One Year With ‘Foreign Agent’ Label

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On April 20, 2015, Civic Assistance Committee was put on the list of organisations, acting as ‘foreign agents’. The causes, designated as ‘political activities’, were the declaration of the necessity of humanization of the prison system in Russia and anticorruption expert examination, made at the expence of presidential grant.

One Year With ‘Foreign Agent’ Label

The exeprience of this year confirmed our fears about ‘foreign agent’ label. Slowly but steadily funds are closing their doors to ‘foreign agent’ organisation, NGOs are forced to cut stuff and activities, thereby providing less assistance to people, whom the state seems to be in no hurry to help.

The list of ‘undesirable organisations’ became a harmonic supplement to ‘foreign agents’ law. At the beginning of April this list includes further organisations:

– The National Endowment for Democracy
– OSI Assistance Foundation
– Open Society Foundation
– U.S. Russia Foundation For Economic Advancement And The Rule Of Law
– National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

Not many, but enough to bring organisations to close important projects, supported by those funds. These projects helped real people. The Committee was not able to complete the School of Human Rights for Migrants project, in which we organised training courses for migrants and refugees. Projects of assistance to labour migrants and Ukrainian refugees were significantly affected.

Moreover, the very idea, which came to officials’ minds, seemed offensive to Western organisations, included in the provisional list.  Despite the fact that they were not put in the final one, they severed ties with Russia. For example, the Ford Foundation excluded Russia from the list of the countries of its interest without any explanation on the website. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which supported Russian organisations since 1990 and spent more than 20 million dollars for them, issued a special statement, in which the foundation’s CEO regretted about the inclusion in the list of undesirable organisations and notified about the withdrawal of support of Russian organisations. “The Mott Foundation is an independent, private, philanthropy  foundation. We are not engaged in any political activity and does not receive funding from any public authority. We do our best to ensure that we ourselves and the organisations we support comply with the laws of the United States and the countries, in which we fund the charity.”

Avnyone could hardly expect such consequences. But as it often happens, the absurd step of the state provokes local initiatives. Thus, during this years we were denied twice in collaboration because of our ‘foregn agent’ label. Yet there was no  precedent that due to joint projects with ‘foreign agent’ partners turned away from organisations and the deals got crumbed (at least, we don’t know about it), the fear is stronger than logic. Repressive machinery forces to take preventive measures. We don’t judge, we just regret.

What else has changed during this year? Civic Assistance employees have to spend 300 thousand rubles and dozens of hours to prepare a report in the form of ‘foreign agents’  for the Ministry of Justice. For instance, we need to know almost everything about our donors: name, citizenship, documents, used for donation transfer. And it happens in XXI century, when we are trying to simplify as much as possible the process of money transfer to our donors and not to scare people with additional questions. Nowadays donation via sms is one of the easiest and most popular ways of donating money, but Ministry of Justice denies this possibility for ‘foreign agents’.

In addtion, we must mention everywhere as a stigma our belonging to ‘foreign agents’. This may seem a trifle, but imagine this inscription on every flyer, banner ad, film or book. It will not scare well-informed people, but can cause enmity of ignorant. And it is them we want to attract, it is them we want to talk about us.

Let’s finish these sad results referring to the Ministry of Justice list, which at April 1, 2016, containts 124 organisations, considered ‘foreign agents’ by the state. They are divided into two groups: human rights and environmental. This may undicate two facts: the state violates the law most af all in these two  spheres and it does not want to have experts and observers in it; these two areas receive less donations from people than, for example, organisations, which help animals or specific people, as a result, it is more difficult for them to find money in Russia. These organisation often need institutional support, namely, money for everyday work, office rent, salaries, development of different projects. These organisations don’t have vivid stories, which they can ‘sell’ to the public. Moreover, yes, these issues are supported by Western funds: environmental issues, the  fight against poverty, the right to water,  the protection of the rights of children, minorities, women and so on.

How much money could be found for such activities in Russia? Is it possible to receive support  and approval of society and state or, rather, a cake in the face?

By Julia Polevaya, Civic Assistance Commitee

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