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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.

Moscow Costs but Pays

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The fact that Moscow is expensive city is well known. For the second consecutive year, the Cost of Living Survey, which is conducted by the Mercer Human Resource Consulting has ranked Russia’s capital as the most expensive city in the world. Expensive it is. For western expatriates. But what of the millions of Russians who live there? How much does it take to survive the mean Moscow streets?

Figures released by the Moscow City government say that a minimum of 6,500 rubles ($266) a month is necessary to live in Moscow. A tripartite Moscow commission placed their minimum a bit higher at 8,000 rubles ($327). But as Nezamisimaya gazeta points out, most experts note that this government “minimum” is based on the the government idea of the rock bottom necessary for a person to live. That means a person who is “not dying from hunger, lice free, and doesn’t go naked or barefoot.” In addition to this the Russian government includes a “minimum subsistence basket” of foodstuff and services. “What goes into this basket?” NG asks.

The minimum set of services includes working utilities and 18 square meters of living space. The minimum set of “non-food” goods are clothes, shoes, linen, furniture, housewares, the necessities of life, hygiene and medicine. It is necessary to have nine pairs of underwear over 2.4 years, seven pairs of hosiery over a year, and six pairs of shoes over 3.2 years.

For a comparison, in Great Britain a mobile phone, an mp3 player, a digital radio, and a DVD recorder and a host of other digital products are added to the subsistence basket.

Those are two very different notions of minimum subsistence. It’s no wonder that many accuse the West of decadence.

The Russian calculation of minimum subsistence is nothing to praise. There is nothing noble in poverty. Nor is there anything pretty in inflation, a problem that has been hitting Russia for almost a year now. Between 2004 to the final quarter of 2007, the cost of living for employed Muscovites rose from 4265 rubles ($173) to 6563 rubles ($267). For lowest on the economic ladder, the elderly and children, the cost of living went up in the same period 2531 ($103) to 3983 rubles ($161) and 3377 ($137) to 4934 rubles ($200) respectively. Moreover, estimates from 2006 put 1.3 million Muscovites living at the lowest income level out of a population of 10.5 million. This number has dropped in the last three years by 160,000 people. This trend is being reproduced across the country. From the beginning of 2005 to the last quarter of 2007, the number of people living in poverty has dropped from 24.5 percent to 15.8 percent. And people still wonder why Putin, and now Medvedev by association, is so popular.

It may be expensive for Russians to live in Moscow but it seems that they are making the money to do so. The median income for Muscovites as of October 2007 is 23,873 rubles a month. From that they spend an average of 67 percent (15,995) of their income of foodstuffs. That’s over twice what the government says is necessary to live at minimum subsistence. Still most Muscovites seem live somewhat cautiously. The average amount of their monthly salary they devote to savings and buying foreign currency is 8.8 percent (2100 rubles) and 8.4 percent (2005) rubles.