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"I'm telling you this as a foreign agent..."

9 May 2013

By Nikolai Shchur, director Urals Demoratic Foundation 

Source: Pravozashchitniki Urala 

Photo: Legal Basis

I went to sleep a simple citizen, was woken up by a phone call from a journalist, and found myself a foreign agent – or so the journalist told me. And then I had phone calls from other media and they were all asking: how do you like your new status? 

And then the prosecutor phoned – the same one who had inspected us. I thought he was phoning to tell me about the decision to recognize us as ‘foreign ‘agents,’ but I was wrong. The prosecutor learned from me that we were agents. When he had inspected our organizations he had not determined that the new changes to the law on NGOs applied to us. And that is what the prosecutor wrote to the Prosecutor-General. But then suddenly the Moscow bosses play such a dirty trick on him. When he had reviewed and studied all our documents, he had decided we were not ‘agents’ (and that is what he had written in the warning he had issued us), but they had gone and found us to be spies (whoops! – agents). 

What is one supposed to think about that? Nothing at all. First of all because we haven’t received any official information from the Prosecutor-General’s Office (and Izvestiya, which had reported the fashionable news item to the world not only failed to name its source, but ‘could not get any commentaries’ from us??). Second, because the prosecutors do not have the power to declare us to be anything at all. The prosecutor’s office is not the court. Third, because we shall appeal in court against the official warning we have received from the prosecutor’s office as soon as we return from our business trip - and all the more so shall we appeal against the ruling that we are ‘foreign agents’, if there is such a ruling. So for the time being we are getting on with our work far from our permanent base. And when we get back to the office in a couple of weeks, we shall submit our appeal. 

The Prosecutor General has put us in good company, it is very flattering. Why they suddenly decided that we were ‘agents’ is hard to say. Evidently this is a ‘message’ to the president before the holiday: we can report that we are working well! This is a tradition among officials, on Friday evening or on the eve of national public holidays to throw the public some kind of irritant, and to watch what happens. If it turns out they’ve done something stupid, then by the time the break is over everything will have been forgotten, they won’t need to go back to what they did wrong. And if what they have said or done upsets the public, well, the holidays are ahead – what can people do? They won’t even be able to snap back at you. It’s interesting that in the given situation that Izvestiya was chosen to place the story. Izvestiya was once a newspaper respected by liberal opinion. This is also a ‘message’ to society.

What will come next is obvious and rather boring: courts, disputes in the media, statements and appeals by various people and organizations. The interest, even if rather languid, raises a question: how long will this folly of seeking out ‘foreign agents’ last? Until the price of oil comes down and there will again be nothing to eat in the country? And then hungry people and journalists will cease to be amused by the pastime of watching the witch-hunters frothing at the mouth? Or will it all happen a little earlier than that?

But for the time being this folly is trying to grow stronger in the light of the setting sun: they are trying to fit an ever greater number of organizations into the fancy dress costume of a ‘foreign agent’, that is, a top hat, a bomb in one hand, and a bag with a dollar sign in the other. And what’s it all for?

Well, ‘because it’s our motherland, my boy’ – and those of us who are older will well remember this joke.