It is often forgotten that children make up a vast number of victims in war. All one have to do is survey the war torn areas of African, Asia, and the Middle East to be reminded of this most unfortunate reality. The cause of death is not just violence, but also its remnants: unexploded munitions, environmental contamination, disease, maimed bodies, homelessness, poverty, and abandonment. And the Chechen-Jordanian writer, Murad Batal Shishani, has done us a service to remind us that Chechnya is no different.
The health statistics on the catastrophic conditions need no reiteration here. You can read them for yourself. What is an additional concern is how, and one can probably make a similar suggestion about Iraq and the West Bank, war and violence in the present is breeding the future generation of soldiers preconditioned in childhood to the realities of war. Thus writes Shishani:
Chechnya’s population under the age of 18 constitutes almost half of Chechen society and was born and raised after 1990, which means that these children, half of the population, have only known war in their country. This has implications in terms of the psychological tendencies caused by living in an environment of war. This brings back the focus to the poisoning incident in Chechnya. Most of the affected children were girls, because they have been far more affected both psychologically and physically by the war and are in a more vulnerable condition. According to some experts, this is a partial explanation for the occurrence of female suicide bombers.
A study conducted by Chechen psychologists Kahapt Akhmedova and Kuri Adisova has indicated an increase in aggressive tendencies as a result of war. The study was conducted on children inside the Chechen Republic and refugee camps. The children were asked to make drawings that helped reflect the effects of the war in terms of emotional suffering, increased aggressive tendencies (reflected through concepts of fighting and vengeance) and constant fear among children.
CONCLUSIONS: In an interview with Medina Akhmedova, a 15-year-old Chechen orphan whose parents had died in the first and second wars, she talked of her desire and ambition to study law to fight “injustice” and “defend orphans”. This child’s words are a clear indication of the injustice felt by young Chechen generations who have lived in a state of war all their childhood, and many have lost one of their parents or both. While most psychological studies hypothetically provide a link between the increase in extremist tendencies and frustration, in Chechnya this is proven by empirical studies.
Further comment is not necessary.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
If history is any indication, a gerontocracy can kill a political system. The Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states suffered from it. It currently plagues China. And the recent protests in Iran certainly point to some kind of generational conflict is coming to a boil. The failure to ensure the mobility of young people into a government’s power structures only brews disillusionment, frustration, and anger among the next generation.
Soviet Russia understood this well, that is until the bureaucracy ousted Khrushchev and entrenched itself to the point the system went into suspension. Before the 1960s, Soviet Russia was an archetype of social mobility. Youth–through institutions like the Komsomol–were the “helper” and “reserve” of the Party. Part of Stalin’s “New Soviet Person” was not just about promoting peasants and workers into positions of power. Youth also greatly benefited by Stalin’s efforts to rip Russia out of its historical backwardness. And if industrialization didn’t shoot a young person to new career heights, then terror cleared the decks of “old Bolsheviks.” One recipient of this was Khrushchev himself. As one of the Stalin’s “new men,” the wobbly, gregarious Nikita went from a lowly miner to running the whole shebang. It is no wonder that his biographer William Taubman called his rise “meteoric.”
Dmitri Medvedev also seems to understand the importance of youth social mobility, if his recent courting of young people into Russian politics serves as any indication. Last week, the age for holding public office was reduced to 18 years old. “I propose to establish, in all regions of the Russian Federation, a single age for election to representative bodies of municipal government and municipal entities,” Dmitri Medvedev said in his opening remarks to the State Council on Youth Affairs. “I think that any citizen who has reached the age of 18 should have the right to be elected in his/her municipal organ”. As Nezavisimaya gazeta put it, Medvedev has decided “to create an additional electoral group for future presidential elections.” And a significant electoral group they are. Young people between 14-30 make up roughly 27 percent of the Russian population. To make them even more important, they are currently in a volatile situation. The often touted “Putin Generation” has been hit hardest by unemployment. The unemployment rate for young people under 25 is 27 percent. And if anyone has seen the mockumentary Russia 88, you will know that it is unemployment that can fuel a youth’s turn toward fascism. Youth, then, are the perfect resource to tap, and the President hopes to give them the sense that their bright future resides in their new patron: himself.
Medvedev’s move comes only a few weeks after the yearly youth summer camp at Seliger. Usually reserved for Nashi, this year’s camp was opened to an assortment of approved youth groups and organizations involved in anything from politics to art. Seliger under the Committee of Youth Affairs had less of a militant flavor than the past ones under Nashi. Nashi still loomed large aesthetically, but the tone was one the whole different. As Russia Profile‘s Roland Oliphant explained,
Traditional elements from previous camps did, indeed, remain. There were red-and-white Nashi flags and clothes, visits from government ministers and a live video link with President Dmitry Medvedev. Campers were woken at eight o’clock every morning by the Russian national anthem blasted from speakers mounted in the trees. Many of the delegates were from Nashi, or were former members. Robert Schlegel, a former Nashi leader and now the youngest deputy in the State Duma (for United Russia), hosted the video link with Medvedev.
But there was no paramilitary training to combat colored revolutions, nor any “love oasis” in which couples could get to work raising the birthrate. And despite the conflation of love of nation with love of Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (whose portraits were displayed side-by-side at strategic points around the camp) the rhetoric was more patriotic than partisan, with great emphasis placed on national unity and “tolerance,” which was one of the camp’s many buzz words.
With a $2.2 million budget, Seliger signifies the move to court young people into politics, harness their creative spirit, and bring them together under one banner for the future. Principle among the many camp events was a stress on education and experience. One such example was the “living art” project Future Ville. According to Oliphant:
Participants labored from dawn till dusk every day to erect a model city. The buildings – factories, a grocery store, even a registry office – were built of wood by various teams. But they also printed money (with which they had to pay for building materials), built a bureaucracy, agreed laws and held elections. Opposition newspapers appeared accusing the “mayor” of failing to fight inflation, corruption and authoritarianism. Rival candidates posted fliers pleading for votes at tomorrow afternoon’s election.
With the Russian government taking a much more active role in youth, what then will become of groups like Nashi? If Medvedev seriously pushes his youth agenda, I can foresee Nashi becoming more attractive for politically career minded youth. Plus, Nashi still holds a special place in facilitating upwardly mobile young people into Russian politics. After all, the Youth Affairs Committee is run by Vasili Yakemenko, the founder and first secretary of Nashi. The infamous Robert Schlegel serves as a shining example for young people as a former Nashist who is now the youngest Duma member.
Medvedev also seems to be looking at Nashi (or unaligned youth who still represent the national spirit) to fill government positions. According to the Moscow Times, he might tap Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Svetlana Khorkina and Nashi activist Marina Zademidkova to serve in the government, possible as governors. But Nashi isn’t the only source. Medevev has already appointed Andrei Turchak, 33, to head Pskov province and former oppositionist Nikita Belykh, 34, to run Kirov. Moreover, all of the President’s “Golden 100” are entirely under the age of 50, with none having any experience in Russia’s security organs.
This is the “Year of Youth,” and it seems Medvedev is using the occasion to create his own base of support, a future young cohort of civiliki. The only questions is whether Russia’s youth will answer Dima’s call.
