Non-aligner thoughs on Jennifer Gaspar case (NGOs in modern Russia)

Special thanks to Daniel Repko of Moscow FM who sent me the below link to the Moscow Times article on Jennifer Gaspar case (court ordered to deport her). The article sparked the following text.

Daniel mentioned Jennifer's case in our yesterday’s phone conversation and I said that, may be, appeal to the provisions of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Rome, November 4th, 1950) would have helped her in her situation. The provisions are as follows:

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life... There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Russia, generally, abides this Convention. Families aren’t separated. For example, a number of unfavourable deportation rulings by primary courts in Moscow were overturned by Moscow City Court based on these provisions.

However, in Jennifer's case, the key words were “except such as ... is necessary ... in the interests of national security”

Jennifer Gaspar was, for some reason, ruled by FSB as a threat to national security of Russian Federation and the Rome 1950 Convention doesn’t work for her. We can see only a tip of an iceberg. Information is not available. FSB very seldom take the trouble to explain themselves. This is what they did this time as well. Even under the ruling of the court they only read short abstract on “threat to the national security” in the court hall. They use their comfortable privilege to dub ‘secrets of state’ anything they do.

On the other side I didn’t find any comments by Jennifer or her lawyer on the case. Jennifer’s Facebook page is, expectedly, a compilation of pro-opposition (or anti-Russian-state) materials, one-directional and negatively-biased.

I have accumulated some observations on NGOs over time and I’d like to share them with you. I might have some grounds to think of myself as relatively open towards ‘western democratic valuses’. I take responsibility for my own life, never worked for the government or relied on it, and I don't like 'strong hands' telling me what to do. I worked as political technologist for "Nash Dom Rossija" in 1995, and Boris Eltsin's election campaign in 1996, I also worked for the USAID contractors in spring 1995 in privatisation projects. I donated small cash to Navalny’s fund on a more or less regular basis, took part in some of his rallies, and did volunteer work for him during Sept 2013 Moscow mayor elections. I have Ph.D. in Politology from Russian Presidential Academy. Run my own consulting business and I try to keep my eyes and ears fairly open towards political activity.

I do not identify my interests with any political power and, generally, embrace non-alignment policy for myself and my business.

Having said that I shall add that I have family, three children, and I don't want situation in Russia to come to resemble that in Syria, Libya or Iraq. Therefore, I have questions to both sides of the conflict.

One of the interesting details in Jennifer Gaspar's case is that you always know about "Freedom something... or Human Rights something..." only when they run into problems with FSB (or Ministry of Justice, or Police/Court, or UFMS, etc) - and you know nothing or almost nothing about them before that. Why we never hear of their good deeds otherwise? Is their activity secret? or laser-focused? or they spend their budgets for their salaries and do nothing (effectively)?

I am 43 and never in my life I had a single contact with FSB or even Russian police (well, apart from traffic situations; and as they say ‘no fence against ill fortune’ in the future). My understanding is - one has to work on it in order to get their attention. I do come to courts with my clients who face risks of voluntary exclusion/deportation from the country to defend them. We also work with the Russian Immigration Control system on very practical issues (routine things as well as administrative and criminal code matters). Usually, FSB is a technical player in these games because border-security forces are a part of FSB and they manage Russian border’s ‘barrier boom’. FSB have to technically fulfil closing or opening of entry to Russia to a particular foreigner.

My impression is that FSB-2015 regards themselves as 'celestial above-laws’ and their general attitude is 'aquila non captat muscat'. The impression for external viewer is that they are mostly after terrorists. One has to make specific efforts for an extended period of time to make FSB turn on and arrest or expel somebody. Exceptions are made for prominent, hard-trying contenders like Svetlana Davydova.

It would be interesting to know what efforts did Jennifer Gaspar make?

I have some questions to other NGOs based on my business experience. Some of USAID contractors used to be GreenLane clients before USAID was expelled from Russia. I was surprised to know that, for example, XXX (agricultural NGO) was 'promoting famous Chechen garlic' (?) and 'Ingush cucumbers' (?), 'because they used to be brands in Soviet times' (?)

I was born in the Soviet Union and spent most my life in this country, I never heard of these 'brands'. But I try to be open and used an opportunity to learn. I googled 'Chechen garlic' and nearly the only matching search result was in XXX’s page. The other region of their activity was Sakhalin where Russia has long term dispute with Japan over number of islands.

I don't mind NGOs, but why choose potentially unstable rims of the country (Northern Caucaus, Sakhalin) as your place of activity? and think up ridiculous excuses ?

To cut it short, as they say 'the story is old as dinosaur turd' - international politics is ultimate fighting. NGOs are one of the weapons. Some ambitious folks behind the scenes will go all lengths to screw their 'partners' on the other side of the ocean and get here-and-now profit.

Our lives are over and above included into ‘at all lengths’.

My vote is for accountability of the state to its citizens on the one side and smarter society on the other. The national security agencies are neither infallible (putting it very mildly), nor smarter than us. But they have tremendous power and above-the-law privileges. On the one hand - two of my great grandfathers were killed by KGB in 1930-s, one, a priest, for refusing to cooperate, the other, a professor, for being Italian, smart and better-off than his neighbour. Both were later rehabilitated in 1950s. Nobody paid for the ‘mistake’. On the other hand - thousands of people were killed and continue to be killed in Africa and Middle East due to activity of cloak-and-dagger workers from the other side of the ocean.

The less control we, the public, have over activity of the national security organisations, regardless of their state affiliation, the higher is the risk for these organisations to make grave mistakes and to repeat bloody history in some form.

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