It is quite difficult to assess the influence, let alone the political impact of Russian youth organizations. The vast majority are rather small with memberships in the hundreds and, if they are lucky, the thousands. According to estimates from 2005, Nashi has around 100,000 to 300,000 members. The National Bolsheviks claim 15,000 to 20,000 members. Still these organizations, especially Nashi, are only in their infancy.
If a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) is any indication, Russian youth organizations have a lot of PR work ahead of them. According to the poll, when respondents were shown a list of twelve youth organizations, “the majority of respondents (60%) said they had never heard of any one of them.” This was only a little better among the organizations’ constituency. 47 percent of respondents under the age of 35 claimed they never heard of any the groups.
Among the twelve, three (United Russia’s Molodaia gvardiia, Nashi and the NPB) were identified by 17% of respondents and 24%, 21%, and 23% respectively among youths. More interesting is that far left and far right groups were virtually unknown. Red Youth Vanguard were only known to 3% of respondents while the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) garnered only 2%.
Muscovites were better informed. Among them,
49% of them know the National Bolsheviks, 41% know the ‘Nashi’ Movement, 27% know the United Russia’s Young Guard,, 17% know Young Russia 14% know ???, 12% know the People’s Democratic Youth Union, and 8% know Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Only 26% of
respondents said they had never heard of any of the organizations listed by the interviewer. Moscow
The poll concentrated its questioning on Nashi. For the most part, respondents were unaware of its existence. 61% said they never heard of Nashi before while 7% knew about it and 27% claimed they only heard about it. Though the poll found that since April 2006 (when the last poll was taken) more people had heard something about Nashi, those who say they know about it fell from 12% in 2006 to 7%.
But what Russians do know about Nashi lacks any real substance. Respondents’ understanding of what they stand for and what they actually do is vague and culled from television or newspaper reports. According to this information, Nashi is best know for its rallies, anti-drug and alcohol campaigns, and other public spectacles. It terms of actual concrete ideology, only 1% simply said they were pro-Putin, though without any indication of what that meant. For the most part, people may have heard of Nashi at some point but what the organization is beyond its rallies is a mystery. I would guess that this is the case for the majority of its rank and file.
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My latest article for the eXile, “Nashi: Is it Really the End?” is now online. Here is an excerpt:
This year, there has been much speculation in the Russian print media about the demise of the Kremlin youth organization “Nashi,” which has been as much a darling of the Russian state as it has been the bane of the Russian opposition and the Western media.
But the situation is not so simple as merely shutting down Nashi. As a new president comes to power in Russia, some are speculating that Nashi’s task is done and they’re no longer needed. This is perhaps wishful thinking for a host of reasons. In order to understand where Nashi is going in the post-Putin era, it is necessary to understand where they came from, and what role they have played.
* * *
“Do you want to realize your plan? Do you want to change the world around you? Do you want to influence your country’s future? Do you want the world to remember you? Are you searching for your place in life? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, don’t despair, there is an answer.”
In America, a pitch like that would signal a “Tony Robbins” alert, but in Russia, a far more sinister organization offers the answers to your prayers: the Antifascist Democratic Youth Movement “Nashi,” waiting for you with open arms.
All you have to do is, first, click onto their site and fill out your online application. A few days after you fill it out, Nashi promises to invite you to a “get-to-know-you” pow-wow. If accepted, Nashi promises to give you “a chance to change your life, influence world politics, and become a member of the intellectual elite.”
Given the demanding, competitive environment in Putin’s Russia, it’s easy to see how Nashi’s offer would look attractive. Its flashy website, spectacular rallies, and lock-step marches produce images of power and success. Through spectacle, it projects an image of unity and devotion to a cause. Nashi considers itself the vanguard for protecting the moral, political, and cultural fiber of Russia. For most people around the world, an organization like this evokes the worse aspects of totalitarianism—where youth are mobilized to blindly fulfill the whims of a repressive regime.
Meet Nikita Borovikov, a 26 year old law student from Vladimir, one of Nashi’s five national commissars, and the front runner to head the youth movement after Vasili Yakemenko steps down after the Presidential Elections in March. Borovikov’s designation as Yakemenko’s successor is not without controversy; and one that might signify divisions within and outside the movement overits direction after 2008. First there is the question whether Yakemenko’s handing over the torch will be smooth. It’s rumored that Borovikov was not Yakemenko’s first choice, (it’s said that he prefers Marina Zademid’kova, 22, from Voronezh), but the law student became the choice after chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov stepped in. Things got even stranger when Nashi held a competition at Camp Seliger to chose a new leader. Borovikov won, but as Kommersant then reported, the Kremlin appeared unprepared to let Yakemenko go so soon, let alone leave Nashi’s immediate future in the hands of Borovikov. The next day Yakemenko was forced to announce that the election was actually “a game.” The youth organization, it seems, has been tapped play an active role in the upcoming elections.
