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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.

Duck and Cover Redux

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Amid all the banter about a “new Cold War” between Russia and the United States, the Confrontation Cold War Museum in Moscow takes on a whole new relevance. The new tourist attraction is the former Taganski Underground Command Center, a 75,000 square foot underground dwelling built in Stalin’s last years to house the Soviet leadership in the event of a US nuclear attack. As David Holley of the LA Times reports, “historical remembrance and a touch of make-believe mix in an ambiguous but thought-provoking cocktail.”

Indeed. For a ticket price of $9.75 for students, $19.50 for adults and $39 for foreigners (ouch!), you can put on a Soviet army poncho and a gas mask and be led through the halls of a Cold War relic. The museum is still in development but as of now there are posters and other military equipment dawn the shelter’s mostly empty hallways and corridors.

But soon, promises Olga Arkharova, the museums director, a replica of the command center and a military themed restaurant will dazzle spectators.

The museum’s mission however is more than revisiting the Cold War through kitsch. “The task of our complex, which is called Confrontation, is to preserve this facility as a reminder and a warning that situations like this should be prevented forever,” Arkharova explained to the LA Times. “The idea we want to present to the children and the adults is that we want to have an open and frank dialogue with other countries, to prevent the world from entering another situation where we’re forced to build facilities like this.”

It seems, however, that all students are getting from the museum is that its creepy.

Andrei Kvyk, 21, a student at the Moscow Construction Institute, said being in the shelter gave him “the creeps.”

“They say that this is all a thing of the past and that the Cold War is over,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s the case. I am sure facilities like this still exist in Moscow and across the country and are on combat duty every second. I am sure the Cold War was never over. They are lying to us.”
. . .

“It is so spooky — these tunnels, this porridge, this damp air 60 meters under the ground,” said Yana Arutyunova, 25, a market researcher who joined the tour. “People in the tunnels look like ghosts of the past. You can’t but feel danger here. Everything was removed at some point, all the equipment, but you can still feel this concentrated cold fear permeating the air.”
. . .

Nina Borodina, 21, a university student, said that “these haunting shafts” made her think of how her grandmother “lived all her life feeling the danger of being bombed any second.”

“She told me how terrified they were of an imminent nuclear war back in the 1960s,” Borodina said. “Now I can understand a little of what she lived through. I don’t think there is any danger of nuclear war now. We are friends with the West.”
She said she was convinced that, whatever complaints the two sides may voice about each other, Putin “is leading the country along the way of real cooperation with the United States and other Western countries, and they will never be our enemies again.”

“But it was good to come down here,” she added. “It gives you a sense of what horrors we were saved from.”

Spooky or not, I know that next time I go to Moscow, I am so there.