Geopolitics

Inside Moscow's Inauguration Day Mayhem

Police arrested nearly 600 during demonstrations against Vladimir Putin's latest presidential inauguration. Hundreds of others were injured in the melee and one photographer died. Putin's press secretary said later that police should hav

Protesters in Moscow on Sunday (varlamov)
Protesters in Moscow on Sunday (varlamov)
Ksenia Zavyalova

MOSCOW - A day before Vladimir Putin's official inauguration as president of Russia – for the third time – protesters took to the streets of Moscow in what was billed as a "March of the Millions." The crowd didn't reach a million, though accurate estimates of how many people did show up are impossible to come by. Organizers say as many as 200,000 demonstrated. Police put the figure at just 8,000.

By the end of the day, 570 protesters had been arrested and hundreds injured. One of the photographers at the event died when he tried too hard to get a good picture and fell from the fifth floor of a nearby apartment building. And yet not a single state-owned television channel interrupted its weekend programming to report on the protests. At the same time, several Russian media websites, including Kommersant, were off-line due to denial of service attacks that lasted all day Sunday.

The March of the Millions began at Kaluzhskaya Square. It was supposed to end at Bolotnaya square. But it quickly became clear that the protest would not be entirely peaceful. At the very beginning, police officers very slowly forced the whole crowd to go through metal detectors. The opposition protesters marched peacefully along the street, but a bottleneck formed on the steps leading to Bolotnaya square, where protesters overturned several metal detectors and tried to break through the chains set up by police.

Like something out of "Star Wars'

Sergei Udaltsov and Aleksei Navalny, two of the march organizers, accused the regime of trying to break up the protest. The two men sat down on the sidewalk and encouraged others to follow their example. The sitting strikers said they intended to wait 12 hours, until Putin's inauguration on Monday morning, which they consider to be illegal. The protesters also demanded air time on a live television broadcast.

A part of the crowd broke through the police barriers and headed towards the Kremlin, but they were headed off before arriving. The number of police officers, military and special security forces around Bolotnaya square surprised even the journalists, who compared the scenes to something from "Star Wars." Stones, flares, bottles and even chunks of sidewalk flew from the crowd at the guards. In response, the police began to brutally beat protesters with batons and to spray tear gas at the crowd.

Protesters attempted to continue on to Bolotnaya square in spite of the clashes with police. However, the car with all the technical equipment was not allowed to approach the stage, and Sergei Udaltsov and Boris Nemtsov were arrested in the middle of their speeches. Nearly 30 police officers were injured during the forced dispersal of the protesters.

Later on Sunday, Putin's press secretary announced on television that the police had been too soft on the protesters. "As a Muscovite, I would have liked for the police to have acted much more harshly," he said.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - Varlamov

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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