The second issue Nashi must deal with is what purpose it will have after 2008. The organization is so tightly tied with Putin and Putinism, some feel that their existence will become superfluous after he steps down. What exactly Nashi will become in a post-Putin Russia is unknown, even to themselves. A few weeks ago, Kommsersant Vlast’ correspondent Anna Kachurovskaya, who also interviewed the former Nashi member “Ivan”, sat down with Borovikov to get some sense of the youth organization’s future. I provide translated excerpts below.
Were you offended that the election turned out to be a game?
Somehow a falsehood got into the newspapers from the start. When we organized the elections at Seliger, the word “successors” wasn’t even mentioned. There was talk about a competition of several teams, and the winners would get the right to determine the life of the movement. I say that this is “conditional.” That is to say the team will offer a strategy for the movement’s development in the period from 2008 to 2012. It’s understood that Vasilii [Yakemenko] is planning to leave. But in the movement the role of the leader, if there is one, is informal. According to the charter, we have a federal council, it has five commissars on it, and no leader.
You are one of the five federal commissars.
Yes. But I am not any kind of successor. It is first necessary to decide the tasks for December and March. And here, for all intents and purposes, there won’t be any divisions into teams or parties. Nashi is a monolith and that is precisely our strength.
Is there any meaning in your elections?
In order to begin thinking about the what kind of movement we’ll be from 2008 to 2012. It’s impossible to think two-three months ahead. Here we did all this.
That is to say that you have a program for developing the movement?
Yes. In general, there were three parties–“Democrats,” “Sovereigns,” and “NikIl'” [“NikIl’ is a combination of Nikita Borovikov and another commissar named Ilya Kostnov.–Sean]. The Sovereigns and NikIl’ decided to unite. We agreed that formerly the party “Sovereigns” would be marked off in the elections, but really we formed a single team. Therefore “NikIl'” has six leaders–three from the old NikIl’ and three from the Sovereigns. We got six excellent leaders. That’s sort of how everything was.
Then why are they only talking about you in connection to the elections and not about the other five participants?
It’s very simple. I already told you that we are all equal. But even despite the fact that there was a game, it was an election. It was necessary to have a formal leader, and I became it by consensus of the leadership.
. . .
A when will they vote for a leader of the movement and who will it be?
I can’t tell you that now, because, as they say, you want to make God laugh by telling him his plan. But theoretically we will occasionally talk about figures for the 2008-20012, and that beginning with the new year there will be the question of working with a new team. Now we are thinking about the tasks that confront us in 2007.
And how will you decide these tasks?
These dates, which can have a strong influence on us, which we, to say the least, must not miss. This is December and March. For me personally there is a key date–2 September where we will conduct a test-vote: “If there were an election today, who would you vote for from the party?”
Does this have any relation to the program “Nashi Votes”, in which you participated in?
The tasks of the program are to form a team of professional electors. You know a project has a “turn key”, yes? And the election campaigns have “turn keys.” Here we want teams in the region that can direct the electoral campaign by a “turn key.” We have there several courses, which we formed participants into networks. There are lawyers, analysts, managers, and well, leadership headquarters, yes? These will be the future deputies. We call this course “candidates into deputies,” although we reckon that they will become deputies eventually after participating in the program. These people, who were train in courses, for example, a lawyer, after improving personally and filling in posts at local election commissions, flawlessly organizing votes, will make our small contribution so that we have elections where no one can say we had falsifications.
Moreover, we will take upon ourselves plenty of difficult tasks–conducting exit polls, because exit polls are a button which sets off “orange revolutions”, yes? On the basis of these, the “orangists” say: You see, they deceived you, we won, and they tell you different. Observing all methods of exit polls is one of the tasks of the program. So that we can say: here is the official count of votes, here are exit polls, conducted according to established scientific methods, all have the possibility to compare. Because a party cannot have 3-4% before the elections (or as I already said, 2 September we will have a poll), and suddenly win.
Finally and this is very important. One of the main problems comes from the fact that nowhere in the country do we have trained deputies and deputies’ assistants. You agree that the deputy pool is an important element in a democratic system. It’s one of the authorities of power, which, strictly speaking, decides everything. And it’s certainly necessary to be a professional person, and not simply someone popular from some region to get elected–and beyond that its not clear what to do. We want this branch of deputies to be trained in the first round of deputies’ assistants. We organize guys for training so that they understand what kind of a person a deputy assistant is and how he must ideally work. We hope that the best of the best will proceed to a stage of development of a candidate in the deputies.
And where is the guarantee that only your pupils will become deputies?
There is no guarantee. We train him as a deputy. He wins then he wins.
Do you already have many trained “deputies”?
We just got back from the camp at Seliger, where the representation for the program “Nashi Votes” was more than 700 people. Not all could come. We had close to 35 cities, of those considered deputies–its somewhere around a third of the general number of program participants.
You said that the elections can be seriously fixed. How?
An attempt to take over the government and establish a regime in Russia in the name of a foreign power can occur in December during the State Duma elections and in March during the Presidential elections.
You have in mind the United States?
