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.

Death, Detention, and Immigration

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The Moscow Times and Kommersant are reporting that Manana Dzhabelia, 50, a Georgian woman who was being held in a Moscow detention center for living illegally in Russia, died from a heart attack, and according to friends, was refused medical care. Dzhabelia is now the second victim of Moscow’s anti-Georgian and immigrant campaign.

As Kommersant reports,

Manana Dzhabelia was a refugee from Abkhazia, and lived in Moscow since 1990. She was seized in the process of a police raid on the Domodedovskii market on October 4—in the heat of the anti-Georgian campaign. The Nagatinskii court of Moscow made a decision about her deportation to Georgia because for expired registration. However, the state was not successful in deporting Mrs. Dzhabelia from the country—she challenged the decision in Moscow City Court, claiming that she could not get registration because her passport was at the Georgian Consulate in Moscow.

Two days before Mrs. Dzhabelia died, the Moscow court ruled in her favor, but word did not reach the detention center in time.

The horrors of immigrant detention are not just found in Russia. Last week, a riot broke out in Harmondsworth Immigration Reception Centre in Britain. According to reports, the reason for the outbreak was detainees’ fear of abuse by detention staff. These views are corroborated by a report on the conditions of the Hamondsworth Centre which stated that “44% of detainees said they had been victimized by staff; 60% said they felt unsafe,” including a frequent use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement was used 129 times during the first half of 2006 alone. “This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an immigration removal centre,” the report stated. Riot police had to be deployed to regain control of the center.

In Australia, three reports were released that criticized the condition of 20 detained immigrants. The criticism focused on 10 detentions that involved children and nine involving the mentally ill. The reports come on the heels of Government suggestions to tighten immigration and stiffen citizenship tests on language and “Australian values.” The problem with this is exactly as Peter van Vliet states, “The problem with trying to define “Australian values” beyond democracy and the rule of law is that they are not necessarily agreed values. Pluralism, or the right to hold different values beyond the acceptance of democracy and the rule of law, is arguably one of the most important values in a multicultural society and effectively rejects a detailed list of agreed values.” Interestingly, Australia’s discussion about what constitutes “Australian” parallels the discussion about “Russian” in Russia.

The United States government is getting the reputation of detaining and deporting children. According to a report on NPR’s All Things Considered, there are 8,000 “illegal” immigrant children in US detention centers, up from 4500 in 2000. Their treatment was so harsh in these centers that a 2002 court ruling placed them under the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, as the NPR report states, “the system is a study in contradiction: Immigration officials still work to deport these children, even as HHS operates a growing network of shelters to care for and educate them.”

The problem of immigration is not relegated to any particular region or country. Immigration is a global problem where Russia is one of the many offenders of immigrant rights.

Mrs. Dzhabelia’s death in Russia, the riots in Britain, the detention of mentally ill in Australia, and the immigrant children in the United States are the horrific results of the category “illegal”. Because a person doesn’t have the proper papers attesting to their status, they are detained, and the only way they can prove their “legality” is providing the proper documents. It is incidents like this that remind us that the supposed inalienable rights proclaimed by Enlightenment thought are paper thin. The laws of nation state, itself a product of Enlightenment, is the final arbiter of who is a “legal” and “illegal” human, making our human rights simply provisional.