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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.

Tajikistan Bans Slavic Names

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Just as readers at Siberian Light are discussing communist names, the NY Times is reporting about the President of Tajikistan’s effort to ban names with Slavic endings. President Emomali Rakhmon’s (the President formerly known as Rakhmonov) decree to drop “-ov” from family names is yet another nationalist attempt to remove the vestiges of Russia/Soviet influence over Tajik society. As Ilan Greenberg of the NY Times writes,

Amid a series of idiosyncratic decrees aimed at removing traces of Soviet influence, the president of Tajikistan announced Tuesday that he had dropped the Slavic “ov” from the end of his surname and that, henceforth, the same must be done for all babies born to Tajik parents.

Most Tajiks added a Slavic ending to their surnames when the country came under Soviet rule early in the last century.

The president, Emomali Rakhmon — formerly Rakhmonov — also banned certain school holidays and traditions associated with the Soviet period, including a holiday known as ABC Book Day, when toddlers gather in a circle to read aloud. He also ordered all university students to leave cellphones and cars at home, saying they distracted from academic study.

Mr. Rakhmon won a third seven-year term in November in a presidential election widely dismissed as a farce. But Tajikistan’s political culture has not produced the sort of ethnocentric governing style that developed in nearby Turkmenistan, where Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictatorial leader also known as Turkmenbashi (Leader of All Turkmens), died three months ago.

Central Asian governments have chosen vastly different approaches toward their ethnically mixed populations, from the extreme ethnic chauvinism prevailing in Turkmenistan to an officially enforced celebration of multiculturalism in Kazakhstan, the region’s economic giant to the north. But Tajik nationalism has “not become a dominant political force” in the country, a report prepared for the Library of Congress says.

Tajiks reached by telephone in Dushanbe, the capital, said the president’s decrees had little popular support but had engendered confusion and mild annoyance at the imposition.

“It doesn’t matter to me to say the truth; I’m not thinking about it,” said Shamsiyna Ofaridyeza, 30, an accountant in Dushanbe who is five months pregnant. “But if the president says we have to use Tajik names, then I’ll change my baby’s name. What else can I do?” Ms. Ofaridyeza and her husband have Tajik surnames made to sound more Russian.

Ms. Ofaridyeza was more supportive of the ban on students driving cars and brandishing cellphones. “Students are not studying,” she said. “They are too busy sitting on their cars showing off. But you know, we are a democratic people, and everyone should be able to name his baby what he wants.”