Human Rights Watch released recently a feature on the development of Russian civil society in the last years and its current situation. An article by Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director of the organization, emphasizes how civil society has grown since the collapse of the Soviet Union and how active it has become, as shown by the numerous demonstrations following fradulent elections last December.
Bogert also highlights the challenges that civil society organizations continue to face in the country. One example is the law introduced in 2006 by Vladimir Putin to regulate the non-profit sector. NGOs claim that this new legislation increased red tape to intentionally reduce their independence and eventually make it impossible for them to survive, but fortunately the vast majority of independent groups has managed to continue with their activities.
Another major problem threating Russian activists is the violence directed towards investigative journalists, human rights activists and whistleblowers. Many of them have risked their lives, and cases of murder are not uncommon. Civil society activists are also often attacked through legal means, by unfounded lawsuits that aim at suffocating them and their organizations financially.
Despite all these obstacles, one promising factor that has developed recently is the increase in internet access and the establishment of the internet as a place for the circulation of independent and critical information, in contrast to the traditional media, that has been kept under pressure by the government for years. As information flows on the internet are harder to circulate, this should give civil society more room to raise awareness and mobilize support in the next years.
Read the full article “Acting up. A portrait of Russian civil society, age twenty” on hrw.org. The feature also includes photos and videos with profiles of a number of civil society activists. The picture featured above is from rferl.org and is credited to RIA Novosti.