Russia Drowns NGOs in Red Tape

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 6:41 PM EDT

Strict enforcement of a new registration law is not only belaboring the work of NGOs in Russia but threatening their very existence. As the English-language daily the Moscow Times reports, many NGOs are struggling to comply with the new law's onerous demands.

Groups whose agenda present a challenge to the power-grasping Putin administration seem to have been singled out. The St. Petersburg-based Citizens' Watch, which seeks to protect constitutional rights from police and military encroachments, is now obligated to submit "the entirety of its written correspondence with anyone or any organization outside the office over a three-year period—including e-mails." Another group, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which promotes democracy and human rights, plans to take on an extra employee just to deal with the increased paperwork.

Some in the NGO world and elsewhere wonder whether the new measures are, at least partially, in response to the recent revolutions in former Soviet bloc countries. Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 both toppled pro-Putin leaders through grassroots protests.

It's a pity Putin doesn't seem to realize that a strong state is helped, not hindered, by a strong civil society. Then again, perhaps it's too optimistic to expect a former KBG man, who has stacked his administration with former comrades, to allow the forces of transparency to operate unfettered.

— Ellen Charles

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