Nashi’s been keeping a list. There’s no need to check it twice. They know who’s been naughty and nice. In their own version of a “Komsomol Christmas,” members of the pro-Kremlin group Nashi decided make their own mockery of the holiday. But unlike their Soviet predecessors, the enemy wasn’t religion but the leaders of “most unfriendly governments” toward Russia. And which leaders received lumps of coal? According to a poll of its members, none other than Mikhail Saakashvili, Viktor Yushchenko, and George Bush.
The Nashists sent several neckties to Saakashvili “just in case he gets anxious and begins to chew on his wardrobe accessories publicly in the future.” Yushchenko got a package of coal and logs to keep him warm after Russia turns off the gas. He also got a reworked Ukrainian flag that combines the US flag, the Ukrainian blue and yellow, and a Nazi swastika. To outgoing US President Bush, Nashi sent a set of world maps with mousetraps to symbolize NATO expansion. All the presents were to be hand delivered to their respective embassies.
To all my readers, a very Мerry Christmas!
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- By Sean — 10 years ago
Perhaps Nashi has found a purpose in Medvedev’s Russia: functioning as an army of provocateurs and spies. This week, Anna Bukovskaya, a former Nashist, blew the whistle on Nashi’s undercover operation to infiltrate and surveillance opposition youth organizations. In a statement published on Ilya Yashin’s blog, Bukovskaya stated:
I, Anna Aleksandrovna Bukovskaya, was the federal deputy leader of a hidden state project called the “President’s Messenger” (as it was called initially, as of December 2007 its name hadn’t changed), which practiced the infiltration of people into oppositional organizations in cities of the Russian Federation. The project has existed officially since 10 September 2007. Initially the project began in three cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yaroslavl. The high priority organizations were the NBP (National Bolshevik Party), OGF (United Civil Front), Oborona, and MSYa (Yabloko Youth).
Bukovskaya goes on to explain her duties as a spy.
The main concern seemed to be in the impending actions of the opposition. Accordingly, this came in two types of reports: announcements (which were sent immediately as events became known) and as so-called material reports (reports which were sent as fact sheets (short information about a person) on the leadership (or its executive secretary) of opposition organizations. On these people were made short personal files with their background.
Lower agents passed this information to Bukovskaya, who sent it to Dmitry Golubyatnikov, the head of the project. He then “contacted “Surkov’s people” in the Kremlin,” as in Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s chief ideologist and now Medvedev’s Chief of Staff. Bukovskaya got a monthly stipend of $1,100 a month, while the lowly narcs got $550. She says that she finally quit the project when she realized that everything Nashi told her about the opposition “were complete lies.”
The Nashi spy ring expanded beyond the above mentioned cities. Nashi activists infiltrated groups in Voronezh, Ivanovo, Kaluga, Orel, and Kaliningrad. Also, the list of targeted organizations also grew to include: Red Youth Vanguard, United People’s Movement, Communist Youth League, Union of Right Forces, Russian Vanguard, and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration.
Nashi of course has denied the existence of “President’s Messenger” and that Bukovskaya was anything but a “rank and file” Nashist. “Nashi doesn’t get involved in such things,” Mikhail Kulikov, a senior Nashi member told the Moscow Times. Really? Then how do you explain the two Nashi members Oborona “unmasked” its St. Petersburg ranks?
Sadly, the more Nashi does, the more it acts like the Komsomol. Originality apparently went out the window decades ago. The Komsomol too made the point to “struggle” against the Boy Scouts, Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary youth groups, and religious sects in the early 1920s. It even went a step further and requested the creation of a special section of the Cheka to “surveillance non-communist youth organizations,” according to one archival source. The request was granted by the Cheka Presidium in February 1922. All materials on youth groups were to be sent to a “secret Cheka department.” It’s unclear how active this special section was (I haven’t researched it and to my knowledge no one has), but the Komsomol continued to monitor “non-communist” and religious youth groups throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and most likely right up to 1991.
Interestingly, by the mid-1920s, external groups proved less of a problem than internal ones. Here I don’t mean your run of the mill Trotskyist. Komsomols began forming small groups and circles within the League itself. Most dedicated themselves to poetry (mostly devoted the cult-poet Sergei Esenin), street fighting, drunken nights and group sex. I’ve even found one called the League of Death in a report on two of its members’ suicides. Call if Soviet proto-Goth. Some were overtly political. Anarchist or Bolshevik left groups reared their little heads at times by flooding the TsK with denunciations of its work and manifestos. One nameless anarchist group even urged its adherents to join to Komsomol and destroy it from the inside.There were also a few fascist and nationalist groups, especially in the Far East. Some, like a Protestant sect called the New Israelite Movement, even adeptly used local Komsomol cells as fronts to proselytize among youth. That is, until its leaders were arrested in 1927.
