HR Organizations Close Down in Russia

ngo2.jpgForeign financial aid to the Russian human rights community is ebbing.

Human rights organizations close down in russia for the lack of funding

Once sponsors of the Russian human rights community, Westerndonor organizations rapidly lose interest in Russia. Figures arequite telling: European and American funds transacted nearly $80million to Russian organizations within the framework of all sortsof democracy-promotion programs in 2006. In 2007, sum totalamounted to only about $20 million, and even this money went to prominent organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group andMemorial only.

Does it mean that the Russian human rights movement isheading for a crisis?

Exodus of activists is what awaits the human rights communityin Russia in the near future. At least, that’s what it itselfexpects. “Absence of funding will first and foremost hurt humanrights structures in the regions,” Lyudmila Alekseyeva of theMoscow Helsinki Group said. “People there have been working for apittance, on pure enthusiasm. They’ll probably leave now in orderto survive. That’s quite understandable.”

“Financial prosperity of activists of human rightso rganizations is a tall tale,” Yuri Schmidt, human rights activistand lawyer from St.Petersburg, confirmed. “It is the selfless whoh ave been working so far, but even they will probably go now.”

They are already going, and en masse. Almost 100 autonomous human rights organizations – partners of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, Journalist Union, and so on – closed down in late 2007. Seeing political stability in Russia, the West lost interest. Funding ebbed.

All in all, human rights organizations the world over including Russia tend to demonstrate their independence. (Wea ccept nothing from the government and brook no control therefore.) “On the other hand, finances are willingly accepted from the funds set up, say, by the US Department of State,” Sergei Markov, political scientist and Duma deputy, said. “Strange, isn’t it? Something ambivalent, because our own government does not pay and therefore does not control human rights organizations but a foreign government… Nobody gave it a thought in the 1990s, even though the first “spy scandals” involving the Russian human rights community, its foreign sponsors, and Russian state secrets occurred in Boris Yeltsin’s days.”

There are lots of human rights and so called non-governmental organizations in the United States. Some of them are sponsored by wealthy altruists, others (they are known as GONGO or government-oriented non-governmental organizations) by the state budget -paradoxical as it undoubtedly is. Not a single organization in the United States, however, is financed by the funds set up by governments of foreign states. In Russia, it has been the otherway round.

It will be strange for a foreign power, sponsor of non-governmental organizations on the territory of another sovereign state, not to expect to benefit from its benevolence. “It is therefore logical and understandable that when the approximate sum the West intended to spend on promotion of democracy in Russia became known a year or so ago, everybody knew that the human rights community was paid to get into politics,” Markov said.

And that was what happened. Lev Ponomarev, leader of the Movement For Human Rights who had promoted the necessity to keep a safe distance from politics only recently (at the All-Russian Democratic Conference, that is), became directly involved in politics. In fact, Ponomarev is chums with politicians like Mikhail Kasianov and Garry Kasparov these days. Young Yabloko leader Ilya Yashin seems nothing extraordinary in it. As far as heis concerned, human rights activists do what they think they should be doing.

On the other hand, not all prominent human rights activists turned political. A whole number of organizations (like the Journalist Union, Glasnost Protection Foundation, Consumers’ Rights Promotion Society, Memorial) keep their distance from political struggle.

In any case, the parliamentary campaign is over. Since the West is not half as benevolent as it likes to pretend it is, it cut down funding of the Russian human rights community regardless of the forthcoming presidential campaign.

In the meantime, human rights organizations do serve as a buffer between society and the powers-that-be – promoting interests of the former and defending it from the latter.

The part they are playing in some Russian regions cannot be overestimated. Consider Ingushetia, a republic suffering from utter chaos and lawlessness, a republic where people end up missing again and again. It is human rights organizations that the population relies on. It is human rights organizations that searchf or the missing people there, often at the risk to their activists’ very lives. The Russian authorities are unlikely to want to finance them. No wonder, since the official statistical data have little in common with the actual state of affairs reported by the human rights community.

Versia, No 1
January, 2008
Author: Ruslan Gorevoi.

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