Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Increasingly Represses Civil Society, Rights Activist Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 27 – The Russian government, using both its own structures and others allied with it, is repressing civil society by means of murders, beatings and the fabrication of criminal and administrative cases, according to Lev Ponomaryev, a leading human rights activist.
In a detailed article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Ponomaryev says that these attacks especially since the coming to power of Vladimir Putin in 2000 and the victories of the “so-called color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia … not only at the political opposition but at any manifestation of independent civic positions” (
And consequently, it is no longer appropriate to talk about particular crimes, something that senior Russian officials routinely do and sometimes condemn in order to deflect responsibility from themselves, but rather to speak about a carefully orchestrated campaign to prevent the emergence of a civil society that might be able to hold the regime accountable.
According to the longtime Moscow rights activist, the Russian government has been using four different categories of institutions to undermine the institutions of civil society and impose its control over the population:

• “the government’s own force structures,” including the militia, the FSB, the procuracy, and narcotics control agencies;
• “members of pro-Kremlin youth organizations which are employed as provocateurs or as storm detachments;
• “para-official structures,” such as groups of current or retired siloviki, unofficial unions “which define their goal as the pursuit of ‘enemies’ of the regime or the enemies of particular agencies or officials;” and
• “criminal or neo-fascist organizations which take their ‘orders’ from officials or the managers of private companies.”

The “normative basis” for this wave of repression was established in September 2002, Ponomaryev notes, when the interior ministry issued its now notorious order allow the militia to use lethal force against the regime’s opponents and detain them in “filtration points,” later euphemistically renamed “temporary check points.”
. This order was supplemented by internal instructions within the interior ministry and FSB sanctioning, under the pretext of the struggle with extremists and terrorism, the close monitoring of leftist and democratic groups and moves to prevent members of such groups from travelling to meetings.
Then, in 2006, the Duma passed a new version of the 2002 anti-terrorism law that broadened the definition of that term to the point that it could be applied to “the actions of any social activist or journalists who criticized the authorities and even an ordinary user of the Internet who allowed himself to make incautious remarks.
The FSB and the militia, he continues, have routinely threatened activists against attending meetings the powers that be do not approve of, and if the activists ignore those warnings, then the siloviki block them from getting on trains or planes and subject them to administrative arrest on the basis of false accusations of various kinds.
In addition, “at the initiative of the Kremlin,” numerous youth groups were set up “for the struggle against ‘the orange threat,’” groups that have been willing to employ both ideological campaigns, provocations, and the use of physical violence. In this way, Ponomaryev notes, “young people were cynically used as an instrument” of repression.
And he notes that the Russian government’s repression has been directed “not only at opposition figures but also at journalists,, especially if they report about the activities of the opposition, mass protests … or illegal actions by the government organs,” particularly in the North Caucasus.
In his article, Ponomaryev provides evidence for each of his assertions, but two other aspects of his article make it especially noteworthy. On the one hand, his comprehensive picture of the rise of repression in Russia will make it more difficult for Moscow and its apologists to dismiss any particular case as an exception to what they say is a general improvement.
And on the other, his reports suggest again contrary to what many in the Russian government and elsewhere say that the situation in the Russian Federation is deteriorating rapidly, a trend against which all people of good will should join Ponomaryev and his activist colleagues in protesting before it is too late.

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