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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activists, Businessmen Stuck in the Same Boat

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The list of presidential appointees to the next Public Chamber shows that even critical human rights activists are beginning to recognize the growing power of the state and are trying to live under these new conditions.

President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a decree appointing 42 members to the Public Chamber that will be formed in January. Half of the names are new, including Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, and Holocaust Foundation head Alla Gerber. Brod and Gerber were among the human rights activists who boycotted the chamber when it was created in 2005, dismissing the consultative body as a toothless facade for civil society.

This list of names signifies a new relationship between the state and society. It is evidence that the state is not only ready to listen to critics but, perhaps, even follow their advice and assist in their philanthropic activities. It also suggests, however, that civil society sees no hope of changing things for the better without the state.

The Public Chamber is not very popular among ordinary people, despite the heavy coverage it has received in state media for its efforts to assist Andrei Sychyov, the solder whose legs and genitals were amputated after a hazing incident; Oleg Shcherbinsky, the driver charged in the traffic death of Altai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov; and residents evicted by Moscow City Hall from Yuzhnoye Butovo. A survey by the independent Levada Center found that 48 percent of Russians viewed the Public Chamber as a "decorative" body, 19 percent were unaware of its existence, and only 16 percent believed it has real political influence.

In 2005, well-known personalities agreed to join the chamber to boost its prestige. They hoped that the state would recognize their humanitarian, environmental and other activities.

Matters have grown more difficult, however, for nongovernmental organizations. Putin signed an NGO law that increased their financial paperwork and complicated registration procedures. At the same time, the state started handing out grants to NGOs, and a total of 1.25 billion rubles ($50 million) has been earmarked for NGOs this year alone. This has forced many NGOs to switch from private to state financing.

A similar shift can also be seen in the economy, which has become more state-oriented in the last four years. Private businesses, like the NGOs, are feeling pressure to team up with the state as state companies snap up oil and gas assets, new state companies are created, and they face the unpleasant prospect of dealing with tax authorities, who are often far from fair. Only by getting involved in state projects do they feel that their money and property are safe.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.