Sunday, 26 May 2013

Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva: "the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society"

Lyudmila Alexeeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, is convinced that Vladimir Putin and his henchmen are out to destroy the remnants of civil society in Russia:

I have been active in the human rights scene here since the dark days of the Soviet Union. As I look across today's Russia, I have every reason to believe that at the very top, the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society for daring to raise its head in protest against government repression and to demand fair elections and respect for the constitution.
From the end of the 80s to the middle of this century's first decade, a lively and active civil society formed in Russia. Today, it is an obstacle in the path of President Putin and his circle, who aim to form a harshly authoritarian, perhaps even totalitarian, regime.
It is precisely to destroy civil society – and primarily the human rights groups that form its backbone – that a series of repressive laws were adopted in 2012 by Russia's Duma, elected fraudulently and obedient to Putin. One of these laws requires that NGOs which receive funding from abroad and "engage in politics" voluntarily register as "foreign agents". This demand is the equivalent of Nazi Germany's demand that Jews don a yellow star.
This law is directed against human rights organisations that have to receive financing from foreign donors in order to maintain their independence – since neither the Russian government nor big business will support organisations whose goal is to protect citizens from violations of their rights by the state.
The foreign agents' law should not apply to human rights NGOs, as they do not engage in politics. However, the law defines the term "politics" as including "influencing the formation of public opinion" – and, of course, human rights NGOs do exactly that. For violating this law, NGOs face closure and fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£11,000), while their leaders face fines of up to 300,000 rubles and up to two years' imprisonment.
If the law demanded that NGOs register as organisations receiving foreign grants, all of us would register, as this would reflect the truth. But we cannot register as foreign agents. In Russia, "foreign agent" means "traitor", "spy". We are not agents of foreign governments or private foundations, as we do not carry out their instructions. To register as their agents would mean sacrificing our reputation.
Read the entire opinion piece here.
Of course Alexeeva is right. Human rights, rule of law and democracy are not part of Putin's KGB vocabulary. But in the end the former second rate KGB agent will be chased out of office, if he does not understand to flee the country before that ...

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