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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.

Putin and the Great Patriotic War Jump the Shark

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It’s a notable feat that two of Russia’s most powerful symbols, Vladimir Putin and the Great Patriotic War, could jump the shark on the same day.

Granted it’s possible to argue that Putin jumped the shark a long time ago.  The man has so many talents, that the Fonz himself could only awe in amazement.  Putin has proved to be a Judo master, jet pilot, tiger wrestler, woodsman, super model, and now, race car driver.  All that is needed is for someone to make a Putin action figure with the kung fu grip.  Oh wait, someone has already thought of that, though sans the important fighting grip action.

But really, folks.  Enough already.  What’s next Vladimir Vladimirovich?  Is jumping an actual shark on waterskis in your future?

Unfortunately, Putin wasn’t the only Russian symbol that completed the passage from adoration to absurdity.

Yesterday was the 83rd anniversary of the Great October Revolution.  Whatever one might think of the outcome of the Revolution, one cannot deny that Lenin and the boys single changed the course of the 20th century when the “stormed” the Winter Palace.  Though, any serious student of the Revolution knows that the supposed dramatic storm is a myth.

Sadly, myth-making hasn’t lost its allure.

Indeed, the Revolution remains difficult to sublimate into Russia’s post-Soviet collective memory, and nothing says this more than yesterday’s military parade on Red Square.  Since the Revolution remains such a controversial issue, the Russian government can’t commemorate it as such.  To do so would give the Communist Party legitimacy as a past modernizing force. Official recognition would renew the “glorify the Soviet past” hailstorm in the press.  So what does the Russian government do? Well, it rewrites the Revolution into the only acceptable Soviet historical event: The Great Patriotic War.

As you can see from the Russia Today report, the Revolution, which the original parade commemorated, is silenced.   This act as memory revision is the only way I can make sense of this reenactment of the legendary parade held on November 7, 1941.  Then, the commemoration of October was defying the Nazi onslaught.  It was giving the middle finger to the fascists by saying that we Russians weren’t going to sacrifice the holiest of holy days even though you are some 70 to 100 kilometers outside of Moscow.

But now? While this was all well and good in 1941, in 2010 it just looks like a silly parody.  Who exactly is the Russian government defying here? Certainly not the Nazis. The West?  If so, I’m sure that gesture fell on deaf ears.  Yet another “thank you” to the grandfathers for their sacrifice?  Too many thank yous out of context render them hollow.  A chance to show off some vintage uniforms and tanks?  That’s always pretty cool in a manly sort of way.  Or was it an attempt to renarrate an event that tore the nation to pieces by placing it within one that bound it together?  That’s my choice.  But in sublimating the Revolution into the Great Patriotic War in 2010, the parade made a mockery of the latter.  The war’s memory is rendered merely an empty signifier ready to be refilled with an ever malleable, politically expedient kit of signified.

You heard it here.  The memory of the Great Patriotic War has officially jumped the shark. So there, “Sit on it!”