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Russia: How Putin's “Agent Law” Succeeded Exports

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How Putin's “Agent Law” Succeeded in Exports

Tens of thousands of Georgians

Tens of thousands of Georgians demonstrated against the “Agency Law”.

What: REUTERS

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Years ago, the Russian president invented a law declaring political opponents as enemy agents to silence critics. But other authoritarian governments want it too – even EU countries and countries that want to benefit from the EU.

SThousands of people have been protesting in the center of Tbilisi for weeks. Their anger is directed at the plans of the ruling Georgian Dream party. Accordingly, companies receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign grants must register as “foreign agents”. The European Union has criticized the plans. Pitjina Ivanishvili, the founder of the ruling party and reputed billionaire, made scathing accusations against the West during a rare appearance at a pro-government rally. “Funding of NGOs” actually helps “foreign secret services” and empowers them.

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Georgia, a candidate for EU membership, is the latest example of a country where an increasingly authoritarian government has found “agent law” a tool against politically unpopular actors. Since a similar law came into force in Russia in 2011, many countries have followed suit – from Hungary to India.

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For authoritarian governments, “foreign agent” laws are an effective tool for monitoring all forms of dissent. Such laws share a common name only with the alleged model from the USA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. US law regulates the activities of foreign lobbyists.

In threatening to adopt the law, Tbilisi is implicitly following Vladimir Putin, who in 2012 with similar rhetoric to Ivanishvili has turned the “agent law” into a tool of global repression. In the early days, it was used as a weapon in the fight against Western-co-sponsored NGOs, against media critical of the Kremlin, and finally against individuals.

Kyrgyzstan

It now appears to be a route to one of Russia's southern neighbors. In mid-April, the “Foreign Representatives” law came into force in Kyrgyzstan. This is a testament to the increasingly authoritarian style of President Sadir Dzabarov's government, which is moving closer to Russia in terms of foreign policy. The law follows the Russian model almost literally and threatens to pose a major problem for nearly 30,000 nonprofits in the impoverished country, many of which are active in humanitarian and development aid.

The country has received billions of dollars in development aid since independence. It was distributed mostly through state-controlled organizations that, according to the new law, would be affected as “representatives” – including public schools, popular sports clubs and cultural institutions. Human rights activists and lawyers point out that any organization can be declared “representative”, calling into question the future of the country's development cooperation.

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Hungary

The right-wing populist government under Viktor Orbán passed a law through parliament in December 2023 that aims to “protect national sovereignty” and has been in force since February this year. A new authority will “identify and investigate” companies that “receive foreign funding and influence voter preferences”. The amendment has been criticized by the Council of Europe, the US State Department and Amnesty International. The latter sees this as an attempt to “exercise arbitrary power”.

Orbán's party had to withdraw a similar law from 2017, which targeted NGOs co-funded from abroad – after warnings from Brussels. This time too the EU Commission criticized the law and demanded changes. Otherwise, Hungary faces a case before the European Court of Justice. Orbán has been railing against Western-funded NGOs for years. He shares with his archenemy Vladimir Putin – Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros and his “Open Society Foundations”.

Nicaragua

Despotic ruling President Daniel Ortega is currently in the headlines because he is suing Germany at the International Criminal Court for complicity in the genocide in the Gaza Strip. However, Ortega's actions in his own country should not diminish the interest of international courts. After introducing the “foreign agents” law in October 2020, Arteaga has cracked down on opposition, brutally crushed protests and violated hundreds of NGOs and aid organizations.

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Nicaraguan soldiers take part in a military parade in Managua with Russian weapons

This includes many Catholic and other Christian organizations. One particular enemy of Ortega is organized Catholicism, which Nicaragua's rulers call a “dictatorship.” According to human rights group Human Rights Watch, the former leftist revolutionary's government is obsessed with “destroying civil society” in the country. The hatred has reached the point where Ortega is harassing organizations that provide “significant assistance” to the country's poor. According to the World Food Program of the United Nations, one-fourth of the households in the country live below the poverty line.

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If

India will hold parliamentary elections lasting several weeks until June. Many observers in the West consider the country to be the world's largest democracy. The increasingly authoritarian Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi's government has successfully used the “Foreign Contributions Regulation Act” against opponents. Human rights activists, government critics, and international and domestic NGOs have been affected.

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In December, Russian President Putin met Indian Prime Minister Modi

The NGO sector in India is huge, with more than 200,000 organizations working on development aid and social projects, benefiting tens of thousands of poor people. In the past ten years, the Modi government has revoked at least 17,000 foreign funding licenses from NGOs including Care India and a prominent think tank. Center for Policy Research. Modi has mostly targeted Christian and Muslim NGOs and organizations perceived as supporters of the Congress party.

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