Russian Law Threatens Free Civil Society
The Russian Duma will consider a bill on Wednesday, November 23 which will require 450,000 NGO’s operating offices in Russia to re-register with the state. The law is meant to prevent foreign money from supporting “political” activity in Russia. This bill could effectively ban foreign funded NGO’s from operating offices in Russia. An LA Times article of November 19 reported the following:
Many analysts say the bill is a cornerstone in the Kremlin's move to control virtually all levels of public discourse. In what many see as a step back toward the Soviet era, President Vladimir V. Putin has moved to centralize his authority over parliament, the media, courts and regional governments. The proposed legislation would add to the list one of the last independent sectors in public life — civil institutions.
In a letter to President Bush on November 15, former vice presidential candidates John Edwards and Jack Kemp, who have been leading a task-force with the Council on Foreign Relations, recommended that the President “discuss the matter in the frankest possible terms” during his November 18 meeting with Putin. In the letter, Kemp and Edwards presented the following points:
- “Virtually the entire non-profit sector—from human rights monitors to policy think tanks, even public health alliances—is likely to be effected.”
- The impact of the law would be to “rollback pluralism and curtail contact between our societies.”
- The new law “is part of a clear negative pattern of growing state control over society.”
- If the law is enacted, “the government will clearly have in its hands the authority to close down public organizations simply because it finds their views and activities inconvenient.”
On November 18, the Duma voted to spend $17 in democracy development. In a November 21 article, the The Moscow Times described the new law was ironic when juxtaposed with the legislation described above. However, according to the article, many critics of the law see consistency in the Kremlin’s actions. They saw the bill as further evidence of the “Kremlin’s campaign to bring nongovernmental organizations under its wing.”
The Moscow Times article quoted independent Duma deputy, Vladimir Ryzhkov, as saying:
Over the past five years, United Russia has been doing everything to strangle democracy in Russia by rubberstamping one anti-democratic bill after another…Very likely these funds will go to propagandists close to the Kremlin who will spend them on dubious PR projects, including one in the Baltics.
The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice expressed US concern over the legislation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on November 16. In a November 17 editorial, the Post speculated that the legislation requiring the re-registraion of NGO’s was an effort by President Vladimir Putin to “crush any possibility that Russians would respond to a rigged vote with their own democratic uprising.”