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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.

Gordeyev’s Boots

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Most assume that utopianism had all but vanished from the Soviet landscape by the time Brezhnev’s walking corpse stumbled down the Kremlin halls. After all, socialism was all but ossified in content and form. Brezhnev’s speeches sounded like cobbled together phrases lifted from his past speeches. Still among some among the USSR’s aspiring engineers, utopian innovation still stirred the imagination. Take, for example, Viktor K. Gordeyev’s gas powered boots. One day they would, in his words, “become a device for moving humanity.”

Well they didn’t. And though Gordeyev and his colleagues at Ufa State Aviation Technical University showcased the boots to the Soviet Army, which caused them to be classified as a military secret until 1994, in the epoch of Russian capitalism, they found that there is just no market for gas powered boots. Thus, for the NY Times, Gordeyev’s boots are yet one example of Russia’s “inability to convert that talent into useful — and commercial — merchandise outside of the weapons business.”

But back to the boots. I mean who really cares about social-economic symbolism when you have gas powered boots. How do they work you ask?

A step down compresses air in the shoe as in a typical sneaker, said Mr. Enikeev, who was a designer on the project. But then, a tiny carburetor injects gasoline into the compressed air and a spark plug fires it off. Instead of fastening a seat belt, the institute’s test runner, Marat D. Garipov, an assistant professor of engineering, strapped on shin belts at a recent demonstration. Then he flicked an ignition switch.

Before running down a university corridor, he jumped in place a few times to warm up the engine. Mr. Garipov then ran laps for about 10 minutes, going about 12 miles per hour, with the two-stroke boots emitting small puffs of exhaust.

A test runner once topped out at 21.7 miles per hour, despite the risk of being sent off-balance.

The tanks in the shoes hold a third of a cup of gasoline each and will take the runner three miles; that means the boots get about 70 miles per gallon.

Don’t believe the Times? Just watch the running fool in the video above.

But alas the problem with the boots is not just that they “throw a wearer off balance or cause knees to buckle.” It’s that their two pound weight makes it “more tiring to run with the motorized footwear than without it.” So much for moving humanity.

As Anfis G. Saibakov, a former student who demonstrated the boots at Disney World in 1998 told the Times, “They should work like a Kalashnikov. Reliable in anybody’s hands.”