For those interested in Nashi, I recommend listening to this interview with Dr. Regina Heller from the University of Hamburg Institute for Peace and Research (a recent article of hers on Nashi can be found here). I think Heller’s discussion serves as as good primer for understanding the many aspects to the pro-Kremlin group. I find it puzzling that the interviewer is surprised that the state is mobilizing youth for support. She seems to think that youth are somehow inherently against the state and for change. This must be some kind of post-1960s myth because historically youth have more often than not been used for rallying nationalist and pro-government support. Groups like the Boys’ Brigades, Boy Scouts, Wandervogel, Hitler Youth, and Komsomol were not known for their anti-government rhetorics.
One issue Heller timely takes up is whether Nashi’s days are numbered since it’s “served its purpose” and is now “politically obsolete” for the Kremlin. I don’t agree with this. Nashi may be in crisis (interestingly not unlike like the Komsomol was after the Russian Civil War) and is searching for its role in Medvedev’s Russia. I think I would count on its death anytime soon. Especially if Lyndon is correct and “colored revolution” continues to be a specter that haunts the political elite.
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It’s that time of year again. The time when thousands of red t-shirt clad Russian youths pack their bags and head for Tver Province to take part in an “educational megaproject.” What is this educational megeproject you ask? Why, its Nashi’s third annual “commissar” camp at Lake Seliger!
The camp has been growing steadily since its inception. Its first year hosted 3000 Nashisty. Last year, 5000 of the self-proclaimed “young democratic anti-fascist movement’s” elite gathered for a whirlwind of physical fitness, paramilitary training, ideological seminars and lectures, and hobnobbing with the likes of Ramzan Kadyrov, Sergei Ivanov, Vladislav Surkov, and even Vladimir Putin himself. This year’s camp is double that size, reaching an impressive 10,000 Nashi youths. For an organization that proports to have 10,000 active members and 200,000 volunteers, that is a impressive haul.
So much so that the Financial Times, as well as several other news organizations, has taken with a piece in Thursday’s edition. There is even a must see Nashi summer camp Flash slideshow. The pictures are amazing in and of themselves. The saying that pictures are worth a thousand words couldn’t be more true. See a Nashi member aiming an AK-47 during paramilitary training with a backdrop billboard reading “Nashi: Our Army.” Gaze at thousands of Nashisty doing their morning calisthenics. Putinist Realism, anyone? Or check out the garish “Red Light District” featuring evil oppositionists Mikhail Kasyanov, Eduard Limonov, and Garry Kasparov dressed in Moulin Rouge. Sexy! A Nashi information commissar explains that they are dressed like prostitutes because “they’re traitors to the country.” And let us not forget Putin’s visage hovering over the camp grounds. The increase in attendance and spruced up digs suggests that corporate funding from Gazprom and other Russian companies is going to good use. Hell, the gas giant even got its own tower for its contributions. It’s clear a lot of time went into naming it too. Its called the “Gazprom Tower.” Surkov’s busy, busy, busy!
It’s all so Komsomol-esque that even Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko had to admit that “some symbols are similar–senior members are ‘commissars’, members carry little red books recording their achievements.” But he claims that Nashi is no neo-Komsomol since, he says, “For the Komsomol, what was important was the success of the [Communist] party; for us, what’s important is the success of the person.”
Really? Reminds me of a document I have from the 1924 calling for a purge of the Komsomol because all the “hangers-on” and “alien elements” were taking all the spaces in the university from good working class youth. Or the one that denounced the Bolshevik Party as conservative and proclaimed the Komsomol as the true Leninists. The Komsomol could never obliterate the “I”. And often, in fact far too often, it was articulated as “I’m going to step on you to get over you.” If Yakemenko knew his history of Russian youth organizations, he might appreciate the complexity of it all.
In fact, there are some interesting similarities at this years camp with the Komsomol of old. In nothing less than druzhba naroda redux is an “ethno-village” that “displays cultures of Russia’s many minorities.” Also, twenty-five Nashi couples tied the knot in a mass wedding. The act is reminiscent of Komsomol “red” weddings which shunned Orthodox iconography and made marital vows to the “construction of socialism.” I wonder if Nashi couples were urged to christen their children with names like “Nitup,” (Putin), “Pin” (Putin-Ivanov-Nashi), or “Vlakov” (Vladimir Surkov), or “Suvdem” for “sovereign democracy.” I mean, really, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.
Media access to the camp is tight. RFE/RL reports that two journalists, Ilya Barabanov from Novoye vremya and Mikhail Romanov from Moskovskii komsomlets were denied a seat on the media bus. The director of the Nashi press service told them that “the list of accredited journalists had already been sent, and that it was too late to add any new names.” Undeterred, Barabanov and Romanov set out, on a boat no less, to the Nashi camp “unembedded” to see what was up. What they got was a special greeting.
This is how RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Maksim Yaroshevsky describes their adventure:
We rented a boat for 70 rubles an hour, leaving a passport as a deposit, and crossed over to the shores of the Nashi camp. There were no guards in sight and it was relatively easy for us to wander off in different directions through the camp.
In the course of half an hour, I had already managed to speak to a dozen Nashi activists. Some of the other “illegal” journalists weren’t so lucky.
Barabanov and Romanov were approached almost immediately by men in camouflage who insisted they leave the camp at once. The head of Nashi, Vasily Yakimenko, appeared and announced that the presence of unaccredited journalists on the premises of the camp was strictly forbidden.
My colleagues argued that this violated their rights under Russian media law, but Yakimenko was unconvinced, and within 10 minutes Barabanov, Romanov, and Lyaskin [Smena youth leader. He also accompanied the reporters] had all been thrown out of the camp.
Busted! Until next year, I guess . . .Post Views: 457
Russia’s consolidation into a two party system took a small step this weekend when the Communist Youth League (Союз коммунистической молодежи, СКМ) voted 98-1 to support Just Russia at its 6th Congress. Constantine Zhukov, SKM’s leader, told Congress delegates that the decision was because the Communist Party was “in stagnation.” “The Party has degenerated, there is no genuine Communist Party in the county that we can orientate ourselves toward.” Just Russia, Zhukov explained, “doesn’t practice demagoguery, but real politics. In the upcoming elections we will work with Just Russia.”
SKM’s moved quickly gained the support of Just Russia and its youth wing, “Ura!“. “I’m glad that Zhukov had enough courage and wisdom to understand the political situation. Unfortunately, there is nothing except for empty rhetoric and political speculation remaining in the KPRF. It’s an organization which forgot about the interests of the people,” Ura! leader Sergei Shargunov said in his speech at the Congress.
SKM’s announcement to support Just Russia is yet another chapter in the drama of infighting and splits of the Russian communist youth movement. The SKM, which hails itself as the successor to the Soviet era Komsomol, became the youth wing of the Russian Communist Party in 1999. But splits within the youth wing and then between it and the Party quickly erupted. The KRPF moved against Zhukov, replacing him with Iuri Afonin in October 2003. A month later, the All-Russian Leninist Communist Youth League (VLKSM) was formed, formerly splitting it from the KPRF, with Zhukov at its head. The new communist youth group changed its name to SKM shortly thereafter and pledged its allegiance to the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future, which was liquidated in 2005. As of now there are at least three organizations claiming to be the true successor to the Soviet Komsomol. The Communist Youth League, SKM, the Communist Youth League of the Russian Federation, SKM RF, and a small splinter group called the Revolutionary Communist Youth League (Bolshevik), RKSM(b). The only ones that matter in communist political circles are the dueling SKM and SKM RF. The former claims a membership of 10,000, while the latter posts a number of 26,000. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Iuri Afonin, who leads the SKM RF and still supports the KPRF, saw the move as illegitimate and that it would have no real political impact. He told Kommersant that “nothing was lost” with the SKM’s defection. “This congress is illegitimate because the regional leaders of the organization weren’t present . . . All the regions work with us and all headquarters are registered as members of the KPRF.” The Moscow Times quoted Afonin calling the whole move a “farce” and suggested that Just Russia simply bought off Zhukov for “30 pieces of silver.”
Claims that the KPRF are out of touch with young Russians are understatements. Its constituency remains mostly among pensioners, which it rallies support with nostalgia for a Soviet past that could never be reclaimed. Judging from the organization’s rhetoric, it appears unwilling to accept that a new generation of post-Soviet youth has now been born, who have little knowledge of or interest in the past outside of vague feelings of national pride. Unfortunately, for the Communists this pride appears impossible to transform into real political capital.
