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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.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Prosecutors Away

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Andrei Lugovoi has a trump card: becoming a Duma MP. If Zhirinovsky’s LDPR polls over the 7 percent threshold, which it is expected to do, Lugovoi will gain a seat in Russia’s legislature. Does a legislative seat worry ol’Andrei? What will he do for his constituency? These questions are only secondary when it comes to the seat’s real prize: immunity.

Like many countries, Russia’s elected politicians get immunity from prosecution. And if there’s anyone looking to exploit this legal loophole, Vladimir Zhirinovsky is their man. According to Alexander Kolesnichenko of Russia Profile, these days a LDPR seat runs about $3 million. This is threefold increase from the 1995 election when Zhiri was peddling them for $1 million. Of course, the flamboyant LDPR leader of denies selling Duma seats for the highest bidder. “We never sold anything. We don’t call anyone to join us. Our party activity strictly follows all the world standards.” World standards? Maybe. Political corruption is par for the course for even the world’s most celebrated democracies. But the standards that Zhiri and his ilk more closely follow are the Russian standards of electoral supply and demand.

Next week’s Duma elections should be better seen as a fire sale. About 25 percent of United Russia and Communist Party candidates are mini-oligarchs and selling them immunity is a good way to fill party leaders’ pockets. The price of seats are even set by quasi-market forces. According to Boris Kagarlitsky, the guaranteed seats chosen by party leaders are the most dear, costing up to $3 million. Contested seats, which are subject to votes and have no sure guarantee of victory, are must less. About $1 million will allow you to gamble on those. Any mini-oligarch looking to lock his skeletons in a lock box certainly pines for one of those guaranteed seats. And thus their price goes up. In the end, Russia’s Duma election might just be an example of capitalism’s purest form.

It’s unclear whether Lugovoi had to hand Zhirinovsky a bundle of cash to get on the LDPR list or if it was all a nationalist political stunt on the part of the latter to throw dirt in the West’s face. It was probably a combination of both.

Whatever the terms of Lugovoi’s “appointment,” he appears set on riding his celebrity to victory. In a stump speech in Manturovo, a village about 60 miles outside of Kursk, Lugovoi treated the crowd to a tirade against Britain. He singled out the island nation as responsible for much of Russia woes. He even cited the Crimean War as a historical bridge to connect Britian’s “Anglo-Saxon imperialist” past with its present geopolitical machinations. “If you look at Russian-British relations, the cold war never started and never ended.”

How effective Lugovoi’s Anglophobia was is hard to measure. When the Observer’s Luke Harding put the question to a certain Vladimir Shimankov, a Manturovo resident and Afghan War vet, he said, “In Russia, many strange things happen all the time. Britain is a long way away. But I know [the British] have nice apples.” Maybe once Andrei is immune he can use his English ties to set up special apple imports to the residents of Manturovo. Sans radiation, of course.