Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: GONGOs Returning in Force in Russia Today, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 4 – GONGOs – “government organized non-governmental organizations” – are increasingly being used by the powers that be in Russia to elbow aside genuine NGOs just as they did in the late Soviet period, thus contributing to a situation in which “history and farce” coexist, according to a leading Moscow human rights activist.
In an essay in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Aleksandr Podrabinek says that in Russia today, there exist at one and the same time genuine NGOs and “a parody” of them, the GONGOs, although “the latter of course do not call themselves that,” seek to be equated with the former, and often are taken as such by others (
“Such counterfeit organizations began to appear already in Soviet times, but recently they have become more numerous an active, Podrabinek suggests. “The classical example” of a GONGO was the International Commission on Human Rights set up by Moscow in1987 and headed by Fedor Burlatsky, a communist functionary.
That organization sought to take over “all foreign contacts” about human rights in the Soviet Union and thus push to the side “the remains of the dissident movement and the new independent human rights groups.” Despite some successes in individual cases, the rights activist says, “it didn’t succeed” very often.
“Today,” Podrabinek continues, “Russia’s GONGOs are more numerous and varied,” although “the designation of ‘public’ organizations as ‘government’ ones is conditional” because “in their founding documents, they do not declare their ties with the state.” Nonetheless, it is possible to identify them.
There are two basic indicators. On the one hand, “on essential questions, they support the powers that be; and on the other, “financing for their activities they receive from domestic government structures.” (That distinguishes them from a third kind of NGO, the DONGO or donor-organized NGO, the status of which Podrabinek does not discuss here.)
He gives as an example of one NGO that meets these GONGO standards, the “Resistance’ Movement, which receives budgetary financing for its activities and was tasked with distributing 170 million rubles (5.8 million US dollars) in grants to other bodies during 2009.
This movement is headed by Olga Kostina, the wife of the deputy chief of the domestic politics administration of the Presidential Administration, and her “human rights defense credo” is reflected in her declaration that “over the course of decades, Russian human rights defense has been formed and conceived exclusively as a political force opposed to the powers that be.”
Instead, she suggested, such activities should be redirected. “Today, the social demand both in Russia and in world practice focuses on the side of the resolution of social tasks,” a definition that the Kremlin could certainly be happy with but one that has little connection to the world of genuine human rights NGO activity.
Kostina’s “Resistance” is hardly alone. In 2009, the human rights activist says, four other similarly “little known organizations” were given budgetary funds amounting to 1.2 billion rubles (40 million US dollars) for further distribution, an astronomical sum compared to the shoestring budgets of most genuine NGOs in Russia.
“Pillaging the budget,” of course, “is an everyday activity in present-day Russia,” Podrabinek says, and consequently, it is more interesting to track the ways in which these groups and their spokesmen appear in the public space, often creating the impression that the human rights community is on the side of whatever the powers that be want.
All too often, he continues, genuine human rights activists are tempted to get involved with GONGOs, but “unfortunately, it has evolved so that the movement between NGOs and GONGOs is a one-way street.” NGOs “drift toward the government ones, and never the other way around.”
An example of this is the willingness of some “human rights activists, including some extremely well-known ones” to join “the social councils of those very government structures which are the sources of the violation of human rights, such as the force ministries, the Presidential Administration and the Government.”
But most genuine activists “do not permit themselves” that luxury. But among those who join, only a few, like Oleg Orlov or most recently Ella Pamfilova, decide to leave. The rest who have joined such institutions “prefer to take the risks to their reputations for the special status such memberships provide.”
Those who try to combine human rights activities and GONGO membership are a manifestation of the conditions of the time, Podrabinek writes. “On the one hand,” they are “public and independent;” but “on the other, they exist “on the basis of support from the state in the interests of the powers that be.”
“Today, the clearest examples of such organizations are the youth movements created by state patronage. They act in the interests of the powers that be in playing with public enthusiasm,” especially among the young. And these youth groups provide yet another characteristic of GONGOs, one that helps identify them.
“Life in such GONGOs is rich but not long-lived.” Those standing behind them are constantly renaming and reorganizing them, not only to confuse society but also to allow for more theft from the budget. Moreover, Podrabinek says, GONGOs and their members “do not have any special need to be concerned about their own reputations.”
