Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nashi or Nazi?: Putin’s Young and Dangerous Loyalists

In a previous post, I used some YouTube videos to narrate Russian history through the anthem. Current national anthem of Russia is so popular that you will find numerous Russian patriotic videos on YouTube.

Nashi flag

Among those videos, I found people waving a red flag with a white diagonal cross. You will find the flag in the last video of “A Review of Russian History through the Anthem”. They are members of a youth group called Nashi, which means ours. Nashi is a pro-Putin nationalist group founded in 2005 by Vasily Yakemenko, a leader of pro-Putin movement.

Nashi parade (Photo: BBC)

Let me narrate briefly about this organization. Nashi has its own website, but it is written in Russian only. Despite substantial influence on Russian politics under Vladimir Putin, the nature of Nashi is not well known. According to Wikipedia, this movement is closely related to United Russia, the ruling party under President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. In the Western media, Nashi is widely regarded as a personality cult for Putin, whose foundation objective is to intimidate the opponent. This movement yearns for the strength of old Soviet Union and ancient tradition of Russia. Some of them points out a kind of similarity with Hitler youth.

Nashi is prevailing among Russian youth like a web of college and high school club. Despite hardliner ideology in domestic and foreign policy of this movement, youngsters enjoy Nashi’s camps and events like a kind of rock concert. At the camp, they even find someone with whom they fall in love (“Russia’s youth rises to champion old values” and “The Kremlin’s new commissaries”; BBC News; 12 July 2006). In some respect, Nashi attracts the younger generation in a way somewhat similar to that of pro-Obama campaign in 2008 presidential election in the United States.

Putin talking with youth (Photo: BBC)

Obsessed with the Orange and the Rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the Kremlin sponsors their own loyalist group in Russia. Quite astonishingly, when Nashi members terrorized the Estonian embassy in Moscow, those violent youth were invited to the Kremlin while mild pro-Estonian protesters were brutally hit by the police (“Putin's children”; International Herald Tribune; July 5, 2007).

Putin exploits rising patriotism and social instability. People are distressed with the decline of their motherland since the loss of the Soviet Union and the collapse of social welfare. NATO expansion into Russia’s satellite states stirs anxiety on national security. Economic gaps between the rich and the poor are growing, and the number of people addicted to alcohol and drugs is rising. For youngsters in the midst of a post communist turmoil, Vladimir Putin is the savior to restore their national pride and show the hope for the future. (“The alarming spread of fascism in Putin’s Russia”; New Statesman; 24 July 2007)

The influence of Nashi is still strong. Youngsters are glad to spy opposition leaders to leak scandals to the public (“Pro-Kremlin 'Spy' Catches the Opposition off Guard”; Moscow Times; 25 February 2009). They believe that their voluntary service to the authoritarian leader as an activity of civil societies. It reminds me of the Tonarigumi in Japan during the World War Ⅱ.

Finally, I would like to ask a question. Can we really talk with such a Russia, regarding issues like nuclear weapons reduction? I hope someone to stop President Obama committing a fatal mistake to our security.

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