The new “Foreign Agents” law is affecting not only NGO’s, but also some of the country’s most respected economists. These economists have penned an open letter in Vedemosti detailing the damaging effects that the new law will have on economic research, and in turn economic activity in the country.
The events of recent years, including the drafting of Strategy 2020, the “open government” activity, and the creation of the Russian Presidential Economic Council vividly demonstrated the government’s interest in independent economic analysis. To the extent of our efforts and abilities, we have tried and continue to try to respond constructively to the demand coming from the government and are completely open to substantive cooperation.
However, now a campaign has begun threatening to destroy such cooperation. The wave of prosecutors’ inspections under compliance with the legislation on foreign agents which has affected many analytical centers and the Association of Independent Centers of Economic Analysis (AICEA) has shown that any non-commercial organization which has funds from foreign sources in its budget, and which is engaged in activity which has any kind of relationship to politics whatsoever is now under attack. Moreover, “political activity” is defined extremely broadly and non-specifically by the profile law No. 121-FZ [Federal Law No. 121], and the practice of the inspections has shown that it is sufficient to have the word “politics” or “government agency” in the founding documents in order for the organization to be declared a foreign agent.
By the nature of their profession, economists are constantly, regardless of their own wishes, connected to drafting and realization of economic policy. This involves both implementation of initiatives of government agencies (for example, the expert work on Strategy 2020) and participation in scholarly works in the interests of various agencies, and public discussion of socio-economic reforms. Moreover, because of the global nature of modern economics and the insufficient development of socio-economic research in Russia, the analytical centers have strived for cooperation with foreign partners and diversification of the sources of the funding for their activity, among which can be foreign sources as well.
Under the logic of the law-enforcement agencies, all of this proves that the expert-analytical community almost completely consists of foreign agents who are obliged to register as such. The word “agent” in the Russian language, however, means a person acting in someone’s interests, or a spy. We have always acted and continue to act in the interests of our country (and are definitely not spies), and therefore to register as foreign agents would represent self-incrimination, which we will not engage in.
What have the funds from foreign sources in the area of economic research gone for in the past and present?
— Development of economic education. Thanks to international donors, in the early 1990s, the best economists of the world have given lectures in Russian universities, educating a new generation of researchers, analysts and teachers who today define the face of our economic scholarship.
— Transfer of practical experience to young researchers. For many years student economists from Russian universities have had the opportunity for internships in analytical centers, taking part in relevant research projects.
— Formation of high standards for economic research. The support programs for economic research enabled the reduction of the gap between the Russian and world economics schools and to prepare works that meet the best international standards.
— For the institutionalization of research centers. Support for theoretical research, advancement of research groups and collectives, including in the international scholarly community, and enabling the formation of many analytical centers.
— Publication of the results of economic research. Without the public presentation of results, there cannot be a normal development of scholarship and practice – exchange of opinions, formulation of new ideas, and selection of the most promising of them for further development. However, the publication of specialized literature – journals and books – is almost always at a loss. Major universities and institutions publish them with their own funds, and organizations without those resources rely on donors (including foreign donors).
In all these cases, international funding (like Russian funding) serves the development of the experts’ community. Taking into account the fundamental content of our activity – the promotion of the economic development of the country, the end beneficiaries of foreign funds coming into our sector are the government and society as a whole. The independence of the activity of the centers of economic analysis, and the objectivity of their evaluations and forecasts are obtained through competition in the area of economic research, the public nature of the results, the ability to study and dispute them, and the diversification of sources of funding.
We believe that it is necessary to bring the basic definitions under 121-FZ into accordance with common sense, and also to make amendments in the practice of application of this law. Obviously, a foreign agent can only be considered a legal person who not only receives foreign funding, but acts in the interests of a foreign state or foreign company. This is precisely the approach taken in other countries employing the concept of “foreign agent.”
The government is now displaying a great interest in the results of the work of analytical economists. We must recall, however, that this work is based on two decades of efforts of our community which has created Russian “think tanks,” taught students the skills of analytical work, created journalists and other infrastructure without which it is not possible to work on the program of economic development of the country.
It must be understood: the continuation of the harsh and unlawful application of the law on foreign agents and the use of arbitrary interpretations of its statutes will lead to the closure of analytical centers, the lowering of the quality of economic analysis and expertise, and the disruption of the mechanisms for continuity and support of standards in the profession.
In the history of our country, there has already been a period when economic scholarship and economic analysis were completely controlled by the state. The consequence of this control and the ideological blinders has been the incompetence of decisions in the area of economic policy. It is well known how this ended for Soviet economics. We hope that the representatives of the government are interested in a competent and objective analysis both in the sphere of economic policy and in other spheres of public life. But this can be expected only from free experts who are not experiencing political pressure.
The following people took part in the preparation of this article:
Evsey Gurvich, president of the Association of Independent Centers of Economic Analysis (AICEA), member of the Russian Federation Presidential Economic Council, head of expert group no. 2 in development of Strategy 2020;
Elena Abramova, vice president of AICEA, member of the Russian government experts’ council;
Andrei Yakovlev, vice president of AICEA, member of the government experts’ council; head of expert group No. 4 for Strategy 2020
Aleksandr Abramov, member of the board of AICEA;
Natalya Akindinova, member of the board of AICEA, member of the working group of the Presidential Economic Council on Macroeconomics and Finance Policy, participant in Strategy 2020;
Irina Karelina, member of the board of AICEA;
Vladimir Nazarov, member of the board of AICEA, member of the government experts’ council, head of expert group no. 9 for Strategy 2020.
Liliya Ovcharova, member of the board of AICEA, member of the government experts’ council on issues of guardianship in the social sphere;
Yury Simachev, member of the board of AICEA, head of expert group no. 15 for Strategy 2020;
Aleksandr Auzan, president of AICEA from 2005-2011, member of the Presidential Economic Council, head of expert group no. 14 for Strategy 2020.
Vladimir Gimpelson, member of the government experts’ council, participation in Strategy 2020;
Natalya Zubarevich, member of the government experts’ council, participant in Strategy 2020;
Nadezhda Kosareva, member of the government experts’ council, participation in Strategy 2020;
Galina Kurlyandskaya, member of the government experts’ council, participant in Strategy 2020;
Tatyana Maleva, member of the Presidential Economic Council, head of expert group no. 3 for Strategy 2020.