The Komsomol was so obsessed with these small and most ineffective groups (only the religious ones seemed to make any real headway). Reams of paper were devoted to recording their intricate activities no matter how small. Sadly, it appears that Nashi is repeating history by conjuring similar anxieties.
Interesting stuff. I wonder how much more this will play out. The only thing I have to say to Bukovskaya is thanks for sharing and most importantly, watch your back. Also, if you have any internal documents on this matter, could you plaster them on the internet?
- By Sean — 11 years ago
Nashi has officially hit the American mainstream. On Sunday the NY Times published an expose of the youth organization. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said before. In fact it is clear that the media has nothing new to add to what Nashi is except for repeating the fact that it is a Kremlin tool. I would figure that this is quite obvious. I’m more interested in how the organization actually functions on the ground. That said, I think the best statement was from Yabloko youth leader, Ilya Yashin. He told the Times,
“The authorities may face serious problems because all the young people whom they teach today, in whom they invest, whom they teach to organize mass actions, may find themselves in the real opposition when they see that their interests are violated. Today they are loyal, but tomorrow they may become the opposition. And this may not be the young Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, like in China, but something much more serious.”
I think he is right on. Such is the dilemma of arousing and then having the audacity to think you can actually control populism.
But what really struck me is how the article opened. It reads:
Yulia Kuliyeva, only 19 and already a commissar, sat at a desk and quizzed each young person who sat opposite her, testing for ideological fitness to participate in summer camp.
“Tell me, what achievements of Putin’s policy can you name?” she asked, referring to Russia’s president since 2000, Vladimir V. Putin.
“Well, it’s the stabilization in the economy,” the girl answered. “Pensions were raised.”
“And what’s in Chechnya?” Ms. Kuliyeva asked, probing her knowledge of a separatist conflict that has killed tens of thousands and, although largely won by Russia’s federal forces and Chechen loyalists, continues.
“In Chechnya, it’s that it is considered a part of Russia,” the girl responded.
“Is this war still going on there?”
“No, everything is quiet.”
Ms. Kuliyeva is a leader in the Ideological Department of Nashi, the largest of a handful of youth movements created by Mr. Putin’s Kremlin to fight for the hearts and minds of Russia’s young people in schools, on the airwaves and, if necessary, on the streets.
I sure wish the Times would have questioned this obvious charade. I doubt your average Nashi member has such ideological prowess. In fact, Kuliyeva’s question and answer session reminded me of a document I found in the Komsomol archive. Such ideological questioning was common in Komsomol admissions and expulsion trials. Mine comes from an expulsion trial. I believe it is probably more indicative of not only your average Komsomol member at the time but also even symbolic of your average Nashi member’s ideological awareness.
The document dates from 1926. On trial was one Klishin, born in 1904, an unemployed peasant, and joined the Komsomol in 1923. Klishin was also charged with neglecting his studies, playing ill to get out of them, and for “rowdiness and drunkenness.” Here is what the Moscow Raikom expulsion commission asked Klishin to determine his guilt:
Were you drunk in the washroom?
What kind of work did you do in the Komsomol since 1923?
I was a member of the cell bureau.
What did you do as a bureau member and what was your responsibilities?
They didn’t give me any responsibilities.
What else did you do?
I did literary work, gave reports on Komsomol activism.
How do you express your Komsomol activism?
I encourage worker youth to join the League.
When was the 14th Party Congress?
I don’t know.
Which Party Congress was in 1925?
What is KIM (Communist Youth International)?
Dictatorship of Komsomol.
What newspapers do you read?
I read but I haven’t for a month.
Who is Stalin?
I don’t know.
The last one was the ringer. To say the least, Klishin was expelled from the Komsomol. I wonder is Nashi has its own expulsion process to deal with their riffraff.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
There are two new articles of note that concern the Georgian War and the low intensity media war against Russia. The first is Neal Ascherson’s “A Chance to Join the World” in the London Review of Books on the present and future of Abkhazia. The second is Mark Ames’ “Editorial Malpractice” or more aptly named on the Exiled site, “Freddy Gets Fingered: How I Busted the Washington Post’s Op-ed Page Editor.” Therein Ames unmasks WaPo‘s “incessant demonization [of Russian and Putin] puts more weight on ideology than on journalistic professionalism–or simple fact-checking.”
In regard to Ascherson’s article, the big question is the future of now defacto 120 mile coastal strip called Abkhazia. Rejoining a nationalist fueled Georgia set on asserting its “sovereign territorial integrity” by force is out of the question. There appears to be little desire to formally attach to Russia though being its client is inescapable and in many ways desirable. Is a new Abkhazian nation state in the making? Interestingly, much of Abkhazia’s fate might fall on the emergence of a Georgian “Willy Brandt” and his ability to avoid the trap of the Oder-Neisse Problem. Here is Ascherson’s take on the issue:
We have seen this trap before. Well . . . any European journalist of my advanced age has seen it. It was called the Oder-Neisse Problem. It consumed hours of soporific briefings and blackened kilometres of dead paper. It kept West Germany safely hobbled to the Western Allies for just over twenty years.
