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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.

Study Finds Moscow Metro Rife with Racial Profiling

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Here’s a surprise. Moscow militsa stop non-Slavs 22 times more often than Slavic looking people. I would have never known! So says a new study reported by Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor.

The study, in which monitors observed more than 1,500 police document checks at 15 Metro stations over a five-month period in 2005, concluded that Moscow police are engaged in “massive ethnic profiling.” The practice is unlawful discrimination, a violation of the equal rights of citizens under the Russian Constitution and the country’s international commitments. For example, the United Nations Race Convention prohibits racial discrimination with respect to “freedom of movement,” and guarantees the “right to equal treatment” by judicial officials.

Anita Soboleva, executive director of Jurix, the lawyers’ group that conducted the survey with funds from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, says “Police ethnic profiling reflects social attitudes against people who look ‘different.’ This racist approach appears to be deeply ingrained in police procedures.”

The full 72 page report written by the Open Society Justice Initiative and can be downloaded here argues that the Moscow Metro posts the “highest ethnic profiling odds ratio ever documented.” Here are some figures (benchmark means the sample number of people monitored at a give stop.):

These high rates of police harassing and extorting non-Slavs persists despite a Fenurary 2003 order by Moscow police Moscow police chief Lieutenant-General V.V. Pronin that instructing officers that:

Let every officer know that it is prohibited for the police to use the kinds of treatment that humiliate citizen’s personal dignity, to check identity papers and registration in the city of Moscow without cause. According to the Law [On Police, Article 5], a police officer is obliged to protect and respect every person with no regard to their citizenship, place of residence, social, economic and professional status, racial or ethnic origin, gender, age, education, language, religious, political or other affiliations.

Yet as one narrative in the report of a Turkish worker named Bairam tells:

After the decree of [Pronin in 2003] prohibiting th[e] lucrative pursuit, the only thing that changed for the Turk is that now he is stopped not at the exit from the Metro station, but closer to home . . . And what really deserves attention is that all the papers of the Turkish citizen are in thorough order. But alas, the practice is that policemen, depending on their mood find fault either with the visa, or residential permit (every day they claim that something in his papers is counterfeit. . .) Sometimes Bairam didn’t have any money on him, and the officers would kindly give him a comfortable place for the night in the police cells. If by the morning no one brought them 1,500 Rubles (and that is the standard bail for the Turkish worker), they took his mobiles (during 6 months Bairam left 3 of his mobiles with the police), watches (one), new purse (one), and new leather gloves. . . . But as long as he will stay in this Moscow district, he has found only one solution—to keep it secret and silently share his wages with them.

The report makes many, many recommendations to the Moscow police and the Russian government to address the problem of racial profiling. However, given the amount of non-Slavic labor migration into the capital, a remedy to police harassment will be hard to come by. Policies can be set in place, and if the Pronin order is any indication there are, but they must be enforced. Enforcement of law is always something missing on Russian authorities’ agenda. If anything, the report further confirms the already wide evidence of the ugly public racism that many face in Russia’s cities.