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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.

Consequences for Caricatures

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I stumbled across Shaun Walker’s “No Laughing Matter: Cartoons and the Kremlin” while perusing I only realized after a few minutes that the article was originally published in the Independent and translated for (interestingly without the above caricature).

No laughing matter indeed. As noted Russian cartoonist Mikhail Zlatkovsky tells Walker, what was once permitted under Gorbachev and Yeltsin is taboo under Putin. Zlatkovsky’s satires of the vozhd’ abruptly came to an end after Putin’s inauguration in May 2000. It was then that his editor at Literaturnaya gazeta informed him, “Misha, we’re not going to draw Putin any more. The young lad is very sensitive.” Zlatkovsky’s drawings of Putin haven’t appeared in the press since. And soon after that neither did his and many other cartoonists’ satires of ministers, Kremlin aids, Chechnya, and military brass. Even a drawing of Patriarch Alexy II “prompted a phone call from the patriarchate and a strong request never to draw him again.”

Zlatkovsky tells Walker that while there is no official censorship, there is “the censorship of the fire safety inspectorate; or the censorship of the tax police.” Bureaucratic revenge may be softer, but it is just as effective, if not more so, than good old fashion repression. The result, according to Walker is that “Many cartoonists have given up, finding other work, and newspaper editors prefer to err on the side of caution and not publish cartoons at all.” I would guess that this is exactly what those in power hoped.

Therefore it is no surprise that yet again Freedom House has labeled Russia’s press “not free.” There does, however, seem to be a twinkle of light in the darkness. According to Izvestiia, young Robert Shlegel got a finger waging by senior United Russia officials for introducing the media law amendment. One of United Russia’s four factions, 4 November, released a statement saying, “Oversight and law enforcement organs already have sufficient opportunities to put an end to the activities of unscrupulous journalists without jeopardizing the freedom of the mass media.” (Yes, there are four official factions in United Russia. They officially constituted themselves at their party congress two weeks ago. Who knew?) Basically, 4 November thinks that the amendment is redundant. Whether their opposition and Shlegel’s shaming will have any impact on the voting of future readings is uncertain and probably unlikely. Given how widely the amendment hit the international press, I’m sure this is all posturing. After all, the law’s first reading passed unanimously minus one. Boris Reznik of United Russia cast the lone dissenting vote. Um, 4 November members, where were you?