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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.

Nashi Looks to Expand Youth Militia

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597472_350The plan to fill Russia’s streets with 100,000 young militiamen by 2010 has been all over the Russian internet media over the last few weeks.  And as usual the thought of the Russian government recruiting and deploying youth to monitor the streets has many shaking in their boots.  Perhaps for good reason.  The Russian police are already known for their corruption.  Having a potential army of 100,000 youths “protecting” the streets certainly doesn’t provide much comfort.

The militia plan, which was announced at this year’s Seliger camp, will allow Nashi to form an All-Russian Association of Militias before the end of the year.  Nashi has had a youth militia program in the works since 2007.  The All-Russian version will incorporate the Nashi DMD and place the militias directly under the local police.  Former Nashi founder and chairman of Russia’s Youth Affairs Council Vasili Yakemenko  will appeal to the government for “start-up funds” and local administrative support.  Advocates for the initiative are hoping to pass some version of the law “On the participation of RF citizens in securing law and order” which has been sitting in the Duma for a few years despite MVD sponsorship.

According to the project’s leader Sergei Bokhan, youth militias will kill two social ills with in one stroke.  Deploying the deputized youths will help keep law and order and get “at-risk” kids off the street and direct their energies to more socially purposeful endeavors.  And I’m sure if they let all that energy out on helping OMON crack some National Bolshevik heads, then all the better. “We find kids, who are practically living on the streets,” Bokhan told,“who don’t know how to occupy themselves, and who don’t have money or interests.  We provide them with gyms, teach them combatant and competitive sports.  We work with the at-risk group, who would potentially break a bottle over someone’s head, or throw rocks through windows.”  This wouldn’t be the first time Nashi has recruited such kids to do their dirty work.

The real question is whether the youths will be armed with non-lethal weapons: nightsticks, air or stun guns etc.  As some have noted the law in the Duma will allow citizens participating in militias to get licenses to carry weapons.   Though I doubt that doling out nightsticks to street hooligans turned street security is what the MVD has in mind.  The MVD already let their concern about youth extremist groups, hooliganism, and violence be known in February.

Plus allowing youths to carry weapons were require changing weapon possession laws.  There there is the public fear of giving people with criminal records the right to legally carry weapons.  According to Anastasia Dzhmukhadze, who works for the Moscow police licensing office,

“The allegation that youth will go out on the street with “non-lethal weapons” is some kind of fabrication which has been leaked to the press, and which journalists have spread without knowing anything about the issue whatsoever.  This is impossible for many reason, but it is simply because no one will change the weapons law for the sake of training at-risk teenagers. For the registration of licenses to carry and possess weapons conditions must be observed which are equal for all.  First, no one will give a license to persons under 18 years old . . . Second, [an applicant] must pass a physical and mental health exam on a regular basis by a medical commission.  Third, no one with a criminal record can be trusted with the possession of non-lethal weapons even for self-defense.”

Indeed, if the militia will be recruited among the at-risk youth who are already apt to bust bottles over people’s head or hurl rocks at windows, nothing remotely positive can come out of giving them batons and air guns.

This is of course assumes that the All-Russian youth militia project will get off the ground in the first place.  Nashi and Yakemenko make a lot of plans.  Whether they actually materialize and in what form is often anyone’s guess.