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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.

The Electoral Muscle

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The pawns are moving into place. Kommersant reports that Nashi’s “muscle”, the Voluntary Youth Militia (Dobrovol’naia molodezhnaia druzhina, DMD) has offered its “help” to the Moscow police in maintaining order during the parliamentary elections in December. According to DMD’s leader Oleg Lobkov, Nashi “is worried that extremist organizations such as Red Youth Vanguard, the National Bolsheviks, and their pro-fascist allies will mobilize on the eve of the elections.” “It is our civic duty to resist these organizations and help the police,” adding, “We will work with the police and district militia officers. It is now a difficult time and it will become more difficult, and they have few people.”

With that purpose in mind, Kommersant says, Lobkov met with Viacheslav Kozlov, the deputy head of the Moscow Main Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD) to offer DMD’s support. Kozlov is famous for leading detachments of OMONtsy against a Dissenters’ March protests in Moscow. Nashi’s integration into Moscow security forces, Kommersant explains, will occur thus: Nashi members will first join the DMD, who will then be placed under UVD detachments. Under Russian law, the activists can involve themselves in public conflicts granted that they are deputized as members of the Moscow “people’s militia”. The law allows for “citizens to demand public order” and “use physical force” to ensure it.

We first heard of DMD as Nashi’s internal security from Kommersant’s interview with “Ivan,” an expelled Nashi member who pointed to DMD’s role in maintaining order in Nashi’s Camp Seliger. About DMD, “Ivan” said:

[The]Voluntary youth guard, well [are] a type of cleaners. There have already been cases when they’ve beaten people who have spread information against Nashi. They can probably catch you anywhere. They are football fanatics, athletes, and ordinary thugs. They enforce the ideology and they fulfill their duties with pleasure.

[Their duties include] to keep order in the movement and its borders, instigate disorder in meetings and marches, which hasn’t been approved by those in power. For example, in the spring DMD arranged provocations in practically all the “Dissenters’ Marchers,” they provoked the police and threw smoke bombs, and as police approach they planted them in the bags of marchers.

According to the DMD website, the group defines themselves as such, only with much softer language. In the Voluntary Youth Militia, “youth have the chance to participate in the live of the country, can prevent and stop the misdeeds that surround us, can help in the struggle with crime and with manifestations of nationalism and xenophobia.” This includes working with the police to fight crime and maintain public order. DMD has chapters in 19 provinces, and according to documents “Ivan” gave to Kommersant, their funding comes directly from Nashi. For example, the budget for the Moscow DMD for the months of June, July, and August 2007 amount to 768,000 rubles or $29,538. No small operation.

More importantly, DMD’s cooperation with the Moscow police gives a better indication as to what Nashi’s role in the upcoming elections will be. Should we expect fighting in the streets?