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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.

Kashin Implicates Yakemenko

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When Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin was beaten in November, Nashi was high on the list of suspects.  Kashin, after all has written unflatteringly about the pro-Kremlin youth group, and Nashi, especially its founder Vasili Yakemenko, has been alleged to have used Nashists or their football hooligan proxies to harass, intimidate, provoke, and beat oppositionists.  And if the report that Yakemenko was part of a gang that routinely beheaded people in the 1990s, then ordering a beating is not beyond his purvey. The possibility that Yakemenko was the puppet master behind Kashin’s beating came further into focus when he joked about Kashin’s canonization, calling him a “zombie” because the opposition holding protests as if he was dead, the “Lenin of today” presumably because like the Soviet leader, even if Kashin had died, he would “live and always live,” an “invisible man” because at the time no one had seen Kashin, though a video from his hospital room had been viewed by thousands on the internet, and a “lizard” because Yakemenko vowed that the journalists’ finger would grow back.  Yakemenko’s post caused a major stir in Runet and the media.

The reason why I bring all this up because Kashin inferred that Yakemenko was behind his beating in an interview he gave to Moskovskii komsomolets:

There has been a lot of response from colleagues, friends and ordinary strangers who are sympathetic to what happened to you.  Even the authorities have responded.  And behind the scenes . . . of the people who are main figures in Russian media, who called you, visited you in the hospital, and expressed support?

That’s a good question because I don’t know if these people called.  But, I can’t complain.  But it’s interesting that the reaction of those in power was different.  Vasili Yakemenko had an “excellent” post on Live Journal.  When I was still in an induced coma, he spoke ironically that my severed finger would grow back.  An acting minister “jokes.”  No one is surprised, this is normal in Russia.

Have you crossed paths before?

It was a funny incident.  Funny, but now it’s all clear.  It was just before the first congress which established Nashi in 2005, and an a friend and I, Ilya Yashin, who was then an activist for Yabloko youth, were posing as simple guys from the provinces who went to the congress held at one of the health resorts outside of Moscow.  They “unmasked” us, seized us and took us to a room until Yakemenko came. Then he had a “conversation” with us and ordered his security to beat Yashin up .  This was in March 2005.  When Nashi was created several months later, I wrote about them off and on.  But last year, a colleague called for a boycott of Nashi on one of the popular culture sites because any, even a negative reference to them, justifies their existence.  To ignore them, it seemed to me, was more appropiate.  Unfortunetely, no one supported me, but I honestly kept this moritorium exactly up to 6 November.

You said that the future Minister of Youth Affairs, and then leader of Nashi, gave an order to beat a person.  You witnessed this?

Everything occurred very emphatically.  He gestured: “This is like that, but this will be like that.”  His people understood that his order had one meaning: They took us out to the street, pushed Yashin in the snow and began beating him. They held me to the side . . .

And the attackers were prosecuted for beating a man?

I don’t know if Yashin made a complaint to the police, but a case was certainly not opened.  There was another incident: that year, in August, near the Avtozavod metro station, a van full of militants with baseball bats began to beat members of opposition youth movements at their meeting. And then “someone” came to the police and demanded their release.  Journalists got a hold of the list of those arrested and a number of the attackers were Nashi members as of last year, and maybe they still are.  Among them was Roman Verbitskii, the leader of the voluntary youth militia, the public power wing of Nashi.  But again this fact doesn’t bother anyone.

It seems to me that gangs of youth groups are common around the world, it’s probably easier to nurture a new generation, than to win it.

I don’t agree.  If the state stands behind one group, then that’s another issue completely.  The state has the monopoly on punishment, read violence, but what kind is it?  A policeman comes up and says, “You broke the law!  Now I will use force.”  But if some stranger approaches with a baseball bat, this is no longer the rule of law, it’s banditry.  And as it turns out, the state shields bandits, and not the “patriotic feelings of youth.”

I look forward to Yakemenko and Nashi’s response.  I’m sure they’ll file lawsuit against Kashin for slander within a week.