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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.

Yeltsin’s Reelection 10 Years On

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Amid critics accusing the Putin government of “backsliding” from democracy and his officials’ denials crouched in semantic differences between “managed” and sovereign” democracy, the Moscow News brings us back to the “simpler” times of the Russian Presidential election of 1996. The contest pitted incumbent Boris Yeltsin against Communist Party head Gennady Ziuganov. The election was close with Yeltsin receiving 35 percent of the vote and Ziuganov closely trailing with 32 percent. The results produced instant astonishment and subsequent conspiracy theories that Ziuganov’s victory was usurped by the “family”, a group of oligarchs that included now exiled Boris Berezovsky. After all, Yeltsin’s approval rating at the time was a dismal 8 percent. So low that even the fear of a Communist resurgence was viewed as not enough to get him reelected.

That belief proved to be false. The fact that Yeltsin even got 35 percent is seen as a political miracle even if it was aided by machinations. Part of it was utilizing a virtually unlimited war chest and adopting Western campaign styles that even sought the services of MTV. MTV subsequently declined because the network didn’t think Yeltsin had a ghost’s of a chance. This of course didn’t stop Berezovsky from launching an MTV style campaign on his ORT Channel 1 using the slogan “Vote or Lose,” a variation of the MTV/Clinton 1992 campaign slogan “Choose or Lose”.

The strategy worked and a runoff was announced. Then according to the Moscow News, then some strange occurrences happened:

In a notorious set-up just days after [the runoff was announced], security agents arrested two top campaign officials, Sergei Lisovsky and Arkady Yevstafiyev, on accusations of trying to carry a box filled with cash out of the Government Building. The move, allegedly organized by FSB head Mikhail Barsukov and Yeltsin’s bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, was seen as an attempt to delay the elections and prevent Gennady Ziuganov from winning. Days later, Yeltsin fired both Barsukov and Korzhakov. In a final “practically impossible” victory, Yeltsin, who was too ill for public appearances, was re-elected with a surprising 54 percent, against Ziuganov’s 40. Some claimed people who voted for Alexander Lebed, another popular contender, in the first round, gave their votes to Yeltsin in the second.

Who and what was behind this “miracle”? Answers remain controversial. However, according to an instrumental member of Yeltsin’s reelection staff and now president of Politika Foundation, to the victor goes the spoils. “There were probably falsifications,” he told Moskovskie Novosti this week. “In any case, state resources were used to their full capacity…. I was very satisfied that we had accomplished something that was practically impossible.”