MOSCOW | Russian lawmakers have introduced a draft law which would require nonprofit organizations that receive funding from outside the country to declare themselves “foreign agents” — a designation likely to discredit their work in the eyes of the Russian public, the New York Times reports.
In its current form, the proposed legislation also would require foreign-funded nonprofits deemed to be involved in political activities to submit to annual audits and spot checks for “extremist speech” in their published materials, with fines of up to one million rubles ($30,000) for violations. Lawmakers from United Russia, the largest and most powerful political party in the country, have accelerated debate on the bill, which would complement a law recently rushed through the Russian federal assembly that penalizes Russians for participating in unauthorized political protests.
Civil and human rights activists note that Russian donors are afraid to support nonprofit organizations that criticize the government, which leaves those nonprofits dependent on foreign funding. Grigory A. Melkonyants, deputy director of election-monitoring organization Golos, which receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Agency for International Development, told the Times his organization has repeatedly applied for, and been refused, grants from the Russian government.
Calling for a distinction between civic initiatives and “the influence of foreign capital and foreign ideas,” a sponsor of the new bill singled out nonprofits that monitor elections, an activity which took on added significance in the wake of Russian president Vladimir V. Putin‘s disputed election last December, for special scrutiny.
“Ideally, I think, the government would want to have no political activism that is not loyal,” Maria Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said. “What’s wrong with foreign funding for the government is it endows the fundees with autonomy. The Kremlin is extremely wary of autonomy. Any domestic player can be intimidated into submissiveness.”