Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Russia: NGO Crackdown on Soldiers' Mothers

On Monday, Russia's new and immensely infamous NGO-legislation, curtailing civic activities, entered into force. On Wednesday, one of Russia's most prominent NGO's, Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, received a court order to dissolve the organisation, Swedish Radio reports. This immediate measure by Russian authorities signals that Putin is intent on continuing his policy to eradicate any dissenting political forces and curtailing the freedom of organisation in Russia.

The court order was issued by the Basmanny Court on request of the Federal Registration Office of the Russian Ministry of Justice, Soldiers' Mothers head, Valentina Melnikova, explained. The Basmanny Court has earned a reputation for being used as a legal proxy by the Kremlin to make the life of rival political forces hard. The court has gone to such lengths at servicing its political masters that Russians today use the expression "Basmanny justice" instead of miscarriage of justice. Its first great appearance on the legalo-political stage was the elimination of Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a potential political rival to Putin in the so called Yukos scandal a few years back.

The Soldiers' Mothers have earned domestic and international fame for its efforts to fight for the interests of Russian soldiers, who often live under unbearable conditions during military service. The organisation gained its great reputation as an outspoken and serious critic of human rights' abuses in the Russian army during the first war in Chechnya from 1994. They were thus one of the main levers that made the Russian public turn against the war. Since then, it has continued to clamp down on penalism and bad conditions for servicemen in the Russian army. Its Secretary General, the well-known human rigths' fighter Valentina Melnikova, will now contend the decision by an appeal to the Basmanny court.

That the Kremlin has chosen the Soldiers' Mothers as its first victim in its crackown on Russian NGO's, may signal the start of a campaign to crush any real political freedom and civil liberties in Russia. During recent years, the Russian government has created state-directed quasi-NGO's and political fora to channel public interest. It is obvious that these structures are regarded as the main fora for political dialogue by the Kremlin. Other forms of political and civic activities will be allowed to continue activities only as long as they do not threaten the interests of the Kremlin, and then under strict control and supervision.

The action also testifies to the mania of Russia's political élite to lose control and be overthrown by the people as happened in Ukraine's orange revolution. The paradox is that the more repressive and authoritarian Putin gets, the more likely it is that public dissent will blow up in his own face. By concentrating power to his own hands, there will in the end be nobody else to blame for political crises or failures, and then the people will inevitably turn against Putin. This is really to shoot oneself in the foot, but few in the Kremlin seem to realise this.

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