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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.

Volgograd Bomber’s Mysterious Passport

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One of the more curious and controversial aspects of the Volgograd bombing was how quickly the Russian media released the passport of Naida Asiyalova, the suicide bomber. Life News tweeted an image of Asiyalova’s passport within hours of the bombing. The state channel NTV also broadcast the image. The photo, which quickly appeared throughout Russian media, immediately raised eyebrows. Why did Asiyalova have her passport on her if she was going to carry out a terrorist attack? And more importantly, if the passport was found at the blast site, then why was it undamaged? And what’s up with a picture of her in a hajib!?

passport1

As David Burghardt wrote in the Moscow News:

Though there was literally nothing left of the suicide bomber and the bus was practically gutted by the explosion, the alleged suicide bomber’s passport found on the scene miraculously survived without any damage whatsoever: No torn or burnt pages, no blood, no visible clue that that particular document was even on the bus. The pages of the passport are still bright and shiny as if it had never been in an explosion. Considering the fact that she had her passport on her, one would expect that it would have had some form of damage to it.

Another curious thing about Asiyalova’s passport is that her photograph shows her in a hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women. This is an official document and Russia doesn’t allow headgear for pictures in passports (just as any other country). So how did that picture end up in that passport? How did that passport survive the blast? Was this the actual suicide bomber?

Good questions. Burghardt wasn’t the only one. Russian bloggers asked even more pointed questions based on close scrutiny of the image.  Slon.ru povided some answers. One of which settled the hijab mystery. Since 2003, Russia allows people to take passport photographs with hajibs as long as the face is visible. Still, it’s pretty clear that this hajib photo was placed up top of another photo.

As for why the passport wasn’t damages in the blast, well, perhaps because it wasn’t the Asiyalova’s actual passport. At least it wasn’t the passport found at the blast scene. Clearly this first passport was doctored.

This is “real” one:

passport2

So why the initial fake passport? True, the Russian media is under the same pressures media from other countries. They have to get information out fast, and the fastest juiciest news the better. However, Life News is an animal on its own. It’s known for its half-truths, police connections and general subterfuge. It’s well known that the siloviki use Life News to generate black PR to smear oppositionists. Clearly they–Life News and/or the police wanted to get “proof” of Asiyalova’s identity out there. But why? I’m sure there’s a much more surly back story to all this. But on the surface in releasing this counterfeit passport, Life News, the cops, or whoever once again undermined what the Russian police have little of: public trust. Could’ve that been the point?