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Mikhail Savva: On the might of the “fifth column” in Russia

posted 9 Jan 2015, 14:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Jan 2015, 14:24 ]
26 December 2014

By Professor Mikhail V. Savva 

Source: Mikhail Savva's website

26 December brought the news that the Sakharov Centre has been added by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to its list of “foreign agent” NGOs. Two provincial organisations – the Kaliningrad-based “Human Rights Centre” and the Krasnodar Regional Association for Russian Graduates – were also added, although I believe that no final decision has yet been taken on the latter, with a hearing due to take place on 29 December. There’s no escaping the conclusion that the Ministry officials are hurrying to declare a given quota of “agents”, searching for anyone they can find to add to their meagre list in response to the pressure being piled on by the regional public prosecution bodies. The reasoning is obvious – things are going badly for Russia, and so it must be time to track down some of the many enemies that can be held responsible. Since it’s expected that things will get yet worse.

But what about the actual law? Let’s not forget that its provisions require more than just foreign or international funding for a non-governmental organisation to be labelled a foreign agent – the organisation must also be engaged in political activity. This is patently not the case for the Krasnodar Regional Association for Russian Graduates, which runs social projects typical of any charitable NGO rather than campaigns aimed at changing state policy.

The law on foreign agents was flawed in its very conception, a fact already discussed on many occasions. What bothers me now is that the very law itself is being violated to justify the actions of its authors and substantiate yet more propaganda about the bogeymen of the “fifth column”.

Even as I write, I’m starting to wonder whether I myself am a foreign agent. After much thought I am forced to conclude that I am a patriot rather than a foreign agent, because I am calling for the laws which have already been adopted to be observed rather than violated, and that it is the officials who are violating the law on foreign agents. These officials cannot of course be foreign agents themselves because of their job – or can they? If they can, then we truly do have a mighty “fifth column” in Russia.

We must ask the Ministry of Justice to issue a public statement explaining in what ways the non-governmental organisations added to the list of “foreign agents” were engaged in political activity, and describing the activities which are "political" in the eyes of the Ministry, so that other NGOs have these facts available to them. I myself have a vested interest in this information, since I have a doctorate in political science which means that I am automatically “engaged in politics”. If the law on foreign agents is extended to cover individuals, should I too be added to the list?

Translated by Joanna Reynolds