Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The rise of Nashi
The AFP newswire just moved an interesting story about the growing rent-a-crowd trend across the former Soviet Union. The clearest example of this in recent months was Viktor Yanukovych's limp "Blue Revolution" on the streets of Kyiv, where protestors spoke openly of having been paid $10 (sometimes more) to stand in Independence Square and wave a blue flag.
Those demonstrations were so pitiful as to be almost laughable. But some aren't funny at all.
Take Nashi. The Kremlin-founded youth group has staged protests in Moscow, Pskov and Tallinn during the ongoing Bronze Soldier dispute between Russia and Estonia, at one point putting physical chase to the Estonian ambassador to Moscow.
In the eyes of some, Nashi are the modern equivalent of the Komsomol, the Young Communists of the Soviet era. Then, and increasingly now with Nashi, being a member put you on track to a more successful career, and past membership was effectively a prerequisite if you aspired to a job in the bureaucracy or the security services.
To others, Nashi are the Brownshirts of an increasingly despotic Russia.
Nashi (the word means "Ours") are the creation of Vladislav Surkov, Putin's deputy chief of staff and powerful Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky. Charged in the wake of Ukraine's Orange Revolution with making sure revolutionary tents were never pitched on Red Square, the two decided to implement strict new restrictions on Western NGOs (read Surkov's paranoid secret speech on NGOs and conspiracies against Russia here). Then they created Nashi, a group they hoped would serve as a counterweight to rabble-rousing pro-Western groups like Kmara in Georgia, Pora in Ukraine and now Oborona in Russia. Today the group claims to have tens of thousands of members.
My fear about Nashi is that it dangerously plays with one of the most disturbing trends I witnessed during the three years I lived in Moscow: the growing "Russia for the Russians" sentiment across the country. Towards the end, it seemed like that there was another report every day in the newspaper of a foreigner being beaten or stabbed by ultranationalist thugs.
At the group's founding meeting at a summer camp outside of Moscow two years ago (an event closed to the foreign press), Pavlovsky made clear two a crowd of 3,000 young activists what their role was going to be: "You must be ready to disperse fascist rallies and physically oppose attempted anti-constitutional coups." In other words, make sure that any attempt at a peaceful revolution like the one that happened in Ukraine the year before doesn't stay peaceful for long.