An external power—this is when decisions in the state are made not in the national interests of this state or the population of the state, but in the interests of other political actors, for example, the United States, which manufactured similar operations in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia, in the span of its thousand year history, when it was called the USSR, when it was called the Russian Empire, and when it was called Rus’, was independent. In light of geopolitics I understand that Russia is the most delicious piece, so they don’t want to miss out on it. There is a division of labor in the world, if the world market is any indication, Russia now occupies the place of a seller. And countries like the EU or the US, which are involved in organizations of color revolutions, we have them as buyers. Here these buyers always casually enter into the store and dictate to the seller how much oil must be sold, for example. I as a representative of Nashi, and the Nashi movement as a whole, and as an ordinary normal person am not going to sit idle if they attempt to impose such a form of life on me.
You think that such a situation would change the lives of Russian for the worse?
One of the basis of Russia’s well being at the moment is oil. If we start to sell cheaper that we can, it can damage the quality of life.
And it’s true that in December and in March on the squares of Moscow tents will be erected, where Nashi will live in order to prevent “orange revolution.”
I didn’t hear about it.
Do you honestly believe in the possibility of an “orange revolution”? To what extent do you think that it’s a reality?
You would like for me to talk in percentages? It’s like in an joke about the dinosaur on Nevskii prospekt: Either we meet or we don’t meet, 50/50. Well how is it possible to count here? I have another fear, Anna. I fear that there is a counter-agent who already knows what we know. Meaning, he will concoct something different. Apparently, “orange revolution” for Russia is a missed opportunity, but they are prepared. They sit and think in some office beyond the oceans or beyond the channel: Aha, well then we need to think up something else. The threat of an “orange revolution” is understood, the mechanisms are clear. How it works is understood and we did all of this and we didn’t succeed. If they didn’t think something new up, they wouldn’t have tried.
For the last few days Russian Live Journal has been reeling over the posting of a video showing the execution of two men, a Tadjik and Dagastani, by masked figures claiming to be members of a little known fascist group called National Socialism/White Power, reports Kommersant. The two minute video, posted as “The Execution of a Tadjik and Dagastani” by one “Antitsigan” (i.e. Anti-gypsy) shows the men stating, “Russian National Socialists arrested us” before one masked figure in camouflage slits the throat of one and shoots the other in the head. The two masked men then give a “Sieg Heil” as the video fades to a Nazi flag with punk rock guitar barrage soundtrack.
RFE/RL calls the two minute video, which isn’t the first of its kind, a “hate crime video.” I call it a political snuff film. Some like Aleksandr Belov, the leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration claims that the video is a fake and a “provocation.” “There are two versions. This is either committed by someone who sincerely considers that this is how it is necessary to fight non-residents or this is a provocation to discredit the Russian idea and stir up a fight against its supporters,” Belov told Kommersant. Belov also noted that the video may be connected to the detention of Maksim Martsinkevich, aka “Tesak,” the leader of the Nazi group Format-18, during his trial in a Moscow city court.
Also speaking to Kommersant, Aleksandr Berkhovskii, an expert at SOVA, thinks that the video is the real deal. “It doesn’t look like this clip was staged. It’s very natural and looks genuine.” He also admitted to the Associated Press that “I’ve never seen anything that blatant.”
The identities of the two men are still unknown.
The Russian MVD has opened an investigation into the video, but a spokesperson stated that it was too soon to determine if the video was real or not. Legally the authenticity of the video is not as much an issue for it violates several statues of the Russian extremist law. Under the law, any representation that seeks to insight racial or ethnic violence is considered criminal.
Is the video real or a fake? That is the question that has made the video one of the most discussed topics on Russian Live Journal. The video has since been removed from most websites.
Writing on his site, ZheZhe user aleke writes, “It makes absolutely no difference to me who did the executing, who was executed, or whether it was an execution at all. . . Nationalism has shown for a long time now nationalism doesn’t mean love for one’s country but hated toward others. Can there be talk about some kind of “Russian nationalism” if Russians are only mentioned in slogans and speeches and at the center of attention are Caucasians?”
Another ZheZhe user, dimantrump, dismissed the video as a provocation by the FSB. “What is the motive?” he asks. “It still turns the screws. Still more strongly enslaves the Russian people. In the end, as past experience has shown that such incidents ultimately play into the hands of the occupiers.”
I personally think that the question of its “reality” isn’t important beyond the need to bring the murders to justice. After all, given the sophistication of media technology is there any absolutely sure way to authenticate such a video? Granted, I have not watched it, nor do I intend to. But to me this video’s political resonance says something more about spectacle of violence that inhabits our modern lives rather than anything specific about nationalism or fascism in Russia. As far as I’m concerned the members of “National Socialism/White Power” are merely reproducing what has already become a staple in our media diet. From the “real” videos of Chechens beheading Russian soldiers, Beslan, Daniel Pearl, Abu Ghraib, suicide bombings, and school and workplace shootings (and the media’s obsession over them) to the “fake” torture scenes of shows like 24 and other films, hasn’t the gap between the real and the fake long collapsed, making their distinction merely academic. What is important is the connection between politics and extreme violence, or really the use of extreme violence as political spectacle. After all, has not the previously virtually unknown National Socialism/White Power made an instant name for itself with nothing more than a two minute commercial?