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.
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“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.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
The election circus in Sochi has some new developments.
The alleged polonium murderer Andrei Lugovoi won’t be running. The LDPR announced that it will go with a different candidate. According to the NY Times, the reason for the move is because Lugovoi “would have been at a disadvantage because he was not from the Sochi region, though it also seemed that his candidacy would have been awkward for the government.” I guess that awkwardness doesn’t extend to having him in the Duma. Oh well . . .
But the big news concerns this week’s piss ammonia chloride attack on “Kremlin critic” Boris Nemtsov. As I said in a post on the incident, Nemtsov immediately charged Nashi with the assault. Nashi has not only emphatically denied the charge, they have also decided sue Nemtsov for court for the “slander.” “The “Nashi” Movement is scandalized by the accusation,” reads a Nashi press release, “and demands from Nemtsov a public apology and compensation for damage to out honor and business reputation in the amount of 1 million rubles.”
This isn’t the first time Nashi has been involved in a lawsuit over “honor.” Last February, “Kremlin critic” and Western media darling Garry Kasparov sued Nashi for insulting his “honor.” Nashi won. Kasparov remains dishonored.
Was the attack really carried out by Nashi? Like I said, the incident corresponds with their MO though splashing chemicals on their enemies is a new tactic. There is speculation that the she-male who distracted Nemtsov was in fact a Nashi activist from Ryazan named Konstantin Markov. According to Novaya gazeta, Sergei Ezhov, a Natsbol from Ryazan, recognized Markov despite his feminine disguise. Novaya presented a photo of the attacker alongside a pic of Markov for comparison.
The two figures do look similar. Both have the same square jaw and triangular nose. But so do many Russian men, and particularly the ultra-Slavic specimens Nashi seems to attract. Unfortunately, the key evidence, Markov’s bulging Adam’s apple, is hidden in the attacker’s photo. Where’s Scooby and the gang when you really need them.
Sometimes you gotta love the idiocy of Russian politics.
Photos: Novaya gazetaPost Views: 488
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: 491
By Sean — 12 years ago
Diederik Lohman, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and former director of its Moscow office (1997-2002) has an editorial in the Moscow Times on the issue of dedovshchina and conscript abuse in the Russian military. Lohman is the author of HRW’s October 2004 report on hazing, “The Wrongs of Passage.” This report is a must read for anyone concerned about the issue. I wrote about it months ago and you can find it here. What is good about Lohman’s editorial is that it does more than just condemn the prevalence of hazing in the Russian forces and its negligence by the government. He actually offers some solutions. They include:
- The Defense Ministry should implement zero tolerance for officers who fail to carefully monitor their troops for evidence of abuses and address abuses. Officers who fail to do so should be consistently punished, including through demotion or dismissal. The Defense Ministry and other ministries should mobilize resources to monitor the conduct of officers in this respect.
- The vast majority of soldiers who flee their units do so to escape abuses, but the military responds by returning these men to their units or punishing them for going absent without leave. No effort is made to document and address the abuse that drove them to flee. The joint working groups of the Defense Ministry and Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office should monitor not only problem units but should also investigate all cases of absence-without-leave to determine the reasons for flight. Officers in cases where soldiers fled to escape abuses should be properly punished.
- The government should establish civilian oversight mechanisms that allow representatives from ombudsman’s offices, nongovernmental groups and the Public Chamber to monitor military bases. Information collected by these civilian monitors should be used in assessing whether officers are appropriately enforcing discipline in their ranks.
- Professional noncommissioned officers should receive thorough training on preventing abuses. Their efforts to stop abuses should be closely monitored, and punitive measures should be imposed whenever they fail in this duty.
Lohman, like many, are doubtful that these changes will be made as long as the Ministry of Defense denies the fact that the root of the problem exists in the military itself. The most recent evidence of this denial is Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s speech on February 15.
Here is some of what Ivanov said:
Now on the causes of so-called “dedovshchina” and the measures the Ministry of Defense proposes for the eradication of this negative phenomena.
I purposefully turn your attention to the crimes (prestupleninie) which are connected to prohibited relationships (neustavnie vzamootnosheniia). As a general rule, they do precise damage to the prestige of the Military forces and provike outside social resonance.
Naturally, incidents of “dedovshchina” appear as objective and also subjective factors.
Here within there is no doubt that in its foundation as well as any other sort of military crime, rests, if I could apply such a definition, in the moral pathology of our society.
How is it expressed in it?
First, [it is expressed] in the crisis of objective ethical guidelines of a sizeable part of out population in a number of our servicemen.
Second, in legal nihilism which is institutionalized owing to the still considerable gap between the laws of the State and the real relations of our citizens to law and order.
Third, in the devaluation of traditional worth of the ideas of national culture in the mass social consciousness.
For evidence of the last thesis it is enough to simply look at the programs shown on many television channels.
Ivanov then described this culture of “catastrophe and blood” and its effects on the generation of soldiers who joined the military. While I have to agree with Ivanov that the culture of the Russian military exists within and feeds off of a wider culture, the relationship is not a simple one way street. The institution of the military and military culture plays a substantial role in Russia. Some, like historian Joshua Sanborn in his Drafting the Russian Nation, argue that the Russian nation was forged in partly through the beginning of mass military conscription in the 19th century and the experience and consequences of WWI and the Civil War. One need not also be reminded of the cult of the military and war that has developed since WWII.
Some might reject this idea of the military’s negative influence on Russian society with the argument that the military instills discipline and pride in the nation. That is true, but to a certain extent. This tends to work better in volunteer armies and in armies that don’t thoroughly exploit their soldiers. And I would argue that dedovshchina is not contradictory to the military’s overarching goals of instilling patriotism and discipline. In fact, I think that it helps foster them.
But still another thing is missing from all analyses I’ve read on the problem of dedovshchina—the culture of masculinity that all military cultures and predominately male institutions foster. It seems that the cult of masculinity needs commentary. One of dedovshchina’s “functions” is that it creates a right of passage where new recruits are transformed into soldiers. Put simply, it makes men out of boys. All one needs to do is look at the categories new and older soldiers are placed in. In addition, it reproduces the hierarchy that the military is predicated on.
So while Ivanov is correct to place the military in the context of a wider culture, the military’s culture has elements that are wholly separate from wider society. It acts, to follow someone like Foucault, as a technology of discipline at a micropolitical level. The problem is that this discipline is not always one which leaders like Ivanov desire.
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