On May 20, 2013, the Levada Center - a highly respected independent polling agency in Russia - received a warning from the Russian prosecutors that its work was deemed "political activity" and it was in breach of the recently-passed legislation requiring NGOs to register as "foreign agents" if they received any funding from foreign sources and conducted "political activity." Levada is currently under threat of closure if it does not register as a "foreign agent." You can read the letter of response by Levada's Director L. D. Gudkov here.
In light of this incident and similar warnings issued to other research organizations, the ASEEES Board of Directors has sent the following letter of concern to His Excellency Sergey I. Kislyak, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States.
The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, an international organization for promoting scholarship, training, and intellectual exchange concerning Eurasia, Russia, and Eastern Europe in regional and global context, expresses its strong concern about the recent actions of Russian legal institutions in connection to scientific survey research centers in Moscow and other regions of the Russian Federation. To categorize survey research as “political activity” is to label all scholarly research on society as “political activity,” negating the possibility of independent, objective, and nonpartisan research. The independent production of information in all realms of social, political, and economic areas of national life is essential for democracies to arrive at informed, reasoned, and appropriate decisions and policies.
Our Association recently registered its strong objection to the U.S. Congress’s decision to require all research funded by the Political Science Program of National Science Foundation—which includes major surveys of public opinion in the United States and elsewhere—to be certified as "promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States." We believe that for any country, the autonomy and intellectual integrity of research institutions, whatever their source of funding, is of vital national interest. Information gathered according to internationally recognized scholarly methods and standards is a social good.
International scholarly exchange of information is likewise a social good. The members of our Association pursue their study of the Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European region in the spirit of science and intellectual inquiry. They accept research funding from sources in their own countries and in others, and no democratic government has so far considered them to be agents of foreign influence on these grounds. The decision to label as “foreign agents” nonprofit, independent, scholarly research organizations that may receive a portion of their financing from international sources sends a chilling message to scholars everywhere, evoking memories of suspicion and repression. We support the free flow of research and information as the only path to international understanding and cooperation, which is in every country’s national interest.