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Medvedev Signs Law To Broaden Powers For Security Service

29 luglio 2010

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed into law a bill handing increased authority to the Federal Security Service (FSB) to issue warnings to people it believes present a criminal threat.

The controversial bill, which passed its third parliamentary reading on July 19, is a tamer version than the original draft, which proposed that the FSB could summon potential suspects to their office and even publish its warnings in the media.

But the final version still has plenty of critics. The Kremlin says the legislation will contribute to the fight against extremism and help people steer clear of behavior they may not even realize is illegal, such as participating in unsanctioned protest rallies.

Equal Before The Law?

Rights defenders, however, say the legislation will put the KGB successor agency above the law and hand it Soviet-style powers to intimidate journalists and political opponents at will.

Overall, however, few Russians appear to be aware of the new legislation or its impact. A July 18-22 poll by the independent Levada polling agency showed that 67 percent of respondents nationwide had not even heard of the bill. Only 3 percent reported that they were “closely following” the debate.

Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada center, said Russians are generally “evenly split” between those who oppose the FSB and those who value it as a protector of state interests.

“For the most part, that kind of positive sentiment is held by people who aren’t very well educated, those living in villages or towns with limited access to information and very dependent on state propaganda — meaning, from television,” Gudkov said. “Negative sentiments regarding the KGB and FSB are basically held by more educated and mature people. Their associations are those of mass repressions, terror, purges, executions, and the persecution of dissidents and opponents.”

‘Stepping On The Same Rakes’

The FSB, which gained power with Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the presidency in 2000, has sought in recent years to portray itself as a firewall protecting the public against the rising threat of terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Not everyone is convinced, however.

“I view them with a great deal of trepidation, because I agree with those who say that Russia is dangling from the Chekists’ hook,” said one man who spoke to RFE/RL in the city of Pskov.

Another added that it was “disgusting” to be repeating a mistake of the Soviet past. “We went through all this in the ’70s and ’80s, when all of those in civil society working for human rights found themselves under the pressure of the KGB,” the man said. “And today we’re stepping on the same rakes.”

Such skepticism is not universal. Other Russians cite the frequency of reports claiming that security organs have thwarted one or another terrorist attack.

One woman praised the fact that she and her compatriots “live quietly” thanks to efforts by the FSB and other official efforts.

“We live fairly safely, without even knowing about those potential threats or espionage attempts that Western governments are very likely plotting,” said another man in Pskov. “That, probably, is something we owe to the [security] organs.”

written by Daisy Sindelar; with contributions from RFE/RL Russian Service correspondents Veronika Bode and Anna Lipina


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