Reports abound today on crackdowns on non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) in Russia. This follows the law passed in July that requires NGO’s involved in political activities to register as “foreign agents”, an expression in Russian which is more pejorative than in English. This is in line with a worrying trend in Russia towards greater nationalism and growing suspicion of non-Russian ideas and people. The organizations being raided include a number of foreign-based but also Russian human rights groups that monitor elections and report abuses of minority groups, in particular those in the North Caucasus. It’s clear that President Putin not only wants to eliminate interference from foreign sources, he also wants to ensure free hand in dealing with troublesome groups asserting more rights. Many see echoes of the Soviet era in the raids. As the Guardian writes, “Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on NGOs is return to rule by fear”.
It’s not just the NGO’s that are being intimidated but also ordinary Russian who are getting the clear message that actions such as investigations of police brutality, of corrupt officials, or of the unfair treatment of minority groups are unwelcome and may result in actions such as tax review and repeated harassment. This also comes at a time when the Russian Orthodox Church receives substantial official support while all other religions (including Protestant churches) are discouraged if not persecuted. The options for group membership and activities in Russia seem to be getting more and more restricted.