The situation of NGOs has gone from bad to worse in Russia during President Vladimir Putin’s reign. The authorities are doing their utmost to eliminate the emergence of a free civil society. The government is trying to subjugate any signs of civil expression, subordinate public opinion to state interest, and incorporate civil society into the government’s statial strategy.
Many NGOs in Russia defend those most vulnerable, and it is exactly these organisations that suffer the most from government repression. Those at the receiving end of this repression are thus the weak and the helpless. If we close our eyes from this, and choose to cooperate with “front” organisations enjoying state blessing, we are not only wasting our financial support, but are doing real damage to the very people we wish to help.Stating a few obvious facts: The Russian Federation is a state, which engages in an open war of terror against its own citizens. Authorities at both federal and local level attack, terrorise, and kill their own fellow citizens. Russia is no state governed by law.
Government pressure on NGOs does not depend on the NGOs themselves, but on the political and economic interests of the ruling elites. Authorities do not react to the actions of NGOs, but create themselves the conditions, in which NGOs are left with no way out; in which NGOs cannot avoid an open confrontation.
It is the moral duty of Finland and other free nations, especially in the EU, to help our partners in Russia to survive. We cannot let the authorities intimidate our friends, drive them into a corner, and destroy everything we have achieved together in the past ten years. It is vital to continue the work and support one another.
Finnish experts often highlight the “uniqueness” of Russia’s development; most likely, this is because we wish to monopolise the expertees on Russia. It seems that Finns have stressed Russia’s uniqueness for so long that we have begun to believe in it ourselves. The end result of this is that the average Finn has a very hazy knowledge of our eastern neighbour; even those who have visited Russia only see what they want to see.
Many are simply unable to regard Russia with common sense, according to the same human standards that we regard other states and cultures. Instead, many choose to spread all sorts of fictitious legends and metaphysical constructions about Russia. It often seems that economists have the clearest idea of what is going on in Russia, because they usually understand the value of money. And money is the only thing Russia’s ruling elite is ever interested in.
The uniqueness of Russia’s development, the so-called “Third Road”, is the artificial ideological construct that the notion of a “Sovereign Democracy” that Putin’s regime has declared is based on. This “Sovereign Democracy” is ruled by the “Power Vertical” – the authoritarian power apparatus of Putin’s presidential administration. By stressing Russia’s uniqueness, we are, in fact, lending support to the development of authoritarianism that lies behind the troubles Russia is facing today.
Kerkko Paananen, 23.01.2007
* The author is a Board Member of the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum.