On November 23, the Russian State Duma voted its preliminary approval of a bill amending several elements of Russian non-profit law. If this bill were to become law in its present form, it would likely place significant restrictions on the ability of MacArthur and hundreds of other foreign non-governmental organizations to operate in Russia, and it would tighten government control over Russia's own NGO sector. The MacArthur Foundation issued the following statement on November 16.
MacArthur makes this statement in response to inquiries regarding proposed draft legislation pending in the Duma that amends existing laws on so-called “closed” cities, public associations, and nonprofit organizations. We are concerned that this legislation, if enacted, might make it difficult for international donors to partner with Russian governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and could hamper the continued growth of civil society in Russia.
Each year, the Foundation makes about $200 million in grants to universities, nongovernmental organizations and talented individuals in the United States and 65 countries around the world. The MacArthur Foundation does not engage in political activity, has no connection to the U.S. government, and is led by a board of private citizens.
The MacArthur Foundation’s largest financial commitment outside the U.S. is in Russia, where the Foundation has had an office since 1992. The MacArthur Foundation has provided more than $100 million in funding in Russia, principally to support universities and other scholarly institutions.
Much of this funding is provided in partnership with the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. Together with the Ministry, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and local Russian sources, the Foundation supports 25 centers of excellence in the sciences and social sciences at state universities throughout the country. In addition to funding for higher education, the MacArthur Foundation also supports nongovernmental organizations that are helping to strengthen Russia’s system of regional human rights ombudsmen and working in other ways to further the rule of law – often in close cooperation with governmental authorities.
International donors such as the MacArthur Foundation have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the strengthening of Russian educational institutions and civil society organizations – in the belief a strong civil society is crucial to Russia’s future success. The Foundation has been actively encouraging more international donors to make contributions to benefit Russian society, and bring even more substantial support to Russian universities. However, the draft legislation under consideration in the State Duma will make it much more difficult for the MacArthur Foundation to do its work in Russia and for Russia to attract new funding partners. If adopted in its present form, the bill would effectively prohibit foreign NGOs from operating branch offices in Russia. This would place significant obstacles in the way of hundreds of humanitarian organizations, social service providers, and many other international charitable entities.
The MacArthur Foundation sees many hopeful signs in Russia – the eagerness of institutions of higher education to take their rightful place in the international scholarly community, a dedication to policy experimentation and reform at many levels of government, and the growth of a vibrant set of civil society organizations throughout the country. These developments are providing a solid basis for the further evolution of Russian democracy. It would be unfortunate if new legislation were to place burdensome obstacles in the way of these important efforts.