Stamp-collecting also political activity?
Marchenko: “Even stamp-collecting can be brought under the definition of
In November, federal law № 121, ‘On the Introduction of Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the
Russian Federation regarding the regulation of Non-profit Organisations which
function as a foreign agent’, will
come into force. NGOs are considered to be a ‘foreign agent’ if they are
involved in ‘organising and conducting political activities in order to
influence the decision-making process of state bodies, thus aiming to change
state policy,’ shape public opinion for such purposes and if they receive
foreign funding. Such organisations will be entered onto a special register.
Veronika Marchenko, the chairperson of the Mother’s Right
Foundation (Pravo materi) spoke to
the Agency of Social Information about the attitudes to this new law.
Veronika’s organisation does not receive government funding. It is supported by
foreign grants won through competitions and private donations. Moreover, the foundation
is one of the oldest charitable organisations in Russia, registered by the
Ministry of Justice in 1993.
The law has left a bad taste in the mouth. Some of its
requirements are nonsensical and others are simply harmful to the image of our
country. It seems those who passed the law do not understand the conditions in
which Russian NGOs have had to survive these past few decades. These people are
not ‘competent lawmakers, but amateurs.’
‘For several years, Russian NGOs have provided annual
reports to the regional offices of the Ministry of Justice and tax authorities.
They have provided data on the composition of their staff, the scope and
purpose of financial expenditures and the use of other resources, including
those received from foreign sources. It is questionable why State Duma deputies
and those citizens who support the law have had no previous interest in these
reports. If they had, they would have discovered their existence and not
expressed the mistaken assumption that prior to adoption of this law NGOs were
accountable to no-one. The assumption that this law is necessary to increase
NGO transparency, including financial transparency, is untenable. Transparency
of NGOs existed before the enforcement of this law.’
‘The Mother’s Right Foundation is a charitable organisation
which actively develops volunteering. But according to the law ‘activities
promoting philanthropy and volunteering’ are not deemed ‘political activities’.
Incidentally, it is because the Mother’s Right Foundation is a charitable
foundation that we always go through an annual audit.’
Of course, any social activity in the Russian
Federation, even if it is collecting stamps or matchboxes with a malevolent and
biased approach can be brought under the definition of ‘political.’ For
example, you can accuse stamp-collectors of promoting ‘foreign values??’ and
being unpatriotic because they collect British Guiana or Saxon troika stamps.
But given that our activities, by law, are not considered ‘political,’ we will
not be submitting a request to the Ministry of Justice for inclusion on the
register of ‘foreign agents’.