The Further Unraveling of Democratic Russia


When Russian sociologist Yevgeny Gontmakher, writing in the newspaper Vedomosti, outlined a "Novocherkassk 2009" scenario (a reference to the 1962 strike at the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Factory) in which massive job layoffs, precipitated by falling oil prices, would cause social unrest, both the paper and author were sternly warned that they could be prosecuted for "inciting extremism." He should, though, be congratulated for his prescience. A month later, the Kremlin instituted massive tariffs on imported automobiles in an effort to "protect" the Russian automobile industry. Imports fell dramatically, jobs in the port of Vladivostok dried up, workers protested, and Putin sent in the truncheon-wielding Chekists to throw the protesters in police vans. It was an underreported story in the United States (though the New York Times did a good piece on the Vladivostok uprising, few others noticed), probably because such anti-democratic actions by the Putin regime seem to us so banal at this point.

In other underreported Russia news, being a journalist for the independent daily Novaya Gazeta is still one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Der Spiegel has a decent piece on the recent murder of Anastasia Baburova, an investigative journalist at Novaya Gazeta who was shot in Moscow by a masked gunman using a silenced pistol. Her companion, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who served as counsel for the murdered Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politskaya, was also gunned down.

It was an execution in broad daylight, in the middle of Moscow's "Golden Mile," a neighborhood of high-priced mansions and old townhouses not far from the Kremlin. Once again Izvestiya, a pro-government daily, was quick to assign blame for the killings to the West.

Markelov had worked closely with the Russian human rights organization Memorial, whose offices were recently raided by government forces. They confiscated hard drives full of material related to Stalin's various purges.