The generational divide isn’t just between the Communists and potential new supporters, but as the statements from sympathetic communist youth attest, the generation gap is internal. But it seems that the reality is slowly setting in on some level. Gennady Zuganov recently announced that the KPRF will use the images of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Alexandr Lukashenko as its main propaganda symbols during the upcoming election. The move is certainly a scheme to attract left wing youth who hold up these four as symbols of a global leftism and defiance to U.S. hegemony. The KPRF thinks that it can conquer cool. Good luck.Post Views: 584
Nashi’s actions during the “Bronze Soldier” fiasco has without a doubt increased its political statue in
. As a result Western media is beginning to take more notice. For example, take this week’s edition of Newsweek International where one of their main articles is a feature on Nashi titled “Putin’s Powerful Youth Guard.” Russia
The article paints an ominous picture of Nashi where its members are “highly disciplined and lavishly sponsored” and “a bona fide private army fanatically loyal to one man, the president.” There are passing comparisons to the Komsomol and the Hitler Youth. To their credit, the article’s authors claim that the latter is an “overstatement” because while Nashi may be “fanatically loyal to Putin” they are really only a “sinister parody of democracy movements in
and elsewhere.” I assume that their “sinister parady of democracy” lies in Nashi’s propensity to through the word “fascist” around without regard. Sadly, it seems to work too well. As Boris Kagarlitsky notes, “the Russian political establishment has made the issue of the fascist threat its best-seller. Politicians and the mass media show far more interest in the notorious fascist threat than in the real fascist organizations operating in the country.” Ukraine
Newsweek’s characterization of Nashi is for suresteeped in hyperbole. This is to be expected. Most articles about
Russiain the Western media tend to place it on a narratological pendulum that somehow always swings a bit too far toward “totalitarianism.” Plus, anytime youth organizations are reduced to mere “disciplined” and “fanatical” puppets of the regime, I can’t help but cast a critical eye. Sure the Kremlin may want “to win—or control—the hearts and minds of ‘s youth” but actually doing it is always a more complex and difficult task. If one wants to compare Nashi with the Komsomol, which I have, then one should not also swallow the organization’s own image of themselves. The Potemkin village shouldn’t be taken for the actual village. Russia
Still, Nashi bills itself as the counter revolutionary shock force against the specter of colored revolutions. This, according to Sergei Markov, who helped establish Nashi in 2004, is its original purpose. “The crucial role that young people played in those revolutions made us realize that something should be done. The plan was simple,” he explained to Newsweek. “We launched Nashi in towns close to
Moscowso that activists could arrive overnight on Red Square, if needed. The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course.”
Creating an ideology is not all. Nashi and other pro-Kremlin youth groups also engage in paramilitary training (this was the case with the Komsomol too).
The paramilitary flavor is unmistakable. Every summer, Nashi runs recruiting camps all across
. New members watch propaganda films and receive basic military-style training, says Nashi boss Vasily Yakemenko. They are lectured by top bureaucrats and politicians, including Deputy Defense Minister Yury Baluyevsky and the thuggish Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov—honored as a “Young Politician of the Year” at last year’s Nashi congress. Activists who sign up a hundred new members qualify for promotion to commissar, so long as they pass a grueling three-day series of paramilitary assault courses and physical tests. “We had to demonstrate physical strength, endurance and team leadership,” recalls Leonid Kurza, 23, the leader of the Russia chapter of Nashi, inducted last winter. Nashi also runs volunteer police troops, who wear black uniforms and, according to the movement’s press service, “help police to patrol streets—and if necessary beat hooligans.” St. Petersburg oblast got yet another taste of such pledges. In a counter-demonstration to the March of Dissenters in Samara, over a 1000 members of the pro-Kremlin group Mestnye gathered to show their solidarity with the Kremlin. “When the county calls on us, Mestnye leader Alexander Kazakov told the crowd. “We will be in the center of On Saturday, Moscow in an hour and we will not allow a single dissenting bastard assemble here! We will drive them out of the city!” Moscow
Somehow police felt that they didn’t need to protect the public from these rabble rousers . . .Post Views: 536