Do As I Say, Not As I Duma

United Russia has prevailed this week, with a slewof draconian measures passed by the State Duma, including new measures for NGOs with foreign donors to register as ‘foreign agents‘ (see Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s interview with the Moscow Times if your optimism about the future of Russian democracy needs a boost), hiked fines for unauthorised protesters, and stronger penalties for libel.  Michael Bohm notes a cruel irony particularly in the NGO bill to limit foreign funding, given that the Duma itself is not subject to any lobbying restrictions.

As a result, there is no control over deputies who are aggressively lobbied by leading industrial groups and businesspeople and who, it is widely believed, cut lucrative, multimillion-dollar inside deals. Corruption experts such as Kirill Kabanov say this lack of transparency and public accountability in the Duma has created one of the largest sources of corruption in the country.

The Economist delivers its verdict on the new laws, saying that they demonstrate United Russia’s stronghold over the Duma, and notes that this new package was drawn up sloppily, indicating that this is rush job legislation, and at its worst, vague enough to give authorities unlimited power to worry the opposition:

Legislators wrote the bills in a rush. The wording of the law on NGOs had to be quickly edited between the first and second reading when it became clear that two allies of the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church, which receives donations from abroad, and the state-managed RT television channel, which gets money from foreign advertisers, would fall into the category of “foreign agents”.

Whether due to haste or design, the new laws are marked by vagueness, leaving courts and officials all down the country’s bureaucratic chain great latitude in enforcing them. Mass prosecutions under the new laws are unlikely, although local and regional officials are likely to use them to go after local opponents and rivals. Above all, the laws are not meant to be regularly enforced as much as used to put those in opposition in a state of continuous theoretical legal jeopardy.

Full article here.