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Five Years after the Passing of the Law on Foreign Agents in St. Petersburg, Russia - Persistent and New Limitations and Emergent Adaptations

By Anastasia Asikainen


Five years after the passing of the 2012 Law on Foreign Agents in Russia this thesis contributes to new knowledge about the limitations the law has brought forward and the measures organisations have taken to work under this law. Furthermore, the limitations persisting in the Russian civil society will be discussed by reflecting the empirical findings to previous research and historical trajectories. This thesis focuses on the city of St. Petersburg from where nine experts were interviewed from nine different organisations. The research questions are; what are the expedients the organisations have taken to work under the Law on Foreign Agents and how do the organisations describe their work environment. This thesis also aims at identifying potentials for change using the empirical findings and the framework of a developmental model by Nonet & Selznick (2001). The interviews were conducted in St. Petersburg between June 2015 and January 2016. The methodological approach was qualitative case study and the method for analysing the empirical findings was inductive. Based on previous research, the thesis makes the following presumptions on which it aims to add new knowledge; the civil society in Russia in relatively weak, the legal institutions are not independent of politics and the state plays an active role in defining the boundaries civil society actors. Based on the findings the persistent limitations to the work of the NGOs include lack of public support, misunderstandings on the nature of their work due to foreign financing and/or cooperation with western organisations, lack of understanding for universal rights in general, organisations having problems working for their target groups and weak legal institutions. New limitations, which were brought forward by the Law on Foreign Agents include difficulties accessing foreign funding, self-censorship due to avoiding the work of the organisation to be categorised as political, limits for the organisations to collaborate with state officials, increased amount of bureaucracy, increased stress and fear and the division of the third sector into service-oriented and advocacy-oriented organisations. The emergent adaptations can be roughly divided into two main categories: means of legal proceedings or channeling the work of the organisation through new administrative bodies, such as charities, commercial entities or branches outside of Russia. These expedients also had a mixed character. One other adaptation was to close down the organisation and work in the form of a business or an initiative group, yet keeping the same objectives. The findings raise new questions about the forms organisations can take in repressive conditions and about civil society’s limits in general. The findings contribute to an updated overview of the organisations in St. Petersburg working under the Law on Foreign Agents and raise topical issues for further discussion and research

Topics: Civil Society, NGO, Law on Foreign Agents, Russia, St. Petersburg, Yhteiskuntapolitiikka, Social and Public Policy, Samhällspolitik, Civil Society, NGO, Law on Foreign Agents, Russia, St. Petersburg
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Year: 2017
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