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NGOs In Russia: To Be Or Not To Be?

By vladimir levchenko
August 4th, 2008

The struggle to exist in a country dominated by government propaganda keeps Russia’s green movement fractionated

Country Report by Vladimir F.Levchenko

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – The state of Russian NGOs is a mirror of the state of Russian society. This means considerable atomization of Green and other citizens movements, and an inadequate understanding of present-day reality by the Russian people as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that Russians known nothing about current events; it means that they are interpreting and understanding their everyday situation within a specific world-view, which sometimes can be a fantasy informed most likely only by propaganda.

Bureaucratic games

In my view the first factor, movement atomization, is a result of the hard economic conditions under which all Russian NGOs are struggling to survive. Each new government rule restricting their activities creates additional economical hardship for the NGOs. When they begin to lose what they have, the ecological laws of the biological world begin to apply. Many quite frequently begin to compete against each other.

But not only is there an intense competition for funding and other resources between NGOs, there is also their struggle for official permission to exist. Bureaucratic games are prevalent in Russia, where the bureaucracy strives to make a profit even in the case of normal, legal activity.

NGOs often are obliged to waste their time with projects not aligned with their goals, a situation I have witnessed many times during my work in developing several ecological and environmental NGOs in this country.

Mass disinformation

The picture also is not good concerning most Russians’ understanding of reality. This is almost entirely due to the state of Russia’s mass media. We now have almost no free media in our country, just government-controlled media that either disseminates empty information or propagandises the interests of the ruling élite.

Russian media often explains events in the context of so-called “Russian interests,” but a sober view of reality might see these as absolutely other than that. The main aim of Russia’s mass media is to quickly generate a pseudo-patriotic effect by building an information “matrix” that in reality promotes only the economic interests of those whose business is selling the nation’s oil, gas, forests, and other natural resources.

Social Darwinism

The consequences of this disinformation are disagreeable and dangerous not only for the NGOs, but for the entire nation. We now have in Russia a large and rising population of asocial people who live in an artificial information environment.

They don’t understand contemporary global realities or the methods of world development; they don’t try to create NGOs or similar institutions; they don’t reflect on how to live in harmony on this planet with other peoples or with animal and plants; and they don’t concern themselves with how to improve the environment or to protect the beauty of Nature.

Their ideology is very simple: to take more from everywhere. Unfortunately, this almost official Social Darwinist philosophy yields just such fruit in the new, post-Communist epoch.

Community development

After this quite pessimistic reasoning, it would be good to remember the laws of community development. According to these, those representing the earliest stages of the development of a community, play only a secondary role in later stages.

What ideology will be dominant in these later stages? I hope it will be to promote humanism and the preservation of Nature on this planet. The period of unlimited use of Nature is finished and, therefore, I suggest the new ideology has to be something along the lines of Green socialism.

Environmental and social justice NGOs can play a key role in Russia in raising of new ideas and approaches concerning human organisation of our planetary life. The tendency to disintegration has to be changed the Integration process on the basis of new social ideas.


Dr. Vladimir F.LevchenkoDr. Vladimir F.Levchenko is a distinguished biologist working on the theoretical and evolutionary aspects of biology, including computer simulation of biological evolution. Also a physicist and a computer engineer, he is presently Senior researcher, Head of Laboratory of Evolutionary Modeling, at the Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry. Dr. Levchenko has also worked worked as an astrophysicist and participated in the cleanup following the Chernobyl catastrophe. He runs the list-server for Russian NGO Ecological North West Line.


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