prepared to risk financing NGOs because they fear provoking the dissatisfaction of those in power.

To have to carry the stamp of ‘foreign agent’ is not only insulting for NGO workers, but also disinforms the public who could be made to think that the help they are receiving comes not from their fellow citizens but from foreigners. Moreover, the term ‘foreign agent’ in the public mind is associated with the Stalin-era trials, during which hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens confessed under torture to allegations that were absurd, and it was precisely as ‘foreign agents’ that they were destroyed by the state machine.

A majority of NGOs will not accept the shameful term and will prefer to close down. This will set civil society back many years and will halt its development. So that this did not happen, we have to secure the abolition of this law, or at the very least its amendment, so that the term ‘foreign agent’ will be substituted by something more neutral, such as an ‘organization receiving funding from foreign sources.’ Moreover, it is necessary to more clearly define the meaning of ‘political activity’ by returning it to its commonsense meaning.

Boris Akunin, writer
Mikhail Aldashin, animated film director and artist
Liya Akhedzhakova, actress of stage and screen
Andrei Bilzho, artist, cartoonist
Andrei Bitov, writer
Vera Vasilieva, actress of stage and screen
Vladimir Vyatkin, photographer
Sergei Gandlevsky, poet, writer
Boris Grebenshchikov, musician, poet
Oleg Dorman, film director
Zoya Eroshok, journalist
Elean Kamburova, singer and actress
Pavel Kaplevich, artists and theater and cinema producer
Yulii Kim, poet, composer and dramatist
Polina Osetinskaya, pianist
Lev Rubinshtein, poet, literary critic
Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich, journalist
Svetlana Sorokina, journalist
Dmitry Spirin, rock musician
Marietta Chudakova, literary scholar, critic and writer

Source: Agency for Social Information