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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.

Review: Putin’s Games

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My column for Russia Magazine, “Palaces in Sochi on Monday,”

Until recently, Sochi was mostly viewed in the context of Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws. No more. Stories of corruption and rights abuses in the preparation of the Olympics are all the rage. Joshua Yaffa’s recent article in Business Week is a must read on the subject. The BBC has also produced an hour long audio documentary, the “Putin Project,” surveying corruption, housing demolition, labor abuses and international affairs in the context of Sochi. There are numerous of other treatments pushing the subject to saturation. Given the coverage, it’s a legitimate question whether another expose on Sochi is necessary. Enter Putin’s Games, an hour long documentary directed by Aleksandr Gentelev and produced by Simone Baumann. It’s a comprehensive film that covers similar ground as Yaffa and the BBC. Its value is less in the information and more in giving a visual sense of the monstrosity of Sochi and its various heroes and villains. What’s more, the film has gotten some extra unsolicited exposure. Baumann was approached three times and offered 600,000 euros to can the film.

Why is this film so dangerous? It’s hard to say. In many ways it’s a standard expose of corruption in Russia. But then again, it’s about Sochi, Putin’s personal megaproject. Putin’s Games makes this personal touch clear by treating Russia’s Olympic bid as the president’s personal mission. Apparently, however, the idea didn’t originate with him. Having the Olympics in Sochi was first floated by former ski champion and Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachev while he and Putin were skiing at Krasnaya Polyana.

Read on . . .