Photo: NGPost Views: 170
By Sean — 11 years ago
Aleksandr Potkin, 30, changed his name a few years ago. The name change had a double effect. It was at once an gesture to distance himself from his past and an act of rebirth for the future. You see, until 2002, Potkin was a member of a little known nationalist group in
named Pamyat (Memory). Its roots date back to the 1970s but was founded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time where Russian nationalism was emerging from the ideological blanket of Communism. Pamyat, however, collapsed in the late 1990s after several of its leaders were jailed for anti-Semitic activities. Not wasting much time on finding another group to devote his nationalist energies to, Potkin decided to establish his own. Moscow
Most now know Alexandr Potkin as Alexandr Belov. His new name, which means “white” is well suited. It is unknown if his choice was conscious or unconscious. It is appropriate because Belov is the founder and leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), a xenophobic Russian nationalist group that he formed four years ago. DPNI came to national prominence during last year’s Aleksandra Ivannikova case. If you remember, Ivannikova stabbed an
taxi driver to death. She claimed the stabbing was in self defense because the driver tried to rape her. Her defense didn’t sway the court and she was convicted. Armenia
Enter Belov and his new, and then online, organization. Thanks to his agitation, the conviction was overturned on appeal. The DPNI later gave Ivannikova an “award” of 50,000 rubles (about $1850 at today’s rate). Since then, DPNI has entered the political fray over illegal immigration on many fronts.
When ethnic violence broke out in the Karelian town of
in August, Belov mobilized his members north to protest the town’s Chechen residents. When Kondopodga Moscowpolice decided to raid Georgian businesses in a few weeks ago, Belov made a call on the group’s website for nationalists to report on illegal Georgians. “When we receive a notification of discovering illegal migrants, our public control service will check the information,” he then told Kommersant. “If it is confirmed, we will summon law-enforcement officers and demand they apply measures such as deportation from Moscow , or closing the store, or collecting a fine.” Now they are planning a major demonstration for Day of National Unity (formerly Revolution Day) on 7 November. Russia
Belov represents part of the growing problem of “youth extremism”
. As the D. I. Aminov and R. E. Oganian, the authors of a recent sociological study called Molodezhnyi ekstremizm (2005), “The appearance of extremism among youth at the present time carries a more dangerous character for society than in all past periods of the state’s existence. The results of criminal investigations testify to the profound failure in the social policy and educational-preventative work with youth” (3). Russia
One can accept or reject the authors’ characterization. I can’t help to view it as a bit hyperbolic since most adults think that their youth is worse than any other previous times. Generational conflict works both ways.
But still there might be something to their concern. At least, that’s how the Russian authorities are assessing the problem. According to Kommersant, the Russian Federation Council held hearings on “Condition and Problems of Legislative Guarantees for Combating Extremism in the Youth Sphere.” The hearings were a showcase of Russian security officials. Presenters included Sergey Mironov, Deputy Minister of the Interior Alexander Chekalin, Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin and head of the FSB anti-extremism department Mikhail Belousov. They all gave the Council recommendations on how to toughen laws to prevent youth extremism.
“Extremism is a painful problem that many do not understand,” Deputy Minister Mironov told the panel of parliamentarians, adding that youth extremist groups were “organizations with strict discipline and their own leaders.” Deputy Prosecutor General Grin concurred with “members of such informal groups of extremism inclination as skinheads, Russian National Unity and the National Bolshevik Party not only spread the idea of national, racial and religious enmity and hatred, they commit crimes on those grounds against the lives and health of citizens that cause public reaction.” Chekalin estimated that over 10,000 youths belong to about 150 extremist groups and crimes related to their activities skyrocketed by 84 percent in the last year. Finally, Deputy Interior Minister Ovchinnikov added that “The sharp rise in activities of extremist youth groups – skinheads, Russian National Unity, the National Bolshevik Party, the Red Youth Vanguard– poses a serious threat to the maintenance of law and order,” citing their “active participation in protests connected with the monetization of social benefits and housing utility reforms.”
Security organs’ testimony at the hearings signals a shift in authorities’ attention to radical youth organizations. The previous law adopted by the State Duma stiffed sentences for vandalism, which now gives an offender a maximum of three in prison. Other provisions specifically targeted racially motivated crimes and extreme expressions of nationalism. Serious acts of racial violence (I wonder how they determine “serious.” I would imagine that any form of racial violence is “serious”) carries a sentence of five years. The organization of an “extremist group carries a fine of 200,000 rubles (about $7,430 at today rate) or up to four years in the slammer. But now the radical Left is in their sites, with a special barrel aimed specifically at the National Bolshevik Party.
In fact, Limonov’s band of youth was given special attention in presenters’ comments. AS reports Kommersant’s Ekaterina Savina,
Advisor to the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Vladimir Trofimov said that the regular seizure of administrative buildings by the National Bolsheviks and the march last year at which member of national movements shouted “Heil Hitler” fall under the category of extremism. Thus, the National Bolsheviks and ultra-rightists who preach fascist views are treated identically. National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov was indignant over this. “We are fighting for freedom and against an actively antipopular regime,” he said. “We should not be confused with some sort of thugs.”
Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the Institute for National Strategy, also thinks that the measures suggested at yesterday’s hearing are directed against the National Bolsheviks and nationalist groups. “They are the ones that present a danger to the authorities,” he commented. “No matter how many National Bolsheviks they put in prison, the movement continues to gain in popularity, and the nationalists have grown from a pet project of the Kremlin, which wanted to show that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was better than the fascists.” Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the nationalistic Slavic Union, opined that “the fight against mythical extremism indicates that they are trying to purge everybody before the elections.”
There are many causes of youth extremism and Aminov and Oganian cite many of the usual explanations in their study: poverty, social dislocation, broken families, despair, the lack of education, drugs, drinking, and the need of belonging. Russian youth are apparently no different than other youths around the world in this regard.
I find these explanations typical and rather flat. I don’t discount these as factors. However, many of the ills they cite are historically constant. Youth’s gravitation to radicalism is not. There have been only a few periods in modern history that have seen a rise in youth radical political activity: the 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 1960s and 1990s. There are exceptions, depending on the specific country. These periods, however, match most explosions of youth political activity around the world.
Therefore I think that there is larger issue at work; one that gives voice to the particular ideological situation most youths find themselves in. Here I think the NY Times’ Steven Myers makes an interesting point. Youths, like Belov and perhaps most youths who join extremist groups, he writes are “part of the first post-Soviet generation in
, a country that is still struggling, in a way, to define itself and its ideology. The Russia Soviet Unionendeavored to erase ethnic and racial boundaries, at least officially. And its collapse gave rise to a new Russian nationalism, founded on the language, culture and history of the Russian Empire, on the Orthodox Church and on an abiding preoccupation with ethnic identity.”
If Myers is right, and I think he is, the rise in youth extremism also has to do with the ideological vacuum created and left by the Soviet regime. I say “created” because the sanctioning of only one ideology inevitably created an ideological hole when the system imploded. I say “left” because as the historian Shelia Fitzpatrick recently reminded us in her book, Tear Off the Masks!: Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia, “Successful revolutions tear off masks: that is, they invalidate the conventions of self-preservation and social interaction that obtained in pre-revolutionary society. This happened in
after the October 1917 revolution which laid the foundations for the Soviet state. It happened again in 1991, when that state collapsed” (3). Russia
Here we might compare the 1920s and the 1990s as similar periods of ideological flux, if not a vacuum, as well as a period where one way youth dealt with this ideological fluidity by joining youth organizations. There was the Komsomol, of course, where would be revolutionaries joined to build socialism. But that wasn’t all. Russian youths were also forming or joining scouting, communist, anarchist, fascist, and religious sects throughout Soviet Russia. Political groups were not all, youth also formed sex and drinking clubs. These were usually places of innocent debauchery. And it was often created and maintained by using local Komsomol organizations as fronts. Political or not, they were all trying to navigate their way through a society that was in chaos. For the Soviet state and the Komsomol they were intolerable and treated equally dangerous. Either they encouraged anti-Leninist ideologies or promoted corruption and meshchanstvo among youth. And then, as it is now, the Soviet authorities tried, unsuccessfully by the way, to strike these groups down.
One can see a similar process in
today. Is it no wonder that the Kremlin is increasingly using nationalism and xenophobia to its advantage at the same time it attempts to crackdown on radical youth? Many suggest that Russia ’s use of nationalism attempt to inflame these extremist youth group to their advantage. I would suggest just the opposite. They are trying to win the ideological battle by attempting to control the political discourse of Russian nationalism. Russian nationalist discourse not only transcends the radical left and right, it is also currently lies outside of Moscow ’s hegemony. The problem is not with nationalism per se, the problem is who monopolizes its meaning. And radical youth can’t be trusted with it. Moscow
That said, I think the Kremlin, like the Soviets before them, is playing with fire. The Soviets too tried harness youth’s revolutionary romanticism to transform society to their own ends. The results of giving Komsomol youths a political mandate to smash the peasantry during collectivization led to an uncontrollable disaster. Presently, whipping up “official” nationalism as a means to combat “unsanctioned” nationalism inadvertently gives a similar mandate to groups like the DPNI and neo-Nazis to strike out thinking that it is with the Kremlin’s blessing. And that perceived blessing could exacerbate the very thing the Russian state is trying to tame.Post Views: 116
By Sean — 10 years ago
At some point, I don’t know when, Martin Luther proclaimed, “Who has the youth, has the future.” If this is true, then Putin has assured that his “plan” will continue well after Russia’s youth grow up and take the reigns of power. But Putin’s success in capturing the youth isn’t because of Nashi. It is more a product of the first generation’s formative years coinciding with Russia’s economic boom. The result is a generation, which many now call Putin’s Generation, that places wealth, careerism, and political conservativism as hallmarks of their identity. That is at least what VTsIOM’s Dmitry Polikanov says in his article “The New Russians.”
Here is a run down of Polikanov’s findings from surveying 18-24 year olds:
- Acquiring wealth (62%) trumps family (58%), children (45%), career (37%) and a good education (21%) as key goals. It’s quite interesting that a good education is at the opposite end of wealth, since one would expect the former providing a greater opportunity for get the latter. What it tells me is that for Russian youths, wealth is viewed as something obtainable without or in spite of education.
- Russian youth are more politically apathetic than the general population. Only 55% of youth said they didn’t engaged in a political action in the last two years compared to 47% of the population. The most common political act is voting. In fact, Polikanov finds that youth vote 5-10% less than the general population. Only 37% say they discuss politics. Youth’s political attitudes, when they have them, are “liberal Right,” and only 25% favor “the free market and political democracy.” On the whole most prefer non-political forms of organization and expression such as literary or cultural societies.
- Russian youth support the authorities. ” Putin’s youth aren’t looking for a democratic “revolution”, and don’t place much stake in the concept of a Western democratic model,” says Polikanov. About half (40-45%) support United Russia and other pro-government parties. They are completely turned off to both the extreme left and right. About 52-55% identify with the nation as “a concept capable of uniting the entire nation,” but only 9% agree with “Russia for the Russians.” “Unlike many liberals’ expectations in the 1990s,” Polikanov writes, “the new generation is mostly loyal to the authorities and reluctant to support the opposition in any form.”
- Their views of religion are increasingly more Protestant than Orthodox. About a quarter of religious youth emphasize personal salvation and morality rather than observing Orthodox customs and ritual.
Taken as a whole, Polikanov says that his findings show that “Putin’s youngsters are more individualistic, less romantic, more pragmatic and more focused on achieving personal success.”
Excerpts from interviews with young people paint a more nuanced picture. Here are a few quotes.
Alexander, 23, actor:
“A young actor can earn a decent enough wage, and this is improving with every year. Someone starting out, for example, will get $150-$200 for a day of filming. You start negotiating as you get more experience. Though you’ve got to hurry to get in ahead of someone else. You see, everything in Russia depends on the individual, on how much he actually wants things himself.”
