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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.

Sincerely Yours, Yakemenko

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Vasilli Yakemenko is back. The former head of Rosmolodezh, ex-founder of the short lived Walking Together and former all-father of Nashi is starting a new group, Sincerely Yours. According to Vedomosti, the group will renew a youth base for the Putin’s fourth term. Yakemenko, or at least his sponsors, sincerely believe that Putin ruling until 2024 is inherently a good thing. “According to Yakemenko,” writes Vedomosti, “former Nashi commissars are still loyal to Putin and have faith in course of modernization and innovation Putin’s team declared for the country’s development in 2005. In [Yakemenko’s] opinion, the country’s leadership has lost its way and it needs to evolve from control (kontrol) to promoting people’s creativity.” This is downright Surkovian, and no wonder, Yakemenko’s ties of the former grey cardinal are well known. Also, moving beyond kontrol, something I’ve argued defines Putin’s third term, is exactly what Surkov said in London. “The system must change” and it “has to adapt to changing conditions.”

Sincerely Yours won’t be a political organization, says Yakemenko. Rather it will work on “social projects” with names like “Reading,” which will encourage youth to, well, read and discuss books. The first text will be Eric Berne’s 1964 bestseller, Games People Play, which is a psychological treatise on human interaction. Think of it as an Oprah book club for Putin. Several “blocs” will outline other projects: housing, municipalities, education, and propaganda. Membership in Sincerely Yours will prove costly. Monthly dues will average 5000 rubles ($160) a month. Does Yakemenko really think that young people will join such group with such steep dues? Apparently he does. He promises a membership of a million in ten years. And it seems he’s already ahead of the game finance-wise. Yakemenko boasts a budget of 5 million rubles. As for where the cash came from, Yakemenko doesn’t say.

Sincerely Yours comes virtually out of the blue. Sounds like a year after Yakemenko left Rosmolodezh, declared the creation of a new project, the Party of Power, which never materialized because of lack of funding, and a running a restaurant, Eat Pirogi, the youth leader has lost his way too. Hence a Nashi rebound.

The Sincerely Yours announcement follows a meeting Yakemenko organized at Seliger last weekend.. Initially, Yakemenko invited up to 3,000 former Nashists to gather at the camp to discuss the future of Nashi. The meeting and the organization are not without controversy. Most former activists gave their dear leader the cold shoulder. Only 500 showed up. “I don’t understand what Yakemenko wants,” an unidentified Nashist told Izvestiia. “He wants to gather people together and show them something new, perhaps, his own power. But Nashi objectively no longer exists, it split into projects and these were based on agreements with particular Nashi commissars. The majority of members agrees with this and don’t want to go meet with Yakemenko.”

Another former commissar, Artur Omarov, concurred. “I personally don’t want to get together at Seliger. We accepted this decision and I don’t see any meaning in commissars deciding to ‘discuss the movement’s future.’ Our project was created several years ago to support Vladimir Putin’s course. And Putin hasn’t presented us with a new task.”

Sounds like Yakemenko, not Putin, has taken it upon himself to present Putin loyalists with a new mandate. Or has he?

Hence the question whether this is yet another Kremlin project to reenergize youth for Putin. As I said above, though so far Sincerely Yours sounds more Nashi-lite, it recalls Vladisalv Surkov’s attempts to drag in segments of Russian youth into Putin’s coalition. But a Vedomosti source says that Yakemenko’s new pet project is on his initiative and doesn’t have sanction from above. As of now, Surkov’s fingerprints are surprisingly missing.

Without Kremlin approval and the infrastructure and finances that come with it, I predict, as many also are, Yakemenko’s latest attempt get back into politics will amount to sincerely nothing.

Photo: Maksim Shemetov/Itar-Tass