Lev Gudkov: “This is the destruction of all that is best in civil society"

posted 19 Sept 2016, 01:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Sept 2016, 01:48 ]
12 September 2016

Source: HRO.org

Statement by Lev Gudkov, director of the Yury Levada Analytical Centre:

Starting on the evening of the 5th and continuing through the 6th and 7th of September [2016], hundreds of calls and letters came into the Levada Centre from journalists and scholars concerned about the Levada Centre’s fate and the situation that has taken shape around our organization, as well as from those eager to express their support and solidarity with us. Since I cannot reply to all those desiring information, I am obliged to make the present statement.

Between 12 August and 31 August 2016, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation carried out an unplanned documentary inspection of the Levada Centre’s activities in the two and a half years since the last inspection in February 2014 up to the present time.

Based on the inspection’s results, the Ministry, without waiting to receive our objections, as provided for by the formal inspection procedure, announced on the evening of 5 September that the Levada Centre was being added to the register of organizations carrying out the functions of "foreign agents.”

In this way, the slanderous campaign that has been unleashed against our organization acquired formal legal justification. The inspection was initiated and carried out after several appeals to the Justice Ministry by D.V. Sablin, a member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, who is one of the leaders of Anti-Maidan and has been publicly accused many times of corruption, intrigues, plagiarism, and similar abuses.

For all his odiousness, this person is merely a mouthpiece for the expression of the interests of groups that have monopolized the topic of patriotism and the threat to national security and that under this banner are demanding the redistribution of government resources and legal immunity.

The situation that has come about severely complicates our organization’s activities.

I am not talking about the inevitable curtailment of opportunities for financing our work. In and of itself, the “foreign agent” stigma, which in our country is understood exclusively as a synonym for “spy” and “saboteur,” blocks us from conducting large-scale and other social surveys.

The fear that lingers from Soviet times is paralyzing people, especially those who have anything to do with state structures—in education, medicine, administration, and so forth.

In several regions we have been told that employees of state institutions have been forbidden to have contact with representatives of organizations bearing the label “foreign agents.”

In the next few days, after consulting with lawyers, we intend to mount a legal challenge to the Statement of Inspection we have received.

As many in the media have asserted, the Justice Ministry “has uncovered foreign sources of financing” for the Levada Centre, although these sources have never been concealed, inasmuch as financial reports have been submitted regularly to the appropriate oversight agencies and the tax service.

This fact is recorded in the Act of Inspection itself: “. . . it has been established that documents containing a report on their activities, on the personnel of the guiding organs, as well as documents on the spending of monetary funds and the use of other property, including that received from international and foreign organizations . . . , The organization has presented the information listed to the authorized organ annually. . . . In the course of inspecting the Organization, no facts of any manifestation of extremist activity have been uncovered" (p. 5).

This is not the first hostile campaign whose goal has been, if not the destruction, then the discrediting of an independent research collective that has been conducting sociological research in our country since the fall of 1988.

Objective and verifiable data on the condition of society and public opinion in the country, especially in situations of drastic changes and crises, have evoked a keen and pained reaction among engaged politicians, officials, and ideologues, inasmuch as the diagnosis presented by sociologists and the picture of society are at variance with their expectations and political interests.

This applies to both pro-government politicians and functionaries and oppositionists as well. Unlike the latter, however, the state already possesses powerful instruments for discrediting and legally destroying those they find objectionable.

It was the attempts back in 2002-2003 to take control of the research collective of the first VTsIOM [All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion], headed up by Yury Levada, that led to the creation of the Yury Levada Analytical Centre ANO [autonomous non-profit association].

In its publications, the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI) has openly presented its program for suppressing any and all independent social and academic organizations.

Thus, the report entitled “Methods and Techniques of the Activity of Foreign and Russian Research Centres, as well as Research Structures and Institutions of Higher Education Receiving Financing from Foreign Sources” (February 2014) listed a number of state and public institutions receiving “financing from foreign sources and conducting ideological and propagandistic work in Russia.”

In addition to the Russian Political Science Association, the Russian Political Research Centre, the Russian International Research Association (RAMI), the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences] Institute of Sociology, the Russian Economic School, and other organizations, this list also named the Levada Centre ANO.

