Russia is launching new restrictive measures to bring civil society under tighter government supervision and control. A controversial draft law aimed at tightening state control over NGOs (non-governmental organisations) passed its first reading at the State Duma on Wednesday 23 November. Also the Russian language magazine "Vedomosti" published an article on 14 November based on a document from the Ministry of Justice that recommends radical measures for intensifying control of religious groups.
The measures are doubtless a response to some major Kremlin fears: the prospect of a Western-sponsored "velvet revolution"; the threat of Russian Orthodox displeasure at, and loss of influence due to, the growth of "totalitarian sects" (non-Orthodox groups – includes Protestants/evangelicals); and the threat of destablising, government-undermining Islamic terrorism (Wahhabi) and revolution (Hizb ut-Tahrir). (Notice: all the "non-traditional" problematic elements are in the brackets!)
THE NGO BILL
On Wednesday 23 November, a new Bill that would place non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under strict state control, passed its first reading in the Russian State Duma, by 370 votes to 18. The draft bill is expected to pass its second and third readings by the end of this year. The Bill would then need to be approved by the Federation Council before President Putin could sign it into law.
According to The Moscow Times, Independent Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhko protested in the debate before the vote, "This bill will put an end to civil society in Russia. The Duma has neither the moral nor the constitutional right to vote in favor of it." (Link 1)
But as The Moscow Times reports, Andrei Makarov, the Deputy of the pro-Kremlin United Russia majority party, defended the legislation. He claimed it was a means to fight extremism and money laundering, and denied that it sought to clamp down on NGOs. Also, "Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and a co-author of the bill, heaped scorn on NGOs and accused the CIA, the U.S. intelligence agency, of fomenting uprisings. 'We remember how those human rights organizations defended human rights in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia under the cover of the CIA, and we know how it ended,' he said."
Ostrovsky's words echo those of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) chief, Nikolai Patrushev, who, in the Russian State Duma on 12 May this year, accused American, British and other foreign humanitarian and educational NGOs of providing cover for professional spies. Patrushev accused Western organisations of bankrolling peaceful revolutions in former Soviet republics, and claimed that Western intelligence services use information gathered by NGOs to bring about political upheaval. (Link 2)
The Moscow Times reports: "If the current bill is passed into law, the country's 450,000 NGOs will be forced to re-register with the Justice Ministry's Federal Registration Service under tighter rules next year. The agency would also have to check that NGOs did not use foreign grants to finance political activities.
"The bill would also bar foreign NGOs from having representative offices or branches in Russia and restrict Russian NGOs' ability to accept foreign cash or employ non-Russian workers."
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, "According to the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia has over 400,000 active NGOs, 2,000 of which are exclusively devoted to human rights advocacy and 15,000 of which deal with human rights among other issues." (Link 3)
One thing the NGOs fear is abuse of power, and that any number of excuses will be found to deny registration to, shut down or expel NGOs that irritate the government.
Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch's regional director told the Moscow Times that she believed the legislation would "eviscerate" civil society in Russia. "The express purpose of this law is to emasculate the NGO community," she said.
As noted by a Moscow Times editorial, "These measures, which would allow the authorities to keep tabs on every little group, presumably warm the hearts of all those former KGB agents now running the country." (Link 4)
RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGION
On 14 November, the Russian language magazine "Vedomosti" published an article entitled "Spiritual Centralism; Government Prepares Religious Reform", by Anastasiia Kornia, Nedezhda Ivanitskaia". Stetson University's "Russia Religion News", which monitors news media reports about religion in Russia and other countries of CIS, has published a translation under the heading, "Department of Justice contemplates restrictions on religion". (Link 5)
The article commences: "'Vedomosti' has obtained a report by the Ministry of Justice that contains radical measures for intensifying control over religious organizations. In particular, it is proposed to stiffen the procedures for issuing entry visas for missionaries and to simplify the procedures for liquidating religious centers."
The Ministry of Justice's report recommends that the basis for liquidation of a religious centre could be two verdicts of a court regarding "crimes of an extremist nature" issued with regard to two of its members in the course of one year. It is also proposed to establish administrative and criminal liability for illegal missionary activity.
Vedomosti reports, "The [Justice] ministry's report was prepared for the October enlarged session of the Security Council. The document's authors consider that Russia has been subjected to 'foreign religious expansion.' In the past ten years the number of religious movements in the country has grown from 20 to 69. To counter this expansion it is proposed to limit the flow into Russia of foreign missionaries and to regulate the registration of religious associations."
Paul Globe, writing for Window on Eurasia, notes that Russia views the multiplication of religious movements as a threat to the social and religious fabric of the nation, rather than simply a reflection of Russia's new-found commitment to religious freedom. (Link 5)
Vedomosti also reports, "According to a source in the government, after simplifying liquidation, the Ministry of Justice would want at the same time to make registration of a religious organization more complicated."
According to Vedomosti, the Ministry of Justice is also proposing to introduce a requirement that all members of one religion be subordinate to "a single central organization of one confessional identity on a given territory in the capacity of legal entity."
It is this third proposal that has created the most controversy. Muslims believe this proposal is specifically targeted against them. Vedomosti quotes Geidar Djemal, the chairman of the Islamic committee as saying, "In the first place this pertains to Islam. This is connected with the campaign to discover the forces that are destabilizing the regime." But the same concerns, about the difficulties of uniting all confessions and traditions under one central authority, are being voiced by Jews and, doubtless, Protestants.
