Monday, April 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Aggressive Clerical Groups’ Seen Replacing ‘Nashi’ as Kremlin’s Preferred Youth Arm

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 1 – As the Putin regime has evolved toward “a more harsh authoritarianism,” the Kremlin is preparing to downgrade the role of the “Nashi” youth movement in favor of “more ideological and aggressive” Orthodox groups that will oppose both liberals and the extra-systemic opposition, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In an article posted on the Voice of Russia website on Saturday, Tatyana Stanovaya traces the history of the notorious Nashi organization and its relations with the Kremlin and suggests that while Vladimir Putin may keep that group in reserve, he and his supporters are now looking elsewhere (

            The Nashi organization was established in 2005 in order to “oppose a hypothetical ‘color revolution’ in Russia,” something the Kremlin at the time very much feared because of the developments in Georgia and Ukraine. It was “generously financed,” mostly out of the pockets of oligarch, and quickly rose to prominence.

            “Many in the Kremlin [then] were convinced that the main risks were coming not from within the country but from the outside,” Stanovaya says, and it was “precisely then that Putin’s anti-Americanism was born.”  But in fact, the Kremlin “clearly over-estimated external influence and internal political risks.” 

            There was simply no reason for the Russian leadership to fear a color revolution as much as it did, and the Nashi project soon appeared to many to be an unnecessary “excess,” although for the first three years of its existence, it did have a high profile as a fighter against both liberals and “fascists,” often drawing an equivalence between the two.

            The movement’s leaders even suggested that their organization could provide the future leadership of United Russia, but this “scheme did not work out.”  The ruling party did not “hurry to include young people from Nashi” in its electoral lists, and the whole project simply became yet another way to transfer government money into private hands.

            With the assumption of the Russian presidency by Dmitry Medvedev, Nashi went further into eclipse, something its leaders and supporters tried to limit by presenting its members as active supporters of Medvedev. And while financing declined, this group was kept around apparently on the principle of “just in case.”

            Medvedev’s people were frequently angry at Nashi actions against this or that Moscow commentator, but the end of the Kremlin’s “romance” with Nashi occurred not under his watch but with Putin’s return because the current president sees the need for youth organizations that will fulfill very different tasks than those Nashi was created to carry out.

            It appears, Stanovaya says, that Putin now wants a variety of youth movements directed at highly specific targets such as consumer protection or liberal opinion and that he wants to finance them through the state program to aid NGOs rather than more directly as Nashi was in the past.

            Nashi probably won’t disappear, she suggests, but rather will be kept in reserve in case of a growth in protest activity by the extra-systemic opposition. Indeed, “as the political situation in Russia is becoming less predictable and the risks of destabilization are growing,” the Kremlin may see it as a useful adjunct but only as one of several.

            Instead, it will rely more heavily on “a cruder, more direct and conservative” force to mobilize the streets against any demonstrations, such as offered by groups like “Orthodox activists” and social groups like Sergey Kurginyan’s All-Russia Parents Council and the Cossacks.”

            In that event, “the militant support of Putin from the side of marginal structures will become more ideologized and aggressive toward liberals in particular and the extra-systemic opposition as a whole.”  And it is possible, Stanovaya concludes, that many of those in these categories will look back with “nostalgia” to the times when Nashi was more important.

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