Humped and Dumped
January 29, 2008
The youth movement NASHI ["us slavic Russians"] is ending its existence as a centralized, federation-wide project. The leader of the organization, Nikita Borovik, announced to the newspaper “Kommersant” that the regional leaders of Nashi decided at a recent conference to preserve only five of their previous 50 regional offices - in Vladimir, Ivanov, Tulskiy, Voronezh, and Yaroslav. Activists from other regions will still be allowed to participate in special Nashi projects (“Our Army”, “Volunteer Youth Brigade”, Orthodox Corps”, Lessons in Friendship”, etc.). Sources in the Kremlin told the newspaper that there were no longer any plans use Nashi activists actively for political purposes, and Nashi-generated crowds would not be needed in the coming elections. Still, there would be no “formal closing” of Nashi, according to the Presidential Administration: the authorities would not leave the young people “unsupervised”. A portion of the group’s financing would also remain - like the 10 million rubles allotted for the group’s traditional summer camp at
Sergey Udaltsov, Communist Youth Avant-garde (AKM):
For me personally, the news came as no surprise. I have long expected it. From the moment the Nashi movement was created, as with many others like it, it was obvious to me and a lot of other people that the movement was contrived, temporary and in essence something of a commercial project, especially for the movement’s leaders, who I suspect have already received their due dividends. Most significantly, from the very beginning this group had no discernible ideology; just support for the president and his policies - essentially apologia for the authorities and forceful suppression of all their opponents; no ideology or anything resembling it here, just storm troopers.
Hence, everything that is happening here is to be expected, with plenty of precedent: recall the movement “Walking Together” (Iduschiye Vmeste), which also lasted a few years and then passed away, and which almost no one remembers today. Following its demise, “Walking Together” was essentially reincarnated as “Nashi”, but I think this time we are seeing something other than re-branding: there will be no successor organization. What happened was that Nashi had accumulated such an aggressive image that the authorities themselves came to see that the continued existence of such a movement carried with it more minuses that plusses, especially considering how negatively it was viewed from abroad. I think this is the reason they are now closing it down. Although, of course, the sacred pedestal never remains vacant for long: new people will appear, young and ambitious, wishing to build their careers and businesses upon it. There will be successors of some sort, but I think they will be of a different sort than we see today.
Besides the negative image there is other reason the movement was closed: the people who headed Nashi had already gotten everything they wanted from it. Mr. Yakemenko has essentially joined the government, and a string of Nashi functionaries have landed in the Duma (parliament) - after which they just lost interest. Hence, on the one hand Nashi was no longer needed by the Kremlin, and on the other was no longer needed by its own leadership: everything they wanted, they had already gotten out of it, and as far as they were concerned, I think, the rank and file could just go to hell.
Ilya Barabanov, journalist/correspondent, The New Times
In the end they will not completely close “Nashi”. Why? Because it is much easier, having cut off their financing, to simply keep them alive as a small and, at first glance, hardly visible group of assets, ones that can be called upon when the need arises to advance certain interests. Nashi as a large bureaucratic machine required too much financial investment. And the absence of any connection to a political party made their activities look to everyone like the work of the Presidential Administration.
This image was advanced as well by regular meetings between the movement’s leaders and first Vladimir Putin then Vladislav Surkov. Considering the absurdity of most of Nashi’s activities, its very existence, far from helping, actually hurt the image of the authorities. The group “Young Russia” (Rossiya Molodaya) presents a more beneficial structure for the Administration. Their actions are not viewed as being those of Surkov, so they can permit themselves to be throwbacks/barbarians (“otmorozheniye”).
Having chopped up Nashi into a series of smaller subgroups, the movement’s handlers in the Administration can still use these assets in the future for more pointed and radical actions, since in the eyes of the mass media and public opinion the Kremlin bureaucrats will not be responsible for them. More simply put: small, impersonalized structures, which no one associates with Surkov, Putin or his successor, are much more useful than one huge money-sucking monster committing outrages in front of the Estonian embassy.
So the Nashi movement will continue, in the form of a series of small groups, and one can anticipate their radicalization. The destruction of Nashi is simply the destruction of a corrupt bureaucratic machine. Put in economic terms, the Kremlin bureaucrats are optimizing their assets. And it will hardly affect their colleagues from “Young Russia” at all. The Kremlin ideologues will always need for one purpose or another a group of thugs (“otmoroziki”), ready at any moment to pick up crowbars and baseball bats. It’s a little more complicated with the “Young Guards” (Molodaya Gvardiya). After the December elections, their reason for existence will have disappeared. I think they can expect a slow death, beginning immediately after the presidential elections. The authorities will stop funding them - and as soon as they stop giving them money, the kids will skedaddle.
The Moscow Times, however, reports that Nashi may not be fully on board with the Kremlin's plans. Has Putin created a Frankenstein even he can't control?
Pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi said Friday that it was seeking to double its membership this year and dismissed reports of its imminent demise. Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov said at a news conference that while the group was undergoing a reorganization, it was not drifting into irrelevance. "No one can stop us," Borovikov said.
Kommersant and Vedomosti, citing Nashi members and sources in the presidential administration, reported recently that Nashi was becoming obsolete after United Russia swept to a landslide victory in the Dec. 2 State Duma elections. Borovikov said the reports were part of a campaign to discredit the group by "small movements" and "individual politicians who have disappeared from the political skyline." He did not specify which groups or politicians were behind the purported campaign.
Part of Nashi's reorganization includes transferring power to regional centers to implement various projects, including Mishki, or Bear Cubs, a patriotic children's group under the Nashi auspices, Borovikov said. Nashi intends to organize rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg with 100,000 activists, as well as send 1,000 activists to Grozny to support reconstruction projects in the Chechen capital, Borovikov said. Nashi members are also working on the presidential campaign of Dmitry Medvedev in the March 2 election. Medvedev, expected to win in a landslide, has the backing of President Vladimir Putin, to whom Nashi has pledged fealty.