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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.

Moscow Police Seek Expulsion of “Politically Unreliable” Students

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Yaroslav Kuzminov, the head of the Higher School of Economics (VShE) in Moscow received a disturbing letter from the Main Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD). The letter strongly recommended that the dean expel “politically unreliable” students, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta. “Politically unreliable” in the police’s opinion, are those youth who participated in last December’s Dissenters March sponsored by “Other Russia.”  Six students from VShE’s Economics and Political Science departments were detained as they were leaving the Mayakovskaya metro station on their way to the demonstration.  They never made it.  Now the police recommends that the university consider expelling them. NG reports:

The most specific passage of the document is: “Participation in unsanctioned protests are one type of extreme activity and have a high level of social danger that demands security organs to take the adequate measures of reaction.” GUVD asked “to examine the question about removing conditions that contribute to the perpetration of offenses” and “to decide on the necessity to continue educating the aforementioned persons.”  After this the security organs spelled out the appropriate measures.

This is not all.  The heads of two departments, political science and economy, were ordered to answer an inquiry into “extremists” and to force the most frequent perpetrators to sign declaratory statements.  The names of “said persons” in the letter were numerous.

How VShE will officially respond remains to be seen.  They have to make an official declaration by 4 Feburary.  In the meantime, Tatiana Chetvernina, the university’s vice dean gave this comment to Nezavisimaya:

“The letter that came from the police was a recommendation.  They, of course, have the right to recommend what they think is necessary. Just like the university has the right to make a decision in accordance with the workings of laws on the property of the Higher School of Economics.  And namely, if a student participates in meetings and groups and if he is not breaking the law, then that is the private affair of the students. We live in a free country and we have a working Constitution.  If they break the law then the university will look into it.  But, certainly, this question is connected not so much with dismissal as with violating law and order.  Participating in groups has no relation to studying.”

Olga Kolesnikova, the school’s press secretary, was more blunt. “We can dismiss students if they are underachievers,” she said.  “But if they study well, what right do we have to expel them?  They are not criminal offenders, why should we forbid them from studying?  In a word, we don’t let anyone get at our children.”

Of course, the letter harks back to both Tsarist and Soviet times when students were expelled for participating in political activities. Except this time, in the words of Oleg Shchebakov, a Moscow lawyer, where the parameters of acceptable political ideology are murky unlike in Soviet times the ideological lines were clearer.  “The punished understood and clearly accepted that he lived in a rigidly ideological political system.”  Now, he contents, “There is no general ideology! We complain about its absence all the time. It is simply undeveloped! So excuse me, what kind of ideology should these students use that someone has established?  Today fascists are even permitted to go out into the streets.  And no one singles them out . . . Evidently, they are not politically suspect in the opinion of the authorities.”


Moskovskii komsomolets reports that similar letters were sent to other universities in Moscow.  And apparently, the cops can’t even get their information straight when they send out such “recommendations.”  Of the six students named in the letter to VShE, two don’t even study there.