The limiting and regulating of issuances of entry visas for foreign religious figures is an administrative procedure that would be easily implemented. This will devastate Russia's many young Protestant Theological Colleges and ministries (including NGOs) that are presently reliant on foreign professors and workers.
The other two proposed measures would require new laws and none have yet been drafted. Some analysts wonder if the Justice Ministry's proposals were leaked in order to test the waters, to probe public opinion.
Vedomosti reports that Evgeny Sidorenko, the director of the Department of Constitutional Legislation and Security Legislation of the Ministry of Justice, said that the fate of such legislation could be determined in the course of work on a law for combating terrorism. Such work, he said, has been going on in the State Duma since last year.
According to Vedomosti, the Orthodox Church is not concerned by the prospect of more restrictive legislation. "'It is hard to comment on suggestions that are not finalized,' says the vice-chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. 'But so far as I know, nobody is preparing any revolutions. We are talking about improving the law within the framework of already existing concepts. This will permit society, to a great extent, to control what happens within the religious sphere.'"
PERSECUTION WILL BE BUILT ON A FOUNDATION OF DISINFORMATION
The government and the Orthodox Church are laying a foundation of disinformation upon which they will marginalise and persecute the non-traditional, "totalitarian sects" (includes Protestants/evangelicals). Here is one example of how this is done.
The Russian Federation Federal Service of Drugs Control has spoken out strongly against the practice of "totalitarian sects" operating drug rehabilitation ministries. "We express serious concern in connection with the activity of totalitarian sects in the field of drug rehabilitation", the head of the department, General Alexander Mihajlov, told Interfax on Friday 25 November. (Link 6)
Mihajlov warned that non-tradition or totalitarian sects providing drug rehabilitation services are, in the process, creating people who are psychologically dependent. He believes that the psychological dependence that people develop towards the "sects" is just as dangerous and damaging to their health as any dependence upon narcotics. He believes the government and traditional church must work together to prevent Russian citizens coming in contact with "sects".
Mihajlov's words echo a May 2005 report delivered by the Dean of Saint Alexander Nevskii Cathedral, archpriest Alexander Novopashin, to an international workshop entitled "Neo-pentecostal sects in Russia: threat of religious extremism".
In that report Novopashin claims that "only 3%-5% of drug addicts can achieve a steady remission", and that "pseudoreligious totalitarian sects of destructive nature" take advantage of this situation. He says the sects claim to be benevolent when really they are predatory, and only seeking recruits. Novopashin claims the sects recruit by reprogramming a narcotic dependence into a psychological dependence – an addiction to the sect and its leaders. He claims, "Psychiatrists have already borrowed from sectology a new term – sect addiction." He then illustrates the religious practice of the sects using extreme examples, such as the "Toronto Blessing", before finishing with a story of a young girl who has a wonderful testimony of apparent conversion and rehabilitation through an evangelical ministry. She then denounces her "sect-dependence", returns to drugs and to the Mother Orthodox Church. (Link 7)
So this is the situation faced by the Russian government: traditional Muslims are calling for the government to prosecute Wahhabis along with Hizb ut-Tahrir, so as to prevent unrest, bloodshed and terrorism in the Muslim provinces and in Moscow. (Link 8) The government knows this is necessary for national security.
At the same time, the highly influential traditional Russian Orthodox Church is calling for the government to deal with the non-traditional/foreign/"totalitarian sects" (including Protestants/evangelicals) so as to prevent "psychological addiction" and social breakdown. The government knows this is necessary for political security.
President Putin is doubtless aiming to cleanse Russia and bolster both national and political security by sweeping out all problematic non-traditional religion in the easiest way possibly: indiscriminately, and for maximum political advantage.
1) Duma Gives Nod to Tough NGO Bill (subscription) By Francesca Mereu. 24 Nov 2005
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2005/11/24/001.html -- ALTERNATIVELY
Putin crackdown to limit the power of foreign-funded NGOs From Jeremy Page and Julian Evans in Moscow. 24 Nov 2005
Russian Parliament Gives 1st Approval to Tightening Control Over NGOs. http://www.mosnews.com/news/2005/11/23/registration.shtml
2) FSB Chief: NGOs a Cover for Spying By Simon Saradzhyan and Carl Schreck. 13 May 2005
3) Russia: NGOs Say New Bill Threatens Civil Freedom
4) Civil Society Should Not Be Smothered (subscription)Editorial. 24 Nov 2005
5) Vedomosti: "Spiritiual Centralism; Government Prepares Religious Reform", by Anastasiia Kornia, Nedezhda Ivanitskaia".Under the title: Department of Justice contemplates restrictions on religion
Kremlin seeks tighter controls over religion.by Paul Goble
6) regarding the "totalitarian sects" and drug rehabilitation
7) SECTS AND DRUG ADDICTS
report of Dean of Saint Alexander Nevskii Cathedral, archpriest Alexander Novopashin, on international workshop "Neo-pentecostal sects in Russia: threat of religious extremism"
8) Mufti Salman: The developments in France will seem 'childish pranks' in comparison with what can happen in Russia.Moscow, 17 Nov 2005
**WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis**