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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.

Cops serve Nemstov another helping of PR

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Martin and Lewis or Simon and Garfunkel?

Solidarity may be band of “scrubby little opposition organizations [that] have no future,” but if things keep going the way their going, Boris Nemtsov will be wining and dining on American think tank honorariums, hobnobbing with US politicos, and testifying in front of Congress for years to come.  Wait, haven’t they done a bit of this already?

Well, let’s just say that Nemtsov’s future is looking a bit brighter thanks to his efforts to paint himself as a repressed dissident.  On Tuesday, Nemtsov reported that the cops seized another 100,000 copies of Putin. The Result. Ten Years. in Smolensk.  I’ve already noted how the cops seized 100,000 copies of the Nemtsov and Milov report last week in St. Petersburg.  The act was clearly a way to prevent activists from distributing the screed to potential investors at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.  A few activists from United Civil Front did worm their way into the forum, but were promptly arrested.

In inquiring about the report, the Smolensk authorities explained that they were just doing their St. Petersburg colleagues a solid, but denied taking any copies.  “After the detention of copies in St. Petersburg, our Petersburg colleagues asked for us to check whether the publisher’s seal was from Smolensk though the report’s publisher is from Moscow.  We asked the head of the printing press [about this],” said Nikolai Turbovets, First Lieutenant of the Smolensk police.  But apparently, unlike their Petersburg counterparts, the Smolensk authorities just did an inquiry.  “No copies were confiscated and no one was arrested,” an employee of the Smolensk press told Kommersant.  However, the source thinks that this was only the beginning.  “I think that the copies will be seized after the hoopla dies down.  We will be connected with the publisher in the next few days.”  The unnamed employee went on to add: “There is a general feeling that now without these copies Boris Nemtsov will receive some excellent PR.”

Given this, it is no surprise that Nemtsov has exaggerated with how things went down.  Nemtsov insists that the copies were indeed taken and not returned, while Olga Shorina, Solidarity’s press secretary, says that the copies are at the Smolensk printing press’ offices but they have been “sealed” by the cops thereby preventing their distribution.

Confiscated or not confiscated.  Sealed or unsealed.  The fact is that the authorities are playing right into Nemtsov’s hands by giving him far more PR than his little “report” deserves.  And he’s lapping it all up as people bum-rush him for his autograph.  Another Russian oppositionist with the rock star looks without the rock star talent.  Oh well, it’s not like talent matters anyway.

The thing I can never wrap my head around is why the police care about people like Nemtsov.  Are they really that paranoid?  Do they think that they are scoring brownie points with their superiors?  Or are they just flat out stupid?  Now granted, there is no contradiction between any of these.  If anything is to be learned is that paranoia, sycophancy, and stupidity go hand in hand.

True, after a few weeks or so all of this will die down even if the cops declare Nemstov’s “report” to be extremist.  Just how soon, though, will depend on Nemtsov himself.  Being the slick willy that he is, I’m sure he’ll have no problem finding the gumption to parlay this into at least a few American taxpayer funded first class transatlantic flights, black tie dinners, photo-ops, and speeches detailing the gruesomeness of the Putin regime.  If the FSB really puts the screws to him, maybe he can even get a movie option or two so he could tell his “story” in celluloid fashion.  George Clooney as Nemtsov?  I could see it.  And if all goes really well, Borya will be able to dethrone Khodorkovsky as the reincarnation of Sakharov.  We all know how Americans like “freedom fighters.”  After all, the Russian authorities have provided him a trough full of greasy, scandal laden vittles.  All Nemtsov has to do is bury his snout in it and start slurping.

With all this said, I can’t help wondering if the real loser in all this is Nemtsov’s co-author, Vladimir Milov.  He basically shot himself in the foot by announcing his departure from Solidarity a day after the cops seized his report.  I mean, didn’t Russian Dissident School teach him that you don’t take a principled stand on anything unless it boosts your public profile?  Sure Solidarity may be filled with egomaniacs, but said egomaniacs command the flashbulbs of Western correspondents.  Now poor Milov doesn’t have a pot to piss in, let alone a platform from which to piss in it.