Recent Posts

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.

Another Casualty of the “Russian Abu Ghraib”

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The Nation‘s Katriana Vanden Heuvel (and wife of Russia scholar Stephen Cohen) has addressed the murder of Natalya Estermirova. According to preliminary reports, Estermirova was abducted and stuffed in a van.  Her corpse was later found murdered near a woodland area near Nazran in Ingushetia.  Estermirova had a direct connection to the Nation. She wrote a chronicle of Anna Politkovskaya’s work in Chechnya for the magazine in 2007.  About Politkovskaya, Estermirova wrote:

“There are those with a vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Ghraib forgotten–so that they can once again kidnap and torture. Our task, however, is to uncover their deeds and to fight them. Anna was at the forefront of this work for many years.”

The final line of that article reads: “She is no more. Now it is up to us to continue her work.”  Well, Estermirova did, and like Politkovskaya, paid the ultimate price, most likely at the hands of very people who have a “vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Gharib forgotten.”

For Russian Live Journal reactions see  Vilhelm Konnander’s summary on Global Voices.

While Estermirova was no journalist by trade, her personal friendship with Politkovskaya once again reminds one of the dangers of activist journalism in Russia.  However, it is important to remember that most Russian journalists who’ve been killed or beaten don’t have high profile status or Western liberal friends. Most write for small papers.  Most live far from Moscow where local power is much more immediate and violent and where baseball bats and metal pipes, not pistols, tend to be the weapon of choice.  Most write not on Chechnya or oligarchs in Moscow, but on local political and business corruption.  The most recent example of such a journalist was Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, the editor-in-chief of Rostov paper Corruption and Crime.  He was beaten to death in April and died of his injuries in late June.

Vanden Heuvel says that more than thirty journalists have been killed since Yeltsin.  I’ve read much higher numbers. It just depends how you categorize them.  But one thing is for sure, this pattern unfortunately has continued with Putin and Medvedev at the helm.

Equally sad is the pessimism that these types of incidents induce.  While I share Vaden Heuvel’s call to honor the courage of Natalya Estemirova, I’m afraid that even despite Medvedev’s expression of outrage, that her call for justice, however necessary, will ring hollow.