Friday, January 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: FSB Vetting Candidates for Presidency of Northern Peoples NGO

Paul Goble

Baku, January 18 – Candidates for the presidency of a non-governmental organization of numerically small ethnic groups in Kamchatka now must be approved in advance by the Federal Security Service (FSB) as well as by prosecutors and the political leadership of that territory in the Russian Far East.
That requirement was announced by Kamchatka’s Vice Governor Aleksandr Drozdov at meeting with leaders of the Association of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the North during which they were discussing arrangements for an upcoming congress of these ethnic communities.
And his words have sparked outrage among members of the group who said in an open letter released on Wednesday that Drozdov’s statement demonstrates that “control over the activities of public organizations by the kray authorities is expected to be harsh!’ (, 16 January 2008).
Saying that they cannot remain silent in the face of this unconstitutional and illegal assertion of executive power and use of the security agencies in this way, the signatories of this appeal said that it was outrageous that the authorities there believe they have the right to decide “who will and who will not be” their organization’s leaders.
Even before announcing that the FSB and prosecutors would pass on potential candidates for the leadership of this NGO, Drozdov reshuffled the membership of the organizing committee but then, after protests by its former membership, restored all of those who had been dropped – all that is except one.
Oleg Zaporotskiy, the only person from Kamchatka who has taken part in all five Russian congresses of the small peoples of the North, was not allowed to return, the authors of the appeal said, because “apparently his candidacy did not receive [the now necessary] clearance from the FSB.”
The aboriginal population of Kamchatka on behalf of which he has worked for so many years had nominated him for the post of the Association’s president. But now, thanks to the intervention of the Russian security services, he will not be allowed to run for that office.
Zaporotskiy’s candidacy “evidently does not please the vice governor very much,” the appeal suggested, because as far as they can determine there is no other reason for Drozdov and other Kamchatka officials to prevent him from being elected or even taking part in the race.
The appeal concludes with the following observation: “It would be a good thing if all these actions of Drozdov could be characterized as his alone. But what if they have been agreed upon with the top leaders of the administration and kray council? Where are we going? Or [perhaps more accurately,] where are they leading us?”
But there are some larger and more disturbing questions that this appeal does not specify: Is all this the rogue operation of regional officials far from Moscow who assume that they can get away with such high-handed behavior because the groups involved are small and broader media attention is unlikely?
Or – and this is the most disturbing possibility of all -- was Drozdov’s move in fact orchestrated by security officials in Moscow who wanted to test public reaction – both in the Russian Federation and abroad – before seeking to extend this method of regulating other, larger NGOs elsewhere?
If that reading is correct, then any failure by outsiders to speak out now against these official actions against a small group representing ethnic communities that most people have never heard of may could mean that those who don’t will find themselves in the position Pastor Martin Niemuller did in Germany in the 1930s.
That heroic religious figure was compelled by his own conscience to reflect that when the Nazis came for the Jews, the communists, and the labor union leaders, he did not say anything because he was not a member of any of those groups. But when they came for him, he lamented, there was no one left to say anything on his behalf.

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