important for that purpose are the public chambers on the national, regional, and local levels. The national Public Chamber ( Obshchestvennaia palata ) came into existence following a proposal by Vladimir Putin in 2004, and began functioning in early 2006 (Evans 2008; Richter 2009). It has 126 members, who were drawn from nongovernmental organisations and a variety of professions, and the presidency plays a key role in selecting those members. During the initial period of its operations, that chamber got involved in some well-publicized conflicts, but after that it seemed to become more careful, and has remained quiet on the most controversial issues arising from Russian society during the last few years. A recent proposal for changes in the membership of that body is probably designed to make it more clearly part of the system of support for the national political leadership (Nagornykh et al. 2014.). It is often said that most of the public chambers, rather than providing forums for dialogue, ‘have come to resemble state bureaucracies’ (Richter and Hatch 2013: 337). The official who is usually called the ‘Human Rights Ombudsman’ of Russia, who from 2004 to 2014 was Vladimir Lukin, has consistently been more willing to speak out on actions by the state that he sees as infringing on basic rights. His suggestions that go against the grain of official policy are rarely put into practice by the president of Russia, however. Another institution that at times has provided representation for independent groups is the President’s Council on Human Rights and Civil Society, currently headed by Mikhail Fedotov. Though the composition of that council has been broadened in a manner apparently intended to weaken its connection with human rights groups and other dissenters, Fedotov also has been a critic of some official actions on controversial matters. 11
It is perhaps surprising that a former chairperson of that council, Ella Pamfilova, who resigned after reportedly getting pressure from some people in the presidential administration, has been chosen by Putin to replace Vladimir Lukin as the Human Rights Ombudsman (Gorbachev 2014). That appointment reflects one side of Putin’s strategy for dealing with discontented members of society, which contrasts with another side of his strategy, which aims to keep contention within acceptable boundaries. One part of the Putin administration’s strategy for reshaping civil society that may to have a substantial effect is the increase in the state’s funding for nonprofit organisations. Sarah Henderson has said that the government is pursuing an ‘import substitution’ model of development of civil society (Henderson 2010: 255), in which financial assistance from foreign donors will be replaced by funds from the state. The ‘foreign agent’ law is widely reported to have prompted the few organisations outside Russia that were still giving grants to NGOs in that country to back off from providing such assistance. At the same
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- Fall '13