Inside the Putin Youth Cult

Michael Hammerschlag has an insightful item called “Putin’s Children” on the Kremlin-funded Nashi youth group in the International Herald Tribune.

The 120,000-odd Putin Youth members are perhaps the most creepy demonstration of Putin’s “Back to the Future” cult of personality – youth groups created, supported, and used by the Kremlin to harass, bully and intimidate opponents and critics. “The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course,” says a Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov. Obsessed by the color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the Kremlin decided to create their own loyal youth brigades.

During the campaign against Estonia in the most recent enemy-of-the-month club (Lithuania, Georgia, Poland, et al) for the heinous crime of moving a statue and some Soviet graves, the Nashi “kids” (who are 17 to 25 years old) so terrorized the Estonian Embassy that the ambassador and some istaff members fled the country. In Estonia itself, Russia-endorsed protests killed one and injured 99. While mild peaceful protests were brutally crushed by riot police, the violent Nashi youth were invited into the Kremlin to talk to Putin’s anointed successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, about their methods, an indication of the firm government backing they receive. “They have their kitchens, toilets, electricity, buses. . . . It is clear that their actions are very well organized, financed and orchestrated,” said the Estonian ambassador, Marina Kaljurand.

A nationwide cellphone campaign – “call President Putin with a message of support” – was estimated to cost many millions of dollars. . . .

While their methods are still mostly street theater, it’s probably only a matter of time before they graduate to more serious violence. Indeed, their recruiting boot camps feature paramilitary training to fight against fascists (which includes Estonia, Yabloko or anyone that has ever criticized Putin).

Another deeply disturbing government initiative is labeling critics “extremists” and criminals, another tactic of all serious totalitarian states. When you can criminalize criticism of the government, there is nothing you can’t get away with, and all remaining freedoms are hanging by a thread.

We have had many run-ins with the Nashi groups, of course, and some of them definitely fell into the category of “serious violence.” During many Dissenters’ Marches, Nashi groups would follow along throwing fireworks and brandishing weapons, attempting to provoke violence. Of course, the truly fascist groups in Russia, the ones that attack immigrants and who hold public rallies on Hitler’s birthday, are entirely immune to Nashi harassment. Nashi members undergo paramilitary training and, has been pointed out widely, and are organized along lines very similar to the Hitlerjugend. Parts of the Nashi manifesto are translated into English here. Anti-fascist?