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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.

Two Days and Counting . . .

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Two days and counting before Dmitri Medvedev can lose the “elect” that sits after of his moniker President. The ceremony promises to be lavish and well choreographed. And why not? You can’t have a king without a coronation. But the question on everyone’s mind is not what Dima will do in his new position. It’s who’s in charge. Perhaps for once Russian and English language media are singing in chorus. Putin will be in charge. It’s just not clear how much.

One area VVP will certainly have sway is over the next cabinet. For the first time in a long time, the Russian Prime Minister, in this case Putin, will exercise his Constitutional right to form a government. According to Kommersant, the new government will probably look a lot like the old. Viktor Zubkov, Alexander Zhukov, Alexei Kudrin, all current vice premiers, will join the cabinet. As will Igor Sechin, Alexei Gromov, and Sergei Ivanov. Chief ideologist of Putinism, Vladislav Surkov will run Medvedev’s administration. These are all members of Putin’s clan. To solidify Putin bailiwick, there is speculation that Chapter 5, Article 32 of the 1997 law “On the Government of the Russian Federation” will be axed. Eliminating this article will strip the President’s power to appoint the heads of the military and foreign ministries.

Perhaps most important, especially if Medvedev intends to someday step out of his patron’s shadow, is that Putin’s appointments will give him a tight leash over the siloviki.

But what of Medvedev? How will he staff his administration? What does he intend to do? Few are asking because no one seems to know or really care. Nor is there any indication that Dima will spring any surprises. Besides pithy statements about fighting corruption and economic liberalization, it sounds that Dima’s role is to hold the ship steady, and remain, at least for the time being, the Skipper’s little buddy.

Honestly, how could it be anything different? Putin is the face of Russia in politics, kitsch, and culture. If Medvedev stepped into office and started shouting directions without a political base of his own, the siloviki would eat him alive. Plus, its not like Russian elite cares much. Apparently, they are too busy gorging themselves on the fat of the land to be concerned about the inner workings of Kremlin Inc.

Indeed, all seems right with the world if you’re looking out from a Kremlin window. But some refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. For them, Russia is eternally standing on the precipice of disaster. “I think one thing is dead clear. We have entered a period of profound instability in the country.” says Yevgenia Albats. In her view, “the double-headed state will inevitably lead to power struggles.”

Maybe. But that could ultimately be a good thing. Diarchy is better than nothing. Certainly better than autocracy.