Russia Update: Sakharov Center in Moscow Declared ‘Foreign Agent’

December 26, 2014
The Sakharov Center in Moscow. The banner on the side of the building says "Freedom." Photo by Yod.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week story The Guild War – How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features ‘Managed Spring’: How Moscow Parted Easily with the ‘Novorossiya’ Leaders, Putin ‘The Imperialist’ A Runner-Up For Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.

The Sakharov Museum and Center in Moscow has been declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry. The group is appealing the designation.

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Sakharov Center in Moscow Declared ‘Foreign Agent’

The Sakharov Museum and Civic Center was informed by the Russian Justice Ministry yesterday, December 25 that it was designated as a “foreign agent,” Sergei Lukashevsky, the executive director said in a post on his Facebook page.

The Interpreter has a translation (except for the stanza of the poem by Joseph Brodsky, translated by Alan Myers):

Thus, as many already know, the Sakharov Center has been counted (put into the list of foreign agents). We had decided to publish something official tomorrow.  But the Justice Ministry works very efficiently. Apparently they’re reporting to their superiors about the fulfillment of the plan.

So, for now, a little numerology. December is connected fairly closely with the name of Sakharov:

December 15, 1986  Mikhail Gorbachev informed Sakharov that he could return to Moscow from exile.

December 14, 1989  Sakharov died.

December 12, 2014  An unscheduled inspection of the Center began.

December 25, 2014 (on the 9th day, if you count from the 14th, as Arseny Roginsky of Memorial notes) we were given the infamous decision.

So either we’re describing a circle, or a freakish noose.

Well, and then finally, today (that is yesterday) is the “Catholic” Christmas. And as is well known:

“Had Herod but known the stronger he seemed,
the more sure, the more certain the wonder.
Every year this constant relation
is the basic machinery of Christmas.”

No direct analogies here (far too much honor), it’s just that such a machinery works in the most diverse situations.

Today snow has blanketed Moscow, almost up to the waist. But winter is not eternal. After Christmas comes New Year’s, and then spring. You just have to be patient for a bit…

It was long a belief of Soviet dissidents that the Kremlin always arranged to do bad deeds on Western Christmas Day, so that they would get less attention; the invasion of Afghanistan was on December 24, 1979. In the Russian Orthodox calender, Christmas falls on January 7.

Under a law passed by President Vladimir Putin in 2012,
non-profit organizations deemed to be engaged in vaguely-defined
“political activities” which receive grants from foreign foundations can be
deemed “foreign agents” and subjected to increased scrutiny and
reporting requirements, and registered on a public list maintained by the
Justice Ministry.

In a statement to Vedomosti, Lukashevsky said (translation by The Interpreter):

“Our activity has not changed for the last 25 years of our existence, and past inspections have confirmed that the reading of lectures and the holding of discussions are not political activity. The Sakharov Center has foreign grants because despite the increase in the number of Russian grants recently, they are all for projects. But I don’t know a single Russian grant program that would allocate money for the maintenance of the organization.

Translation: Our site is down from the flood of those wishing to find out further news, we’re hoping to get it fixed in the next 40 minutes. Sorry!

Translation: Sakharov Center will sue the Ministry of Justice in court.

Translation: The Sakharov Center has been put in the list of foreign agents. And not after the first try, by the way.

The organization’s most recent activities were an evening devoted to discussion of political prisoners on December 14, and a lecture on the history of the human rights movement on December 23.

Translation: Political Prisoners and Provocateurs. Sakharov Center, December 14.

Translation: Intellectual hunger is good. I am listening to a lecture, “The History of the Human Rights Movement in the USSR” @ the Sakharov Center.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick