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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.

Medvedev Meets Novaya’s Muratov, Gorbachev

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There has been alot of criticism of President Medvedev’s and Prime Minister Putin’s silence  in regard to the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  Dimitri Medvedev has finally responded.  But not in a overtly public manner but via a meeting with Novaya gazeta Editor-in-Chief Dmitri Muratov and former Soviet President and Novaya shareholder Mikhail Gorbachev.  According to an interview Muratov gave to RFE/RL about the meeting, Medvedev appeared to be monitoring the situation and was concerned about the murders.  As to why he didn’t make a statement about the killings earlier as some, including myself, hoped, Muratov said the following:

Mr. Medvedev said he absolutely did not want to make any statements [on the killing of Markelov and Baburova] because he knew very well how things work in the administration — he worked as chief of the presidential administration for many years. And he said he understood perfectly well that investigators could interpret the words of the head of state as a directive to pursue a certain line of investigation. As a lawyer he felt strongly against that as a matter or principle.

After allowing some time for investigators to work efficiently and independently, while understanding that what had happened was a tragedy, he decided to invite a shareholder of the newspaper, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the editor in chief to express his condolences, but also to get our perspective as people who don’t represent the official or, generally speaking, television’s point of view.

This answer is interesting for a number of reasons.  It gives a further glimpse into the how relationship between the Russian head of state and government organs continues to be one of signals and interpretations of signals. Medvedev is quite cognizant of the fact that his words have signifying power. And the real concern is not what the West, liberals, or people like myself think about what the silence signifies about Russia as a whole. The more pressing concern is how speaking influences officials’ actions.  Here one might be reminded of Prosecutor General Iurii Chaika’s statements in regard to the Politkovskaya murder.  In this case, Medvedev was aware that his words could be interpreted “as a directive to pursue a certain line of investigation,” and perhaps to his credit, he kept his mouth shut.

Another interesting aspect is Muratov’s claim that Medvedev was interested in their perspective because they are outside the mainstream.  Could this gesture mean that Medvedev (and the Russian leadership in general) might be susceptible to the simulacra of their own propaganda?  It also suggests that unlike his mentor-predecessor-Prime Minister, Medvedev is willing to solicit feedback and sees value in oppositional voices.  This is further supported by his statement to Muratov that “Thank God [Novaya gazeta] exists.”  Muratov told RFE/RL that Medvedev said that Muratov’s paper “criticizes the authorities harshly, but that’s what it’s for, and “Novaya gazeta” does not have to be liked, but it’s necessary to accept its criticism.” It sounds like Novaya has found itself an official patron.

As to who was behind the brazen murder, it seems that Muratov and Medvedev agree that fascists might be the culprits, and if not, fascism nonetheless represents a serious danger to the Russian polity.

RFE/RL: How did he react to your words? What did you speak to him about?

Muratov: I spoke about fascists sensing a certain public mood now, sensing a public demand. I said democratic institutions are stifled and that is probably the reason why fascism has raised its head. There is only one alternative to fascism and that is democracy.

As far as I understood, Dmitry Medvedev is following the situation closely and knows well about fascist, Nazi groups, which kill people constantly, in effect emerging from the underground. I handed our newspaper reports to him, essentially with a calendar of killings. He said it was one of the most dangerous phenomena today and he would pay attention to this matter. He said the cumulative effect of such fascist attacks is in complete contradiction with the path our country should follow.

I hope that in addition to the chronicle of killings, Muratov also gave the President the comments fascists left on Novaya‘s blog concerning Markelov’s and Baburova’s murder.

First, an announcement that the treason law will be reworked and now this.

Perhaps Medvedev is slowly getting the gumption to step out from under Putin’s shadow.