In the middle of April, the Russian Ministry of Justice added 9 new persons to the list of the so-called ‘foreign agents’; ‘foreign agents’ are journalists, bloggers, activists and entities which, according to the Ministry, received funds from abroad. Among them appear, for instance, journalist and political scientist Ekaterina Shulman, blogger Yuri Dud’ and journalist Roman Dobrohotov. Shulman is a professor at one of the biggest Universities in Russia, RANEPA (Russian presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration); Dud’ is a blogger, his Youtube channel is one of the most famous and biggest channels in the country; Dobrohotov is an editor for the Insider, the media which, together with Bellingcat – an investigative journalist group based in the Netherlands – was working on investigating Russia’s role in the tragedy of the Malaysian Boeing, shot down in Donbass in 2014. All of them have been explicitly expressing their anti-war position since the beginning of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine.
Russian authorities introduced the practice of labelling ‘foreign agents’ externally funded entities and individuals in 2012. However, tracing where the funds were received from represents a rather complicated, if not impossible, task in certain cases. Moreover, given the ambiguity of the definition, the practice of labelling people and entities as ‘foreign agents’ can be applied for any goods or money received by an individual from abroad. Usually, the activists whose activity somehow surpasses the limit of freedom of speech and tacitly accepted in the country are labelled ‘foreign agents’. This practice of an indirect discrimination is used by the authorities in order to complicate the professional, social or political activity of certain actors.
Not only being recognized as a ‘foreign agent’ represents a discriminative measure, this status also brings real consequences to the person who was recognized as such. First of all, ‘foreign agents’ have to inform the authorities about the sources of their funds four times a year. Second, being recognized as a ‘foreign agent’ makes it more difficult for people to keep their current job, usually related to blogging or journalism. A former journalist, recognised as a ‘foreign agent’ in 2021, confessed: “being labelled a ‘foreign agent’ made me less trustable for people I used to work with…”. Moreover, targeted people have an obligation to mention their new status with the words: ‘this message (material) was produced and distributed by a foreign mass media outlet acting as a foreign agent, and or by a Russian legal entity acting as a foreign agent’ in each publication they make, be it an article, a comment on social media or even a research paper. This measure, in particular, prevents them from using Twitter, since they would be left with only 20 characters.
The sharp switch of Putin’s regime towards an intensified persecution against the creative class has been evident since the first weeks of the Ukraine war. Strong anti-war rethorics widespread among the progressive class enabled the state to introduce a number of rather strict measures against people who openly protested against the special military operation in Ukraine. Apart from the acts of discrimination and persecution of individuals, the state applied discriminative measures against some media. The oppositional media – among them Dojd – were closed and their activity is no longer possible on Russian territory. The famous Echo of Moscow shared the same destiny. The radio was shut down and many journalists had to leave the country. Some local media, which at the initial stages of the Special Military Operation were trying to provide some alternative to the mainstream point of view, were closed.
Many members of the so-called intelligentsia, intellectuals or highly-educated people, left Russia after the Special Military Operation in Ukraine started. They said it was impossible for them to go back to Russia until the political regime in Russia changes. One example is the former Chairman of Executive Board of Rusnano, Anatoly Chubais, who has been working in the Russian government since the beginning of independent Russia and is the author of the privatization program implemented in the country in mid-1990. He retired and left the country without leaving any explicit message or comment upon his retirement and the current situation in Russia. Some Russian artists left the country as well. For example, the rapper Face left Russia in April and commented on his decision, claiming that ‘the government deprived me and my family of the Motherland’.
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