Julie Hemment, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts where she specializes in Russia, post-socialism, gender and transition, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and global civil society. She is the author of Youth Politics in Putin’s Russia: Producing Patriots and Entrepreneurs.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
“No to Fascism in
Estonia!” reads a slogan at a Nashi picket in Ural city of . “No to Genocide against the Russian Population in Novosibirsk !,” another boldly proclaims. Hyperbole was hardly lacking at this small rally of the self-proclaimed “Young Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement Nashi” as several of its Estonia activists gathered around a statute of Lenin in the city’s central square. The activists hoped to whip up the fervor of local youths over Novosibirsk Estonia’s removal of the “Bronze Statue” from the center of on April 27. Tallinn was not the only local Nashi organization to mobilize against the Soviet WWII memorial’s relocation. Over the past two weeks, rallies and communiqu?s of opposition have hailed from Nashi chapters in Tula, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Kaluga, Penza, Volgograd, Krasnodar, Tver, Kostroma, Lipetsk, Voronezh, not to mention its main chapters in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The events in Novosibirsk , which Nashi calls the “Fascist Government of Estonia” in its propaganda, has made the issue the center piece of its activism, if not its present reason for being. Estonia
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
, Nashi has become the most visible, not to mention the most funded and politically supported, youth movement in the country since its founding in March 2005. Separate from any political party in particular, (United Russia’s youth group is called Molodaia gvardiia. A name that also invokes Komsomolesque lineage), the attendance of several of Russia prominent politicians, including Putin, Kremlin chief ideologist Vladislav Surkov, and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, among others at its summer retreat in Tver and conferences makes formal connections superfluous. In a news conference last year, Surkov told reporters that “We have to try not to lead this too much. But of course we contact and support those who support us.” In fact, one might say that Nashi is none other than the Kremlin’s young guard. And while Nashi does not have the attention or influence among the majority of Russian youth, of all Russia youth groups they are the most recognizable. There is no doubt that their campaign against “Estonian fascism” will only boost their appeal among mainstream patriotic youth. Russia
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
. The usual Nashi spectacles were all present: slogans, posters, activists in costume and the harassing of politicians. This time the victim was Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand. Last Wednesday, Nashi activists attempted to prevent her from attending a press conference at the Argumenty i Fakty offices. A melee resulted with her bodyguards using mace to repel the would-be attackers. Eleven Nashi activists were reportedly detained by Moscow police. The “blockade” ended late last week when Nashi leader Vasilii Yakemenko announced that “We escorted the Ambassador all the way to the airport, watching out to prevent any possible provocations which could have been later blamed on us. Marina Kaljurand took the plane to Moscow and left. She got really scared, and she feels ashamed. And we will pack a suitcase and send her things to her, — Estonian sprats and cheese.” This was of course a few days after Yakemenko told RIA Novosti that Nashi’s “blockade” was actually protecting the Estonian embassy. “Had we not been standing outside the embassy drunk or aggressive members of the public would have smashed the building to pieces. By being here we are preventing things that could have been used to say that Russians are uncivilized,” Yakemenko said. Stockholm
Activities were not just centered on
. At a panel discussion about Russia-Estonian relations in St. Petersburg, Nashi activists heckled Lauri Bambus, the Estonian consul general, with questions about Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip’s remarks that the Soviet soldiers buried near the Bronze Statue were “drunk and run over by their own tank,” or “shot down for looting,” or were “deceased patients from a nearby hospital.” As Bambus left the panel, Nashi activists chanted anti-Estonian slogans and held placards that read, “Wanted: a consul of a fascist state.” In addition, Nashi activists have also blocked highways at the Estonia border and called for economic boycotts of Estonian goods. There are even allegations that their hackers attacked Estonian government computer networks. Moscow
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
’s sovereignty. Their tactics were now wholly offensive. Moscow Human Rights activist Alexandr Bord told Moskovskii Komsomolets that “Nashi is much more dangerous that skinheads and nationalists.” Writing in Novaya gazeta, Andrei Ryabov argued that there was no doubt that Nashi’s activities are intimately tied to the Kremlin’s policies. So much so that “if Nashi and the rest receive different orders tomorrow, or if their funding is cut, the wave of turbulent protests by “Russian society” would quickly evaporate.” Russia
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.Tags: Komsomol|Nashi|Putin|Russia|Estonia|Bronze Statue|WWII|Soviet Union|youth politics|nationalism
By Sean — 2 years ago
Guest: Erik Scott on Familiar Strangers: The Georgian Diaspora and the Evolution of Soviet Empire.
