Vienna, April 1 – In what one wishes were only an April Fools’ joke, the Russian interior ministry is reportedly preparing legislation that would require the registration of all copiers, a step sources there say is needed to combat counterfeiting but one that opposition groups fear is designed to limit their ability to communicate with the population.
Yesterday, “Rossiiskaya gazeta” reported that the MVD plans to seek approval for a plan to require the licensing and registration of all copying machines imported from abroad, to enter that information in a data base, and thus be in a position to combat a rising tide of counterfeiting, most often of 1,000 ruble notes (www.rg.ru/2010/03/31/mvd.html).
Last year alone, sources at the interior ministry said, the Bank of Russia seized and took out of circulation 155,200 counterfeit bills. Fighting such counterfeiting is increasingly expensive, the sources said, and the MVD has decided that it is “logical to establish tight control over the use” of copiers of various kinds.
But, as several rights groups have already noted, this step almost certainly will be used to create “new obstacles” for those opposed to the regime, pointing out that this measure recalls Soviet-era practice when the MVD and KGB maintained tight control over copiers to restrict samizdat (www.specletter.com/svoboda-slova/2010-04-01/samizdat-vozvracshaetsja.html).
If the MVD goes forward with its ideas, they point out, “the special services will control the production of opposition printing of lists, booklets, brochures and papers,” because they will be able to track down and thus stop either by intimidation or confiscation those whose copiers are being used to produce them.
Anna Kuprina, an activist for the United Civic Front (OGF), tells Osobaya Bukha today that the MVD suggestion that this idea is directed against counterfeiters is entirely specious: Anyone who tries to copy currency will quickly see that the result is instantly recognizable as fraudulent.
Thus, the MVD claim, she said, “is only a pretext which conceals several different goals” of the powers that be. And it is “not a very successful pretext” at that, Kuprina adds. It would be much better and attract more popular support if the officers of the interior ministry were spending their time trying to solve the case of the Moscow metro attacks.
There cannot be “any doubt,” the OGF activist says, that “by introducing a system of registration of copying machines, the special services are attempting to limit the field of information influence on social structures that are not under their control, above all, human rights and political ones.”
As recent electoral campaigns have shown, Kuprina says, “publishing houses [regularly] refuse their services to opposition candidates seeking the printing of agitation materials.” The owners and operators of such houses are “simply afraid” of falling into the ill graces of the powers that be.
“Therefore,” she continues, “very often the opposition has to turn to small firms which prefer to remain unnamed.” But this new MVD measure would make such arrangements more difficult if not impossible because the militia would have the means to track down who copied what where.
“This is not so terrible for Moscow and St. Petersburg,” Kuprina says, because there the Internet is highly developed. Indeed, “the Internet has long become the chief political arm” of those opposed to the regime. But the situation outside of the two capitals is very different in that regard.
“In the regions,” the OGF activist says, “people get information basically from print and television media, access to which is closed to the opposition. The single way out for us is to distribute leaflets, to put up placards, to issue small print run newspapers, booklets, and so on. “But soon,” she concludes sadly, the opposition may lose even this “opportunity.”