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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.

Not Your Father’s Army

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The fact that Russia needs to reform of, if not wholly ditch, military conscription is a no brainer. If the data presented by Major General Valery Kulikov is anything close to accurate, it is likely that the poor health of conscripts might hasten its demise. According to Kulikov, more than 614,000 out of 1.8 million young men received postponement waivers due to poor health in 2006. That is about 30% of all eligible men who took a medical exam for military service. Of that number, 200,000 got exemptions for lo body weight due to malnutrition, 109,000 suffered from scoliosis and flat feet, and over 100,000 were exempted for mental disorders.

From this data, Nezavisimaya gazeta concluded:

If this trend continues, considering that for the last five years Russia has experienced a “demographic gap,” the number of all conscripts in 2012 will stand at around 660,000 people. Of them only slightly more than 400,000 will be suitable for service. This is exactly what is the number of conscript soldiers presently in the army. In order for this figure to remain unchanged, the state will have to abolish the right to postpone service entirely or increase the number of contract soldiers.

Given this prospect, what did the Russian government do? Kulikov states that a plan to improve the health of potential conscripts was planned and approved by the Defense Military, but “at the very last moment, the Finance Ministry and the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry spoke against implementation of this program, which would definitely have a harmful impact on the fitness of conscripts for military service.” The reasons given was that these measures were already apart of the State’s programs focusing on the patriotic upbringing of young people.

Not mentioned in the article, however, was how many of these exemptions were due to bribes. For example, last week Novye Izvestiia reported that those seeking to avoid army service were the most likely to purchase fake dissertations. “When a youth buys a dissertation, he kills two birds with one stone,” Ruslan Greenberg told Novye Izvestiia. “First he becomes a “scholar.” Second, he is completely legally exempt from conscription. It is well known that the Russian army doesn’t take PhD candidates.”

In regard to bribing your way to a medical exemption, Valentina Melnikova, who heads Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, reported potential conscripts saying the following:

“One guy I know bought his way out of service by bringing money to the recruiting office…as far as I understand about $4000. He was supposed to be conscripted but he didn’t have to go…”

“….a bribe gets it done a little faster…you pay a bribe and he’s obligated to help. so if you can’t get it done legally, pay the money and it gets it done. That’s my opinion.…”

“….I would think about that if it came to it. ..I have a lot of friends gone that route.. With the money you can earn in two years in Moscow it pays for itself…”