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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.

Moscow’s Man in Chechnya

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Who is Razman Kadyrov? The Times London’s Tom Parfitt provides the answers in his Sunday feature, “The Republic of Fear,” on the 29 year old Chechen Prime Minister and son slain Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. Last spring, Parfitt followed the Moscow puppet for three days in his compound in his hometown of Tsenteroi. His account is intimate and revealing. Here is an excerpt:

Why do people love him, I ask. [Kadyrov] laughs. “Because I’ve got things moving and because I want peace. The only ones against me are those who hate peace.” It’s a nice sentiment. Just one problem: Kadyrov is a thug. His militia, the Kadyrovtsy – now partly absorbed into official security units – have kidnapped, tortured and killed his opponents and their innocent relatives. Although full-scale fighting has ceased, corruption and violence are still rampant.

Kadyrov’s populist touch has won admiration from some Chechens. In truth, a degree of stability is returning, abductions have decreased and parts of devastated Grozny are being rebuilt. But there are gnawing fears that Kadyrov is becoming so powerful that he could slip Moscow’s leash. Putin’s plan to “Chechenise” the conflict by putting loyal locals in charge is in danger of backfiring. Analysts say Kadyrov has carved out an autonomy in Chechnya that his separatist rebel opponents in the hills could only dream of. Splits have emerged between his men and forces backing his supposed boss, the Kremlin-appointed president Alu Alkhanov.

In private, Kadyrov is said to despise the Russians, admitting to one interviewer: “We should keep away from them.” Already there are ominous signs. He put the wind up Moscow earlier this year by banning gambling, calling for women to wear headscarves, and promising polygamy would be tolerated in the republic – a clear breach of Russian laws. He argues that Chechens are “patriots of Russia” and piles praise on Putin for his respect for Islam. (He used to admire Saddam Hussein, and says: “I don’t recognise Bush. He’s a war-initiator.”)

But Kadyrov is far from kowtowing to Moscow. His henchmen allegedly control much of the republic’s illegal oil trade. To some, he has begun to resemble the very Islamic extremists he was supposed to eradicate. When riots broke out across the globe over a Danish cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, Kadyrov fanned the flames. He effectively stopped the work of the Danish Refugee Council, one of the largest groups providing aid to Chechnya. “That cartoonist needs to be buried alive,” he says with relish. Such impulses are thought to have alarmed Putin. Relations with the Russian leadership can be tense. Is the federal government allocating enough money to rebuild Chechnya, I ask. “No, it’s not,” he replies baldly. “Absolutno, ne khrena ne vydelyayut nam!” This is a crude phrase for a politician to use. The best translation is: “They’re giving us absolutely dick-all!” (Khren means horseradish, a euphemism for penis.)

I highly recommend reading the entire article.