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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.

We’re Not Nazis, We’re Punk-Anarchists

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“We’re punks!” declare immigrant teens mostly from the CIS who hang out at Petah Tikva’s Gan Yehonatan club in Israel. They are also skinheads. But skins come a various types. You have anti-racist skins, Nazi skins (or boneheads as anti-racists call them), and apparently a new type, one that fits well in Israel: “radical right wing Islamophobes who believe in the working class,” according to one youth who talked to Moti Katz for his article, “We’re Not Nazis, We’re Punk-Anarchists” in Haaretz.

One might be surprised, even shocked, to learn that there are neo-Nazi youths in the Jewish state. But events over the last year, one of which included vandalizing a synagogue with swastikas, show that not all Russian immigrants experience a Jewish rebirth upon arrival to the homeland. Many don’t even identify themselves as Jews. Others, who attempt to assimilate, are rebuffed by the locals. “Some of the youths,” writes Katz, “regard Israelis with anger and distrust. They are a close-knit group, but complain that Israelis treat them with contempt and see them as stereotypes. Most of all, they say they don’t belong.”

Extremist groups tend to be havens for such outcasts. But it is not so much the ideology that attracts them, though left and right wing radicalism can be magnets to the disaffected. It is more the codes and symbols that are the glue to tight knit social groups. Katz’s article seeps with such markers of identity:

“You must distinguish between two groups of skinheads,” one [youth] says. “There are good skinheads and Nazi skinheads, called boneheads.” (Nazi skinheads are often called boneheads by traditionalist skinheads and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.)

“The boneheads shave their heads and wear white suspenders with jeans or military trousers, sometimes with a white collar,” one boy says. Most of them are over 18 years old, some even serve in the military, and they advocate typical Nazi ideology, based on hatred of Jews and Israelis, he says.

“A few months ago, the boneheads held a ceremony to mark Hitler’s birthday in one of the cemeteries,” a boy says.

Irena, 18, from the central region, has spent some time with the Nazi boneheads.

“I was a skingirl – that’s what you call the Nazi skinheads’ girls,” she says.

Irena’s boyfriend was the group leader, dubbed the “Fuhrer.”

“We were a bunch of immigrant Russian boys and girls, and we had a certain dress code. The boys usually shaved their heads and wore military pants.

“On weekends we’d meet in parks, where we’d drink and smoke and listen to Nazi music. Nazi music isn’t Rammstein [a German band that incorporates elements of metal/hard rock, industrial metal and electronic music],” she says with a smile. Some evenings fights would break out between her group and others who met in the parks. Irena’s boyfriend, the Fuhrer, was involved in fighting among the groups.

One group at odds with the Nazi skinheads is the “good” Nazi skinheads, as the youngsters call them. The good skinheads are not Nazis or Jew haters – “they are radical right wing Islamophobes who believe in the working class,” a youth says.

There are many shaven heads among the good skinheads, who wear jeans, sometimes bleach-stained, red suspenders and red laces on their military boots. One boy says that he was beaten up once by the Nazi skinheads for wearing red suspenders. “The red symbolizes Communism to them, and the Communists defeated the Nazis,” he says.

Most of the youths in Gan Yehonatan categorize themselves as punk-anarchists. “We, the punks, usually wear tight black trousers and various Mohawk hair styles,” he says. “We also have metalists, who listen to heavy metal music, wear lots of earrings and rivets, army boots and are into piercing.”