The new Interior Ministry’s strategy for countering extremism sees the internet as the main channel for spreading dangerous information, and wants to counter the threat through intensive monitoring of the web and imposing traditional values on the young.
The document was presented to the Presidential Council for Human Rights on Friday and Russian media reported on its key points the same day.
The strategy lists as primary threats “expansion from foreign territory of radical Muslim movements, non-traditional for Russia,” domestic highly-organized nationalist groups, football hooligans, illegal immigrants and certain foreign NGOs and religious groups.
The authors of the strategy see “involving the public in protests that are transformed into mass unrest” as the main scenario used by the radicals. The internet is mentioned as a main tool for the society’s radicalization and therefore the ministry wants to concentrate its efforts in the cyber-sphere.
The suggested tools for ideological and informational suppressing of extremism are a nationwide internet monitoring system together with new methods of access restriction to hazardous sites. In addition, the police want to launch a major counter-campaign on social networks and seek to attract various NGOs and other civil society institutions to the project, along with the internet service providers.
The campaign against extremism will also be waged offline. The ministry suggests to "recreate the system of education in the spirit of traditional spiritual, ethical and patriotic values inherent in Russia." Another plan is to start special training courses for journalists so the mass media know the correct ways of covering the struggle against radicals. For this the ministry also needs support from major media outlets and NGOs.
Apart from direct opposition to the threat the authors of the plan note the necessity for positive changes in society, such as harmonization of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. For this Russia needs a “full-pledged national identity” as well as the consolidated effort of all branches of power and all public organizations and civil society groups.
The director of the Sova NGO and a member of the Presidential HR Council, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, is supporting the proposal, but criticized the excessively broad definitions for extremism and its manifestations, saying that they could lead to future abuse of the law.
“If they are left as such, the state agencies would face an immense amount of work. There are things that are potentially dangerous and there are people and organizations that pose a real threat, the threat to human lives. They are worth the primary attention,” Verkhovsky was quoted as saying by the RBC news agency.
Another council member, Igor Borisov, has told the mass circulation daily Kommersant that in his view the concept was too harsh and needed rewriting in a more liberal key. He also added that the document needed some extra ideas, such as measures against using ethnic factors in various elections and referendums.
After consulting with rights activists and legal experts the Interior Ministry will present the strategy to the Russian President.