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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.

On “Hanging by the balls”

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Putin’s statement to Nicholas Sarkozy, “I’m going to hang Saakashvilli by the balls” is making the rounds in the news.  Putin’s crude words, which he is known for, has prompted questions over how much he really detests Saak, and whether this hatred figured in how Russia dealt with the Georgian leader.  Whatever Putin said or not, and if he did what it means for Kremlin policy is besides the point.  The image of Saakashvilli hanging from his balls wasn’t the only image of humor in Putin and Sarkozy’s exchange.

“I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there.”

Even Saak found the incident funny.  “I knew about this scene, but not all the details. It’s funny, all the same,” he said on French radio.

Putin’s “hang’em by the balls” quip reminded me of similar statement made by none other than Stalin. In a note attached to V. I. Mezhlauk’s 1930 sketch N. P. Briukhanov (above), Stalin wrote:

To the members of the PB:

For all the sins, past and present, hang Briukhanov by the balls.  if the balls hold out, consider him acquitted by trial.  If they do not hold, drown him in the river. I. S.

Briukhanov’s balls must have held.  In April 1931, he was rehabilitated and appointed Deputy of the People’s Commissariat of Supplies.  Unfortunately for him, his oppositionist past caught up with him and he was arrested in 1938.  His balls, now eight years older, must not have been able to stand the tension.  They snapped.  Briukhanov was shot.

Both pictures come from Piggy Foxy and the Sword of the Revolution: Bolshevik Self-Portraits.