Recent Posts

Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism


Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

The Day After

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The votes are counted. The winners declared. Now comes the fun part: the analysis. There isn’t much to say about the Kazakh Presidential election which isn’t already evident. There was no colored revolution. There wasn’t even an attempt at protest. The ballots were certainly stuffed. As “Presedatel’ Mike” pointed out in his post, President Nursultan Nazarbaev is truly loved but this didn’t prevent making sure he received 91 percent of the vote. Hence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) statement that “Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” We all know democracy in the CIS states is a sham, but the question, as posed by RFE/RL reporter Daniel Kimmage, is about the long term viability of “managed democracy.” On this, Kimmage writes,

“Political upheaval in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with “managed democracy,” in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?”

All important questions and their outcome remains to be seen. Now as before reforms to the Kazakh system lie in Nazarbaev’s will to push them forward. And despite his assurances that reforms will proceed, there is no telling when they, even if remotely genuine, will eventually contradict the personality cult of Nazarbaev himself has created.

Analysis of the short and long term meaning of the Moscow City Duma elections are also coming in. I first want to comment on today’s LA Times editorial. As I’ve noted before, my home paper does some really good reporting on Russia. However, this quality doesn’t extend to the editorial pages. Today’s edition features yet another broken record plea for the Bush Administration to tackle the problem of Russian “democracy.” The problem with the Times’ editorial is not that it argues that Russian democracy is faltering. The problem is how this analysis implies that there was once a democracy to falter. The title “CPR for Russian Democracy” suggests just that. Considering past LA Times’ editorials on this subject, the implied meaning is that before Putin there was democracy, but since his arrival it needs resuscitation. Can they surely be so na?ve to think that the Yeltsin regime was more democratic to even suggest that Russian democracy is “nascent”? By that definition, democracy should be seen as flourishing in say Venezuela, but you won’t find such statements in the Times. So where does this nascent before and authoritarian after come from? From what I can gather from this and past editorials, it comes from the fact that during Yeltsin’s presidency Russia was acting in the interests of the United States and now it has the gall to act in its own interest! After all why would Bush need to put pressure on Putin to change “authoritarian” ways when Bush surely has no problem when his allies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are doing far worse? Yes they are right. The US government should stop referring to Russia as a democracy. Then we can finally stop beating that dead horse and see Russia for what it is and not what we want it to be.

If you want some good analysis of the Moscow elections, I suggest turning to today’s Moscow Times. Two articles stand out. The first is an analysis of what parties received Rodina’s votes. The conclusion is that Rodina’s ban from participating only benefited the Communists, whose nationalistic platform is almost indistinguishable. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rodina was created by the Kremlin to siphon nationalist votes from the KPRF so it is only logical that with Rodina dropped from the ticket sympathetic voters would swing back. The question is then, if Rodina’s ban came from “above” as many suspect, what did United Russia have to gain from it? If anything it would have been better if Rodina stayed on the ticket. Instead, the KPRF, which is United Russia’s most serious political rival, surged to capture 17 percent of the vote and gain four seats.

The second article, an editorial by Nikolai Petrov, looks at the factors that gave the elections their importance, of which he names four: 1) the first election after the passage of electoral reform, 2) a test where the political parties stand, 3) a preview for the 2008 mayoral elections, and 4) establishing new campaigning models for the 2007 parliamentary elections.

The first was mired by what Petrov and others call “dirty tricks”—voter fraud on various levels, multiple voting, stuffing ballot boxes. This according to Petrov made the post-reform electoral system “far worse.” For the second, Yuri Lukhkov’s and United Russia’s political dominance was confirmed, especially for the former, who will undoubtedly be able to hand pick his successor and well be consulted in choosing a suitable presidential heir.

Perhaps what benefits United Russia in the polls is not the corruption, but the fact that it stands for nothing. Its power is based on the popularity of both Lukhkov and Putin, Russia’s perceived prosperity, and stabilization. As Petrov notes, United Russia, unlike its foes, has no ideology. And for an electorate that grew up in a society where ideology was everything, this might be its most appealing factor.

The ruling party’s anti-ideological or perhaps better, apolitical strategy won’t bode well for Russia’s future. There are serious issues that need addressing in Moscow in particular and Russia in general, and like Kazakhstan much of their mending lies on the backs of a few political personalities. And given the path that Russian politics is taking—between the fanaticism of the far right and left, to the ideology-light of the center—there is little hope that these will be addressed in the near future.