Putin: ‘Political’ NGOs not to be deprived of government support

The president has given an assurance that ‘political’ NGOs will not be deprived of government support


Moscow 16 January 2016

In his address to the national forum, The State and Civil Society: Co-operating in Development, President,Vladimir Putin said that he thought NGOs working in the ‘political  sphere‘ should devote their activities towards the resolution of national issues. Some NGO representatives drew reassurance from what the president said whilst others believed that the concept of ‘political activity‘was nevertheless open to extremely wide interpretation.

The president said that nowadays communal activity ‘has shifted from the political to the social sphere.’ This was normal, and with the approach of the elections ‘the process would be reversed’, according to the president’s press office. ‘But that does not mean that the state will not support NGOs working in the political sphere’, emphasised the president.

‘When we talk about NGOs working in the political sphere, I consider that this has to be activity aimed at dealing with national issues. Let me give as an example improvement of the   political system, the judiciary, or law enforcement. This is without doubt civil rights activity’, stated the president, adding that it was totally out of order to use NGOs for the purpose of dealing with party political interests.

The president stated that it was necessary to be absolutely clear about what was meant by ‘NGO’, ‘political activity’ and ‘socially oriented NGOs’ (SONGOs).

On Facebook, the co-chair of the council of the Movement for the Defence of Electoral Rights, Grigory Melkonyants, wrote that he was in total agreement with the need for more precise definitions, but feared that knowing the officials and the deputies as he did, that they would not be forthcoming. Ella Pamfilova, the commissioner for human rights in the Russian Federation, told Vedomosti  that it needed specialists from the federal ministry of justice and the judiciary to define the concept of political activity. Her view was that civil rights defenders specialising in civil, labour, and political rights issues were not participating in the political process; neither was appealing to public opinion. She thought it meant competing for power and participation in elections.

The federal public chamber suggested creating a unitary register of NGOs and distinguishing between SONGOs and others. The chamber’s press secretary, Alexander Brechalov, had stated that the third sector should be subjected to stricter regulation and suggested dividing NGOs into social and political. He said that we were now seeing some NGOs actively working against the state, even to the extent of delivering lectures in state universities; hence the need to make the distinction. This suggestion gave the NGOs cause for concern but the president’s words reassured them, according to Ella Pamfilova, who was fearful of a division into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ NGOs. She thought that that would not be the case in light of what the president had said but doubted whether it would be so in practice.

Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Centre, said the context created by the president’s words was more important than what he said directly. He considered that the president had clearly included civil rights activity in the political sphere. In Russia regrettably no distinction was made at either the linguistic or conceptual levels between the struggle for power and activity in the general interest or for the common good. From time to time concepts such as civic or public policy surfaced, but these were neither official nor in general use. Whilst it was possible to describe NGO activities in defence of the common interest as social, the government agencies meant by this term the delivery of services, not the defence of the human rights of some social group. The president had given the widest possible definition of political activity, whilst at the same time it was not only impossible in practice but also counterproductive to promote protection of civil rights  without promoting change in legislation and legal enforcement practice.

Georgy Ivanushkin


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