Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Much ado about NGOs

Last spring, the issue of regulating NGOs was big news in Western media. Now as the law is being implemented, the issue has come back to the fore. Cherie Blair's involvement makes this more than a domestic Russian issue and less likely to be played out in the bureaucratic background. It might well be a good case study of policy making. This report is from the New York Times.

Cherie Blair Offers Legal Help to Rights Groups in Russia

"ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 17 — Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, on Monday stepped into the debate over Kremlin pressures on Russian civil society, offering legal assistance to human rights and aid groups to challenge a disputed new law, members of the organizations said.

"The offer by Ms. Blair, a human rights lawyer, came at the end of th Group of 8 summit meeting here, during which President Bush and Mr. Blair tried to balance their shared interests with Russia and their concerns over President Vladimir V. Putin's authoritarian tilt.

"Earlier this year, Mr. Putin signed a law requiring private groups, commonly referred to as nongovernmental organizations, or N.G.O.’s, to re-register and forbidding their use of foreign money for political activities...

"Mr. Putin has said the groups sometimes serve as a cover for foreign intelligence activities and should not be allowed to influence Russia’s politics.

"The organizations say that the accusation is groundless and that the law, which has created onerous new filing responsibilities, appears to provide a pretext for shutting down groups that the Kremlin deems a political threat. Several Western nations and organizations have expressed concern that the law reflects a step back from Russia’s public commitments to become more democratic...

"President Bush also met with civil society leaders when he arrived here last Friday, telling them he would bring up their problems during his private meetings with Mr. Putin...

"Mr. Putin, in his own meetings with civil society leaders, said he, too, would review the law."


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