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Russia’s State Duma members have held a special meeting in order to persuade European Parliament delegates the Russian law on foreign agents is useful. The participants in the round-table conference recalled that the law on NGO’s as foreign agents had been in effect for six months already, but not a single organization has been given this status or terminated its activity yet.
Kommersant daily says that the State Duma’s committee for the affairs of non-governmental organizations has held a round-table meeting in order to compare the application of Russian legislation with the common European practices. As it has turned out, Russia does not have such experience yet. And the deputy chief of the NGO affairs department at the Ministry of Justice, Tatyana Vakina, recalled that the law obliging NGOs that are involved in political activities and getting foreign grants to have themselves registered as foreign agents took effect last November. Vakina said that not a single organization has been put on that list to this day. There is only one court ruling concerning the association Golos. That organization was declared as a foreign agent, but the decision has not taken effect yet. The Russian legislators told the European counterparts Russia’s requirements addressed to the NGOs were no harsher than the European ones.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily remarks State Duma Deputy speaker Sergei Zheleznyak said that of all the NGOs registered in Russia “a tiny ten percent have a bearing on political activities.” However, the statistics are incomplete. “One of the purposes of the ongoing checks is to find out accurately which organizations are involved in political activities, and which are not involved.” A member of the presidential council for the promotion of civil society and human rights, Igor Borisov, believes that the West exaggerates the scale of these inspections.
The RBC daily says that the chairman of the State Duma’s information policies committee, Alexei Mitrofanov, has identified the real cause of problems in applying the new law on foreign agents. He argues that the Russian NGOs getting foreign funding and indulging in political activities tend to defy the registration requirement because there is a “generation problem.” “Many people in the West-related NGOs are old people. Memories of Stalin’s rule are still fresh. They suspect that the word “agent” is a legacy of those days, that it may harm their reputation,” Mitrofanov said.
And Moskovsky Komsomolets daily says that the foreign delegates (Bruno Gollnisch, Daniel van der Stoep, Vladimira Lesenska, and Valerio Cignetti) asked for a copy of the law to read through. Nobody objected to the idea that financing political activities from outside the country is wrong and that Russia has the right to demand transparency. Latvia’s Alexander Sakovsky formulated the question very precisely: “It is very important to determine when public activities go political. This is the crux of the matter. As for who is getting money and from where, both Latvian and Russian secret services know it all very well.” Public Chamber member Darya Miloslavskaya (of the Lawyers for Civil Society) was the last to take the floor. She said that for some strange reason the law was being enforced not by the Justice Ministry, but by the Prosecutor’s Office, which “pays attention to one criterion - foreign financing, and as a result it qualifies as foreign agents the NGOs that take care of birds, of the disabled and of the sick people suffering from mucoviscidosis.”