Russian Officials Stretch the Law in Effort to Declare Young Karelia a ‘Foreign Agent’

June 20, 2015

Staunton, June 19 – Not having found any evidence that the Young Karelia (“Nuori Karjala”) movement has taken money from Finland as anonymous sources had claimed, justice ministry officials in Petrozavodsk nonetheless argue that it should be declared “a foreign agent” because it had received a grant from the UN and hosted visitors from abroad.

It remains unclear whether the authorities will succeed in what is a transparent act of intimidation, but this move is a disturbing confirmation of a trend in Russia today: the willingness of officials to use the Soviet-era “analogy” principle to stretch Russian legislation to mean whatever they want it to mean, much like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”

In an interview published today in Guberniya Daily, Alina Chuburova, the president of Young Karelia, tells Russian regionalist Vadim Shtepa just how absurd and thus how dangerous the situation is becoming in this regard.

She says that the effort to have Young Karelia declared a foreign agent arose in the administration of the Russian justice ministry for the Karelian republic. An anonymous tipster told that office that Young Karelia was getting money from Finland and demanded that Petrozavodsk investigate.

The officials did, Chuburova says, but found no evidence in support of this claim. However, they said that they had decided to pursue the idea that Young Karelia is a foreign agent for three reasons: first, it did get a grant from the UN; second, it hosted a Finnish delegation; and third, it participated in meetings with Finnish experts on youth policy.

The Young Karelia head says that her group “categorically disagrees with the conclusions of the justice ministry.” “How is it possible to consider the UN ‘a foreign source’ if Russia itself is one of the founders and participants of this international organization?” she asks rhetorically. And as for hosting and meeting people, all of this was consistent with the policies of Moscow and Petrozavodsk at the time.

She says she hopes to avoid having her group declared a foreign agent not only because the reporting requirements are far more burdensome and the image such words suggest would limit its ability to cooperate with the authorities but also because “we cannot agree with the assertion that we are something (foreign agents) which we are not.”

Chuburova points out that her group is explicitly non-political. It has worked for “almost 23 years” to promote the development of the culture and language of the Karels, Wepsy, and Finns on the territory of the Republic of Karelia; and to this end, it has cooperated with Finno-Ugric peoples in Russia, Finland, and Estonia.”

Some people in Karelia have even become angry that Young Karelia has avoided all political activities, she continues; but the group decided long ago that getting involved in political conflicts would have a deleterious effect on its ability to fulfill its cultural and linguistic missions.

Karelian officials note that at present, only 69 organizations in the Russian Federation as a whole and one other in Karelia are on the list of foreign agents and that being on the list is not a big burden. But it is perhaps indicative of the real state of affairs that many of the 69 have been forced to curtail their activities and that the other one in Karelia has already closed.