Friday, December 12, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Ever More Russians Finding Themselves on Moscow’s ‘Black Lists’

Paul Goble

Florence, December 12 – One not be a Chechen militant or an opposition figure to figure on one of the increasing number of “black lists” compiled and maintained by various Russian government agencies. But once someone’s name is included in such a list, “Novyye izvestiya” reports, it is almost impossible for the individual involved to get it removed.
“Almost all force structures today have lists” which prevent people from coming into Russia or leaving it, “Novyye izvestiya” reported. But officials are reluctant to admit the existence of these lists let alone discuss them, and consequently individuals typically learn about them only when they are prevented from doing something they wanted to do.
Most governments, of course, maintain watch lists of people they either want to prevent from coming in or to arrest because they are wanted on charges either by the country in question or Interpol, but the approach of the Russian government in this area appears to go far beyond normal practice (
The lists vary in size – the one including the names of Russians who because of unpaid indebtedness cannot leave the country now includes more than 60,000 names – purpose, and, judging by some of the mistakes “Novyye izvestiya” described, care with which they are assembled and maintained.
The list that the Federal Migration Service (FMS) maintains supposedly to block the entrance of illegal immigrants or migrants with a criminal record, but according to human rights activists, this list is used by the authorities to block “completely respectable foreigners” whom Moscow objects to, such as Natalya Morar, a Moldovan journalist who worked in “New Times.”
The Russian interior ministry also maintains a list, apparently unregulated by any law, which includes not only people the government has decided often without benefit of a hearing are “extremists” and who sometimes turn out to be simply members of opposition political groups.
According to the Moscow paper, the militia “officially acknowledges only one ‘black’ list.” It includes football “hooligans.” Other agencies admit to some of their lists but not to others. And still a third refuses to say anything or allow an individual to check whether he or she should be on a list. Any mistakes are blamed on transcription errors.
An especially disturbing kind of list was reported yesterday by “Novaya gazeta.” Apparently, teachers in Krasnodar are now being asked to prepare lists of pupils of “Caucasus nationality” who thus may become bearers of extremism and then send in these lists to the local police officials (
“How such personal data will be used,” the paper reported, “officials in the education department do not know,” suggesting that the journalist should ask the militia.” But one especially frightening aspect of the Krasnodar lists is that they “are being formulated above all on the basis of the external appearance of the children” rather than on any specific behavior.
But the existence of these multiple lists creates two more serious problems. On the one hand, it means that the authorities can use now one list and now another to restrict the activities of an individual creating a Kafkaesque world in which no one can be sure who is responsible or what will happen next.
And on the other, this entire system and particularly its lack of transparency and appeal reinforces what Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center of Journalism in Extreme Situations, describes as “an immemorial Russian tradition: laws exist but not all bureaucrats want to fulfill them.” And in the current atmosphere, the lists are just one more way for them to act arbitrarily.

No comments: