Kremlin Closes in on the Independent Levada Center

May 21, 2013

The full force of last year’s law cracking down on NGOs in the Russian Federation is beginning to show its full force, with the director of the respected independent polling agency, the Levada Center, announcing yesterday that the organisation may have to shutter its operations as a result of this legislation.

The news came as a result of a statement from the prosecutor’s office ruling that the Center “[…] influences public opinion and therefore does not constitute research but political activity,” and that, because of grants from American organisations including the MacArthur Foundation, the Center would not be permitted to continue its work without registering as a “foreign agent,” as required under the new law. The term “foreign agent,” is rife with negative, Cold War-era associations, and was intentionally chosen by the Kremlin to create the impression that NGOs which receive foreign funding—disproportionately the independent NGOs willing to speak the truth about the country’s political situation—are front groups for foreign influence.

The sinister potential of this law is becoming apparent, and it is entirely possible that the few independent organisations which have been permitted to operate in Russia’s “managed democracy” could be pushed out of operation within the near future as a result. The independent election observer, Golos—which reported faithfully on the widespread electoral fraud of the 2011 and 2012 elections— has already been fined for failing to declare itself a “foreign agent,” and the intentionally-vague language of the legislation will likely be used to target any and all organisations that raise uncomfortable questions.

Between these laws and the show trials launched against opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny, activists are warning of a return to full-scale Soviet style repression, whilst civil society leaders attempt to formulate strategies to cope with this onslaught (as exemplified in our translation of an interview with NGO leaders in The New Times). Their moods are increasingly—and justifiably—pessimistic. As Levada Director Lev Gudkov observed in his recent statement:

“These are simply the last remnants of freedom, freedom of scholarship and freedom of information. That’s it — it’s ending   with this. This prosecutor’s warning is not just a single isolated act, and it’s not just about us. It’s the end of a 25-year period in Russia.”