It is quite another matter for genuine human rights activists, he concludes. The basis of their successful operation rests on that, and “cooperation with the institutions of the powers that be will not strengthen the reputations” of those human rights activists who may be tempted to cooperate with them.

Window on Eurasia: Russia in 2030 Will Be Very Different from What Most Expect, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 4 – Unlike the citizens of most countries, Russians cannot say what their country will be like only 20 years from now, what will be the names of the rulers, what will be the nature of the political system, what will be the borders of the country, or whether it will even exist as such, according to a Moscow analyst.
The difficulties Russians now have in that regard, Fedor Krasheninnikov writes in “Svobodnaya pressa” yesterday, can be seen if one compares expectations and realities for three pairs of dates in recent Russian history 1910 and 1930, 1980 and 2000, and even 1990 and today (
It is certainly the case, he says, that “no one in Russia in 1910 could even approximately describe 1930,” but even the latter two pairs are instructive. On the one hand, “the difference between 1980 and 2000” was in some respects even greater, and “even the wisest sovietologists and dissidents were struck by how rapidly reality changed” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
On the other, “despite all the differences between 1990 and 2010,” Krasheninnikov argues, a revenant from the earlier year “would hardly be surprised” if he found himself in the Russia of today. Everything that has occurred, including the putsch, the collapse of the USSR, and capitalism, would have “seemed to him completely possible.”
The reason for that, the Moscow commentator suggests is that “at the start of major changes when everything around is already beginning to dissolve, people [living in a country like Russia] completely can imagine the most varied development of events and as a result are not surprised” by anything that does occur.
The situation in other countries is very different. There, “living in a stable society which despite all [their] shortcomings, looking at the future all the same does not generate examples of all-embracing destruction.” Instead, people quite reasonably assume that there will be changes at the margin but that the system they are living in will continue much as it is.
That aspect of Russian life has profoundly affected Russian thinking for more than a century, as the comparisons Krasheninnikov suggest. “In 1910, the names Lenin and Kerensky were not very much viewed as future rulers of Russia, and who Stalin was could respond only the rare Bolshevik of an employee of the tsarist secret police.”
“In 1980,” he continues, “few could name the leaders of Russia in 2000.” No one would have mentioned Putin or Kasyanov or Gryzlov. “On the contrary, there were entire echelons of Komsomol and Party officials who sincerely supposed that after the withering away of the Brezhnev Politburo, power would gradually devolve on them.”
Looking out from 2010, the pattern is likely going to be the same, Krasheninnikov insists. Moreover, as he points out, “the structure of power in Russia has changed even more frequently than once every 20 years. If one compares the structure of power in1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010, there is nothing in common, if you think about it.”
Even the top post has changed. “In 1980, the main position was called the CPSU Central Committee General Secretary.” After that, the country’s leader was in 1990, the president of the USSR, in 2000, the president of Russia, and [now] in 2010, the prime minister.” That is dizzying enough.
But there is an even more radical possibility. In 2030, Krasheninnikov writes, “Russia may not exist at all. In any case in its current borders and in its current form.” Many Russians can imagine that the North Caucasus will have gone its own way by then, and the more pessimistic may add the Far East.
Meanwhile, the most thoughtful, he suggests, will recognize that essentially, “only the regions of European Russia are in more or less the same rhythm with Moscow and that only because all the active people [from these areas] long ago already left to life in Moscow and there is no one left to order life differently” in these places.
Elsewhere, the elites have not left, and as a result, “the exclave of Kaliningrad, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Urals, Siberia and the already mentioned Far East … are all living according to their own rhythms and only the improbable efforts at unification of the imperial center still allow one to speak about a certain unity.”
As for himself and allowing for unpredictable chance, Krasheninnikov says that in his view, “after 20 years, the process of the disintegration of the Russian Empire which began in 1917 will end” or be close to it. “Sooner or later,” he says, “Russia will leave its Algeria, the North Caucasus” and consist “only of Moscow and the European part of today’s federation.”
Any effort to prevent this by the use of force, he argues, “will sooner or later produce the oppose effect” of causing even more parts of the country to leave. The only question in that event, Krasheninnikov suggests, is “just how far the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction.”
