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.

More on Belarus

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Tensions in Belarus mount as elections approach. The drama is reaching a fever pitch. Arrests of opposition members and activists have increased in the last few days. Now RFE/RL is reporting that over 20 members of opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, including his key aide Anatol Lyabedzka has been arrested. The EU is threatening sanctions. And Washington, as if it has any credibility in these matters, has condemned the arrests. Now the Belarus KGB is accusing the US and Georgia of backing a coup. As one can see from doing a Google search for news on Belarus, the media is flooded with stories.

However, for the life of me I can’t figure out what all this means. We know that the elections will be rigged. We know that there is an opposition that is being unjustly labeled terrorists and are victims of repression. We know that Lukashenka is an authoritarian thug that rules through fear and intimidation. What we don’t know is how real the opposition is. Do they have a chance? It seems from scant reporting on this question is that they don’t, but, in my opinion, that doesn’t mean they should stop trying.

At this point I am more interested in what makes Belarus tick beyond Lukashenka’s rule by terror. Thankfully, Siarhej Karol gives some information on the Belarus economy. I personally like the way Kommersant has put it:

Maybe the situation can be summed up as the regime of Alexander Lukashenko will exist in Belarus just as long as the myth of Alexander Lukashenko the kind, wise, strong leader who embodies the ideal politician. That is the leader who manages to increase wages and pensions, gets the country cheap gas and doesn’t let them close the factories down. It is an easily understandable image in overwhelmingly patriarchal and isolated Belarus, similar to the image of a folk hero and the best guarantee that the majority will again reelect “Pops” president. As long as Belarusian politics remains mythological at its core, no opposition to Lukashenko will matter. That is why it is silly to go to the barricades to overthrow the political order. First they have to overthrow the myth.

On a final note, for excellent coverage in blogosphere on Belarus, I highly recommend br23 blog.