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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.

Lights! Camera! Action!

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The Russian electoral season is already unfolding like a stage performance.  Putin, who we might refer to as the Director, announced the date for his troupe’s first performance: the State Duma elections scheduled for December 1.  Kommersant Vlast’ has a thorough breakdown of its prediction of how the 450 Duma seats will be divided.  The first thing to notice is the expectation that the number of parties represented in the Duma will drop by 10 percent.  This is no doubt a result of two factors.  The first is the increase of the electoral threshold to 7 percent.  This along is expected to cut out 10 or 11 parties alone.  The other fact is multiple.  Namely, that Russian politics are a complex business, and the revamp of the electoral threshold matters most for parties already waining in influence.

To explain this complexity, Kommersant’s Dmitiry Kamyshev provides eight factors (with the number of seats at stake  for each) that will determine the Duma’s breakdown: Name recognition (140 seats), political influence (100 seats), war chest (70 seats), leadership (45 seats), flamboyancy (35 seats), airtime (25 seats), past victories (20 seats), and fulfillment of promises (15 seats).  No party dominates in all eight.  For example, you can’t think of the KPRF without Gennady Zyuganov’s bald dome or the LDPR without picturing Vladimir Zhirinovsky flaying his arms about.  This alone will get each party 16 and 14 seats respectively.  United Russia on the other hand has no face, except for maybe Putin’s, and he’s one foot out the door.  That said besides leadership and flamboyancy, United Russia tops in all other categories giving them a predicted 245 seats.  Just Russia comes in second with 85 and the KPRF and LDPR follow with 75 and 45 seats respectively.

But as everyone knows the State Duma elections are merely a dress rehearsal for the real performance.  Russian Presidential elections are scheduled for March 9, 2008.  The stars have all but been officially selected, with First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov leading the cast.  The question is which role each will get.  Last year, Kommersant reports, there were rumors that Ivanov would become the head of Just Russia, while Medvedev would lead United Russia.  That makes sense writes Kamyshev since “the liberal lawyer Medvedev heading the right-center United Russia and the pro-state, pro-police Ivanov heading the left-center Just Russia” seems to correspond with political ideology.  But now that Ivanov is heading in the polls, Medvedev’s starring role appears in jeopardy.  Now Ivanov looks slated to lead United Russia, a move that also makes sense since “if United Russia was going to associate itself with one of the possible successors, it could only be with the one who was going to win.”  Given the choice between ideology and consistency in performance, the latter wins every time.   Russia is moving toward a two party system for sure, but it will be a while before Just Russia is ready for the center stage.

The only question is whether all this over planning will scuttle the authenticity of the performance.  After all, manufacturing an election is easy, but making it manufactured and reflect the will of the people is a skill that I think only Western democracies have mastered. Perhaps with Putin’s keen directorial eye, the right amount of stage management,  and a stellar cast, this electoral season will be Russia’s democratic coming out party.  I know I will have my ticket in hand.  There is nothing I like more than a good political drama.