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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.

US Candidates Barely Mention Russia

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The Democratic and Republican conventions are over.  Thank god.  All the political pomp, demigod worship, endless biographical tales, self-congratulation, repetitions of God Bless America, convention protesters and chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A have reduced to a low simmer.  Now the pundits and campaign gurus are weighing in.   To my surprise McCain beat Obama in the preliminary TV ratings:

Across all broadcast networks Thursday, Sen. McCain’s speech ended the night with a 4.8 rating/7 share, compared to Sen. Obama’s 4.3/7 average, according to overnight numbers from metered households in 55 U.S. markets measured by Nielsen. These ratings are preliminary, however, and are subject to change.

I have lots of thoughts on the both party’s performances which I won’t belabor here.  Suffice to say I think Obama gave a good speech until he began to promise the world.  At that point I promptly turned him off.  McCain’s speech was just boring.  As everyone knows, they man doesn’t fare well behind a podium.

I do have to say that McCain’s response to the attempts to disrupt his speech was brilliant. “My friends, my dear friends,” McCain said moving off script, “please, please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.”  This gave his speech a jolt in the arm.  Unfortunately, it faded rather quickly as he became mired in teleprompter morass.  I gave him the axe after 20 minutes and tuned into the new 90210 (which I loved).

While McCain doesn’t stay on message when he speaks off the cuff, part of me thinks it would have been quite entertaining to see him wonder around the stage, microphone in hand, talking “small town meeting” style.  Alas, there just isn’t much room for spontaneity in managed democracy.

Speaking of managed democracy, what role did Russia play in the words of the candidates.  Very little actually.  Obama only mentioned Russia once with his promise to “curb” its agression.  Here’s is what Obama said:

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts.  But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression.  I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease.  And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

McCain mention of Russia was a little more substantial.  He put oil and empire at the center of Russia’s “invasion.” Though he said that he would work to establish good relations.  Here’s what the Maverick had to say:

“We have dealt a serious blow to al-Qaeda in recent years. But they are not defeated, and they’ll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia’s leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals and the obligations of a responsible power. They invaded a small, democratic neighbor to gain more control over the world’s oil supply, intimidate other neighbors, and further their ambitions of reassembling the Russian empire. And the brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and prayers. As President I will work to establish good relations with Russia so we need not fear a return of the Cold War. But we can’t turn a blind eye to aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability of the world and the security of the American people.”

Both are rather bland statements that are more to say that they know Russia exists rather than how to deal with it.  What really strikes me about both these excerpts is how similar they are.  If you slice out the rhetoric and hyperbole, Obama and McCain are basically saying the same thing.

It’s hard to say who will be better to Russia.  Both candidates have their firm face on, looking all manly and foreign policy-like.  Plus so much of that they say is for domestic consumption.  As banal it may sound, Russia, as well as us all, will just have to wait to see what either will do once they’re in office. For campaign time it’s much safer to speak loudly and carry a small stick.