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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.

Putin’s Final Dog and Pony Show

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Four hours and forty minutes.  Two hours and six minutes of which were broadcast live on Russian TV.  One thousand three hundred and sixty-four journalists.  Over 100 questions from fifty-two reporters.  Those are some heady stats.  When the vozhd’ speaks, the media listens.

Putin appeared loose in his final showcase.  Reuters described his performance as “mixed flirtatious banter with metaphors about snot and showed a gift for sarcastic brush-offs worthy of a stand-up comedian.”  The snot references were to questions about his alleged hidden wealth and the hard man hours he put in as Prez.  To the former he said that reports about his wealth were “rubbish . . . excavated from someone’s nose and then spread on those bits of paper”.  To the latter, he said “Heads of state have no right to whine, or drool for any reason… If they are going to slobber and blow snot and say things are bad, bad, then that’s how it will be.”

One of my favorites was his response to Hillary Clinton saying he had no soul.  “A state official must at least have brains,” he stuck back. Given how her Presidential bid is going, Putin might be on to something.  He even gave a shout out to his “American partner” George W. Bush. “You have to make decisions that nobody else is in a position to make. They are not always pleasant decisions. It isn’t easy. Is it easy for George Bush? This is where the buck stops.” To questions asking him to guarantee the ruble’s stability he said, “What do you want? Do you want me to eat soil from a flower pot? Take a blood oath?”  Jesus people, just because the man’s visage is hung all over Russia, doesn’t mean he’s God.  Naive monarchism is so 19th century.

Indeed, Putin was not without humor or wit.  Kommersant was even kind enough to pick out some of the his sure to be memorable aphorisms.  Here’s the list.

“All these eight years I worked like a slave in a galley from morning to night.”  (On his work as President)

“I don’t think that we need to sprinkle ashes on our heads and beat ourselves with chains to prove that everything is fine with us.” (On relations with Poland).

“Let them teach their own wives how to cook shchi!” (On international election monitors on the Russian presidential elections.)

“As we said during Soviet times: If you want to “bury” a person, you appoint him to agricultural work.” (On Dmitri Medvedev’s resolve and national projects)

“Don’t whine and blubber about every subject” (On the character of a president.)

“It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” (“Не говори гоп, пока не перепрыгнешь”) (On being named to the post of Prime Minister)

“What can a person without a visa say about Tchaikovsky’s music?” (On relations between Russia and the West)

“Everybody must hoe their area like Saint Francis, boom, boom, everyday.”  (On the activities of ministers)

And if anyone can translate and explain the following to me, I’d appreciate it: “Как у нас в некоторых местах говорили, “шило в стенку и на боковую залечь”” (о возможности покинуть политику).

Putin wasn’t all just shits and giggles.  He seemed annoyed at the repeated “third term” questions.  Just take a look at the photo above.  He looks like he’s reaching to rip someone’s heart from  their chest.