- As the ranks of the army of volunteers from all over Russia continue to swell
are they head for Krymsk, the city hardest hit by the floods of July 6, the
authorities are studying a new law for the first time to give voluntary work legal status. Human
rights activists, however, are alarmed: the initiative, they say, is intended
only to put this spontaneous movement under the strict control of the Kremlin,
which already in a recently passed law tightened its hold on foreign funded NGOs.
The summer fires of 2010, electoral fraud in December, the indiscriminate demolition of historic buildings in Moscow and more recently the floods in the Krasnodar region (over 170 dead), are just some of the events over the past two years that have mobilized an unexpected number of volunteers, committed to making up for shortcomings and failures of local and central authorities, especially in times of emergency. Moscow views this broad and transverse movement, which is garnering praise and admiration in every sector of society, as a potential factor for "destabilization". As was admitted in no uncertain terms by the mayor of Krymsk in the aftermath of the disaster, when hundreds of Russians began to flock to the southern city.
According to statements byopposition deputy Ilya Ponomarev, the Russian Public Chamber is preparing a draft law in which volunteers are required to sign agreements of cooperation with an organization that deals with charitable acts, and with local authorities. The bill aims, officially, to "protect volunteers", providing that individual organizations have to ensure their transportation, meals and accommodation. According to Ponomarev, however, the new law could result in "serious problems" for volunteers, with the authority that might try to curb their activities in an attempt to keep tabs on rumors spreading of any eventual government responsibility in local disasters. The draft law will reportedly be submitted in August and then discussed by the chambers in the autumn session, according to Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper. Currently there are no laws governing the voluntary sector.
"It is hell," said the photographer and famous Tweeter activist Dmitry Aleshkovsky. Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for political technologies disagrees. "This is a pragmatic, not political decision - said the expert, close to the Kremlin - the actions of the volunteers should be adjusted to avoid conflicts between them, relief workers and government agencies."
For Grigory Kuksin, Greenpeace Russia, it is still too early to judge "what is clear for now is that this bill seems excessive and unnecessary". The activist, a leader in coordinating volunteers during the 2010 fires, fears that "the authorities want more control over the volunteers, who are well organized and see what is really happening in the country."