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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.

OD-Group Protests at MGU

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For the past few weeks academic email lists devoted to Russian studies have been receiving a petition from a group of Sociology students from Moscow State University. A MGU student group named OD-Group, which is distributing the petition, claims that

In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean. The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system.

Studying conditions at the department are unbearable. There are not enough lecture halls, and there is no ventilation. The building is stuffed with video surveillance cameras which the administration uses to track suspect students. Factory-style turnstiles have been installed at the entrance, and the security guards act rudely toward students. We have no library of our own.

We demand that the curricula be changed, competent teachers be invited, students be informed about foreign exchange programs, the rude security guards be dismissed, the rigid gating system be abolished, and a minimum of basic amenities be provided.

Their organizing efforts seemed to have paid off. Today a few English language media picked up on the story. The New York Times claims that Moscow State University has opened an investigative commission to look into the claims, though Vladimir I. Dobrenkov, the dean of the Sociology Department told the Times in a telephone interview, that the claims “are full of hints, rumors and half-truths” and that no anti-Semitism has been taught or tolerated on campus.” One then wonder what exactly will be investigated? Will it be OD-Group’s accusations or OD-Group themselves?

I assume that in the end it will be the latter because since the creation of the commission, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, six students were detained by the police for distributing fliers. They were later released without charges. This was the second arrest in as many months. On February 28 police arrested some students for similar activities.