May 01, 2006

Non-Governmental Spies

Recently, a scandal erupted in Russia surrounding new legislation to deal with NGOs (non-governmental organizations, or non-profits). Liberals saw the new regulations as a tool for the government to interfere in the activities of  “undesirable” organizations, and even to shut them down. But critics of the law do not need to resort to speculation or theory to read the tea leaves for the future of NGOs or civil society in Russia. A very practical case-study can be found right next door: 10 years ago, Belarus passed a similar law regulating NGOs.

A new Cold War

Belarusan legislation dealing with NGOs went into effect in 1994 and, over the ensuing decade, has been supplemented with new decrees and resolutions. As a result, today, according to members of the Belarusan opposition, NGOs are regulated not by laws, but by the Presidential Administration. More specifically, NGOs are directly overseen by Head of Administration Viktor Sheyman and his deputy, Oleg Proleskovsky, who is responsible for ideological activity. The loudest complaints from NGOs are about difficulty with registration and a totalitarian policy towards social structures and foreign foundations.

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