Masha, 24, PhD student:
“Overall, though I don’t agree with much of what the current regime stands for, they have to be praised for getting us out of the chaos of the 1990s. Of course, you can criticize Putin for tightening the screws. But then again bringing order always requires some screws to be tightened.”
Denis , 26, student and small-scale entrepreneur:
“I’m interested in buying a car – not politics. . . As far as I’m concerned, success in life is about being one’s own boss. It’s about stability. Confidence. Family. And… well… I’d say its easier these days to have all four. Definitely compared to the 1990s. You can buy anything you need now. Apart from a flat – you can work day in, day out, and you still won’t have enough. I’ve heard the government are offering grants, but I’m not really at that stage yet. I’ve only just got together with a girl, you see. I’m hoping something serious will come of it.
Are our politicians changing things for the better? I can’t really answer that. There is progress on some fronts. Life is changing. But politics don’t interest me. I’m more occupied with other things, like buying a car. I’ll definitely do it this year, though I haven’t decided which one yet.”
Stepan, 25, father of two children:
“With kids, your problems will increase. But I’m optimistic.
How are things with money? Not easy. I’m always looking for the next ruble. But I don’t complain – if I need something, I’ll always find a way of getting it. It’s something I’ve learned in life – if you give yourself a goal and a deadline, you’ll do things. Of course, you’ll sometimes hit a brick wall, like Russian bureaucracy, but even this is getting easier. Not so long ago we even came across a helpful government official. . .
We’ve got relatives and friends who have moved abroad, but we want to stay and work in Russia. I know when my children start to grow up, my problems will increase. I know I can’t be entirely confident about the next 10 years. But I’m optimistic when I look to the future.”
Nikita , 24, classical musician:
“Politics are important to me. My sympathies lie on the side of liberal democracy, but the problem is that this have never had any sensible proponents in Russia. I didn’t vote out of principle, but the way things stand, I think I would probably have voted for Medvedev. He seemed to me the lesser evil.”
Angela, 20, student:
“My identity is in being Russian and Orthodox. . .
Am I interested in politics? Not really. I don’t watch news on the TV. I try not to watch TV at all. But I voted in the elections. For Medvedev. Why? I like Putin’s politics, and I think Medvedev will continue in the same way. It is thanks to Putin that Russia is on the up.
I think Russia is right to take a hard line abroad. You have to remember Russia takes up one sixth of the entire globe! The most important thing is that we avoid a war. I believe all people are brothers. Do I think a war is possible? Maybe. I think the US present a real danger with their politics.”
Alexander, 26, political activist and party worker:
“Being involved in public politics is like a drug.
How did it start? I’ve been actively involved in politics since my second year at university, but it was only in late 2004 when things really got interesting. This was when I founded a site – skazhi.net.
My idea was a response to an unpopular government decision to replace social benefits-in-kind with direct payments. We saw that people were upset, wanted to protest, but didn’t know where or how. So we decided to create a dynamic online map of Russia, with updates of all the protests going on around Russia. We ended up getting loads of coverage in the foreign media, including CNN.
As for me, I had great fun growing my beard and wearing a cap I wanted to play on the image of Che Guevara. I think that people quite liked it.
When the wave subsided, I left the public arena to work for a political party.
To be honest, I miss it loads. The exposure gave me a high… it was like a drug.”
Anna, 17, student:
“I don’t believe we are on a collision course with the West . .
Would I have taken part in the elections had I been 18? I think it would have probably been worth it. To be honest, I don’t feel any particular need or desire to vote.
Do I consider myself European? That’s a difficult one. I suppose I consider myself Russian first and foremost. Probably, yes, we are closer to Europe. Moscow at least. It is a completely different world in the eastern regions.
Today, everyone is talking about a clash of the West with Russia. I’m not sure about this. I’ve traveled a lot and I think that people generally respond to Russians well. The only exception to this is the Czechs, who for historical reasons really don’t like us.”Post Views: 138