By Vladimir V. Kara-Murza
The upper house of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament will shortly consider a request to extend the list of so-called “undesirable foreign organizations” that supposedly threaten state security and constitutional order and are prohibited from operating in the country. The list, adopted unanimously by the Federation Council in July, currently includes 12 foreign and international NGOs, among them the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House.
Bizarrely, the list of “foreign undesirables” is likely to be expanded to include a Russian organization. Open Russia, a platform for democracy activists founded by former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been suggested for the “undesirables” list, in a request by former Senator Mikhail Marchenko, for “publishing materials that discredit government bodies, law enforcement agencies, as well as pro-state [sic] public and political figures.” (He seems to have confused “pro-state” with “pro-government.”) The ex-legislator specifically referred to a recent article by Khodorkovsky warning Western democracies against welcoming Vladimir Putin back into the world leaders’ club with open arms following the terrorist attacks in Paris. “As far as the criterion of the value of freedom and human life is concerned, today’s Kremlin is on the other side of the dividing line that separates the democratic countries from both ISIL and Bashar Assad’s regime,” wrote the Open Russia founder. (Disclosure: I am the federal coordinator at Open Russia.)
However extravagant the idea of designating a Russian NGO as an “undesirable foreign organization,” the new pro-Kremlin initiative is hardly surprising. Indeed, for Open Russia it would only mean formalizing what had already been evident for months. Since its relaunch last year, after Khodorkovsky’s release from a decade-long politically motivated imprisonment, Open Russia has engaged in numerous activities in support of civil society, including fostering discussion and debate at its public events across the country, defending political prisoners, and mounting election-monitoring missions. Every time, we met with unambiguous reaction from the authorities—whether it was when SWAT teams tried to break up our meetings, or when police conducted raids on our offices and blockaded our election monitors.
That Putin’s regime—with a supposedly “90 percent-strong” public support—is afraid of any manifestation of independent political or civic activity is not news. Nor is its readiness to use any means to preserve its power. Yet in the end, no dictatorship—certainly not in modern times—has succeeded in cheating the tide of history. Putin’s will be no exception. Democratic change will come to Russia, and when it does, the only “undesirable” thing will be the memory of a government that ruled over its citizens through lies, corruption, and harassment.
The Kremlin's Continued Attack on Dissent