The Moscow Times on Nashi’s Fifth Anniversary

Nashi, the notoriously overzealous pro-Kremlin youth group often compared to the Soviet Komsomol, officially turned five years old yesterday. In celebration, the group held a congress and rally with top government officials as guest speakers, set against the backdrop of a film bashing Russia’s democratic opposition, including United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Given the growing prominence of opposition movements such as Solidarity, combined with Nashi’s history of harassing opposition activists, the vitriolic proclamations from yesterday’s celebration may be a sign of things to come. The Moscow Times reported on the event.

Moscow Times Logo
Nashi Celebrates Fifth Year With Kremlin Support
April 16, 2010
By Alexander Bratersky

Pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, best known for harassing ambassadors and opposition leaders, celebrated its five-year anniversary Thursday with a major show of support from the Kremlin, which said the activists remained a vital force in Russia.

Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov — who is widely believed to have organized the group while an adviser to then-President Vladimir Putin in 2005 — spoke to the raucous crowd of 2,000 delegates, as did Nashi’s founding father, Vasily Yakemenko.

Created to resist revolutions like those in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, Nashi has taken a back seat to other youth groups in recent years as the threat of widespread public unrest dwindled.

But Surkov told members Thursday that he “would always support” them.

“If we all go on vacation, the consequences won’t wait. We see what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan — that means we’re needed and have to be at our posts. … Those who chose for themselves the political fight will never be able to relax again,” Surkov told the crowd. “I’m calling on you to remain in that fight,” he said, before conveying greetings from Medvedev.

Putin said in a letter to the congress that the movement “unites people who love their motherland and are trying to make a serious contribution to the resolution of the current problems of the state and society.”

Yakemenko, now director of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, restated the group’s allegiance to Russia’s two leading politicians.

“The Nashi movement is the movement of those who feel outraged and mad by the things they see around them. Our movement knows no authority except the authority of the policies of Medvedev and Putin,” Yakemenko said.

The congress, held in an ornate Moscow business center, also elected a new ruling board, in which a previously low-profile activist, Marina Zademidkova, 25, collected three times more votes than her nearest competitor, Anton Smirnov.

The State Duma’s youngest member, Robert Shlegel of United Russia, known for his initiatives to restrict media freedoms, was also elected to the five-member board. Nashi will elect its new formal leader from the group on May 15.

Incumbent leader Nikita Borovikov, 29, did not run for a spot on the board.

Political expert Stanislav Belkovsky said the movement’s future would depend on financing from the Kremlin. “The movement doesn’t have a solid ideological base,” he said.

Ilya Yashin, a member of the Solidarity opposition movement who is a frequent target of Nashi attacks, said the group would still come in handy as the state tries to deflect the growing “protest mood.”

“It’s possible that the experience of movement’s managers would be needed when people hit the streets,” the former Yabloko youth leader told The Moscow Times.

While Nashi members in the regions have also been involved in less political activities, such as charity work, the group’s radical fight against the Kremlin opponents will continue to be its focus, members said Thursday.

“We thought that we have defended our sovereignty, but we shouldn’t forget that they are trying to occupy us,” Borovikov said, referring to Western powers and the “agents of the ideological influence.”

He said they were behind Russian opposition leaders and liberal-leaning media, which he accused of “promoting drugs and providing a tribune to terrorists.”

Before Borovikov’s speech, the group was shown a 15-minute film about Nashi, highlighting its opposition to the “organizers of color revolutions” and “liberals and fascists.”

To illustrate the message, the film showed former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov — both members of the Solidarity movement.

Without naming names, the film also attacked “losers” in government and the media who are trying to block the country’s modernization, a key initiative by Medvedev to close Russia’s technological gap with the West.

“The task to create civil society has been completed. The new task is to defend modernization and sovereign democracy,” the film narrator said in a robotic voice.

But not all of the delegates said they supported the hard-hitting ideology, which has discredited the movement with some of the public.

“We often don’t have concrete ideas to express,” said Artyom, who asked that his last name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the media.