NGOs in the modern Russia: the Northern Caucasus case

The undeveloped and unsettled civil society of the Russian Federation experiences the consequences from July 13, 2012, when the Russian Duma adopted the law “On 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”[1]. It had happened after Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, international watershed event, after which sustainable development of Russia is a matter of opinion.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Northern Caucasus usually referred to a number of external actors destabilizing the intraregional processes. Valeriy Tishkov, for example, poses a number of NGOs with the oil companies and underlines the weakness of state control over the activities of this kind actors[2]. At the moment, this problem is being solved by the Russian government bill on the “third sector”. “Such phenomena as terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, are ever more international in nature. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the increasing importance of the globalization factor of political, economic, communication relationships in the world and its individual regions, including the Northern Caucasus”[2].

Note, that in the field of information technology it is important to pay attention to NGOs engaged in the monitoring of terrorist activity not in the Northern Caucasus region only, but worldwide also. Expanding the geography of militants means that despite the decline in the number of terrorist attacks in Chechnya in recent years, the total number of victims of terrorism attacks in the region has kept high throughout the 2000s, and since 2009 a sharp increase is observed.

According to the “Caucasian Knot” NGO, in 2010 in the Northern Caucasus 238 attacks were carried out, responsible for at least 1710 victims: 754 killed and 956 injured. The total attacks number in this region (in recent years) remains largely unchanged, but the violence increase has been observed in Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, while the attacks number has sunk not only in Chechnya, but also in Ingushetia [3].

The EU within the support field to NGOs in the Northern Caucasus has recently accomplished in Pyatigorsk a seminar on “Gender perspective on women’s safety in the Northern Caucasus”, which was attended by members of non-governmental organizations, charities, human rights activists, lawyers, and scientists from the sub-regions of South and North Caucasus federal districts. There was mentioned, that 125 countries have passed laws on criminalizing domestic violence, also that in 115 countries are women guaranteed by the right of ownership, and that there is over 20% women representation in parliaments in 28 countries. Accord to this indicator, Russia is just at the place 84 in the world [4].

In the light of Chechnya’ Islamization (which is in many ways dictated by the republican authorities), the issue of gender equality has become fundamental in its modern society. The EU provides various kind of support to gender NGOs in the Northern Caucasus, e.g.: in 2011, the Award Anahit Bayandour “Young woman – peacekeeper of the Caucasus” was established, which aims to recogni and promoting the unique role and the leadership potential of young women in peacebuilding, and their activity towards the empowerment of communities, as well as conflict prevention. In 2011, the winners of the award were Ina Hayrapetyan from Grozny (the Chechen Republic, Russia), Sofia Shakirova from Stavropol (Stavropol territory, Russia) and Rosa Ganieva from Nazran (Ingushetia, Russia)[5].

Further, the EU has provided support to NGOs dealing with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees in the region. Some NGOs offer legal advice to IDPs, returned IDPs and refugees. Most of these legal advices are consultations for social allowances, housing, and registration documents. NGOs also provide assistance to carry out administrative procedures and court cases. Note, that non-governmental organizations “Memorial” and “Vesta” often work in very difficult conditions in the Northern Caucasus, especially in the Chechen Republic, intervene in the evictions, and endeavour the best offer legal advice. Until July 2012, the funding from abroad was the only source for local NGOs working in humanitarian and human rights, as Russian charities do not fund them under the pretext of their potential political orientation. At the moment, due to the adoption of the law on NGOs in the Russian Federation, such NGOs activities are not known.

The political negative attitude to NGOs’ foreign funding (especially in the Northern Caucasus) may be emerged also by the situation related to the elections of 2011 and 2012, and the growing number of social protests in the central Russian cities and regions. The reaction and attention from European countries facilitate Russian citizens to exercise the right to freedom of assembly during the election period.

Russia continues to refuse dialogue and meetings with representatives of the European Commission and Russian NGOs, despite the fact, that such meetings are held regularly in the Russia-EU summits frameworks. The last meeting (on April 25, 2012) consisted of working groups: Rule of law, Freedom of expression, Freedom of assembly and Human Rights in the Northern Caucasus.

The United Nations (UN) had completely left the Northern Caucasus by the end of 2011, and they have not initiated new projects for IDPs. As a result, the Danish Refugee Council is the only international body with representation in the region, which specializes in the IDP. It coordinates the small housing projects, provides legal and financial assistance for a number of initiatives in Chechnya, Ingushetia and the North Ossetia. The Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO), the largest charity in the region for many years, held the financing on the Northern Caucasus last time in 2010.

The situation in the North Caucasus is complicated by the distancing of the authorities from civil society and the lack of civil society institutions. Definitely, the new law will help “to weed out” weak or idle NGOs, but it also puts at risk the development of civil society in a complex multi-ethnic environment of the North Caucasus. The question of who will have to negotiate with whom, and how to change the rules of the game is still relevant, – in any case, the civilian population is vulnerable.

[1] The International Law Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). URL: http://www.icnl.org/research/monitor/russia.html

[2] Valeriy Tishkov. Personal Blog. External politics aspects.

URL: http://valerytishkov.ru/cntnt/publikacii3/lekcii2/lekcii/vneshnepol.html

[4] Russia’s North Caucasus: An Arc of Insecurity // CSS Analysis in Security Policy. No. 95, June 2011. URL: http://kms1.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/129846/ipublicationdocument_singledocument/08894eb9-cfaa-46bbba43-3c237d4ca539/en/CSS_Analysis_95.pdf

[5] A.Shamanov: The attitude toward women in the Caucasus is getting better due to Islam. URL: http://www.raisrf.ru/news-6311.html

[6] «Equal power – lasting peace». For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. URL: http://www.equalpowerlastingpeace.org/ru/tag/severnyiy-kavkaz/