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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.

Wither National Bolsheviks?

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It was only a matter of time before this was going to happen. The Moscow City Court has ruled that the National Bolshevik Party constitutes an “extremist organization.” This ruling legally liquidates the NBP since authorities can now arrest anyone who participants in the group. Participation in an “extremist group” comes with the penalty of a 200,000 ruble fine and up to two years in prison.

NBP lawyer, Sergei Belyak, called the rulling “shameful and appalling, it is not based on law at all.” Eduard Limonov declared it a “farce.” That is, he backed away from any responsibility for leading the group. “An organization called NBP has not been registered with any state agency, and there is no evidence that I am leading any organization or party.” Now all of a sudden Limonov is no longer the leader of an organization that is wholly identified with him. “I am a famous writer and ideologist,” he told the court. “But I cannot be the head of an organization that does not exist.” He also apparently explained that “he now attends events as an individual and insisted he is no more than a symbol of the group.” Way to take a stand, Eddie.

Garry Kasparov is also under the “extremist” lens. The chess champion was summed by the FSB on Tuesday for a “meeting.” A statement on his website said that “the FSB was investigating whether, in a radio interview he gave before the protest and in a newspaper published by the opposition movement, he made calls for extremist action.”

The State Duma is also looking to add amendments to the extremism law. Amendments were passed a second and third reading on Wednesday that introduces “fines of 2,500 rubles for individuals and 100,000 rubles for companies that make, sell or purchase Nazi paraphernalia” and increased the penalty for “vandalizing property during political or ideological protests to a maximum of three years in prison.”

The amendments will surely make things worse for the rank and file NBPer. Their symbols and activities can easily be classified under both these amendments. And they don’t have the luxury, like Limonov, to declare themselves a “famous writer and ideologist” nor can they find sanctuary in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, like Gary Kasparov did, and cry injustice to the corporate intelligentsia. For a taste of how National Bolsheviks and other protesters are treated by the Russian police, I suggest reading Galina Stolyarova’s article “Brutality as Usual” on Transitions Online. She writes,

 

Andrei Dmitriev, National Bolshevik leader in St. Petersburg, says he has firsthand experience with the subject [of police abuse].

Dmitriev was taken to the police station for talks in the run-up to last July’s G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Since June the police had been pressuring opposition activists to “keep quiet” during the prestigious political event.

He said the talks swiftly turned violent. “The officers attacked me, handcuffed me, and ripped off my clothes,” he recalled. “They threatened to rape me and were saying all sorts of humiliating things, while also taking photographs of me crawling on the floor.

“It continued for five hours, and it was a nightmare,” he added. “If I had a choice I would probably have preferred being beaten.”

Dmitriev says torture is used systematically against members of protest groups and small opposition parties.

“After our men are detained and taken to police stations after a street protest, it typically involves an excruciating level of violence against us,” he said. “They beat us so hard there are puddles of blood on the floor at the scene.”

During the beating the police reportedly demand “cooperation,” seeking to recruit informants, try to obtain confessions, or even prevent a protest event.

This kinda throws Limonov’s and Kasparov’s “heroics” into a whole new light. As always, when leaders are dancing in the media limelight, the only stars the rank and file youths are seeing are those spinning around their bludgeoned heads.