By banning NGOs from receiving foreign funding, the Russian government has forced them to seek financial support at home. But state grants undermine civil society’s independence, notes Andrey Kalikh, a Russian political activist and independent journalist.
A 2015 law on “undesirable organizations” effectively banned foreign funders that have supported Russia’s civil society, including the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Russian NGO recipients of overseas funding were also deemed “foreign agents.” But the reason why the “foreign agent” law hasn’t broken civil society is evidently the fact that the main element of the law, the one the Kremlin was relying on — defamation — has been totally ineffective, he writes for Open Democracy:
The government has been able to drive yet another wedge between people and add fuel to the fire of Russian citizens’ mutual hatred towards one another. But the NGOs themselves have not been compromised. Indeed, their international standing has only risen, as everyone has seen the amount of pressure these highly professional campaigners have been subjected to. Despite government aggression and the howling of the propagandist hordes, inclusion on the “foreign agent” list can be seen as a kind of compliment: if they’re persecuting you, you must be doing something right. The list now includes the names of the most authoritative and respected human rights and environmental NGOs, so some campaigners feel it’s an honor to be in such company.
As recent Transparency International–Russia report made clear, state financing is used as an instrument of public control.