Advisory Committee (International)

On this page you will find statements and opinions by members of Rights in Russia's Advisory Committee (International).
For more information about the membership of this body, please visit Advisory Committee (International).

Jens Siegert: NGOs and the Kremlin – fresh plans to tighten up the NGO law

posted 4 Sep 2014, 12:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Sep 2014, 12:55 ]

31 July 2014

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

It would appear that the repressive tactics employed by the Russian state against NGOs with links abroad have been ramped up a level. It started back in early June with amendments to the NGO law which gave the Ministry of Justice the power to impose the label of “foreign agent” on any NGOs which (also) receive money from abroad, whether they agree or not. The Ministry of Justice has exercised this right on 10 occasions already. At around the same time, the tax authorities also began to scrutinise the finances of many NGOs and to demand that tax be paid on donations, contrary to previous practice (and previous case law). [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: Interview with Zurich Tages-Anzeiger on Yukos ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague

posted 3 Sep 2014, 14:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Sep 2014, 14:18 ]

28 July 2014

Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

In a ruling published today, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordered the Russian state to pay around USD 50 billion in compensation to former shareholders of the Russian oil concern Yukos, which was dissolved in 2004. They had appealed for compensation from the government on the grounds that the breaking up of the company formerly headed by the government critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky had lost them a great deal of money. Khodorkovsky himself has welcomed the ruling, but emphasised that he himself did not submit a claim and did not intend to derive any material benefits from the ruling. In an interview with the Zurich Tages-Anzeiger, I made a first attempt at analysing the consequences of the ruling.

Tages-Anzeiger: Mr Siegert, Russia has been ordered to pay a huge sum of compensation in the Yukos case. What does this ruling mean for the Kremlin?

Jens Siegert: Alarm bells will be ringing even louder among the political classes. The Kremlin is already under pressure as a result of the US and EU sanctions, and a further penalty of over USD 50 billion would be a harsh blow. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: What are the consequences of the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane over Ukraine? First thoughts

posted 31 Jul 2014, 08:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 Jul 2014, 08:36 ]

18 July 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

It was only yesterday morning that I very carefully wrote down my impression here that several signs in Russia were pointing towards a “slight relaxation” in the Ukraine conflict. In the evening the terrible news came of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashing near Donetsk with almost 300 people on board. It quickly became clear that the plane had been shot down. But by who? And what comes next? Where do these new deaths leave us? (Though we must not forget the many other victims up to this point – among them also certainly a few perpetrators – from Maidan to the towns and villages of eastern Ukraine.) [Read more]

Translated by Helen Corbett

Jens Siegert: New repressive action - 5 more NGOs declared to be “foreign agents”; one required to pay tax

posted 28 Jul 2014, 02:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jul 2014, 02:25 ]

21 July 2014

By Jens Siegert

The Russian Ministry of Justice has ruled that five more NGOs are so-called “foreign agents” and has put them on the state register of “foreign agents”, against their will. The five NGOs are Memorial Human Rights CentreEcodefence (a women’s group from Kaliningrad), the police and justice watchdog Public Verdict, the Agora Human Rights Association and Lawyers for constitutional rights and freedom (Jurix). This means that these NGOs are bound to put the tagline “this organisation carries out the functions of a foreign agent” on all public statements they make, with immediate effect. If they do not comply, they will be liable to pay hefty fines, and if it happens again the organisation could be closed and its president imprisoned. [Read more]

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts 

Jens Siegert: Eastern Ukraine - Hazarding a guess at the Kremlin’s plans

posted 28 Jul 2014, 02:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jul 2014, 02:26 ]

17 July 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Heinrich Boell Foundation Russia Blog

Over the past two or three weeks, a very slight hint of détente has been sensed in the (foreign) political situation in Moscow – sensed rather than actually observed in the literal sense of the word. It relates primarily to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but also has consequences for the situation within Russia as a whole. The clearest outward sign of this “détente” – and I hesitated even longer before typing the word for a second time – is a slight shift in the rhetoric of propaganda. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds 

Jens Siegert: On prison camps and human dignity – a review of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's “My Fellow Prisoners”

posted 21 Jul 2014, 05:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Jul 2014, 05:32 ]

3 July 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

A book written by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the Great Russian Empire’s best-known prison inmate and a free man for just six months, has been published in German. The slim volume has the programmatic title “My Fellow Prisoners”. I believe that this book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand more about Russia, and there are two reasons why I say this. The first is that life in Russia’s prison camps is a reflection of society, perhaps more so than in any other country. The rules there differ very little from those which apply beyond the prison walls, and they are rooted not so much in the law as in the Russian notion of “zhit’ po ponyatiyam”, or “living by unwritten rules”. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert on 'Gopniki'

posted 7 Jul 2014, 02:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Jul 2014, 02:59 ]

19 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

Each language, indeed each society, has certain terms which, whether they are written or spoken, function as gateways to whole worlds. No explanation is needed because people understand. These key words also say a great deal about the societies in which they arose, became heavy with meaning and are still used. Only what is sufficiently significant for a given society, which explains its meaningful differences and phenomena, will be given a shorthand which is succinct, eloquent and readily understood. The Russian noun “gopnik” is exactly this type of concept. It describes someone who behaves in a particular way. [Read more]

