Recent Posts

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.

Ukraine: Two Heroes, Two Revolutions

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on reddit
Posters of Viacheslav Chornovil (left) and Stepan Bandera (right) in central Kyiv

Posters of Viacheslav Chornovil (left) and Stepan Bandera (right) in central Kyiv

By William Risch

I have made three trips to Ukraine since protests began there in late November 2013.  On January 18, I found myself taking Ukraine’s revolution into a new direction. In the city metro stations, I helped activists spread leaflets denouncing the dictatorship laws issued by the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. Our leaflets and placards called on people to attend a mass protest the next day. Some of the protest’s attendants participated in the violence that night that ultimately led to the Yanukovych regime’s collapse. However, there have been two revolutions going on. One has produced the specter of extremist right-wing nationalists seizing power from a democratically elected president, leading to justifications for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and provoking pro-Russian revolts in eastern Ukrainian cities. The other revolution, the one that I participated in, faces the danger of being ignored.

You can sum up these two revolutions in portraits I saw next to one another this week on the Maidan, the center of Ukraine’s protests: one of Viacheslav Chornovil, the other of Stepan Bandera.

Chornovil, a journalist who became a dissident in the late 1960s, came in second in Ukraine’s first presidential elections in 1991. Leader of the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), he died in 1999 in an auto accident that the authorities allegedly arranged. Bandera was one of the leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), accused of collaboration with Nazi Germany and murdering thousands of ethnic Poles during World War II.

Assassinated by a Soviet agent in West Germany in 1959, Bandera has become the ideological godfather of two right wing organizations prominent in Ukraine’s new government, the Freedom (Svoboda) Party and the paramilitary group Right Sector. Chornovil’s followers consist of a rump leftover of his former political party, which had already split on the eve of his death.

Yet Maidan activists have followed the practices of Chornovil, even if they know little of him. Chornovil had advocated Ukraine’s peaceful separation from the Soviet Union, the defense of human rights, and the protection of Ukraine’s ethnic minorities. His life began as a dissident when, as a journalist, he became outraged by secret trials that violated the Soviet constitution. A young dissenting journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, upset with his country’s leadership, summoned Kyiv’s first Euromaidan protest. Organizations like Civic Sector, the Student Coordinating Council, and all-Ukrainian forums of Euromaidan activists have embodied the spirit of peaceful protest, negotiations with people in power, and long-term changes to the state’s institutions, laws, and practices.

Svoboda and Right Sector have also talked about fundamentally changing the state, but in practice, they have already been engaged in worrisome behavior. This week I saw Right Sector activists occupying buildings on Kyiv’s main boulevard, including a hotel, a sporting goods store, and a cell phone outlet. Men in paramilitary gear, and sometimes even 14-16 year-old children, have been guarding the premises outside. On March 18, Svoboda’s member of the Supreme Rada’s committee on freedom of speech bullied the head of Ukraine’s state-run TV agency, Aleksandr Panteleymonov, into resigning, threatening to beat him up if he refused. A Youtube video shows this man questioning the ethnic origins of entertainers connected with the agency before he barged into Panteleymonov’s office.

This is not the revolution that we activists spreading leaflets in the Kyiv metro wanted. It would not have been the revolution Chornovil would have wanted. Because of Ukraine’s extremely weak opposition parties, and because Svoboda and Right Sector advocated violent resistance after the regime harassed, assaulted, kidnapped, tortured, and killed protestors, Svoboda and Right Sector have become prominent forces in the new government.

Fortunately, the revolution embodied by Chornovil lives on. Ukrainian media widely condemned the attack on Panteleymonov. Singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk from the rock group Okean El’zy, whose music has become part of the Maidan’s soundtrack, called on Ukraine’s new leaders to choose officials on professional merit and not party affiliation, engage in a dialogue with all of Ukraine’s regions and social classes, and uphold the rule of law. The international community needs to support the revolution of Chornovil while scrutinizing the revolution of Bandera.

William Risch is an Associate Professor of History of Georgia College and author of The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv (Harvard University Press, 2011)