NGOs not thought to be object of witch-hunt

NGOs not thought to be object of witch-hunt


The Volunteering Bill promoted by the  Council of the Federation has attracted angry
criticism from voluntary associations. In turn specialists in the field have
seen in the bill an attempt to increase pressure on the third sector. At the
same time alarm bells have begun to ring in the regions to do with ad hoc
investigations into NGOs to uncover any that have received finance from
overseas without registering as a foreign agent. And now the bill giving the
ministry of justice the right to mount unscheduled inspections is in the wings.


The chair of Yuristy za grazhdanskoe
obshchestvo (Lawyers for Civil Society) and member of the federal Citizens
Chamber, Darya Miloslavskaya, shares the view that on the whole the effects of
recent legislative initiatives relating to NGOs and volunteering are negative.
Nevertheless, she disputes rumours that the state is planning a massive attack  on NGOs. An account of an interview that she
gave to ASI is set out below.

the light of the recent discussions that had taken place in the citizens’
chamber Ms Miloslavskaya was asked how she thought the novel ‘foreign agent’
concept introduced into the legislation on NGOs was working in practice. She
replied that the ministry’s sub-departments in 29 regions had been approached
and that practically all were awaiting clarification from the ministry of
justice. The prime difficulty was how to define ‘political activity’. However,
many NGOs, rather than waiting for sanctions to be imposed, have simply refused
to accept foreign funding to avoid having to register as a foreign agent. They
believe registration would reflect badly on them. Some have even said they
would prefer to liquidate their organisation if they do not find sources of
finance. Furthermore, authorities in the localities have urged NGOs to refuse
foreign funds. Much depends on the professionalism of the officials on the


Miloslavskaya pointed out that organisations engaging in purely charitable work
were entitled to receive foreign funding without registering. She was unaware
of problems arising in that respect. If a charity were, for instance, to call
for better treatment for those suffering from various diseases, it would accord
with state policy anyway. That having been said the concept of ‘political
activity’ was not entirely clear. As to the ad hoc inspections bill, currently
the ministry of justice could make inspections only in accordance with a schedule
agreed with the prosecutor’s office which circumscribed its ability to detect
contraventions. However, the citizen’s chamber fears that the bill in its
current form would seriously complicate life for the NGOs; and it would be
proposing amendments.


interviewer referred to the tendency for Duma deputies (MPs) continually to
broaden the scope of the definition of socially oriented NGOs, which are
entitled to various allowances and financial support, well beyond that current
in Europe. Ms Miloslavskaya thought that this trend was being accepted by
default without due consideration.


asked about the Volunteering Bill that was disturbing NGOs and had been greeted
with devastating in the citizen’s chamber, Ms Miloslavskaya said that the
chamber had never been so united. Virtually all the members thought that the
bill was not merely useless but harmful. Its provisions amounted to a state
takeover in direct contradiction of the concept of volunteering. Certainly
volunteers needed to be safeguarded in her view with regard to insurance,
health issues, tax relief and expenses in relation to the work they did. But a
special law dealing with volunteers was unnecessary. It would be better to
adjust the individual pieces of legislation involved. What did need regulating
was volunteers’ relationship not with the state but with NGOs. The proposed law
would only deepen existing problems, not solve them.

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