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MOSCOW, December 5. /ITAR-TASS/. Russian human rights organizations which have been obliged to register as "foreign agents" will be state financed like other non-governmental bodies. Experts find this a positive trend since many such agencies were financed only from abroad.
This year’s second contest for state grants saw 124 winners, human rights projects from 47 regions. The lists were published Thursday on the site of Ella Pamfilova’s Civil Dignity organization that arranged the contest on President Vladimir Putin’s instruction. The main criteria were “social importance” and “elaboration” of projects. More than 700 applications were filed for the contest with a total fund of 200 million rubles ($6 million).
Earlier, Putin instructed the government to allocate 500 million rubles ($15 million) annually from the state budget in the following three years for grants to non-commercial human rights organizations. The president said non-commercial organizations would independently distribute the funds with assistance from reputable human rights activists and experts respected in civil society.
Pamfilova assured that distribution of grants was not based on the fact of foreign financing and that professionalism was the main criterion.
Among organizations supported by the grant commission were NCOs previously obliged by the Prosecutor to register as "foreign agents", that is those active in politics and financed from abroad, according to the recent notorious law. Among them are the regional branch of Golos-Ural, Agora Association, Memorial Centre, Moscow School of Political Studies, Perm Centre Grani, Nizhniy Novgorod’s Committee Against Torture.
Notably, the inter-regional foundation to foster development of civil society Golos-Ural received the largest grant, 7 million rubles (about $ 212,000) for the project to observe early elections in 2014.
Golos has been an independent observer at elections in Russia since 2000 and was a non-commercial organization until June 2013. After the NCO law was adopted, police tried to force Golos to officially declare itself a foreign agent. As the organization refused to do so, the Ministry of Justice suspended its activity for six months. In order to continue operating at the elections, Golos had to reregister as an observation social movement.
Moscow Helsinki Group received 3.3 million rubles ($100,000) for the project aimed at developing civil control over pretrial custodies and prisons. The Agora Association from Kazan, in Tatarstan, whose lawyers defend suspects in high-profile political cases, has won a grant of 2.4 million rubles (about $72,000) for the project Agora Law School.
Meanwhile, the commission did not support the projects of sociological Levada Centre and the Russian branch of Transparency International as they were deemed insufficiently elaborated.
The law obliging NCOs active politically and financed from abroad to register as foreign agents took effect late last year. The document was criticized by both Russian human rights activists and Western politicians. Adoption of the law was followed by a wave of prosecutor checks that provoked a strong reaction worldwide.
Results of the grant contest were positively perceived among both human rights activists and experts.
“The fact of getting state grants and state support is an important step for development and strengthening Russia's human rights movement,” member of Moscow Helsinki Group Valery Borschev told radio station Voice of Russia.
The activist described distribution of grants by Civil Dignity as “a very right” idea: “Previously, when human rights organizations applied for grants with the Civic Chamber, their applications were usually rejected. But this fund is exactly human rights organizations-oriented.”
“Because of insufficient development of society’s "third sector", Western centers held the monopoly, called the tune and pressured Russian NCOs,” president of the Institute of National Strategy Mikhail Remizov told Itar-Tass. The political scientist says that authorities are trying “to develop the third sector in different vectors”, transferring NCOs from Western financing sources to Russia ones. “Notably, there are no prescribed criteria: projects and organizations that have received grants are quite diverse,” Remizov said.
He believes the state is not to remain the sole source of financing in the future, and that business, social foundations and the West, when “the environment is more diversified”, should later join in sponsorship.
With Russian financing, organizations will operate as they were operating before, on foreign funds, and there will be no dramatic changes, the political scientist believes, even though the state will have a lever that it may use some time in the future. “But in general, it is a positive trend. It is better than cleansing the third sector,” he said in conclusion.
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