There are differences of scale and detail, but the similarities are sickening. The Oder-Neisse Problem went like this. After the Second World War, Poland annexed the German provinces of Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia, and expelled their populations – some eight million people. Most of them ended up in West Germany. Egged on by the Americans, the new West German state refused to recognise the new eastern border on the Oder and Neisse rivers, proclaimed that the ‘frontiers of 1937’ were still in force, and demanded that the rest of the world accept the duty to restore Germany’s ‘territorial integrity’. The enormous expellee leagues gained a stranglehold on politics. For decades, it was assumed that anyone who suggested recognising the Oder-Neisse Line was committing political suicide. West German TV daily predicted the weather, cloudy or sunny, in Silesia as well as in Bavaria.
In public, the Western Allies stoutly supported this position. In private, any French or British diplomat would agree that it was odious and unreal. But that was why they valued it. A West Germany firmly shackled to this impossibilist dogma would never be able to do a deal with the Soviet Union, such as leaving Nato in return for reunification. It was only in 1970 that Willy Brandt decided to lead his country out of the trap by recognising the territorial results of the war and the new boundaries. The expellees threatened to destroy him, but nothing happened. The Allies, who had grown fed up with their own hypocrisy, let Brandt have his way.
When will there be a Georgian Willy Brandt? The notion raises hollow laughter in Sukhum. Georgian politicians still insist that Abkhazia is Georgian, use extreme rhetoric about ‘overcoming separatism’ and walk out of meetings to which Abkhazians are admitted. But as with West Germany, the effect of this ‘impossibilism’ is to make Georgia less independent, not more.
Ames’ target is a much easier bird to pick off. English language media’s bias is well known, and from my unscientific survey the Washington Post and the Guardian tend to be the most vociferous in painting Russian and Putin as a neo-Evil Empire. Noting this may be old hat, but constantly necessary in the trenches of the information war. The target of Ames’ ire is WaPo‘s recent attempt to pin the “assassination attempt” against Karina Moskalenko on Putin even though French police showed that there was no attempt whatsoever. When Ames asked Hiatt why the Post didn’t wait for the investigation before charging, trying and convicting Putin, he responded:
“I am aware of newspaper articles in Figaro and the New York Times that quoted unnamed police sources positing the theory that a broken thermometer was the source of the mercury found in Moskalenko’s car,” he said. “These sources were in Paris, where officials may have a foreign-policy reason not to spark a dispute with Russia, and not in Strasbourg, where the investigation was taking place.” He also implied that Moskalenko, who doubted the “broken-thermometer theory,” as Hiatt put it, was more reliable than the investigators. These were incredible charges leveled at Le Figaro and the French political and judicial systems. But was Hiatt right?
Well as Gomer used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise” Hiatt wasn’t right. In fact, with “the magic of a couple of phone calls” to Curille Louis, the Figaro reporter who wrote about the police investigation, Ames discovered the following:
“I am frankly surprised that the Washington Post‘s editorial page editor would say something like this without even calling me to see if what he says was true,” Louis told me, stunned and laughing. “It’s simply not true. I used several sources, but the two main sources were a top police official here in Paris and a top investigator from the prosecutor’s office in Strasbourg.” Louis even named the source in Strasbourg–assistant prosecutor Claude Palpacuer. His sources in Paris are reliable people he has been working with for years. Louis explained that the investigators felt they’d probably solved the case after they tracked down the car’s previous owner, a local antiques dealer who had indeed broken an old barometer (not thermometer) in the car shortly before selling it.
I then asked Louis what he thought about Hiatt’s larger assumption: that Le Figaro‘s sources in Paris could not be trusted because the French might be worried about upsetting Russia. Again, Louis laughed in disbelief: “This sounds like a kind of conspiracy theory. You would have to believe that judges and police officials in two cities conspired to manipulate a Le Figaro journalist in order to plant a story that was not very big news here in the first place. Why would the authorities go through all of this effort for such a small story? I find this idea of a conspiracy completely unlikely.” Louis was disappointed at Hiatt’s accusations: “I suppose I might feel honored that the Washington Post bothers to write about me, but you know, I feel a bit surprised. If he called me I could have explained how I wrote the story. But he didn’t try. Quite often we’re very impressed here by how American journalists work, the high standards they use to source stories…. So it’s disappointing to learn that [Hiatt] came to his conclusions about the way I work without even calling me.”
Kudos to Ames. And to Louis, don’t worry if you keep reading English language reporting on Russia the disappointment will becoming something of a second nature. Many of us have become so inured to it that it wears like a second skin.