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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.

Volgograd Obama Times Two

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kandidat_osnJoachim Crima was surely mistaken if he thought he would coast into Russian history as the first Afro-Russian to run for public office.  Enter Fillip Kondratev, 34, technical director at the Volgograd construction company “Pyramid,” Afro-Russian, and newly declared candidate for mayor of the Srednaya Akhbuta.  But being black in Russia is pretty much were the similarities between Kondratev and Crima end.  Unlike the latter, Kondratev was born in Moscow province, Russia.  His father was a high level diplomat from Ghana (who he’s never met) and his mother Russian.  Moreover, while Crima may have been dubbed the “Volgograd Obama,” the title might be better suited for Kondratev.  As Trud explains, “Fillip looks very much like Barack Obama: He’s tall, 6’3″ and fairly light skin.”  Besides that, not much more is known about Kondratev.

Kondratev’s entry into the race certainly raises more suspicion as to the political veracity of the two Afro-Russian candidates. If anything, it will certainly add to the drama of the election, maybe even start a PR showdown.  According to Andrei Shevelkov, Kondratev’s proxy, “Fillip did not enter the election to take the wind out of Crima’s sails.”  Nah, he just happens to be another black candidate who just happened to run in the same election.  Nothing suspicious in that.

Few are buying it.  Nezamisimaya gazeta reports that some believe that Kondratev’s sudden appearance is the result of “black PR on the part of local administration’s team who are afraid of Joachim Crima’s popularity.”  The team in question is the current district leader and KPRF member, Vladimir Romanov.  Vladimir Kritskii, Crima’s representative, believes that Kondratev’s candidacy was a clear attempt to “split the electorate” and that his campaign will be “especially virtual,” that is at the “level of posters and pamphlets.”

As for Crima’s campaign, he’s not running on the United Russia ticket despite his membership.  Instead, he’ll run as an independent.  But his candidacy is not solidified just yet.  He’s submitted the necessary documents to be on the ballot, but he needs to get at least 609 signatures before August 31.  Given his global popularity, I doubt that will be too difficult.

It’s difficult to say whether anything will actually come of Fillip Kondratev’s future as Russia’s “second Obama.”  Let’s see if he ever materializes.  My guess is that he’s merely an apparition in the virtuality of Russian politics.