Why is Russia simultaneously attacking and promoting civil society?


RUSSIA MEMORIAL2Russia’s government has declared groups like the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, to be undesirable and the regime has cracked down on the rights of free assembly and freedom, notes researcher Olesya Zakharova. Yet this year, the Kremlin allocated over $112 million to civic organizations, triple the 2012 figure.

Upon closer inspection, both the repressive and the supportive sides of the strategy are pursuing the same goal: To neutralize the power of civil society and keep it under the state’s watchful eye, she writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

State support for nonprofit organizations is, of course, not inherently nefarious. As a matter of fact, governments are the largest funders of nonprofits in most democracies. But Russia, where there is little homegrown charitable giving, and where the government has choked off the flow of foreign funds, NGOs that accept government funding become much more dependent on its whims. That’s why the Kremlin’s support of Russian civil society is no less harmful than its suppressive legislation.

“It’s important to understand that punishing one segment of the non-profit sector while privileging another enables the Kremlin to deprive NGOs of their independence while also conveying a distorted picture of civil society to the Russian public,” Zakharova contends. “By delegitimizing the political dimension of civil society, Vladimir Putin is able to suppress one of the key sources of opposition to his rule and thereby to secure his grip on power.”


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