Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    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.


    La Russophobe said...

    There's a bit more to the meaning of the term "nashi" than just "ours" and it plays into the Russia-for-Russians theme you are insightfully focusinng on.

    "Nashi" is racial term in the same way that "russkii" is -- in other words, it's really just another way of saying "Slavic." I think "Nashi" is best translated "we Slavic Russians" and everyone who holds a Russian passport knows that, just as they know only Slavs get to be called "ruskii" while the rest are "rossiskii" -- and that means second-class citizens.

    In other words, the phrase "Russia for Russians" in English is also misleading in that it implies simply dislike for aliens. In English, there is only one term "Russian" and it applies to anyone who holds a Russian passport. That's not the case in Russia, where there are formal, linguistic distinctions between types of Russian citizens and non-Slavs are basically just green-card holders even if they were born in Russia.

    So, come to think of it, maybe the best translation for "Nashi" is KKK, or perhaps the "brown shirts" term you reference.

    Unknown said...

    Well, in Tallinn we managed to prevent a new "revolution" that was planned for may 9. There is a speculation that the pro-russia activists were planning a tent camp around the statue or something, but estonian authorities suprised them. Indeed, one main organizer who was quickly arrested, Mark Sir├Ák has close ties to "Nashi" (their only "commissar-coordinator" in Estonia). He was recruiting local ethnic russians to "guard the statue" (salary: 80 krons or about 6,5$ per hour), but it makes you wonder where does that money come from? Many Nashi activists were sent back from the borders due special orders from the authorities (Nashi symbols = ban). Another activist from a local pro-russia group called "Night Vigil" Dmitri Linter was also arrested. He and Andrei Zarenkov from the Constitution Party (a minor pro-russia political party, they got almost 1% of votes in march) were in direct contact with russian authorities -- they had regular meetings with embassy officials in weird places. Linter has personally met with many top youth activists in Russia, even Vladimir Putin and Estonia's authorities suspect that he has completed "special training" in Russia (agent of GRU/FSB/... ?).


    The plan was simple: create mass protests/riots and press hard (e.g. demand resignation of the government, massive propaganda war, trade boycott, cyber war) in order to get a pro-East government. You see, if the current pro-West government falls then the only alternative priminister is Edgar Savisaar. He is a leader of the Centre Party that is also sister party of United Russia (71.2% of votes). Edgar Savisaar is infamous for his secret meetings with Russia's policians. Last one took place on 30. april in Tallinn (after midnight) with Leonid Slutski (he was part of the Russia's delegation that demanded the resignation of the Estonia's government). Savisaar first denied that such a meeting took place, but later admitted (there were several witnesses) -- he claims now that he only said "Hi". Ain Seppik, a board member of the Centre Party has also a secret meeting with Slutski, but he didn't deny it and claimed that they "only talked about dogs". Finally it should be noted that several Centre Party members have been also arrested for organizing protests (for example one of them agitated schoolstudents to riot).

    Anonymous said...


    I live in Hungary. I'm interested in eastern-european liberal revolutions took place in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.
    I followed closely the belarusian presidential elections last year. I was very disappointed by the failure of the "denim revolution". After that I started to think about the reasons which caused the uneffectivity.

    I found that the average belarusian citizen has an acceptable standard of living which means they are satisfied with their life. Or if not satisfied at all but they have so much to loose not to hail a change for an "unsecured" future. It's fundamentally different from the situation from for example the poles' in 1989 or from the chechs' in 1968 or from our hungarians' in 1956.

    So I just want to reflect to the fact that a revolution is possible only if the "critical mass" is available. And if the living standards aren't acceptable.
    People simply don't go to the streets just for the freedom of speech or other liberal values. They take to the streets only in order to increase their living standards.

    My question would be why I wrote those above if is the critical mass exist in Russia? Is there enough people unsatisfied with the policy of Putin? I think - from the position in Hungary - that russian citizens' living standards increased so much since the crash in 1998. that they are satisfied with their life and with the political elite ruling now.

    Do you think a revolution or simply a success of the current opposition is possible in the nowdays Russia?

    And an other question:
    If the opposition don't have real chance to overtake the ruling party this year and the presidency next year.
    Who do you think would be better for the liberals Medvedev or Ivanov. I mean is Medvedev more liberal (as he he is recognized in abroad) or he is the same as Putin (and Ivanov)?

    P.S. I tried to post my comment with name but I've failed to overcome the "chosse an identity" menu.
    So I'm Zoltan Suranyi from Hungary

    markmac said...

    Hi Zoltan -

    My feeling about Belarus is that the so-called "Colour Revolutions" that hit Georgia and Ukraine have proven to only work in situations were the opposition has political space in which to maneuvre.

    One of the ironies about the toppling of Shevardnadze and Kuchma was that their regimes wer actually some of the most open and tolerant in the post-Soviet space (Baltics excluded).

    In both countries, the opposition was allowed to demonstrate freely in the centre of the capital, and their message was carried to the masses by independent television stations.

    In Belarus, demonstrating against Lukashenko is certain to not only land you in jail, it's likely to cost you your job since the government is far and away the main employer there. And there is no independent media akin to Rustavi-2 in Georgia or 5th Channel in Ukraine.

    So the masses were not only cowed with fear, the only things they heard about the opposition were through the state-controlled media, which frequently linked the denim revolutionaries with facism.

    As for Russia, I think an uprising there would face many of the same challenges as in Belarus, with the added difficulty of the opposition needing to spread their movement across 11 time zones.

    Is it possible? Yes. Kremlin advisors have told me they believe it could happen in Russia, and that they're worried about it. Is it likely? Sadly, probably not without bloodshed, since you'd see groups like Nashi take to the streets as well, quickly tuning peaceful protests into street fights.

    As for Medvedev versus Ivanov. I'm fairly indifferent. Either one would represent a continuation of Putinism and siloviki rule.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Mark,

    thank you for your answers.
    Unfortunately your reply don't make me calm about the possibilities of the future of liberalism in Russia.

    Can I or we liberals in Hungary or all over the world do anything to support our russian fellows?

    I'm a member of the hungarian liberal party called Alliance of Free Democrats. We can express verbal support for the russian opposition and can pressure our parliament and government to do talk about the question.

    In recent weeks I tried to become more familiar with russian opposition youth movements. I found that not only the Oborona exists but there is also an organization called Smena which carried out several street actions in recent months. But since 25th march the day of belarusian freedom they gave no signal of life. They didn't publish anything on their web page.

    Could you tell me what the situation is in the sphere of youth movements in Russia? Who is united with who, and who is connected to who? Which are the powerful organizations? I know there are youth wings of the liberal parties of Yabloko and SPS as well and there is also the Kasparov lead Grazhdanskiy Front.

    Anonymous said...

    the above was me Zoltan

    Anonymous said...

    Someone made the comment that "Russia for the Russians" is bad.

    Why is that bad?

    If Russia isn't for Russians, then who does the country belong to?

    Big businesses?

    The entire world?