By Sean — 11 years ago
Dmitri Medvedev’s speech to the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum might be an indication of what he has in store for Russia. Before a crowd of Russian businessmen, Medvedev laid out his vision in a forty minute speech; a vision that when boiled down doesn’t look to rock the boat too much.
One of Medvedev’s themes revolved around the “s” word, svoboda, or freedom. “Freedom is better than non-freedom,” Medvedev declared, rather tritely. He then when on to emphasize that his view of freedom includes “personal freedom, economic freedom, and finally, freedom of expression.” How banal. Before anyone could get too excited with Medvedev’s liberal pretentions, he capped off his “freedom” rap with a Putinian maxim. “Freedom cannot be separated from the actual recognition of the power of law and to not chaos and respect the accepted order of the country.” Sounds like 2000 all over again.
At the moment, I take Medvedev’s “liberalism” as nothing more than campaign posturing. Sure, some might ask why he needs to placate the Russian business elite with a more liberal stance. Especially since his election is all but a forgone conclusion. The answer is that he’s not appealing to the Russian business elite’s liberal tendencies. They don’t really have any to appeal to. The last thing Russia’s chinovniki, er, businessmen want is anything akin to a populist notion of freedom. Medvedev’s statements are merely assurance that when in office he will continue along the present course. This is crystal clear when you put his “liberalism” alongside his statements about the law and the “accepted” order. In addition, Medvedev made it a point to refer to Putin six times. A move that I assume is to let the elite know that business will be as usual. Russia’s journey to 21st century modernization will be directed by the state and not against the fundamental interests of the Russian elite.
Here is where Medvedev’s plan of four “I”s come in: institutions, infrastructure, innovation, investment.
Within these four “I” Medvedev spelled out seven tasks: “overcoming legal nihilism, a radical reduction in administrative barriers, a reduction in taxes, the formation of a powerful and independent financial system, the modernization of infrastructure, the formation of the basis for a national system of innovation, and social development.” Notice there is no role for society in this effort. Like Russia’s many attempts at reform over the last three centuries, it is the state that will be its alpha and omega. Society’s seat at the table will be provisional, and at most advisory.
The truth of the matter is that Putin could have given this speech himself. And perhaps that is what is most comforting to the Russian business elite.
The same goes for voters. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Putin or Medvedev at the helm as long the former is there to watch over the store. According to a recent poll conducted by the Leveda-Center, 80 percent of Russians polled plan on voting for Medvedev. People’s expectations seem to be similar to what they were in 2000 and 2004 says Kommersant.
Some 51 percent expect him to secure the great-power status for Russia, and the rule of law and order in the country are the highlights for 45 percent. Some 41 percent would like Medvedev to ensure fair distribution of income, 34 percent expect social protection from him and 34 percent want him to step up the government’s share in economy.
Moreover, Medvedev’s supporters see him as “a continuation and a copy of Putin;” a fact that certainly is the origin of his widespread support. While no one is sure who power will be distributed between the two, polled Russians seem fine with the idea of a power dyad.
Some 41 percent of respondents think both leaders will be equal after March 2 election, 23 percent predict Putin to keep the authority, but 20 percent expect Medvedev to emerge as the leader. At the same time, 47 percent of the polled want Putin to remain Russia’s president, viewing election as something inevitable.
Something inevitable indeed. Two weeks from now the inevitable will arrive, and after a few days of hooting and hollering, things in Russia will go back to normal. That is assuming the Kremlin clans will acclimate themselves to the new (old) order.