Kremlin 'dividing civil society into good and bad': EU advisor

26th July 2013, Comments 0 comments

Russia is making an error by dividing civil society into "good and bad" elements with a sequence of tough laws, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) told AFP Friday.

Henri Malosse, president of the EESC, a Brussels-based consultative body of the European Union that aims to promote links with civil society, said in Moscow that Russia's leaders were tightening the screws in response to an increasingly dynamic society.

"They (the authorities) made a mistake to divide civil society into good and bad. Civil society does not divide itself up," Malosse said in an interview.

"They (the authorities) are trying to demonise certain organisations that are political and financed from abroad and promote organisations that unfortunately are not very credible."

"I think that is an error," he said.

Malosse pointed to the new law that forces foreign NGOs financed from abroad to register as foreign agents, which he said was "absurd".

He retorted: "If an organisation is financed by the Kremlin then you should say it is an 'agent of the Kremlin'."

Observers have noted an intensifying crackdown against the opposition in Russia since President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in May 2012 for a third term.

Earlier this month, top opposition leader Alexei Navalny was handed a five year jail sentence in a case widely seen as politically motivated. He was later released pending appeal.

Malosse, who met government and foreign ministry representatives on his visit to Russia, also in a rare move for a foreign visitor attended the traditionally pro-Kremlin Lake Seliger summer youth camp.

"There is a tightening-up as they understand the economy is not very good and the protest movement could expand in society," Malosse said.

"Society is changing and they are worried. And they do not want us to interfere."

But Malosse added that he did not believe the Russian authorities were completely deaf to Europe's opinions on its attitudes to civil society.

"They want to keep the door open in their exchanges with us... They want to have exchanges with us but without risks."

© 2013 AFP

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