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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.

Russia’s Emerging Two Party System

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There isn’t much to say about the results of Sunday’s local elections in Russia. That is except that Putin’s “managed democracy” seems to be going at full steam. The elections wielded few surprises, both in terms of results or scandals. In St. Petersburg, Yabloko found itself disqualified from the ballot. Other opposition parties claimed that they were being pushed out of the vote and that the election was turning into a “two horse race.” The horses? United Russia and Just Russia. The former is familiar to everyone. Just Russia which is the Kremlin backed opposition party falls just politically left of United Russia, “declaring its adherence to “socialism” and attacking Unified Russia for monopolizing power and representing corrupt entrenched interests.” Such declarations are just enough to siphon votes away from the dreaded Communists.

It seems to be working. Not to say that the Communists have no problem torpedoing themselves, but according to results, Just Russia is creeping up their electoral ass. Across the 14 regions 45% went for United Russia, 16% for the Communist Party, 15.5% for Just Russia, 9.5% for the Liberal Democratic Party, and exactly 7% for the Union of Right Forces. What to make of these results? First, they seem to spell the imminent electoral death of LPR and SPS. Both barely made the 7 percent threshold. Second, there is the longtime coming electoral collapse of Yabloko. Yabloko received 3.86% of the vote in the four regions it competed in. Lastly, and perhaps, more importantly it appears that one of Putin’s legacies is to make Russia into a two party system:

Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, regards this as an entirely positive factor: “Any healthy democracy has a stable list of leading political parties.” At a news conference yesterday, Surkov said that this list can now be regarded as fairly stable: “Continual miracles in elections may lead to unfortunate consequences.” Surkov assured us that there were no “miracles” in these elections – that is, no unexpected results outside the framework of forecasts.

Surkov said that United Russia, averaging 44-46% of the vote, has “confirmed its status as the dominant political party.” He didn’t fail to add a compliment for United Russia’s chief rival: “Just Russia’s aspirations to become the leading opposition party are being substantiated.”

Translated, Russia is developing its own versions of the Republican/Tory and Democratic/Labor Parties. The Russians are learning liberal democracy very well.