Endangered Legitimacy: Survival Strategies of Russian Non-Governmental Organizations Under the “Foreign Agents” Law

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:24
Location: Seminar 31 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Evelyn MOSER, University of Bonn, Forum Internationale Wissenschaft, Germany
Anna SKRIPCHENKO, University of Bonn, Germany
Our contribution investigates the survival strategies of Russian non-governmental organizations under the condition of endangered legitimacy. The state bill “Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organizations Performing the Function of Foreign Agents“, which is in force since November 2012, required Russian non-profit-organizations that receive foreign funding to register as so called “foreign agents” if they are conducting political activities. The implementation of the law started hesitantly in 2012. However, it has gained momentum since mid-2013, with 90 organisations having ended up on the foreign agents list through enforced registration in September 2015. These organizations not only will be under tightened governmental control, but also are obliged to declare as a foreign agent in all their public actions. Empirical evidence suggests that particularly the latter significantly distorts their relations to their key constituencies by attacking their identity as nonprofits and suggesting them being actually “for profit” and remunerated for their services by foreign states. Moreover, by damaging the organizations’ credibility as participants in public debates and restricting their possibilities of informal cooperation with and access to state bureaucracies, the label “foreign agent” undermines crucial operational preconditions of many NGOs. In spite of these burdens, however, most organizations have managed to persist and further pursue their goals – even if they had to change or abandon their original organizational form. Referring to detailed case studies of Russian NGOs coping with the aftermath of the “foreign agents” law, we explore (1) how this legitimacy crisis has affected the relations between the organizations and their key constituencies (members, clients, donors, media, state bureacracy), and (2) what strategies the organizations are following in order to survive and preserve their autonomy and identity (such as emigration, formal commercialization or the transformation into informal networks).