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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.

Society of Spectacle

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For the last few days Russian Live Journal has been reeling over the posting of a video showing the execution of two men, a Tadjik and Dagastani, by masked figures claiming to be members of a little known fascist group called National Socialism/White Power, reports Kommersant. The two minute video, posted as “The Execution of a Tadjik and Dagastani” by one “Antitsigan” (i.e. Anti-gypsy) shows the men stating, “Russian National Socialists arrested us” before one masked figure in camouflage slits the throat of one and shoots the other in the head. The two masked men then give a “Sieg Heil” as the video fades to a Nazi flag with punk rock guitar barrage soundtrack.

RFE/RL calls the two minute video, which isn’t the first of its kind, a “hate crime video.” I call it a political snuff film. Some like Aleksandr Belov, the leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration claims that the video is a fake and a “provocation.” “There are two versions. This is either committed by someone who sincerely considers that this is how it is necessary to fight non-residents or this is a provocation to discredit the Russian idea and stir up a fight against its supporters,” Belov told Kommersant. Belov also noted that the video may be connected to the detention of Maksim Martsinkevich, aka “Tesak,” the leader of the Nazi group Format-18, during his trial in a Moscow city court.

Also speaking to Kommersant, Aleksandr Berkhovskii, an expert at SOVA, thinks that the video is the real deal. “It doesn’t look like this clip was staged. It’s very natural and looks genuine.” He also admitted to the Associated Press that “I’ve never seen anything that blatant.”

The identities of the two men are still unknown.

The Russian MVD has opened an investigation into the video, but a spokesperson stated that it was too soon to determine if the video was real or not. Legally the authenticity of the video is not as much an issue for it violates several statues of the Russian extremist law. Under the law, any representation that seeks to insight racial or ethnic violence is considered criminal.

Is the video real or a fake? That is the question that has made the video one of the most discussed topics on Russian Live Journal. The video has since been removed from most websites.

Writing on his site, ZheZhe user aleke writes, “It makes absolutely no difference to me who did the executing, who was executed, or whether it was an execution at all. . . Nationalism has shown for a long time now nationalism doesn’t mean love for one’s country but hated toward others. Can there be talk about some kind of “Russian nationalism” if Russians are only mentioned in slogans and speeches and at the center of attention are Caucasians?”

Another ZheZhe user, dimantrump, dismissed the video as a provocation by the FSB. “What is the motive?” he asks. “It still turns the screws. Still more strongly enslaves the Russian people. In the end, as past experience has shown that such incidents ultimately play into the hands of the occupiers.”

I personally think that the question of its “reality” isn’t important beyond the need to bring the murders to justice. After all, given the sophistication of media technology is there any absolutely sure way to authenticate such a video? Granted, I have not watched it, nor do I intend to. But to me this video’s political resonance says something more about spectacle of violence that inhabits our modern lives rather than anything specific about nationalism or fascism in Russia. As far as I’m concerned the members of “National Socialism/White Power” are merely reproducing what has already become a staple in our media diet. From the “real” videos of Chechens beheading Russian soldiers, Beslan, Daniel Pearl, Abu Ghraib, suicide bombings, and school and workplace shootings (and the media’s obsession over them) to the “fake” torture scenes of shows like 24 and other films, hasn’t the gap between the real and the fake long collapsed, making their distinction merely academic. What is important is the connection between politics and extreme violence, or really the use of extreme violence as political spectacle. After all, has not the previously virtually unknown National Socialism/White Power made an instant name for itself with nothing more than a two minute commercial?