“Foreign agents”


UPD: Same list in English (thanks to Anna Sevortian for pointing this out).

Article20.org has the most reliable list (in Russian) of NGOs already subject to accusations of being “foreign agents.” The list includes 51 organizations so far and is grouped in three categories:

  1. those already being fined for refusing to register as “foreign agents”;
  2. those officially asked to register as “foreign agents”;
  3. those “warned” that they need to register as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding in the future or plan to engage in “political activities.”

While the work of several of the organizations in each category is highly relevant to social science research (Golos‘s election monitoring programs are a case in point), several of the institutions listed are specifically devoted to the social sciences:

  1. The Panorama Center in Moscow, which has been at the forefront of documenting the details of Russian politics for a quarter of a century
  2. The Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov, publisher of the internationally respected Journal of Social Policy Studies and a host of monographs and edited volumes in sociology and social policy studies
  3. The Grany Center in Perm, which produces highly valuable studies of the third sector in Russia
  4. The International Memorial Society in Moscow, primarily a research institution specializing in the history of Stalinist repression, but also in human rights abuses and other aspects of contemporary Russian society (their human rights division has received a separate demand to register as a foreign agent)
  5. Transparency International, a well-known corruption watchdog
  6. The Levada Center (see previous post)
  7. and, somewhat bizarrely, the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, often considered Levada’s “evil twin”

If all or many of these organizations were to close as a result of the libellous accusations, most of our sources of first-hand social scientific knowledge about Russia would vanish.

Save the Levada Center and other social science institutions in Russia!


Independent social science is once more under attack in Russia. It feels uncannily like early 2008, when the European University at Saint Petersburg was shut down for several weeks and an international solidarity campaign contributed to saving it. Only this time the threat is more serious and more global. I have therefore decided to devote the English version of my blog to supporting the growing international campaign to help the Levada Center and other independent social science institutions that are suffering from the current wave of state repressions against non-governmental organizations accused of being “foreign agents”. (The German version of this blog is tied to my recent book Putin kaputt!? Russlands neue Protestkultur, the first full-length study of the 2011- Russian protest movement.)

First, here are the facts: the Levada Center, Russia’s best known public opinion research institute, has received a “warning” from the Savyolovo inter-district prosecutor’s office in Moscow accusing it of being a “foreign agent”. This is based on a recent law that obliges all NGOs that receive any foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all official documents and public pronouncements, a measure that harks back to Stalinist terror, but also to McCarthyism in the U.S. and to the Nazis’ yellow-start policy for anyone identified as a Jew. In the case of the Levada Center, not only is the foreign funding the Center receives actually a neglibile part of its budget; the “political activity” it is supposedly engaged in consists in publishing its survey results.

This accusation comes after a series of demonstrative visits by the procuracy, justice ministry, and other government agencies to over 600 NGOs across Russia since March. A number of those harassed in this way are independent research organizations in the social sciences. As a result of these visits, several NGOs have been formally accused of being “foreign agents”; the most prominent among them, an election monitoring association called Golos, is being asked to pay a large fine and has been forced to shut down most of its operations.

In this first post, I will limit myself to listing a number of resources relevant to the attack on the Levada Center and, more generally, those aspects of the current wave of repressive measures that specifically concern the social sciences. (Later I will collect and systematize these and other links on my page devoted to academic freedom in the former Soviet Union.) Suggestions on what to do to help, inspired by the successful 2008 campaign to save the European University, will follow.

A New York Times article on the case.

The News section on the Levada Center’s website (in Russian), with updates on the situation and statements of support.

Appeal for Solidarity with the Levada Centrein German, English, and Russian, including English and German translations of a statement by Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, and a German translation of the “warning” issued by the prosecutor’s office. Set up by Osteuropa, the main German journal of East European affairs.

English translation of the prosecutorial “warning.”

Italian version of Gudkov’s statement.

French version of Gudkov’s statement.

French version of the petition text.

Change.org petition in support of the Levada Center. Unfortunately (for technical reasons) the text on the change.org web site is in German only, but is simply the German version of the “Appeal for Solidarity” listed above, and I have suggested to the organizers that they should paste the other language versions below the list of signatories.

Declaration of support by the OIROM, the Russian Association for Market and Opinion Research, in Russian. Interestingly, one of the signatories is Valerii Fedorov, who has headed the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion ever since Yurii Levada’s team was forced to leave that organization in 2003.