To it, the list ascribed “… the goals of collecting information for elaborating methods and instruments for influencing the social and political situation in the country, transmitting to the U.S. State Department . . . a data base of opposition activists at the regional level containing all the necessary information for subsequent recruitment of a 'core of protest activists,’ ‘influencing political processes and public opinion by manipulating meanings during the conduct of public opinion surveys, raising or lowering necessary indices in survey results, advancing advantageous positions during conferences, roundtables, and seminars, active work in the information sphere,’ and other motives. The Levada Centre has acted as “a mechanism for the collection and analysis of sociological information in order to manipulate public opinion and have an informational impact on the state apparatus and political institutions.”

Only at first glance do all these assertions seem like the raving of social marginals or the paranoia of retired Chekists.

In reality, behind this new wave of spymania, which is reproducing the worst specimens of totalitarian practice in different countries, stand the perfectly cold and cynical interests of power, property, and ideological control.

The very presumption of any culpability in the interaction between Russian scholars and civil society figures and foreign scholars and organizations as having an antipatriotic nature and activity hostile to our country should be unacceptable.

After establishing the fact of foreign financing for individual projects, the comprehensive and separate inspections in 2013 and 2014 carried out on the same bases and criteria, and formulated in similar documents, directed us to reject foreign grants.

The Centre was forced to reject grants from foreign foundations for carrying out sociological research but was allowed to participate in joint projects with foreign organizations (universities, foundations, and so on) and fulfill orders based on commercial agreements for socially significant, culturological and marketing, and other surveys of the population.

Like other recent laws and sub-legislative acts, the amendments made in 2016 to the law on non-profit organizations and political activity have paved the way for total arbitrary rule by administrative organs, inasmuch as the law in no way consciously defines the concept of “political activity” and “foreign financing,” and therefore these laws provide grounds for the selective application of repressive measure against any organizations that influential groups close to the ruling authorities view as undesirable.

Since then, foreign financing has come to be understood as any receipt of funds from abroad, including financing for public activities (scholarly, educational, philanthropic) by national foundations if they are located abroad.

Funds from abroad that come in as payment for purely commercial activity have now come to be viewed as criminal.

The real consequences of this practice by the Justice Ministry and other departments has been the drastic restriction and subsequent curtailment of scholarly connections between Russian scholars and world scholarship, the curtailment, so important for Russia, of the adoption of world experience, methods, methodologies, conceptions, and informal standards and rules of scholarly work.

Do not think that repressions of this sort threaten only sociology (as the most costly sphere of socio-humanitarian research). People will stop doing sociology and move over to history, economics, genetics, physics, and other sciences, as happened during the Stalin years.

The Levada Centre is number 141 on the register of “foreign agents,” and tomorrow these organization-agents of foreign influence will number in the hundreds or thousands. The consequences of this onset of a phase of public reaction will be felt over the next two or three generations.

For our country, which for decades was cut off from the conditions of development of modern social knowledge and found itself in a position of profound intellectual provincialism, this means the prospects of further conservation of scholarly archaism and degradation.

Failure to understand this threatens us not simply with isolationism or the chronic reduction of human and social capital in our country but also with its transformation into a restricted zone for a poor and aggressive population that consoles itself with illusions of national superiority and exceptionalism.

As one authoritative foreign figure wrote me yesterday, “Sad is the future of the country that does not want to know about itself.”

This policy of discrediting and destroying all that is best in Russia’s civil society not only disgraces the country but, what is much more important, leads to the suppression of the sources of its development, to stagnation, which inevitably turns into the general—moral, intellectual, and social—degradation, apathy, and corruption of the state and society.

We have taken pride in the opportunity to work with foreign partners. This is not grounds for discrediting us as agents. On the contrary, it is testimony to the high professionalism and quality of our research, the objectivity and reliability of the informational product we produce, and the depth of our interpretation of empirical data.

This is what distinguishes the work of the specialists of the Levada Centre from other institutions conducting public opinion surveys.

Director of the Levada Centre, Professor L. D. Gudkov, Ph.D.

Translated by Marian Schwartz