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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.

Wilting Rose of Georgia?

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What the hell is happening in the Republic of Georgia? All week it has been racked by political crises. First, Georgia Special Forces were sent into Tbilisi Prison No. 5 to suppress a prison riot. It seems that the riot was a well organized attempted prison break by criminal oligarchs. Seven inmates were killed along with 17 injured. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has called for an independent probe into the riot. According to Kommersant, the violence has sparked calls for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s resignation and fear from the Opposition that the accusations could be used as justification to repress them. Perhaps this is already happening as Parliament MP Valery Gelashvili of opposition Republican Party was stripped of his credentials. The ruling majority claims that Gelashvili is running his construction business while a serving as a member of Parliament, which is a violation of the Georgian Constitution. The opposition is claiming that the move is a form of “repression against political opponents.” In response, the opposition is boycotting Parliament. Allegations of repression have also come from other political parties. So writes Kommersant:

“We initiated the protest action,” leader of the Labor Party Shalva Natelashvili, who has been accused of involvement in the prison uprising by several politicians, told Kommersant, “because it is simply impossible to live in modern Georgia. Our maximum program is the constitutional change of power. Our minimum program is freeing business from taxes and requisitions that Saakashvili and his advisers imposed illegally and a guarantee of the inviolability of the media. Since the beginning of the Rose Revolution, two television stations and nine publications have been closed and the director of the 202 television company was recently sentenced to four years in prison. Journalists are insulted and beaten, the free press in Georgia is being destroyed. All of television is the personal holding of Saakashvili. And he says that he is building a democratic state.”

Next, there are rumors that the criminal oligarchs are plotting to assassinate Saakashvili. The government is accusing the Opposition that has connections to these criminal oligarchs.

The third crisis is based on allegations from Georgian media mogul Badri Patarkatsishvili that businessmen have been subjected to paying government officials bribes to avoid state harassment of their businesses. According to Kommersant,

Patarkatsishvili said that a conflict has arisen over the Imedi television channel, which he owns. Journalists investigated the murder in January of United Gregorian Bank manager Sandro Girgvliani, in which it turned out that high-placed officials of the Georgian Ministry of the Interior involved. (The murder took place after an argument in a restaurant.) The journalists found out that investigators were forced to arrest four members of the Interior Ministry’s department of constitutional security. Patarkatsishvili thinks that that caused displeasure in the administration. “Security and financial organs began to examine the activities of my companies so that I would pressure my journalists at Imdei television company to create a picture that was beneficial to the administration,” he said.

Patarkatsishvili practically accused the administration of running a racket. He said that entrepreneurs were forced to pay large sums of money to various funds founded by state structures whose expenses are unsupervised. The prosecutor’s fund alone gathered 160 million lari ($89 million). But contributions to those funds do not guaranteed businessmen immunity.

It seems that the Saakashvili government has taken up anti-oligarch rhetoric to denounce the opposition. A move that some suggest is a way to discredit the opposition’s legitimate criticisms.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, now the Saakashvili government is claiming that it has unmasked a Russian spy. Yesterday, a low level government official named Simon Kiladze was arrested for spying for an unnamed government. Many suspect the government was Russia since relations between the two countries have soured since the “Rose Revolution.” As a result, Saakashvili has called for a wider campaign to “root out” spies.

This all came to a head yesterday as 5000-7000 opposition supporters rallied in front of the Georgian Parliament to call for Saakashvili’s resignation.