Two stories caught my eye today which might seem like separate issues but which in fact are thickly linked. One was a lengthy report in Moscow News Weekly about the summer camps being hosted by Nashi and the other pro-Kremlin youth groups.
The other was the Kremlin's paranoid decision to order the Russian edition of the BBC World Service off the FM dial.
The link? Both the Kremlin's bolstering of "patriotic" youth movements and its crackdown on non-state media outlets are moves directed at heading off any kind of Orange Revolution-inspired uprising in Russia around December's Duma elections and/or next year's presidential vote.
Kremlin strategists Gleb Pavlovsky, Sergei Markov and Vyacheslav Nikonov all gave speeches to the Nashi camp at Lake Seliger outside Moscow (as did, notably, leading Kremlin-backed presidential contenders Sergei Ivanov and Dmitriy Medvedev). Two years ago, following the uprising in Ukraine, Pavlovsky and co. were charged with making sure the orange tide never reached Red Square. One of the first things they did was establish Nashi - the name means "Ours" - to counter the pro-Western youth groups like Ukraine's Pora that formed the backbone of the revolutions that hit Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine a year later.
At the first Nashi camp in the summer of 2005, Pavlovsky gave a speech that neatly summer up the role he expected the kids to play: "You must be ready to disperse fascist (a word Pavlovsky tried hard to attach to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters) rallies and physically oppose attempted anti-constitutional coups," he said. In other words, their job was to prevent Red Square from going Orange.
Nothing's changed. As MN reports, "[this summer's] camp's key note is political indoctrination." To that end, not only are the 10,000 Nashi members (as well as members of similar groups like Rossia Molodaya, or Young Russia, and Novye Lyudi or New People) indoctrinated about the values of patriotism and the evils of the West, they're lectured about the need to procreate as a way of reversing Russia's rapid population decline. They also get a talking-to about underwear.
The bizarre details, courtesy of MN:
The Seliger camp has its own TV network called Zyr, a radio station, news agency, and two newspapers. There is also a number of ongoing programs such as the School of Mass Action, the Institute of Entrepreneurship, the Schools of Animators, the Institute of Social Management, and the Antifa School, among others. One of this season's projects, Bashnya Gazproma (Gazprom Tower), offers successful contestants internship at the natural gas monopoly. Such projects as The Museum of Double Standards and Fat Man from Hell, are designed to show the pernicious effect of the Western lifestyle. A daily serial titled I Want Three encourages young families to have at least three children: thus, dozens of couples celebrated their weddings in the camp and were given separate tents. Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, two men who are widely seen as leading contenders to replace Putin next year, wore T-shirts with an emblazoned call to boost birth rates. A group of activists were urging girls to surrender their G-strings as a factor in female sterility, providing instead more conservative outfits and destroying the discarded G-strings in front of their former owners. Considering that a demographic revolution to the Seliger campers is an imperative at the behest of Vladimir Putin, G-strings have become a symbol of counterrevolution.
The BBC crackdown is linked because Pavlovsky, Markov and Nikonov understand that anti-government media - namely B-92 radio in Serbia, the Rustavi-2 television station in Georgia and Ukraine's Fifth Channel - were perhaps even more important than the youth groups in bringing Serbs, Georgians and Ukrainians into the streets. Having already taken direct or indirect control of all the country's major broadcasters, the Kremlin is now apparently turning its attention to the BBC.
While I'm quite cynical about the kind of "reporting" Fifth Channel did during the Orange Revolution - it wasn't so much as covering political events as inciting them - any efforts to squelch a media outlet is obviously an attack on free speech.
The BBC, in particular, has an unimpeachable reputation for reporting all sides of a news story. They really do. As a reporter myself, I can tell you that there are a lot of outlets who simply spew silly anti-Russian propaganda (or whatever the State Department's narrative of the day is), but the BBC isn't among them.
For the Kremlin to see the Beeb as an enemy only shows how paranoid they've become about the coming elections. And how far they'll go to keep control.