Political Reform Dries Up in Duma
Vladimir Putin is to meet with parliamentary parties to discuss the State Duma’s performance last year. During the parliament’s last session before the summer recess, the Communist Party walked out in protest at United Russia’s subordination to the Kremlin, making any compromise impossible.
After the December 2011 election, the ruling party said the parliament’s role in policy making would grow and promised to cooperate with the other parties. Nevertheless, its first session was a disaster.
The Duma immediately forgot about any political reform and began adopting anti-opposition laws.
The Communist walkout was understandable, even though the cause may appear minor. The opposition parties had asked to postpone a hearing on a bill on the right of party leadership to offer vacant Duma mandates to any candidate on their list. The Kremlin, which initially supported the idea, soon changed its stance, and United Russia was quick to toe the line. The opposition planned to discuss the idea with Putin on July 18, but the Communists claim that United Russia was ordered to vote the bill down on July 13. Seeking to prevent this, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called United Russia leader Dmitry Medvedev, who only said he would bear their opinion in mind. The Communists were humiliated.
The new Duma was described as the first parliament of the “new Putin era.” Putin began his presidential election campaign by promising political reform. He said that registering political parties would be easier, parties would have no obstacles to participating in elections, and governors and members of the parliament’s upper house would be elected. Putin wrote a series of articles setting out his views of Russia’s problems. Most of his modernization proposals needed to be formalized, so the State Duma was expected to have a busy session.
After Putin said the legislative branch should have more authority to control the executive branch, State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin pledged to enhance the parliament’s role. He urged all parties, including those not represented in parliament, to work together, and even the non-registered opposition was invited to help draft laws. It seemed there would be no return to the “sovereign democracy” of Putin’s second presidential term.
But the promised political reform dried up by March 4, election day. Evidently, the multiparty system was aimed at diluting the opposition parties’ electorate, small parties were not allowed to create election blocks, and the election of governors was approved to ensure the re-election of the current regional leaders. In early May, the State Duma began adopting laws that can only be descried as repressive.
It approved restrictive assembly rules (in defiance of Article 31 of the Constitution, which gives people “the right to assemble peacefully”) and adopted laws on “foreign agents,” slander and the like. The worst part is that the opposition did not even try to offer alternatives, and mostly acted reactively not proactively.
It seems the protesters who demanded the dissolution of the Duma were not that far off.
Independent Krymsk Radio Station Fears Closure over Flood Reporting
Electron FM, an independent radio station in Krymsk that veered from the official version of the causes of local flooding, is now facing a variety of difficulties. The station experienced a power outage in the midst of a talk-show discussion on the causes of the floods and prosecutors have visited the station.
Electron FM resumed broadcasting on Saturday, July 14 using a low-power standby transmitter. Authorities said the cause of the broadcasting failure was a problem with the main transmitter's power supply. Some journalists are unsure about this, given the transmitter’s location on a hill which was unaffected by the flood. The local energy company declined to comment.
In his interview with Radio Liberty, the station’s newswriter, Valery Donskoy, said the radio station fell into disfavor after its flood related reports varied with the official versions.
Electron FM correspondent Yuri Tamrazov explained, “We read a text on a social network where a little girl wrote that her father was in a meeting at which the likelihood of flooding in Krymsk was raised. And just five minutes later, the power went out.”
The radio station was also coordinating the work of volunteers in during the emergency, and the interruption greatly hampered this effort.
“We used our station for the solicitation and coordination of the volunteers who were working with those affected by disaster, as well as with vehicles transporting humanitarian aid,” Donskoy said. “It was important to assist in the distribution of the humanitarian aid. Krymsk has many elderly and disabled people who are unable to come downtown where most of the aid is distributed. Volunteers hear the call for help on the air, and simply go to the address. We have two phones working around the clock.”
Nevertheless, the station has had other problems. Donskoy said that prosecutors came to the station on Sunday.
The visiting prosecutor’s said they were there as the result of a complaint filed with the supervising agency by a local Cossack leader.
“We announced a press conference by a rival Cossack group that got this leader in an uproar,” Donskoy said.
However, the Electron FM staff links the visit to Governor Alexander Tkachyov's alleged stance that the radio station should be closed.
The Russian News Service published an interview with Electron FM station director, Angelina Popova, who said she asked the administration of the Krasnodar region about the reasons behind the dead air time. Popova said that the governor's press service said, “You, Electron Radio, really need to be switched off.”
Popova noted that under the existing rules, broadcast interruptions are allowed only during maintenance and only after station management has been informed about it. However, the maintenance services typically ignore this rule and not without ulterior motives, Popova added.
Governor Tkachyov's press secretary, Anna Minkova, denied any remark about shutting down the radio station.
Lawmakers Could Restrict Volunteer Movement
Soon after the parliamentary recess ends lawmakers could begin regulating the volunteer movement, an activity which is gaining momentum. A bill on this subject has already been prepared in the Public Chamber and will be submitted through the upper house of parliament. Volunteers themselves, however, are taking a cautious view of this desire to regulate their activities.
Current legislation has little to say about the relationship between volunteers and the state, claims Darya Miloslavskaya, chair of the non-profit partnership Lawyers for Civil Society and member of the Public Chamber. The law on the volunteer movement, drafted under her guidance, stipulates that volunteers must work under contract. But it implies that anyone wishing to simply help at the scene of an accident would have to conclude a written contract with a regulatory agency.
The contract must specify a volunteer’s organization, its activities, the volunteer’s duties, dates of employment and any compensation for travel, room and board. In Miloslavskaya’s opinion, there would have been more people at Krymsk had they been compensated for travel expenses.
The Federation Council, which is likely to be the official sponsor of the initiative, will get the document in the middle of August. And although Miloslavskaya says she did not intend to put up bureaucratic hurdles, she does not rule out that volunteer movements and charities might oppose her initiative. “If they don’t understand the legislation, we’ll try to explain our stand,” she said.
But members of the volunteer movement fear that they will have to deal with lawmakers, rather than the Public Chamber, with little chance of reaching a compromise.
Ilya Ponomaryov, a State Duma deputy from A Just Russia, commented on the drafted law. He said that although he has great respect for Miloslavskaya, this law will raise “serious problems for the volunteer movement.” “I am generally against regulating this area. A volunteer movement is by implication free from formalities,” he told Moskovskiye Novosti. He believes the authorities want “a filter for people interested in helping society.” “In Krymsk, volunteers drew resentment from the regional officials because their efforts emphasized the inactivity of the authorities,” he said.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director at the Center for Political Technology, also believes that regulating volunteers could change the way a movement develops. Makarkin says volunteers are amassing a certain “social capital” – strong links and ties in many cities. “These people could easily align with opposition movements,” Makarkin said in a Moskovskiye Novosti interview.
Yelizaveta Glinka, Just Aid Foundation executive director, has yet to review the proposal, which has not been published anywhere so far. But she is concerned about the rate at which civil rights related laws are being adopted. “Regulating and organizing charity are two different things,” she says. “If the law puts fetters on charity help, it’ll be a bad law, it could infringe on the rights of those who have suffered in a disaster or at somebody else’s hands,” Glinka believes.
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