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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.

Bread and Butter

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Here’s something to chew on. Nicolai Petro asks in his column “Why Russian Liberals Lose“:

“Why have Russia’s self-proclaimed “liberals” done so badly at attracting popular support?” A few reasons actually. First, he states that liberals like Vladimir Ryzhkov, Irina Khakamada, Grigory Yavinsky, Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov’s initial embrace of figures like Eduard Limonov and Garry Kasparov have caused more harm than good. The fact that most of them, except for Ryzhkov and Nemtsov, have dumped Other Russia, the fact that they were once wedded to them is a hard thing to shake.

Second, the problem isn’t that the liberals can’t get its message to the public. Petro claims that a quarter of Russians have access to the internet, each of the eleven parties on the ballot got “three hours of prime national television time,” and that Yabloko has a 97 percent name recognition rate. In his view, this is enough to circumvent “censorship.” Of course, I can’t help wonder how the three hours of TV time compares to Putin’s airtime and if 97 percent of Russians do recognize Yabloko, how often is it proceeded or followed by grammatically applicable variants of “idiots” or “traitors” I buy this reason less. If anything, our times tell us that media matters.

But no Petro says that the lack of fanfare for Russian liberalism boils down to the political winds. And given how they’re blowing, Yabloko’s and SPS’s sails are either at half-mast or full of holes. Basically, he writes, “the problem is with the messengers, who have managed to alienate their natural constituency – Russia’s growing middle class.”

Then he presents a political choice:

What you would do if faced with the following choice:

One, a political movement that unites a former chess champion whose family resides overseas, a former prime minister popularly nicknamed “Misha 2 percent” because of alleged kickbacks for authorizing government-backed loans to private firms, and an ex-punk rocker released from prison a few years ago who vows to restore the Russian empire by any means necessary.

Two, the party of Vladimir Putin, which has pledged to continue the policies that have increased average salaries from $81 a month to $550 a month, which has dramatically increased social spending and reduced the poverty level from 27 percent to 15 percent.

Um, option #2, please.