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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.

Thoughts on Ukraine’s Parliamentary Election

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Ukrainians voted for a new parliament yesterday, and with 50 percent of the votes counted, the breakdown looks like this:

Narodnyi Front: 21.61%

Blok Petro Poroshenko: 21.45%

Samopomoch: 11.1%

Opposition Bloc: 9.82%

Radical Party: 7.38%

Batkivshchina: 5.69%

The European Parliament, PACE, and the OSCE have all given the election a clean bill of health by declaring it to be fair and legitimate by democratic standards. Even Russia appears ready to recognize the results, according to statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The results point to a major victory of Ukraine’s pro-European parties. As Poroshenko stated, voters had “powerfully and irreversibly supported Ukraine’s path to Europe.” This gives probable Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk the mandate to continue economic reforms and move Ukraine further toward setting the stage for European integration. It also means Ukrainians can expect more economic austerity.

The Ukrainian economy is reeling, with the hryvnia having lost 40% of its value in relation to the dollar. This means that what was worth $12,400 at the beginning of the year is now worth $6,800. As a result, Ukrainians have withdrawn $8.1 billion from their accounts looking to convert their hryvnias into increasingly scarce foreign currencies. Moreover, the price for utilities have shot up with the cost of hot water increasing by 50 percent, heating by 98 percent (in some localities) during the winter, water by 93 percent, sanitation by 105 percent, gas by 73 percent, and electricity by 10 percent. The recent gas deal with Russia will supply just enough to get through winter. Ukraine still owes Russia $5 billion for its delinquent gas bill. Kiev says it can only pay $2-3 billion by the end of the year. All of this has prompted Timothy Ash, the head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, to tell the Washington Post, “I now fear systemic economic failure — unless there is a positive confidence shock.” Whether the parliamentary results provide that positive shock remains to be seen.

Another take away from the election is the feeble results for the much feared Ukrainian radical right. Svoboda is close, but still below, the 5 percent threshold. And Opora, an independent election monitor, has predicted the nationalist party won’t make it into parliament. What has happened to Svoboda’s electorate, especially since it polled 10.44 percent in 2012? Anton Shekhovtsov explains:

I presume that more moderate voters went back to the national-democratic forces, such as the People’s Front or Samopomich [“Self-help”]. Part of Svoboda’s former electorate apparently went to the Right Sector and Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party. The inclusion of these two parties into the far right category is tentative. As a political party, the Right Sector is ideologically quite different from the movement under the same name that was formed during the 2014 revolution; the party is less radical than the movement, so I suggest the term “national conservative” as a more relevant one. Lyashko’s Radical Party is dangerously populist and a typical anti-establishment force. Although both the Right Sector and Lyashko’s Radical Party have extreme right members, they are still a minority. In contrast to Lyashko’s Radical Party, the Right Sector will not be able to enter the parliament, but its leader Dmytro Yarosh will most likely be elected in one of the single-member districts.

So there will certainly be some far right-wingers in parliament, but they won’t be a enough to form a formidable political bloc. Nor does it mean that radicalism isn’t in the air. It still is and the right’s lack of parliamentary representation doesn’t necessarily mean that Ukrainian nationalism has gone away or shouldn’t be worried about. But the electoral results do rob Russia of one of its most trotted out boogeymen.

The big loser in all this is Russia. Ukraine has made a significant step toward the west, making its political (but not economic) decoupling from Russia a foregone conclusion. Now Putin can only hope the factions in the Rada will eat themselves alive like they did after the Orange Revolution. Ukraine still has the east to reckon with, and with the strong showing of both the “war party” (Yatseniuk’s Narodnyi Front, Radical party, and Batkivshchina) and the “peace party” (Poroshenko’s Bloc), at least when it comes to negotiating with Russia, the Rada looks hopelessly divided. How divided remains to be seen.