Statement of support by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, in Russian.

Podcast of a radio interview (in Russian) with sociologists Maria Matskevich, Viktor Voronkov, and Alexandra Dmitrieva, about the attack on the Levada Center and what it means for the future of sociological research in Russia. Here it is in embedded format:

Research note. Counting visitors to the Treptower Park Soviet war memorial on 9 May (Victory Day) 2014

On 9 May 2013, my colleagues and I studied visitors to the Treptower Park Soviet war memorial using interviews, photos, and cartography. (Overall we recorded 92 interviews at five Soviet memorial sites in Berlin on 8-9 May 2013, in German, Russian, and English, 54 of them in Treptower Park.)

This year I decided to count visitors to the Treptower Park site. In previous years I had been struck by the contrast between what was obviously an overwhelming number of (very diverse) visitors to the site and the near-total ignorance of the event among non-visitors and in the German media. Having spent most of the day at the site on 9 May 2013, I estimated there were well over 10,000 visitors, perhaps as many as 20,000. This year I wanted to test my hunch. The results seem to confirm my impression: between 6 am and 10 pm we counted a total of 12,813 visitors. Unlike 2013, when Victory Day coincided with Ascension Day and Father’s Day and was gloriously sunny, this time 9 May was a working day and very rainy, so it is very likely (and my distinct impression) that there were many, many more visitors last year. The number only includes visitors to the actual memorial site and does NOT include those attending the Victory Day festival at the parking lot across Puschkinallee unless they also visited the site. I know from observation and interviews recorded last year that a significant number of those attending the festival never cross the street to see the memorial—out of indifference, laziness, or principle. Having formally interviewed the main organizer of the festival last year and talked to him again this year, I know that organizers have no way of counting participants, but even this year, despite the drizzle, the event was obviously attended by hundreds if not thousands of people.

How did we count?

What made our task feasible is that the memorial can only be reached through a small number of gates. I placed student assistants at each of the site’s four entrances: two each at the northern and southern arches and one each at the smaller side entrances. (There is a fifth gate at the back, behind the main monument, but it is currently closed, and has been for a while.) Using mechanical counters and working in two eight-hour shifts, they counted every person coming in and going out. Another assistant and I acted as wildcards to let people have toilet breaks while continuing to count. At the larger entrances one person counted entries and the other exits; at the smaller side entrances, one student counted both. The results were recorded in notebooks in ten-minute intervals. The only people we did not count were the site’s gardener; uniformed police (of whom there were significantly more than last year, due to concerns over the Ukrainian crisis); and ourselves. Other than there were no exclusions (or attempts to differentiate) based on age, status (individual visitor, member of organized group, random jogger, etc) or any other variables. I know from regular observation and last year’s interviews that at least six distinct types of visitors come to the site on 9 May (visitors arriving from the former Soviet Union; Russian speakers living in Germany; people socialized in the GDR and their families; subcultural antifa activists; members of West German communist groups; and foreign tourists from other countries), and that members of each group tend to be surprised to learn about the others (or at least to underestimate the presence of some of the others groups, or dismiss them as unimportant) even if they have spent a lot of time at the site. However, compared to previous years it is my impression that this year there were somewhat fewer Germans across all categories, and probably more visitors coming directly from Russia or Belarus (this makes sense: it is harder to cancel or alter long-distance travel plans due to inclement weather than plans for a local outing). There also seem to have been fewer Russian speakers arriving from other parts of Germany as part of organized groups. However, I have no quantitative data to back any of this up.

Counting both entries and exits allowed me to determine how many people were at the site during any given ten-minute interval, and also to test our accuracy. If our method had been completely error-free, the difference between arrivals and exits would be 0 at the end of the day (or positive: there were still maybe 10 stragglers at the site when we left, well after dark).As it happens the end result is negative (-34 – we counted 12,847 exits as opposed to 12,813 entries): a very small error, given the number of visitors and the number of counters.

2014 Treptower Park visitors 2014 Treptower Park gatesOf course 12,813 does not represent the number of unique visitors, as a certain number of people came and went several times, and (luckily) people do not have IP addresses. However, that number does not seem to be very high (mostly those who were setting up stands at the memorial, and a few people who went to pee in the bushes outside the northern side entrance and then came back in), so I think it is safe to say that approximately 12,000 people visited the site on that day.