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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.

Michael Specter on the Colbert Report

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The other night I received two emails simultaneously from friends alerting me that Michael Specter was to be a guest on the Colbert Report. Intrigued, I quickly set my DVR to record the show.

I’ve only watched the Colbert Report once before despite its immense popularity among friends. I have to say that I pretty much couldn’t get through the commercial laden half hour. Steven Colbert is part of the Daily Show revolution of fake news shows that lampoon the real news. Colbert’s shtick is to satirize right wing talk shows and radio as a means of media critique. I think blurring the line between “fake” and “real” news to expose the utter poverty of the latter is interesting. However, while this may seem novel to some, it has clearly reached a tipping point in effectiveness. I find Colbert’s execution a bit trite, predictable, too reliant on pop culture references, and often simply not funny. The Colbert Report is merely a shadow of Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show.

But since the episode was Russia related, I decided to tune in. Specter looked like a deer in the headlights. He seemed to kinda get Colbert’s act, but kinda not. Specter also came across far less nuanced on the show than in his New Yorker article. It appeared that he was ready to pull the noose around Putin for the deaths of every journalist and critic. It was only toward the end that he admitted that he didn’t actually outright accuse Putin of anything in his article except creating an atmosphere for these things to happen. Fair enough, but I can’t help to notice a certain slippage between these two views. It is clear that Specter wants to charge Putin with these crimes outright but he just doesn’t have any real evidence to do so.

For Colbert’s part, he tried in vain to make implicit connections between Putin’s alleged tactics and the Bush Administration. I guess he had to give his American-centric audience something familiar to chew on. But such comparisons are weak in my view and elide some very key differences between both Administrations’ authoritarian impulses. In the end, the show is just not for me.