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts 

Noah Birksted-Breen: "Remember, Remember… The First Of July 2014…"

posted 28 Jun 2014, 08:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jun 2014, 08:50 ]

18 June 2014

By Noah Birksted-Breen

Source: Sputnik Theatre Blog 

Since the end of communism, Russian artists have only rarely faced restrictions and persecution by the state. A law banning censorship was enshrined in the Constitution in 1993. The 2000s saw a resurgent authoritarianism under President Putin. However, even during the bad phases, it was always possible to find some rays of hope. After Putin’s re-election as President in 2012, there was a succession of laws restricting the public space for dissent. But the arts were not affected in any direct way.

And the bad news wasn’t the only story. At the same time, some theatres were booming. A far-sighted Culture Minister in Moscow, Sergei Kapkov, was providing funding for a number of daring younger directors to create work in a handful of medium-sized repertory theatres. The increasing variety and richness of the theatre landscape was a beacon of hope. As long as progressive theatre-makers were able to work freely, there was at least some room for independent thought. This was a silver-lining against a backdrop of increasingly harsh government rhetoric about ‘enemies within’ and ‘foreign agents’ and so on.

The 1st of July 2014 seems to represent a sea change. It is hard to see it as anything else but a point of no return. A new law will come into force which bans swearing in films, TV, literature and in the theatre. This is a law censoring the arts – it is the first of its kind since 1991.

The theatres which will be punished by this law are the most progressive ones. Russia’s most famous political theatre, Teatr.doc, is the only theatre which has, as far as I am aware, publicly refused to adapt its repertoire to suit the impending law. It is able to take a stance because it is an independent theatre. The vast majority of theatres rely on state funding. But Teatr.doc does not have large resources – it is run on a shoe-string budget. It is hard to imagine that the most innovative theatres will survive. The new law imposes significant fines for organisations which do not conform – around 1000 pounds, seemingly, for each time they break the law, i.e. each performance of a play which contains swearing.

This fateful date – 1st of July 2014 – could see the heavy hand of state censorship closing several key new playwriting venues. For the larger, richer repertory theatres it acts as a strong disincentive to stage new plays – at least, those works which are innovative or experimental.

This law also opens the floodgates to all sorts of other damaging changes which impinge on artistic freedom. This month, a newer law about the arts is being discussed in the Russian Parliament. Not about swearing this time. This newer law would ban positive depictions of the mafia in the cinema. It hasn’t been approved – but it gives a sense of what the future might hold, with any number of new laws introduced to ban this or that type of play or film. The point is that only the most conservative cultural products will thrive in this restricted public sphere.
Luckily, as Russian playwrights and directors face a bleak future, British theatres are stepping up to support them. I welcome Theatre 503’s initiative to commission both Russian and British playwrights to engage with the realities of Russia today. It was a quick response to a fast-changing situation. My own company, Sputnik, has been dedicated to bringing contemporary Russian playwrights to the UK since 2005 and we will continue to offer opportunities to Russian playwrights to develop their work in London, for many years to come. We are currently sourcing five new plays to present to British audiences in 2015.

This seems to be one of the moments in history which will be remembered, for all the wrong reasons. I applaud the playwrights and artistic directors in Russia who continue to follow their consciences, in spite of the consequences.

Noah Birksted-Breen
Artistic director of Sputnik Theatre Company
To join the Sputnik mailing list HERE

Jens Siegert: The hunt for “NGO agents” gathers pace – five NGOS forcibly declared “agents”

posted 22 Jun 2014, 11:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jun 2014, 11:58 ]

10 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog 

My previous post on the hunt for “NGO agents” had barely been published when developments began to pick up speed. It was announced yesterday that the Ministry of Justice had exercised its new powers as early as last Thursday, when it entered five NGOs on its register of “NGOs which fulfil the function of a foreign agent” (to use the official title). The organisations concerned will henceforth be legally obliged to make it known that they are “an NGO fulfilling the function of a foreign agent” every time they make a public statement. Those which fail to do so will face costly fines in the first instance, and the closure of their organisations or possibly even criminal proceedings against those in charge if they commit repeated offences. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: The hunt for “NGO agents” more than one year on – an interim report of sorts

posted 22 Jun 2014, 11:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jun 2014, 11:51 ]

4 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog 

Over a year ago, in March 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia embarked on its large-scale hunt for “agents”. Between March and May, around 700 NGOs were “inspected” (to borrow the delightful euphemism which was used) in order to find out whether they were “complying with the law”. Public prosecutors subsequently issued notices to over 60 of them. Forty were “warned” that they may be violating the amended NGO Act and were advised to register as “agents”. Matters were even worse for the 20 or so NGOs accused of having already broken the law, since they were ordered to register immediately as “agents” with the Ministry of Justice. In most instances both the directors, chairs or presidents of the NGOs and the organisations themselves were fined 300,000 rubles (the individuals) or 500,000 rubles (the organisations). [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

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