An Example for a Haughty Neighbor

Russian news agencies paid barely any attention to an item that will seem unbelievable, at least to those who understand, of course. On June 30, the Jogorku Kengesh (Kyrgyzstan’s parliament) rescinded (withdrew, removed from the agenda) two pieces of legislation, one on NGO “foreign agents” and the other on banning “propaganda about non-traditional relationships.” And they were recalled, incidentally, before the third reading, which is generally just a token reading to correct commas and typos. In our country, at least.

We can assert, of course, that the Kyrgyz parliament was shuddering at the threat of losing international aid and trembling before the European Parliament, which passed a special resolution this past January calling for the withdrawal of the propaganda law. It is likely that parliament will return to a discussion of the law on “foreign agents”: according to K. Imanaliev, head of the parliament’s steering committee, the authors “have agreed to continue consultations on their bill to take account for a wider circle of expert opinions and the various positions held by members of our society.” This may be a temporary, but it is still a victory for civil society in Kyrgyzstan, which is, at least for the time being, keeping Kyrgyz authorities from copying the disgraceful laws passed in Russia.

Since we have grown accustomed to the scene of deputies running around the Duma pressing buttons for their absent colleagues and to the extreme speed of the process “first, second, third (typos and commas), reading, passing, signing, done deal,” this all seems very surprising to us. When have we ever seen a voluntary withdrawal before the third reading, sponsors who voluntarily agree to consult with society and experts, or a government that truly listens to civil society and the opinion of international experts and abandons its plans in the face of convincing arguments? And all this in a post-Soviet country that has all of the accompanying problems and is in many ways dependent on Russia, is an extremely conservative, Islamic society, and continues to be traumatized by the terrible ethnic conflict of 2010.

This just cries out for (unfavorable) comparisons to Russia and sad thoughts about why it can’t be like this here. Because we’re so strong and independent that you can’t frighten us with the loss of international aid? Because we have our “traditional values” and our government could care less about what international society thinks about us? Because our religious background, at least in its official expression, is bigoted through and through? Because finding an exit from the terrible war in Chechnya was almost as traumatic as the war itself? The only thing that is clear is that lawmaking and decree-issuing in Russia is becoming increasingly dangerous: deputies have legalized the torture of prisoners, the minister of foreign affairs has compiled a list of “undesirable” foreign citizens, and the Office of the Prosecutor General has announced that independent research centers and charitable foundations that support Russian science are foreign agents.

Bans and restrictions are spreading to all spheres: culture, healthcare, and public life. And what could be more alarming that the new law “on undesirable foreign and international organizations?” An “undesirable” organization may be banned in Russia if the Prosecutor General believes that it will bring harm or threat to Russia or that it is more detrimental than helpful. Russian citizens participating in the activities of these organizations face criminal punishment of up to six years and foreign citizens may be banned from entering Russia. Since all of our laws have loopholes, it’s clear that any organization fighting corruption or pursuing positive goals (like an environmental group) that in some way prevents the government from realizing its plans will be one of the first on the list for expulsion and will be quickly banned.

It is clear that these decisions will not bring anything other than harm to a country that many of its best minds are trying to leave. The primordial illiteracy of the new law and its failure to comply with the main points of both international norms and the RF Constitution show that the fight against foreigners will be waged using obviously cynical and dishonest methods. It is astounding that the Prosecutor General has been given the authority to decide, without an investigation or trial, who is dangerous for our country and who is not. By the way, in most civilized countries in the world, only a court can decide if a person or organization has broken the law or not. And, pursuant to Article 80(3) of the Constitution, only the RF President has the power to place restrictions on the work of foreign and international organizations.

There is also a great risk that the law on “undesirable organizations” will have retroactive force, just like the law on “foreign agents,” and that those accused under it will be prosecuted for activities that took place before the law took effect. This law also proposes introducing Article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Violations, which stipulates punishment for “receiving funds or other property from a foreign or international organization against which a decision on the undesirability of the organization’s actions on the territory of the Russian Federation has been adopted.” This may restrict several constitutional rights of citizens, including compensation for emotional harm caused by a foreign organization, or payment of any other funds connected with legal suits. According to the extremely obscure wording of the law, anyone can be found guilty of cooperating with an undesirable foreign organization, even a victim of an organization’s actions.

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