The Fiercely Contested Russian NGO Bill – Russia

On the 13th of July, 2012 a Russian draft law, setting out to label all politically affiliated NGOs with activities funded from abroad as ‘foreign agents’, passed through the State Duma with barely any opposition.  Russian activists are now in strong opposition along with foreign governments.  Said NGOs would have to register as foreign agents and include this label on all publications and web-portals.  Apart from being labelled ‘foreign agents’, NGOs would be subject to frequent audits and spot checks.

Many human rights proponents insist that such a bill would work to suppress opposition to the current Russian state of affairs.  The bill now needs to be passed through the Federation Council, and then onto the Russian president’s desk for Putin’s signature.

Those in Favor of the Bill

Putin’s party, United Russia or Единая Россия,  finds the bill to be inline with democratic standards as it forces NGOs to be open about their sources and funding.  The party advocates that such openness will be in the best interest of citizens.  Those that favor the bill also recognize the current social-network and NGO movements as forces that often override the opinions of Russian citizens.  It is quite true that much of the social-network publicity concerning the December elections has been strongly opposed to the current Russian state of affairs.  These views were also often projected as the views of the overwhelming majority whether or not that was actually true.  Coincidentally, this mechanism does not work in Putin’s favor.  It is worth adding that last year, Putin accused foreigners of funding those NGOs in Russia that were in opposition to his party.

Many in Opposition to the Bill

The General Secretary of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, former prime minister of Norway, found the NGO bill to be reminiscent of the Stalin era.  Jagland elaborated on the term ‘foreign agent’ and it’s historical use in defining those that were executed during the [Joseph] Stalin era.  He found the term to be ‘unfair [and] inappropriate [in that there is no use for such a term] in modern lawmaking [and that] it belongs to the past and does not belong [in] a democratic society.’  He went on to say that the term is also ‘often used in other authoritarian regimes against everybody that has different views.’  (Jagland)

From a U.S. Department of State press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell spoke on the topic of the Russian NGO legislation.

[T]he United States is deeply concerned by the Russian Duma’s consideration of legislation that would potentially limit the activities of Russian nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign financing. The legislation would require NGOs engaged in civil society activities broadly defined as political to register as foreign agents. It differs from U.S. foreign agent – it differs from the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, because registration would be required regardless of whether an NGO works directly on behalf of a foreign entity or not.  Unlike under US legislation, where [some US personnel] are actively working on behalf of a certain government register as foreign agents, which means that they disclose their funding source, NGOs that may be nonpartisan and receive funding from all sorts of different sources and are working in a transparent and nonpartisan manner are being asked to register all as foreign agents. … [The United States simply wants] NGOs to be allowed to ‘work in a nonpartisan fashion and work with members across the political spectrum in a number of different countries’. (Ventrell)

Opinion

In an objective sense, it is true that the youth can be impressionable, if not more-so than can be the older age groups.  The youth tend to have the strongest influence over social-media.  More so, many advocate-web-portals contain purposefully subjective views with a lack of balance in terms of subject material (in either direction).  A democratic society strives to encompass the views of all age groups, but the spill-over of Russian social-media into other countries presents the world with an image that could potentially only be representative of the younger generations.  This effect then has the ability to feed-back into Russia with the support of foreign youth.  Older groups in opposition may not find this process to be economical for them, and may require alternative mechanisms (data that I do not have would be required to verify this).  The same issue is, naturally, present within other countries including the United States, for example as social media has at times been, collectively, in opposition to the views of the majority.  With this said, one can still be suspicious of any law put into place by a party that the law then serves to benefit.  This could be akin to the American ‘Super PAC’ regulations that may coincidentally benefit the party that worked to put them (said regulations) in place.

On the note of NGO funding, some Canadians could be sympathetic to Putin’s approach due to the way in which the Canadian NGOs in opposition to Canadian oil sands activities were being funded by foreign sources.  Funding was supported by those that were in opposition, but was found to be undemocratic by those that were in favor of the oil activities.

Arctic Economics does not set out to be a proponent of any particular stance, but has the intention to analyze on an objective level.

 Sources
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