The Levada Center is a “Foreign Agent”

May 8, 2013
[Photo: ITAR-TASS/Valery Sharifulin]

The Prosecutor General’s Office has completed an inspection of the Yuri Levada Analytical Center, an independent non-profit organization and one of Russia’s most respected sociological services. According to the information obtained by Mr. Yuri Chaika’s agency, between December 26, 2012 and March 24, 2013, the Center received about 3.9 million rubles from abroad, a source in the Prosecutor General’s Office told “Izvestia”.

The Analytical Center received money from the US Open Society Institute, as well as from Italian, British, Polish and Korean organizations.

After the inspection by the Prosecutor General’s Office began, the “Levada Center” conducted a number of surveys, the results of which were unfavorable for the authorities. In particular, the Center published data showing that over half of Russians agree with those who dubbed the “United Russia” “the party of crooks and thieves”, and consider Dmitri Medvedev’s cabinet “inefficient”.

The Levada Center was unavailable for comment on the day this article was published.

The United Russia leadership thinks that the April surveys were conducted with a particular purpose – to make the Prosecutor General’s Office inspection look like a reprisal by the authorities.

“I should emphasize a reverse causality,” the Duma Vice-Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak told “Izvestia”. “The Levada Center tried to disseminate results that were clearly oppositional in nature as widely as possible, in order to present the charges by the authorities as groundless.”

Valery Khomyakov, the director of the National Strategy Council, thinks that the surveys in question prompted the decision by the authorities to declare the Levada Center a foreign agent.

“If they conducted some other surveys and found out, for example, that Alexei Navalny is not a widely known or respected public figure, than most likely we would have never heard such a statement,” noted Khomyakov.

Alexei Mukhin, the director of the Political Information Center, notes that in the past he heard that the Center was financed from abroad.

“The activities of the Levada Center raise suspicions. The competence of the Center and soundness of its surveys should be questioned,” Mukhin argued.

Over the last month, the Levada Center also conducted surveys asking Russians what they think about political prisoners, “The Bolotnaya Case”, “Kirovles”, et cetera. The results showed that one third of those surveyed think that the authorities should not persecute political opponents of the government, notably Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil corporation, and Alexei Navalny, a well-known blogger.

The notion of the “foreign agent” first came to light in July 2012, when the United Russia parliamentary faction submitted the draft legislation “On Non-Profit Organizations” to the Duma, which, among other measures, contained provisions requiring all politically-active NGOs financed from abroad to register with the Ministry of Justice as “acting as a foreign agent”.

Once that law was enacted, the status of “foreign agent” was assigned to the Golos Association, the Memorial Human Rights Center, the Agora Association from Kazan, and the Committee Against Torture, from Nizhny Novgorod.