The Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) has approved in first reading the law that will force non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that carry out activities that can be classified as “political” and receive financial aid to appear as “foreign agents” international. This law, a project of United Russia (UK), – the majority government party in the chamber -, obtained 323 votes in favor and four against. In favor, in addition to the UK, the populist Vládimir Zhirinovski’s Liberal Democratic Party and approximately one third of the Communist Party deputies, who supported it, voted. The Fair Russia parliamentary group, of a social democratic nature, opposed the document and for the most part did not vote.
The Duma, made up of 450 deputies, will address the controversial law next week in second reading with the intention that it enter into force as quickly as possible, which requires the approval of the Federation Council (chamber of the regions) and the signature of the president, Vladimir Putin. Representatives of Russian NGOs have already expressed their intention to go to the Constitutional Court to speak against a law that they consider humiliating and undemocratic and that also allows a wide range of activities to be classified as “political” if their motive is to want to influence society or in decision-making mechanisms.
In Russia, the combination of the words “agent” and “foreigner” is mentally associated with the word “spy,” as a consequence of the sinister historical use of this cataloging, especially to spread terror during Stalinism.
The law was initially presented to the Duma by six UK MPs who have now been joined by three more from the LDPR and, symbolically, the entire UK parliamentary group, which appears to be a response to calls from the opposition to The promoters of the document are included in the lists (pending approval in the United States) of undesirable people for their alleged connection with the death in prison of lawyer Sergey Magnitski.
In defense of the law, the communist Vladimir Kashin attributed the collapse of the USSR to foreign hostile actions and opined that in Russia there are “too many” internationally financed organizations infiltrated by the organs of power, including the legislature. According to Kashin, these organizations “wait for the X hour to undertake the task that has been entrusted to them.” For his part, the deputy Iliá Ponomariov, from RJ, stated that, with the approval of the document, the “party of the swindlers and thieves” becomes the true party of “foreign agents” since the law, in his opinion, it widens the existing schism in Russian society. Ponomariov said the Russian Orthodox Church may also be affected by the law, as it receives funds from abroad after joining its co-religionists from the Russian Orthodox church in exile, based in the United States.
“Never and under no circumstances will our organization register as a foreign agent,” octogenarian Liudmila Alekséyeva, who chairs the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of Russia’s oldest human rights NGOs, said Thursday.
The president of the commission for the development of civil society and human rights, Mikhail Fedótov, and other analysts and critical politicians, who on Thursday debated with representatives of United Russia (UK or government party) on the document, are also opposed to the law. , considered another of the pieces in the Kremlin offensive against the opposition. “In the Russian lexicon, the expression is offensive,” said political scientist Glev Pavlovski, according to whom the document will cause “a chain reaction” and only seeks to “brand” the most important NGOs.
In early June, the State Duma passed another law that toughens conditions for holding rallies and sanctions for violations of public order. Just as quickly as that law was processed, the new document is now being processed, and as then and paradoxically, the foreign experience “of civilized countries” is invoked as a reference. Specifically, North American legislation (US Foreign Agent Registration Acts or FARA) is cited. However, according to Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch, FARA covers organizations and individuals that operate “under the direction and control of a foreign principle”, which does not apply to NGOs that benefit from foreign funds to promote changes in politics. “Russia is using the existence of this US law inappropriately to justify the proposed new restrictions on NGO work,” said a statement from Human Rights Watch. In Russia, unlike the US, there is no legislation on the activities of lobbies. Iliá Ponomariov said in the Duma on Friday that the international experience must be understood before copying it.
In 2006 the Kremlin already imposed restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs, which are under severe scrutiny by the Ministry of Justice and the tax service. Congressman Alexandr Sidyakin, who heads the group responsible for the bill passed on Friday, is also the author of the law that imposed restrictions on rallies.
“If the only way is to renounce foreign aid, we will renounce and live poorly,” stressed Liudmila Alekséyeva. The Moscow Helsinki group was founded in 1966 and received its first foreign scholarship in 1993. For her part, Svetlana Gánnushkina, member of the Memorial leadership and president of “Civic Aid” (dedicated to emigration), stated that the term “Foreign agent” is an attempt to discredit and humiliate activists before society. According to Gánnushkina, it is a “Pharisee law” that “wants to deceive society, pretending to hide money.” “Already today they look at us under a microscope,” he added, and said that the true “foreign agent” is the one who has invented this law that divides society.
Human rights defenders explain that it is not easy to obtain financing from the Russian business for projects that may conflict with the authorities, since business depends on the rulers, to a greater and lesser level. For his part. Lilia Shibánova, executive director of Golos (electoral observation), stated that her organization will launch new methods of collecting funds, through the Internet. In turn, analyst Maksim Shevchenko, who works on cultural and religious issues in the Caucasus, said that with the business card of “foreign agent” it is difficult to get an investigation into issues such as torture or police abuse reported by NGOs. The law “has an exclusively repressive character,” said Sergey Mironov, the head of RJ.
According to Borís Nemtsov, deputy prime minister of Russia in the 1990s, the law is directed against Golos, an organization that denounces electoral falsification, as well as against Amnesty International, for denouncing arbitrariness and granting prisoner of conscience status, and against the entity Transparency International, because it denounces corruption. According to analyst Nikolái Zlovin, the Russian Defense Ministry is the first institution to receive money from the United States for different joint programs, such as the scrapping of obsolete nuclear facilities or the destruction of chemical weapons.