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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.

Stalin as Victory’s Unwanted Guest

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This week’s Russia Magazine! column, “Victory’s Essential, but Unwanted Guest,”

Victory Day is Russia’s most sacred holiday. The day marks Russia’s most traumatic moment in its turbulent twentieth century. The war supplants all previous traumas: WWI, the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Terror. In many respects it even absorbs the Soviet Union’s collapse, if only because victory over the Nazis makes the whole Soviet experiment worth it. Indeed, Victory Day has such resonance that it provides Russians one of the few means to reconcile their Soviet past with their post-Soviet present. And in an increasingly divided Russia, it is one of the few days of genuine national unity.

As Lev Gudkov put it in his 2005 essay, “The Fetters of Victory,”

All [Soviet] components of the positive collective unity of the idea of “us” are eroding. After their devaluation has brought to the fore a range of complexes of hurt self-esteem and inferiority, Victory now stands out as a stone pillar in the desert, the vestige of a weathered rock. All the most important interpretations of the present are concentrated around Victory; it provides them with their standards of evaluation and their rhetorical means of expression.

A stone pillar for sure, except for one essential capstone in that victory: Stalin.

Stalin has yet to find his place in contemporary Russian memory of Victory. He is a figure that is evoked at the same time he’s repudiated. In both instances—total embrace and total rejection—Stalin is fetishized as savior or destroyer, angel or demon, neither of which is any less violent. The difference is in who he smites with his sword, not how he wields it. The tension between these two figures makes Stalin eternally split. Thus, he was the leader of the nation during the war. Yet displaying his image is taboo. The system he created facilitated victory with all its attending scars and burns. But to give Stalin credit verges on blasphemy. Stalin embodied the unity of the Soviet people. Yet their victory is not his. On the day to commemorate Russia’s greatest tragedy and triumph, Stalin remains the guest you have to invite, but one you pray doesn’t show.

Image: © RIA Novosti. Bolot Bochkarev