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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.

God’s Army

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Here’s a new one.  The Moscow Patriarch announced that it plans to create an “Orthodox People’s Militia” under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church. The militia, according to Father Vsevolod Chaplin, will be

Small groups which will literally dominate the street life of districts, small cities, and villages.  And here, I think the Orthodox militia can maintain order in their hometowns.  Now there exists military-patriotic groups who are physically fit under many church communes and parishes.  They could show a good amount of civil activity.

The groups, which seem to already have been created, will make their official debut on 1 December.  And what will be their most immediate task?  According to Father Kirill Frolov, the leader of the Moscow division of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the militias will “in some degree be dictated by the possible outcomes of the financial crisis, in particular unemployment.  The militiamen will uphold civil peace and prevent the manifestation of extremism.” The Moscow MVD has already expressed interest in the project.

It’s no coincidence that the announcement of an Orthodox militia also coincides with planned Dissenters’ March on 14 December. One assumes that when the good Father speaks of extremism, he means Other Russia. The Dissenters’ March falls on the anniversary of the Decembrist Uprising of 1825. We all know what happened then: the uprising of hopeful nobles was crushed, ushering in the reign of Nicholas I.  Nicholas is said to have conducted some of the interrogations personally and a compilation of the usurpers’ testimony is said to have sat on his desk as a reminder.  Given the emphasis Nicholas put on Othodoxy as a emblem of Russian nationalism, the potential participation of Orthodox militas as a foil to Other Russia’s plans strikes of a certain historical irony.

What is perhaps less ironic is the fact that the militias are supported by Nashi. Nashi is no stranger to organizing street militias to aid the cops.  Readers will remember that Nashi created the Voluntary Youth Militia before the 2007 parlimentary elections to combat disruptions by “extremist organizations.” Now it seems this experience will be taste tested with an added Orthodox flavor.

Indeed, Nashi has been cozying up to the Orthodox Church as of late. Orthodoxy is being more and more incorporated into Nashi’s ideology and identity.  Last week, during a meeting with Nashi members, Metropolitan Kirill said that there is a need for an all-Russia youth organization based on “traditional values.” “We used to have a youth organization (i.e. the Komsomol) working all through the country. It did a lot of useful work and many of those who belong to political elite today stepped out of the organization, where they gained administrative experience.”  How times have changed.

Nashi is beginning to sound like a perfect template for such an organization.  For example, Boris Yakemenko, one of Nashi’s chief ideologists and brother to the movement’s founder Vasili Yakemenko, recently penned a chapter for a textbook on Orthodox culture entitled “Russian Rock and Orthodoxy.” This year Nashi formed an Orthodox cabinet within its organization. According to Yakemenko, this cabinet was created to “attract youth to the church, speak in a language understandable to young people that says that Orthodoxy is not the religion of old people or “losers” (luzery) but a faith for plenty of successful people who love their country, their culture, and their language.  That is to say, our Orthodox direction will defend the Church and its culture.”

Now they will also defend Russia streets.  And if an article in today’s Vedomosti (Thanks Lyndon!) on the percentage of Russian companies planning cost cutting measures is correct, those Orthodox militias better get on the streets quick.  About 30 percent of Russian companies are planning some kind of trimming of labor according to a survey of 371 companies by Ankor. In the words of Ankor representative Natalia Danina,

The financial crisis has forced practically all companies to cut costs in a variety of ways, including the cutting of personnel.  Besides dismissal as a measure for cutting costs, they plan on cutting the work day and unpaid vacations for employees, and even cutting pay and lowering financial compensation packages.

The more people not working means potentially more people angry and on the streets.  God’s army better get to work.