“No to Fascism in
When looking at the Nashi website (which until recently appeared to be inaccessible to non-Russian IP addresses) one can’t help be reminded of the pages of the Young Communist League’s Komsomolskaya pravda. Editions from the 1920s and 1930s contained a daily section called “Around the League” that also featured the goings on of local cells. Often, like during the All-Union Cultural Campaign (kul’tpokhod) in 1928-29, they carried short reports about how local activists were rising to the challenge and zealously fulfilling the center’s directives. While there was some truth to these blurbs, the chorus always sang a bit too well in key.
Make no mistake. Nashi is the new Komsomol. But it is not the Komsomol of the 1970s and 1980s when the organization was merely a quasi-compulsory bureaucratic funnel into the Communist Party and other Soviet institutions. Currently, Nashi hardly has the numbers, let alone the political networks, to facilitate institutionalized upward mobility. Instead, Nashi better represents the Komsomol of the 1920s and 1930s—hardly a mass organization (At 2 million in 1928 the Komsomol only captured a fraction of Russian youth. Nashi even less so with an estimated membership of 300,000) but far more activist and militant. So militant that the League served as the spearhead for the Communist Party’s populist mobilizations in the Stalin Revolution. When the Bolsheviks called for “storming fortresses” it was a Komsomolets that often held the charging banner. Similarly, Nashi appears to be the spearhead of the Putin Administration efforts to stir nationalist populism among the masses.
Though it is one among many youth organizations in
The past two weeks have seen a ratcheting up of Nashi activity focused around the Bronze Statute incident. The most widely reported incident involves the week long “siege” of the Estonian Embassy by Nashi activists in
Activities were not just centered on
Several news organizations have decried Nashi’s tactics. The Moscow Times called the attempted assault on Kaljurand a “radical departure from the group’s origins” of defending
Therefore the question is who is control of Nashi. There is some speculation that the Kremlin is trying to bring Nashi to heel after the embassy fiasco. In an interview with Moskovskii Komsomolets, Vasili Yakemenko admitted that Nashi “made certain mistakes” adding “and we have apologized for them.” When pressed as to what those mistakes were, he said,
I don’t think we should have obstructed Marina Kaliurand’s car, not even for 15 minutes. That happened on the first day of the picket, when the crowd outside the embassy included a few dozen people who had nothing to do with the Nashi movement. I intervened in that situation, and the car was allowed to proceed on its way. Second point: what happened to the Swedish ambassador’s car. That was unacceptable, and we have sent our apologies to the ambassador. Third: we shouldn’t have torn down the flag from the Estonian Embassy. I released an official statement from the Nashi movement, expressing deep regret about this and saying that we don’t approve or support the behavior of the activist who tore down the flag. He will certainly be punished. He might even be expelled from the movement. In other words, in each of the abovementioned situations, I considered such actions unacceptable.
Nikolai Chaplin, the Komsomol General Secretary for most of the 1920s, couldn’t have said it better. When the Komsomol unleashed its rank and file on Soviet society, activists more often than not went beyond the prescriptions of their leaders. Local activists translated “cultural campaigns” into beating up and terrorizing citizens, ransacking churches and mosques, and expropriating property. While Nashi’s leash is nowhere near as long and wrath nowhere near as violent, one wonders if the Kremlin’s two pincer strategy (that is authoritarian from above and populist from below) will one day get the better of them. Controlling power from above is easy. Letting loose young rank and file activists from below always produces excess. As the Nashi’s recent excesses show, sometimes the tail can threaten to wag the dog, if not urge the dog to chase its tail.