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Russland Moskau Duma Parlament
Image: Imago/Itar Tass/S.Savostyanov

Moscow's anxiety neurosis

Christian F. Trippe / js
May 20, 2015

Civil organizations in Russia could soon be branded as "undesirables." Christian F. Trippe says that the new law is an expression of neurotic anxiety.


The story of Russia's illiberal new law is quickly told: Organizations that appear insubordinate can be forbidden, and their activists jailed for years. The law is so loosely written that it's impossible to tell what organizations it applies to, therefore encouraging bureaucratic arbitrariness. Thus, the state can take action with its help - any time the political leadership behind it sees fit.

Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, have been a thorn in the side of Russia's power elite for quite some time. In parliament, where there is effectively no remaining opposition, the new NGO law passed through the State Duma with just three "no" votes. In Putin's "guided democracy" there are very few voices in civil society that even dare to speak out against patriotic authoritarian conformity. But because those voices still find a sympathetic ear, they have to be brought into line - or muzzled.

Turning the screw of repression

Trippe Christian Kommentarbild App
DW's Christian Trippe

Throughout Russia, offices belonging to hundreds of NGOs have been searched by authorities in recent years. Since July 2012, NGOs have been required by law to register with authorities, and those that receive funds from abroad are considered to be "foreign agents" in Russia's registers and in public.

The label is meant to be as inflammatory as it sounds. The intention is to stigmatize human rights groups, among them: The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, or Golos, a civil rights group dedicated to detecting and pillorying election fraud, or Memorial, an organization that fights for the cause of historic justice for the victims of Soviet Communism.

The new law is designed to turn the screw of domestic repression tighter, but Russia's politicians are looking for international reasons to justify their actions. Any NGOs that are supposedly opposed to the state, its constitutional basis and its own defense are "undesirable" and can be combated accordingly. Essentially: legally based oppression.

Maidan in Moscow?

One of the law's authors stated outright that the bill was an answer to Western sanctions. What he was really saying was that the West's intellectual and political influence should be marginalized in Russia. From now on, any "connection" that a Russian organization may have outside of the country could be grounds for prosecution.

Behind all of this is the panicked fear of a Russian Maidan, of a change of government forced by pressure from the streets and fanned by foreign NGOs, similar to what happened in Ukraine. Russia's new military doctrine even reflects the Maidan fears of the power elite. Aside from classic attacks from without, the doctrine cites domestic revolution and uprisings as possible threat scenarios for the Russian state.

In that kind of neurotically encapsulated mindset it seems that economic sanctions will inevitably fail to meet their political aims. On the contrary, they reinforce the tendency toward isolation. The new East-West conflict bears the features of a psychodrama.

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