In ruling on artistic expression, some Russians see signs of broader crackdown
A Moscow court's ruling that curbs artistic expression, as well as fresh legislation to strengthen the KGB's successor and limit rights of public assembly, appear to some Russians to presage a broader crackdown.
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“I felt support from artists and intellectuals” during the trial, he says. “But it was mostly in private discussion.... then they would tell me it’s too dangerous to say so out loud, that it’s a social taboo. This is where I felt completely alone.”Skip to next paragraph
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FSB security powers may grow
Lawmakers have brought forward several pieces of legislation that worry democracy activists. The State Duma passed a bill through its key second reading earlier this month that will bolster powers of the FSB security service – the former KGB – and limit the rights of journalists and others to report on the agency’s activities.
“People don’t understand that the secret services are trying to get a foothold to pursue a further offensive against society,” says Sergei Mitrokhin, head of the liberal Yabloko Party. He added that opposition parties, such as his own, will “feel the results” in the coming election cycle.
Another bill would curtail the right of public groups to organize protests by limiting venues and banning anyone guilty of an “administrative offense” – say, a speeding ticket – from applying for a permit.
Sergei Markov, a Duma deputy with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, rebuffed criticism of the new law on protests, saying: "It does not limit the right of parties or movements to stage public meetings in the slightest."
But an opposition coalition’s monthly rallies to dramatize the right of free assembly have often been crushed by riot police. Nadezhda Matyushkina, of the Solidarnost coalition, says she’s been arrested four times.
“[The new law] is a way to frighten people,” says Ms. Matyushkina, who says the authorities are also scared. “Protest moods are on the rise, not just for political reasons but because conditions are getting harder for people.”
Supporters of the Kremlin argue that legislation is merely being "perfected" and "clarified."
Mr. Petrov, of the Carnegie Center, says the next election cycle, which begins in late 2011, will probably spell the end of the social contract.
"The government is still pursuing populist policies, because it's impossible to change that before the elections," he says. "But the generous patronage involved in the Putin-era social contract cannot be sustained. It will have to be cut back, and that will likely generate social tensions."
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