The Kremlin wants to toughen its controversial law against “foreign agents”. So far, the media and NGOs have been particularly affected – and now the circle is expanding.
Until now, Russian authorities could declare a person as a foreign agent if they – or an organization – received money from abroad. With the tightening of the law, it is sufficient for a person “under the influence of a foreigner” to be declared a foreign agent. It’s not entirely clear what that means, says David Nauer, a former Russia correspondent for SRF radio.
There is plenty of room for interpretation
For example, whether a person attends a party with foreign journalists, eats with a foreign diplomat or has foreign friends: “In the future, the Russian authorities can interpret all this as ‘the person under the influence of a foreigner’ and the person as a foreign agent to explain” .
Now, in principle, every Russian can be considered a foreign agent.
Aside from the spongy wording of the law, arbitrariness is also a big problem. So far, activists and journalists in particular have been declared foreign agents, according to Neuer, who now works as a foreign editor in Bern. “Now, in principle, every Russian can be considered a foreign agent.”
Nauer gives a practical example: “As a foreign journalist, I take a taxi in Moscow and talk to the driver about politics. Then he posts something very important on Facebook. Perhaps that is enough to make him a foreign agent.”
Complete documents required
But what does it mean in concrete terms when someone is targeted by the Russian criminal authorities as a “foreign agent”? The former Moscow correspondent knows a journalist who has already been announced as a foreign agent. “She told me that she should give the authorities a very detailed description of her personal expenses. She goes for coffee, buys a new dress or a book: she has to list everything and send it.”
This means that the Russian authorities basically know everything about this person, what his expenses and income are. “There are huge administrative burdens.” There are now other restrictions as well: for example, a “foreign agent” person is no longer allowed to work as a teacher.
Migration as a last resort
Many have tried to comply with these rules in the past, says Neuer. Even those who would have said, “I’m not going abroad, but I’m trying to come to terms with it somehow.” In the meantime, he is familiar with several people declared to be foreign agents who “immigrated simply and simply because it is too difficult, too expensive, too boring to achieve all these legal inconveniences”.
The state makes life so difficult for unloved citizens that they go to the end.
This is the main point behind the legislation, Neuer suspects: “For the state to get rid of the unpopular citizens it wishes to get rid of. It makes life so difficult for them that they go to the end.” This Damocles sword is always hanging on people. “After every meal with someone somewhere in Moscow or elsewhere, you may have problems.”
Therefore aliens should be considered dangerous items that it is best to stay away from. “Russia closes barriers this way, the Kremlin wants it that way.”
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