Inside the Kremlin’s velvet grip, Russia’s civil society struggles to survive

You also see signs of this happening in America as well. New laws (environmental, etc.) are being created and used as a tactic to come down on whoever is wanted out of the way. This is why a lot of people don’t see an incoming dictatorship. As seen in this article, the government in a new form of dictatorship will wear you out through legal means and with an endless supply of taxpayer money to back it.


Workers at Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights monitor, live under constant, unyielding pressure from the government, which is trying to stymie dissent.

All seems perfectly normal on the busy downtown corner where Memorial, Russia’s largest grassroots human rights monitor, maintains its sprawling Moscow headquarters. On most days the building is a hub of activity: people come and go, and even police officers stroll by without so much as a sideways glance.

Yet enter the building and spend a while with the people who tend its vast archives, run seminars, and manage its campaigns, and the feeling of a grinding siege becomes palpable. Among the workers here there is a mounting mood of despair. Some say their nerves are near to snapping, and few believe Memorial can survive much longer.

Welcome to the Vladimir Putin era, where the Soviet-style goal of stamping out politically disobedient civil activity is executed without police boots through the door or night-time transports to the gulag.

Instead, it’s being gradually but thoroughly implemented via a law passed three years ago requiring groups like Memorial to wear the label “foreign agent” – which connotes “spy” in Russian – on all their literature if they receive any amount of foreign funding and engage in any activity authorities deem “political.”

Like most of the nearly 100 organizations singled out by the law, Memorial has refused to accept the label, which it regards as tantamount to swallowing a poison pill. But after years of legal battles, official warnings, and escalating fines, activists say they have almost no space left to maneuver.

“The fact that Russia’s biggest human rights group is on the brink of closure, but there’s no visible drama about it, made it feel even more scary to me,” says Ariella Katz, a US university student of Russian extraction who recently completed an internship with Memorial in Moscow. “I was working in an atmosphere of intense psychological pressure. People all around me were showing very real signs of stress, and I was feeling it too.”

The velvet vise

That’s where the “foreign agent” label helps authorities to slow down Memorial’s work, even short of completely extinguishing it. Huge amounts of the organization’s resources and efforts have been diverted over the past three years in court battles, constant wrestling with bureaucracy, and defending its reputation before the public.

“I have a full slate of work on my desk, but the Ministry of Justice [which oversees the “foreign agent” law] calls me up and demands that I present a long list of documents,” says Cherkasov. “So, I have to drop everything else and collect all these papers for them. sometimes I sleep in my office because I have no time to go home. I still don’t get everything done.”

Full article: Inside the Kremlin’s velvet grip, Russia’s civil society struggles to survive (Christian Science Monitor)

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