It is possible that Russia will become a real federation, and it is also possible that it will become a confederation, “a variant of preserving the appearance of a single country despite its factual division into a number of self-administered and in fact independent states.” Such an arrangement might satisfy both elites and the population.
The “most radical of the possible variants,” he continues, would be “the division of the country” into a set of independent states. That would be “possible,” the analyst argues, “only in a situation when the current process of cracking down will last for a long time and thus will make the very idea of a single country hateful for the population.”
But there will be larger forces at work as well. “Considering the demographic situation and the inevitable decline of influence of the petroleum-exporting countries, it is quite na├»ve to suppose that Russia (or the states arising in its place) will be leaders in world politics and economics.”
In the best sense, Russia “can hope for a more or less prosperous life” having given up its “hegemonic” pretensions. In the worst, it may find itself a battle ground of “authoritarian and aggressive” states, who will “fight among themselves as a result of the [as yet not completed division of] the imperial inheritance.”
Moreover, the situation beyond Russia’s current borders will likely be very different as well. China, now on the rise, is likely to be undermined by that time as a result of its own problems. And “the events in Kyrgyzstan show the rickety quality of the post-Soviet political constructions in Central Asia.”
Krasheninnikov concludes his essay with some remarks about the state of religion in the Russia of 2030. “Twenty years ago,” he writes, “the Russian Orthodox Church,” having emerged from Soviet oppression, looked quite attractive, “especially when compared to the crowds of preachers arriving from the East and the West.”
Now, in 2010, the ROC has become “a semi-state structure, a branch of the powers that be, imposing itself on all of society.” But in 20 years, the situation will certainly be difficult. The ROC even now can’t finance itself, and its actions will alienate ever more parts of the state and society.
As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church will lose a significant part of its current influence,” and into the breach will “inevitably” come Protestants and all the other confessions,” including Islam. “One thing is obvious,” Krasheninnikov writes. The ROC will not be able to exist in its current form.
In short, he concludes, “the only thing Russians can be certain about the future of their country is that it will not be like what people are now saying it will be. Instead, Krasheninnikov says, the situation in 2030 may be worse; it may be better; but beyond any doubt, it will certainly be different.

Window on Eurasia: Good Laws Alone Won’t Solve Russian Judicial System’s Problems, Satarov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 4 – Legal norms do not define how Russian courts act, according to a three-year study conducted by Moscow’s INDEM Foundation. Instead, the functioning of the courts depends on prosecutors and investigators who will bring pressure to bear on judges in order to ensure that the latter render “correct” verdicts.
Because that is so, Georgy Satarov, INDEM’s president, says improving laws by itself will not solve the problems of the country’s courts. Indeed, he described the widespread “faith in the force of correct laws adopted in a timely fashion” as an example of “juridical fetishism” (
“The functioning [of the Russian judicial system],” he says, “depends on the organs of the prosecution and investigation bodies, the effectiveness of which is rating according to the number of guilty sentences” they are able to secure from the courts. And consequently, people in these institutions will do whatever it takes to secure such sentences.
Tragically, among the arsenal of means to that end these institutions have is the ability to bring charges of corruption against judges. “In order to avoid” such charges, Satarov continues, “the judges most often submit to this pressure,” whatever the law says and whatever the facts of the cases are.
The views of many Russian officials, including President Dmitry Medvedev notwithstanding, Satarov says, the INDEM study shows that “the basic obstacles to the normal functioning of the judicial system are not laws but informal matters” including “informal norms, informal relations, our history, the influence of other institutions, our conscience, and so on.”
Consequently, he continues, efforts to improve the judiciary by laws alone won’t work. Instead, a comprehensive approach is necessary, one that recognizes both the role of formal laws and that of informal relationships and addresses both. Any other course of action will leave the existing system little changed.
And judicial shortcomings are precisely a systemic problem. Those who are illegally putting pressure on the judges to render this or that verdict are themselves under pressure to get convictions, because they know that the conviction rate is how those above them “rate their effectiveness.”
To improve the situation, all these things must be addressed. They work as a system, and there are a lot of them. It is foolish to think, therefore, that coming up with good laws will be sufficient. Obviously, good laws are better than bad ones, but “unfortunately, the adoption of correct norms will not change life itself,” at least not without some help.