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.

Kazakhstan Declared a “Free Nation”

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Here’s a kicker. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev is visited the United States this Friday. While having his government run ads in response to the sure to be hilarious movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev is getting the royal treatment by the Bush Administration. On Friday, Bush had the audacity to say that Kazakhstan is a “free nation”. What an idiot. Even the conservative National Review called Bush’s embracing of Nazarbayev as such:

But like too many visitors to the White House these days, Nazarbayev is an autocrat. He is not democratically elected, he allows little leeway for his opponents, and he is working to keep political power centralized in the hands of his own family. For Nazarbayev, who visited the Clinton White House twice but has not met Bush in Washington, D.C. since December 2001, the invitation is a victory. He will use the Bush White House to confirm that his autocracy has substantial U.S. support. This couldn’t come at a worse time, as a predominately Muslim Kazakhstan teeters on the brink of turning into another Saudi Arabia: corrupt at the top, with ample cause for discontent at the bottom.

But I guess that according to Bush’s definition of “free”, Kazakhstan is probably a shining beacon. I also think that we can translate “free” as geopolitically vital to US interests. If you are willing to make deals with the US, like Nazarbayev is, then you are placed in the ideological clear no matter what you do to your citizens.

As a LA Times editorial put it,

[T]here are few nations more strategically important to the United States than Kazakhstan. Its mineral resources are vast; by 2015, it is expected to account for nearly as much oil production as Iran. It is a stable U.S. ally in a region marked by shaky friends, rivals and foes, such as Russia, China, Afghanistan and Iran. It is a majority-Muslim country that sent troops to Iraq and opened its airspace to U.S. flights during the invasion of Afghanistan. It is a model for nuclear disarmament, having agreed to destroy the missiles it inherited from the former Soviet Union.

. . .

Yet Kazakhstan is too important to ignore or keep at a distance — and the reasons go far beyond its oil wealth. If Bush confines himself to meeting only with leaders who have perfect democratic records, he’ll have to rule out the heads of most countries in the developing world.

True enough. The US has to deal with these countries but it can certainly do so without such silly hyperbole. Such statements are just embarrassing and further undermine the little credibility Bush has left.

Nazarbayev’s visit was of course overshadowed by Borat and the genius publicity campaign for the upcoming movie. Borat attempted to crash the White House meeting, only to be turned away by the Secret Service.

I just hope the movie is still in theaters when I get back to the States in late November.